Cole McBride and Jacob Keller (Bare Knuckles)

Age: McBride, 22; Keller, 27

What do they make? Designer workwear that looks like it was discovered in a thrift store from the future.

Breaking big in the streetwear scene anywhere outside Los Angeles and New York is a nearly impossible goal. But Cole McBride and Jacob Keller, co-owners and designers of menswear label Bare Knuckles, have made it look easy.

When Bare Knuckles' first collection launched in June 2018, it sold hard and fast—and not just within Portland. Their heavy denim workwear, tees and sweatshirts have been featured on menswear news site Hypebeast and in the pages of British GQ. Atlanta rap hitmaker Jermaine Dupri was spotted in one of their denim jackets, and just this month, Matthew Henson, stylist for superstar rapper ASAP Rocky, was seen wearing a pair of black nylon cargo shorts with oversized pockets at Prada's Spring-Summer 2020 runway show in Milan.

(courtesy of Bare Knuckles)
(courtesy of Bare Knuckles)

None of this happened by accident—McBride and Keller's ambition always lay beyond the banks of the Columbia. Both spent years working at Justin and Juline Machus' eponymous East Burnside boutique, where they learned the inner workings of the American fashion industry.

"We had no formal background," says McBride. "It was really just me and Jacob wanting to do things that people weren't doing."

(courtesy of Bare Knuckles)
(courtesy of Bare Knuckles)

Over three collections, with a fourth out before the end of the year, Bare Knuckles' aesthetic has evolved quickly. Whereas the first collection drew heavily from the sturdy workwear of Carhartt, the second incorporated ambitious, gothier elements, including a black tactical vest and a cropped, black cashmere sweater. The third, released in July, features a woozy Americana aesthetic embodied by a wide-legged pleated trouser in pink and gray plaid.

"We're doing stuff that is familiar to people, but the way the brand comes about transcends the normal, basic tee," McBride says. "Jacob and I have this brand for the sole reason of making things that we want to see people in. We really like what we're making, and that's why we do it."