Creative Spotlight:
Yeah, I Work Out

Y,IWO Founder Jason Thome & Designer Max Shannon on Turning a Passion Project into a Brand

YIWO 1 Min
Jason Thome (R) Y,IWO Founder and Creative Director. Max Shannon (L) Y,IWO Lead Designer

By day, Jason Thome, founder and creative director of fitness apparel brand Yeah, I Work Out, runs Entertainment and Influencer Marketing at Converse.  Max Shannon, lead designer at Y,IWO, is a personal trainer and resident DJ at Room Service International.  When they met in 2016, they immediately started nerding out, Max recalls, about clothing and fashion and passion projects. Jason had a back burner idea for a no-frills, cotton t-shirt, 80s bodybuilder line. Max was launching his own activewear brand at the time. The two shared taste in music, and fashion; they came to each other to discuss drapes and fits. A few years later in 2018, Y,IWO launched. The brand has since been picked up by major online retailers like Dover Street Market and Mr.Porter, and featured in Vogue, Paper, and GQ, among others. It’s still a relatively small shop: the Yeah, I Work Out core team comprises Jason, Max, COO Ara Markarian, Art Director Kurt Woerpel, and motley crew of various creatives and contributors. Not bad for a side hustle. 

As we celebrate our 10-year anniversary, Jason, a founding member at NeueHouse Madison Square, and Max sat down with us to chat about Muscle Beach, passion projects, and finding motivation through community.

NEUEJOURNAL: What is the story behind Yeah, I Work Out?

JASON THOME: I’ve never been a professional bodybuilder or anything close to that, but I love lifting, and it’s always been a part of my life. I’ve always loved the iconography around it, you know, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Pumping Iron. The giant typography, the muscle, palm trees, sports cars, a babe. So I had this idea for a brand that paid homage to Muscle Beach but was also informed by New York. I wanted to create a fitness brand that spoke to me and my own sensibility.

I’d also been to Coachella a bunch of times, and I’d see these SoCal kids there, dripped in Palace or Supreme, whatever streetwear brand they were into at the moment. And you could tell they worked out. These kids might wear a band tee to the gym instead of regular workout clothes because that reflects who they are. But there weren’t any fitness brands that did that type of crossover, bringing in that streetwear/’80s style. I wanted to create something that bridged that gap.

I was also inspired by punk rock concert tees, so I cut and paste that with old bodybuilding books from the ‘80s, with the bold typography, the high-contrast black and white photos, the white space. In my mind there’s also a reference to ‘80s punk rock as well, especially in our initial collection.

YIWO 2 Min

NEUEJOURNAL:  The slogan for Y,IWO is “lift hard, feel great, have fun, get laid.” What’s the story behind that line?

JASON THOME: I would say cheekiness is one of our main brand pillars. We don’t take ourselves too seriously. A lot of fitness brands are so serious; the ads are about athletes going through the worst of the worst. The essence that we’re going for with the brand is the feeling good. I want it to be the runner’s high, the pump that you get from lifting in the gym; not the torture that you’re putting yourself through. “Lift hard”: we mean it, but we also want to have fun and feel great. At the end of the day we want people to look at our campaigns and our products and be liked—I’m stoked. I want to go lift now. We hope it inspires people. That’s really what it’s about. Motivation, taking yourself to the next level.

NEUEJOURNAL: The brand has a really distinctive visual aesthetic. What is the story behind the artist collaborations you do?

JASON: Both the Big Boy Club and Strong Collection both use artwork by legends from the ‘70s and ‘80s scene. Big Boy Club uses Ric Drasin’s artwork. Ric was a bodybuilder and wrestler and also created the original Gold’s Gym logo—Big Boy Club takes inspiration from that. Ric was a good friend of ours. He sadly passed away a few years ago, but we’re excited to be giving his artwork new life. Steve “Strong” Cepello, also a wrestler and artist, drew that iconic shark graphic with the barbell. He’s still alive and kicking, and he has a whole collection of illustrations that we haven’t fully unveiled yet.

NEUEJOURNAL: What appeals to you about that aesthetic?
JASON: These guys [Ric Drasin and Steve Cepello] are from the Muscle Beach era. If you look at old photos, people are having fun, pumping iron, smoking pot on the beach. Having a blast. There are so many brands today that are like, hoodie up, someone’s angry, they’re lifting, but it’s so serious. I just love that laid-back vibe from back in the day. I want people to have that outlet, to feel the fun in working out.

YIWO 3 Min

“If there’s an essence that we’re going for when it comes to fitness, it’s the feeling good: I want it to be the runner's high, the pump that you get from lifting in the gym.”

MAX There’s this rebuilt excitement for gym culture and working out — it used to be so cool, back in the Arnold days, then it had this moment where it became kind of like a gross thing and body building and, and building muscle were not really looked at in the same light. Now there’s this whole new generation of kids circling back to this whole “let’s create physique”, let’s do something more than HIIT training or CrossFit.

What qualities do you think make a brand successful?
JASON: I’m definitely a fan of brands that build a world. Think about Nike, or Ralph Lauren. Ralph Lauren is 360; you can imagine all its touch points. What would a Ralph Lauren living room look like? What would the vacation look like? What would a Ralph Lauren dog be? What music would be playing? There could be a Ralph Lauren safari, and you’d know what it looks like.

NEUEJOURNAL: What was it like having your passion project picked up by Dover Street Market and Mr Porter and Vogue?
:  This is probably the case with any passion project but, it is a little nerve-racking. You’re putting yourself out there and it’s like, are people gonna think this is stupid? Launching it is like a big thing because all the sudden you are showing the world: this is my new thing, what do you think? So it was very reassuring to have Dover Street, say okay we want this in all of our stores.

YIWO 4 Min

NEUEJOURNAL: Do you have advice to share with people who want to pursue their passion projects?

JASON: Every project is different, but I think one thing that we have done well is that we have a clear idea of what the brand is and isn’t. I do think it’s good to just jump in with an idea and not to overthink it too much, but it’s also important to have a clear vision.

MAX: Yeah, and to make sure it’s something you’re really passionate about. Because in the beginning, you do everything yourself. It takes a lot of grinding away before you see results. It’s not just fun, exciting, photos, people wearing your clothes and stuff. That stuff happens too, but it’s not everything, especially at the beginning.

JASON: I don’t necessarily feel like I am in a place to be like, we’re so successful, we have all this guaranteed advice. But I do feel like we’re successful in the sense that we’re doing something that we f***ing love. It’s so much fun. We’re having so much fun creating stuff, and of course we got to meet Steve Strong who created those iconic graphics. And now we’re doing a book. After you build a bit, the project starts to manifest cool stuff on its own.

MAX: I’d also say we’ve benefited because this was all a part of our lives already. We’ve both been in gyms for our whole lives. So knowing gyms and fitness and how to wear things is something we’ve always appreciated, so the brand is an extension of who we already are. Which makes it so much easier to collaborate and to work through, especially in those tough growing stages when you’re not making money yet, still figuring out what works and what doesn’t. You keep at it because it’s already part of your life and who you are.

NEUEJOURNAL:  What’s inspiring you lately?
MAX: We’ve been able to meet so many young kids in the workout scene that are just so excited about it. For me, being a personal trainer and basically living at the gym since I was 13, exercise has just become exercise, so I’ve ebbed and flowed in finding ways to motivate myself. But being around all this youthful energy, a bunch of really motivated, inspiring youth who really care about it and are excited about it, has reminded me that exercise is so much more than a task or a chore. That’s really motivated me and changed my whole outlook on exercise again.

JASON: What brings me life and keeps me inspired is that we’ve created a bit of a hub for creatives. There’s all these people who are really into what we’re doing, so they get involved. We’re creating this hub for creativity, with this unique angle. Maybe one day we’ll have an office. Rght now we get together over zoom and at NeueHouse.

NEUEJOURNAL: What role does coming together in person play?
Max: Community is a huge part of it. Going to work with your team is like going to the gym.  You get a higher level of motivation when you pack up your gym bag and go to the gym, as opposed to just rolling out a yoga mat in your living room while you’re making breakfast. You step outside your home and you have a mission. You have a community keeping you going. When you’re doing it that way it’s so much better.