Engineering the End of Fashion
A Chance Encounter with the Creator Behind LOT2046
- Text: Kyle Chayka
- Photography: Eric Chakeen
You know how you see strange things floating around on banner ads and one day you finally click them, just to see what they’re actually about? That’s how it happened. These all-black clothes were popping up on every website I visited, promising a revolutionary new service. A clothing and accessories company unlike any other, different from the hyper-scaling Silicon Valley behemoths that frictionlessly deliver cars and groceries and fill empty apartments with mattresses and flat-packed furniture on demand. The clothes were part of a subscription delivery service called LOT. It promised to actually change your life.
“If a package arrived with a tab of acid, I’d take it.”
The name didn’t mean anything to me. Its website — www.lot2046.com — brings to mind Wong Kar-wai’s movie titled after the same digits, the one where robots on a train symbolize all our earthly regrets. 2046 signals a time yet to come—at which point things we can’t imagine today will be mundane. But the LOT subscription was already here; you could already be a part of it, its designer told me.
Once a month, I would get a bundle of clothing — t-shirt, pants, shoes, jacket, underwear, socks and accessories (toothbrush, deodorant, floss). It would start out monochrome black, pure cybergoth, but it would gradually adapt to my preferences. My LOT wouldn’t be quite the same as anyone else’s. Instead of a single brand identity, it’s more like a generative equation, constantly producing new output from its input.
The LOT company was like that, too, I was told. It wasn’t built to scale or to get acquired or to disrupt anything, except maybe the idea of fashion itself. “There’s no founder, no equity, no board of directors, no future,” the designer said. No creative director, no advertising campaign, no maniacal profit drive. “It’s important to have this ego death.”
The point was, where it came from didn’t matter, only that it existed. To get it, all you do is go to the LOT website, select your subscription level — $50 a month for just clothes, $100 for the hygiene products, too — and input your size. My advice is that it runs a little small by American standards.
“We live in an age of distraction
—just remove one.”
Packages began arriving outside my apartment in a bag I’d rip open like a mysterious Christmas present from a spartan robo-Santa. The clothing came rolled up, secured by Velcro belts and vacuum-sealed in plastic that was covered in strange messages addressed to me personally: “This is between us, Kyle.” “For the good death.” The deodorant just said “Weeping.” Okay, I thought.
My wardrobe was slowly invaded. I felt like I had been infected with the Ophiocordyceps fungus, the one that turns ants into zombies. One month everything began arriving with my name on the label instead of a logo. It felt like LOT was getting to know me. All I had to do was live and the monthly packages adapted. I got no-show socks in the summer and a jacket in the fall. The constant flow of basics meant I never had to buy anything else.
The LOT program is both practical and conceptual. It shares with tech-bro culture an interest in the uniform — see Mark Zuckerberg’s grey hoodie or Steve Jobs’ turtleneck. If you let LOT dress you, you don’t have to make any decisions, nor can you make them. But unlike a minimalist capsule wardrobe, it doesn’t call attention to its own asceticism, because no two subscribers receive exactly the same stuff. At the same time, those differences are nothing to brag about — after all, you didn’t really pick them. LOT removes, to the extent that it’s possible, fashion as a marker of identity. Even the brand itself is designed to dematerialize.
The product quality? It’s decent, somewhere between Uniqlo and MUJI. It’s not fancy, but that’s not the point. And it should get even better as time goes on: the more subscribers, the more potential there is. A cash reserve will build up that the company will use to create more complicated products, and more user-created data means a more perfect AI.
The whole thing works because of boutique manufacturing. LOT has an incubator in Shenzhen, China, the belly button of our global material culture, and enough factory relationships that they can produce anything at any volume. Because corporations like Nike and Adidas have already set up massive supply chains and funded manufacturing innovation, making a thousand slightly different things can be as easy and cheap as a thousand of the exact same thing. It’s not about what you can make anymore — it’s about how you access it.
LOT is an aesthetic with a moral dimension, like the universal humanism of the Bauhaus. Like meditation, medicine, hallucinogens, or cigarettes, LOT is a way of understanding the universe’s implicit hints that your life will end someday, that you are not important, that all the branded t-shirts you buy will crumble into dust just as your body will melt back into the earth. It’s not something you always want to believe, or dwell on. But it’s one way of reconsidering how you define yourself and what you occupy yourself with every day. We live in an age of distraction—just remove one.
We’ve done this to ourselves, of course. The more technology takes over from us, the more passive we’ll become. Airbnb will eventually tell you where you’re going to go and who you’re going to meet, not just list houses for you to stay at, LOT’s designer theorized. WeWork will give you a job, not an office. Facebook will make friends for you. Soylent will feed you a prescribed nutrient blend. LOT will send you clothes and cosmetics, and soon enough, furniture. We might turn wholesale to mindless consumption, binging infinite robot-generated Netflix shows. Or, in LOT’s utopian vein, we could all be left to wander the city streets contemplating our lives like Greek philosophers. If the mundane, easy stuff is all taken care of, the hard questions are really all that’s left. The question is whether we can bear them without the reassuring hum of everything else.
The packages keep arriving in prompt monthly increments. Sometimes I get form emails asking questions about them: do they fit? Should anything be different? Once clothing can produce digital data on its own, the emails will be optimized out, too.
I decide that I prefer grey to black; the shirts and pants become grey. The accessories are increasingly esoteric. A necklace, a hospital bracelet, a mixtape—harsh ambient soundscapes from the German label RDK Island. A gleaming black tattoo gun, symbolic of something I don’t yet understand. I get the sense that the service is becoming more popular, but there’s no way of knowing who else is a subscriber. Everyone I see on the street might be in on it.
It seems to lead somewhere, like a novel told in objects, but I’m a character in its world rather than just reading the story. If a package arrived with a tab of acid, I’d take it. You have to trust wherever it's going.
- Text: Kyle Chayka
- Photography: Eric Chakeen