Everything you wear sends the world a message about who you are and what you care about. A suit and tie can tell people you’re a serious businessperson trying to work his/her way up the corporate ladder, while a T-shirt that reads “Hold My Beer And Watch This” communicates… a very different message. Occasionally, clothes can express something greater than what we want the world to know about us alone. Exhibit A: the new Aubrey Marcus Collection.
The fledgling fashion brand began in 2018, mainly out of the Onnit founder and CEO’s desperation to own fashionable clothes that fit well. Back with a new line this winter, the label has evolved to not only represent but also support a practice and social cause Marcus champions, and celebrate a person who mentored him—specifically, plant medicine for the sake of gaining greater self-awareness, and Don Howard Lawler, the shaman who helped Marcus find his true calling.
The boss made time to discuss the new AM Collection, and explain why it’s more than just a new set of duds to him.
Onnit: The Aubrey Marcus Collection benefits the SpiritQuest Shamanic Sanctuary in Peru. Can you explain what that is and why it’s important to you?
Aubrey Marcus: The SpiritQuest Sanctuary was the place where Don Howard Lawler practiced his art of plant medicine shamanism for the past few decades. It’s a couple hundred acres off the river in Iquitos, Peru—a beautiful location imbued with the energy of healing and transformation.
Howard led retreats for both huachuma, which is San Pedro cactus [plant medicine], and Chavín [the most sacred plant medicine ceremonial practice in Peru] at the SpiritQuest Sanctuary. That’s how I got to know him, and he was one of the most impactful people in my life.
I remember the first time I did huachuma with him. I heard him say the words, “Para el bien de todos”—for the good of all—and that became my own rallying cry. That became my purpose—to apply myself for the good of all. And that just means being in service to all people, including myself.
The more times I saw Howard the more I would pick up bits of wisdom from him. Even things he said that I kind of understood at the time I get new understandings of now. Like the idea of keeping your heart forward and your head up. That means that you want to always be moving with a heart-focused purpose. Your heart is leading, but your head is up. I wondered why he said “head up,” because spirit isn’t in the sky. It’s in the ground; it’s everywhere. So why head up? I just recently realized what he was trying to tell me. You keep the head up so you don’t become enamored with what you do. If your head is up and your heart is leading, then you’re doing good for others but you’re not watching what you’re doing and falling in love with it and losing perspective. The wisdom of that is just starting to unfold for me like a giant fractal puzzle. It’s like, “Oooh, I get it now.”
So the impact Howard has had has been absolutely immense. I never knew my biological grandfathers, so he was probably as close to a grandfather as I’ve ever had, and he passed away last year. To honor him, a portion of the profits from the AM Collection will go to his Sanctuary.
Specifically, sale of all items in the Collection that bear the smiling jaguar symbol will benefit the Sanctuary. You recently got a tattoo on your right arm of that same symbol, so what does it mean?
The smiling jaguar is the symbol of the SpiritQuest Sanctuary, and it goes back to Chavín, an ancient civilization in Peru where the San Pedro huachuma tradition began. The jaguar is symbolic of the medicine itself, and what happens when you take the medicine.
As the active ingredient in the huachuma medicine—which is mescaline—comes on board, you get a very expansive, heart-opening sensation. That can lead you to this feeling of fearlessness, or feeling like the jaguar. In the natural order, the jaguar was the apex predator of the landscape. The jaguar smiles because, when you’re fearless, you don’t need to act tough. You don’t need to snarl. I think that’s why it’s such a perfect symbol for SpiritQuest, and what Don Howard always offered, and that makes it a symbol I’m honored to carry forward on the Collection too.
As far as my tattoo, in one sense, it was an homage to Don Howard. I have my grandmother’s image tattooed on my left arm, and since Howard was like a grandfather to me, he’s represented on my right arm. Traditionally, feminine is on the left-hand side and masculine is on the right. But the jaguar itself is an important symbol, because only when you release your fear can you find the deepest happiness. So that’s another reason the jaguar is smiling. The jaguar is in a position of fearlessness, and that’s the position that I want to be in.
With as much work as I’ve done, I still have times where I find myself afraid. Afraid of business issues, of relationship issues, health issues. So it’s a reminder that, in fearlessness, there is happiness, and that I need to be mindful of my commitment to service. To make sure that what I do is for the good of all. That’s why the jaguar appears on every new item in the Collection.
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Don Howard, maestro, hermano, and friend, transitioned from his body this morning. He said he hoped he would pass during the day of a Huachuma Mesada, the 3500 year old tradition of serving medicine that he resurrected through 50 years of service. Today his daughter Selva is holding his place at the head of the Mesa, and the legacy of healing continues @spiritquest.sanctuary. If you wanted to meet a man of greater dignity, you would find none. If you wanted to meet a man of greater wisdom and courage, you would find none. If you wanted to meet a warrior more dedicated to the good of all, para el bien de todos, you would find none. The last visit I had with Don Howard, I was riding behind him on a boat and I started to weep, thinking about his eventual death. He came to me in vision, and he said “Where do you think I’m going brother?” He had a twinkle in his eye and a wry smile. I started to chuckle, because of course he wasn’t going anywhere. He’d always be with us, in our hearts, our deeds and in his True form — unborn and undying. I haven’t always been the best at remembering and practicing everything he taught me. But as he once told me, the warrior’s heart beats as one heart. So now mine will beat a little stronger, knowing that the world lost one of the greatest today. I love you always Maestro, hermano. Thank you for everything. I won’t forget ♥️🌎
What has been your favorite part of developing this clothing brand?
The fun part of the process is coming up with cool ideas and watching them actually come to life, and turn into cool clothes. That process is my favorite part of any business, whether it’s product development on a supplement, or a food, or a piece of fitness equipment. It goes from cool idea to cool execution and then we’re left with something where we’re all like, “this looks dope.”
There are clothes from the previous line in the AM Collection that I still wear all the time. The joggers are my favorite joggers. The sweat jeans are my favorite sweat jeans. All of the different pieces are things that I wear constantly. The knit blazer has been a staple in my wardrobe for years now. I’m looking forward to having new stuff like that. I can’t wait for it to be warm enough for me to wear the swim shorts. Those things are sick!
I wear-test everything before it comes out, so it gives me an opportunity to feel the fabric, move in the garment, and truly put the design to the test.
You’ve said that great fashion creates “Oh, shit!” moments where people see something you’re wearing and it just stops them in their tracks. Do you think you have anything in this new line that will have that effect?
Yes, I think most of the new stuff will, actually. Again, the swim shorts. I have a similar cut on another pair of swim shorts that I’ve owned for a long time, and whenever I post a pic wearing them, I get two-dozen comments. “Where did you get those?” So I know the new shorts are going to be a smash.
The flannel jacket will resonate with a lot of people too. Then there’s other stuff that’s more subtle, like the long-sleeve tee. I think that’s epic. I think the knit shorts will be rad. I think we’ve solved a lot of problems with these clothes. We’re not just slapping a logo on a stock thing. These are custom designed. Yes, they have a jaguar, but if they had nothing on them they would still be the absolute best cut, and would still be the best way that we could produce these garments.
What problems are you solving, exactly?
Well, the length, waistband, feel, and comfort of swim trunks have always been an issue for me in the past, and we addressed all that with the new swim shorts. I think shorter is in, particularly for anybody who’s fit—long board shorts aren’t cool anymore, in my opinion. We took the time to find the perfect length for these shorts. Not too high, but not below the knee. The AM Collection is a passion project, so we have the ability to really perfect each garment.
I’m really excited about the swim shorts, because I wear swim shorts a lot. I’m always in my backyard swimming, or in the sauna, or taking a cold plunge.
The long-sleeve T-shirts are another thing. In the past, long-sleeve tees have always been too short on me, or anyone else who’s tall. Or they’re loose on the wrist. Our long-sleeve tee fits.
The AM Collection is designed in Austin and manufactured in Italy. Making the clothes in Italy has to be more expensive than doing it here, or in Asia. What’s the advantage to the consumer of manufacturing in Italy?
Although European manufacturers use smaller-sized factories, they manage to compete with low-cost manufacturing coming from Asia by specializing in high-end luxury items. The garment quality, the materials, are excellent. This is a primary reason we continue to have the clothes made there.
There are also standards of labor that are going to be met in Italy—different working conditions than you might find in some place like Singapore. That’s important to us. Especially for clothes that have a plant medicine symbol on them.
Finally, I think it’s the expertise in fashion that sets Italy apart. Italy makes some of the best clothes in the world, so they understand sourcing and production really well.
It seems like the collection is an unusual mix of styles—a flannel jacket with quilted lining, swim shorts. What was the intention behind releasing such a wide variety of clothing?
It started as me filling gaps in my closet, which is not dissimilar to how I started making supplements. The process for me always begins with asking, “Is what I want hard to find? And if it is, can we make it ourselves?” If the answer is yes, and we come up with a design I love, then we greenlight the project.
We also wanted a collection of clothes that can be worn year-round. We don’t design for seasons. These garments are meant to serve as staple items in your wardrobe for years to come. Some of them are suited for warm weather and some for cold. The swim shorts may be a summer staple, but they’re also great for a polar plunge, or a sauna after a brutal workout. I even wore them for a few workouts during the wear-tests.
When you launched the AM Collection in 2018, you said that it was important to you to have clothes that you can move in. This is why the pants are a little stretchy around the knees. Does that tradition carry on with this new line?
Yes, 100%. I like to be mobile. I’ll start moving wherever I am. I stretch when I’m waiting in airports. I’ll even dance. Of course, it’s very rare that you’re going to be in a situation where you’ll have to run, or have to fight, or have to do any extravagant movement when you’re out in public, but if you are, you don’t want to have to disrobe to do that. You may not have time to!
It’s nice to have clothes that let you move well without looking like the old Chuck Norris action pants. With the pants we sell, you don’t have to cut the crotch out so you can throw a kick without tearing them [laughs].
The brand started as all men’s clothes, but now you have a women’s T-shirt for sale. Does this mean the brand is evolving in a new direction?
We’re as sensitive to demand as we can be. If the women’s tee sells well, I’m sure we’ll see other women’s clothes coming soon. Obviously, my expertise is less viable when it comes to women’s wear. I can’t fill a hole in my closet with that. So I put my trust in women I know who have a good fashion sense, and I think women consumers will be pleased when they see the women’s tee we’ve come up with.
Any parting advice for shoppers?
Whether the message of the jaguar and the SpiritQuest Sanctuary resonates with you, or you just want really dope, fashionable clothes, this collection is a win, either way. And if you’re into both of those things, even better.