“I thought I’d never wear certain things, but I realize now that it doesn’t change who you are. I don’t expect to stay the same.”

Lyz Olko had her first taste of New York’s opportunity laden streets as a rebellious 13-year-old, stealing nights away from suburban New Jersey to ride the concrete grid on her skateboard in cutoffs and Converse, looking for that “anything” to make possible. Two decades later, she sits across from me with a smile, rubbing her palms together as she explains why her hands are covered in ink (the consequence of developing a new printing technique) before delving into the history of her punk-inspired label, Obesity & Speed.

What started as an accident — when Gwen Stefani’s stylist happened to walk into the hip Seven boutique when it was still located on Orchard Street and insisted on buying Olko’s first DIY tee (randomly placed on a mannequin during a boring shift) — has since become a thriving fashion label. Worn by the likes of Sky Ferreira, Liza Thorn (featured here in Olko’s Fall/Winter 2013 lookbook) Sleigh Bells’ Alexis Krauss and Santigold, the collection is sold at Barneys New York, Oak and Trash and Vaudeville alongside select boutiques in L.A. and Japan.


Named after the self-described boy-girl revolutionaries and band Huggy Bear, Olko cites the music she listened to growing up as the root of her inspiration, using lyrics that make her feel something as graphic text. Yet (much to the dismay of analytical writers), Obesity & Speed is merely an obscure and borrowed song lyric, rather than a commentary on the beauty standards of the fashion industry. “I wouldn’t use a fashion brand to make a comment like that,” says Olko. “It’s a riot grrrl thing.”

Her tall, slim and tattooed frame dons a crisp white T-shirt with mesh shoulders, black shorts and ACNE boots, all of which are surprisingly less ripped and frayed than expected, reflecting that though her foundation will forever be grunge and underground music from the ‘90s, Lyz Olko is evolving… And so is her brand. The ambitious yet infectiously laid back founder and designer has retired her teenage look of “baggy Dickies and a shitty T-shirt with, like, a dog collar,” and accepts the grown-up vibe her recent designs exude. Graciously embracing her maturing tastes, she underscores the importance of liking things unapologetically and knowing that listening to a certain band doesn’t have to dictate what you wear. “I thought I’d never wear certain things, but I realize now that it doesn’t change who you are. I don’t expect to stay the same,” she explains.

Olko is currently working on her Spring/Summer 2014 collection bearing the title, “The Hustle Never Dies,” and describes its aesthetic as more refined, elevated and sleeker than looks from previous seasons, and will include her first line of outerwear. Her creative process is nonlinear of most, following form with her 18-hour work days. Despite her demanding day job, the young professional manages to maintain a second full-time gig as the Director of Nightlife for The Jane and The Westway, operated by downtown scenesters and Olko’s close friends, Matt Kliegman and Carlos Quirarte (who also own The Smile). The secret, she divulges, is foregoing alcohol and fueling a four-hour sleep diet with Juice Press and 20-minute naps (and Diet Coke on exceptionally long days). Still, it helps that she genuinely enjoys her colleagues who create a carefree environment. Olko notes, “It’s easy to balance because I have a great relationship with the people I work with and my nightly hours are fairly flexible.”


Olko’s near ceaseless stream of stimulus feeds her library of inspiration, bolstering the musical influence behind her aesthetic with ideas sprung from late night conversations, eccentric interactions and thoughts that pop up at 4 a.m. when she’s hailing a cab home from work.

This is a girl who grew up during the best years of the ‘90s, authentically connected with a slew of interesting New Yorkers for the sake of expanding her own knowledge and perception of the world, but who thinks people would be surprised by just how much she stays in touch with her friends. She has an affinity for the dark and haunted, savoring the thrill of a good horror movie or exploring an abandoned property in the suburbs, and is fascinated by unexplained phenomenon and energies, pointing out that the centuries worth of material purporting the existence of ghosts suggests there must be something to it. The interest coincides with her strong intuition. “I usually know when certain things are going to happen,” she notes, which perhaps explains her curiosity for the intangible parts of reality as an attempt to understand why we can sometimes feel like our gut is telling us something we don’t want, but need to hear.

Despite the glamour, Olko is refreshingly down-to-earth and leaves me feeling like I’ve made a new friend that just so happens to run a wildly successful fashion label and two of Manhattan’s coolest late night joints (score!). On seeing people donning her designs, she remains humble. “That will never not be cool,” says Olko. Then, adding with palpable sincerity notes, “There is not a single day that I don’t wake up feeling lucky.”