Hill City weaves environmental consciousness into men’s activewear.
Active jacket, $148. Ultralight hooded jacket, $168, and Train short, $78.
On his first day on the job, Noah Palmer sat alone at an empty desk envisioning things from scratch. “I was the only person here,” he recalls in a product showroom overlooking the Bay Bridge. “It was super weird and a little bit lonely.”
He couldn’t tell anybody around him what he was working on, as if he was guarding a secret formula. And, in a sense, he was. Last fall, in 2018, when Palmer and his small team launched Hill City, the men’s clothing brand he had started working on some two years earlier in the San Francisco offices of Gap Inc.’s Athleta brand, they presented a new vision of choosing what we wear—blending fashion, function and sustainability.
Palmer, a former professional soccer player and longtime San Francisco resident, had climbed his way up through Gap Inc. for the last decade before being greenlit in 2017 to create a new brand, with a simple goal to target the men’s performance active space. But, what became known as Hill City turned into a complete reconfiguration of the approach to menswear.
“If we think about the men’s market, it’s really loaded on two opposite sides of the spectrum,” Palmer says. There’s highly technical activewear that is designed—aesthetically and functionally—solely for its athletic purposes. Conversely, in the lifestyle and streetwear space, fashion trumps versatility. “Our mission became taking the two ends of that continuum and pulling them closer together and eventually making them overlap.”
Noah Palmer, wearing the heavyweight fleece hoodie, $98, photographed at Hill City’s San Francisco headquarters.
Palmer, 36, serves as a personified example on this day, decked out in a Hill City outfit—a gray T-shirt and navy utility jacket, cropped black pants and torn up Vans—that blurs the line between work and play. His Hill City Everyday pant, for instance, carries the look of a fashionably minimalistic chino, but boasts a trove of hidden performance elements: a water-repellant face, sweat-wicking fabric, a hidden zip pocket and a patent-pending elastic waistband. Similarly, the swim short, among Hill City’s new summer pieces (the brand eschews traditional seasonal collections in favor of its versatile, year-round designs), has all the design components to weather the extremes of swimming or surfing, with the look and feel of an everyday summer short.
The versatility woven into the designs folds into Hill City’s most distinguishing quality of environmental consciousness. Approximately 40 percent of Hill City’s materials are sustainable—using natural fibers, choosing organic cotton over conventional cotton and sourcing from postconsumer recycled material with their synthetic fibers. But the brand’s approach is also meant to allow for the same consciousness in its customers.
“The conversations in the early days were more about: How do we create a smaller closet for a guy? How do we allow them to have fewer things that are better quality and last longer?” Palmer says. “I think that’s the most authentic way to be sustainable.”
It’s that kind of forward thinking that was written in from the start for Hill City, which is a certified B Corporation. In the process, it is helping to trailblaze a new approach to fashion. “We’re nascent,” says Palmer, referring to the brand, but also to a larger movement in sustainable clothing. “I think there will be a point in time in the not-distant future when a lot more people care about the clothes they put on their body and how long they last. We’re literally just scratching the surface.”