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Nathan Fielder
AP/Invision/Richard Shotwell
Raising consciousness through outerwear.
#DENYNOTHING

The guy behind “Dumb Starbucks” is selling sportswear to remind people of the Holocaust  

By Lila MacLellan

The line was around the block this weekend when Nathan Fielder, a comedian and the star of Comedy Central’s Nathan For You, opened a pop-up clothing shop in Vancouver, Canada, to sell his line of outdoor attire, Summit Ice. The brand offers jackets and t-shirts marketed to promote awareness of the Holocaust.

In the shop, images of Nazi rallies and German concentration camps were placed next to mannequins sporting Summit Ice technical jackets. “Six million Jews died,” proclaims a male model with a piercing gaze in an advertisement. Organizers gave out “Deny Nothing” buttons.

It’s the driest of dry humor, but what makes Fielder’s stunt work is the accuracy of his aim: Summit Ice ostensibly seeks to undermine a popular Canadian outerwear company, Taiga, that had published a tribute to a Holocaust-denier in a catalogue. (This part is real, and the company’s messaging continues to be offensive and ridiculous. Quartz has reached out to Taiga for comment and will update this post with any response.) Fielder deadpans in a press release that he launched Summit Ice because he “immediately recognized a need in the marketplace for an outdoor apparel company that openly promoted the true story of the Holocaust.” In his pop-up store, Fielder encouraged customers to throw out their Taiga gear in exchange for Summit Ice garments, or purchase them with donations to an organization dedicated to Holocaust awareness.

But Summit Ice is also a brilliant critique of the growing trend of companies using social consciousness for marketing campaigns; a sophisticated send-up of the self-seriousness in the fashion industry; and a spot-on parody of the high-minded proclamations (video) and sanctimonious mission statements of sportswear brands. (Lululemon tells us that “Children are the orgasm of life,” for example.)

Summit Ice is also Fielder’s personal business, one that has reportedly sold more than US $500,000 of signature soft shell jackets, t-shirts, and wool hats over the two years since the online store was launched during a Nathan For You episode (video) in 2015.

Here’s Fielder explaining the whole thing to Conan O’Brien:

Fielder, who has a real business degree from the University of Victoria, often includes an element of actual commerce in his unique satirical humor. On Nathan For You, the comedian plays a business consultant who pitches quirky ideas to real-life Los Angeles area mom-and-pop companies with a remarkable earnestness.

Fielder is most famous as the man behind Dumb Starbucks, the functioning Los Angeles coffee shop that briefly operated during the show’s first season. In another popular episode, he persuaded a moving company that it could save money by no longer hiring laborers. Instead, he invented a fitness plan called The Movement, which required paying devotees to spend hours actually moving someone out of a house (complete with a detailed ghost-written biography that the show commissioned, published, and still sells on Amazon).

Undoubtably, Summit Ice’s juxtaposition of sportswear and Holocaust awareness is pushing the boundaries of good taste. But if the stunt is rubbing anyone the wrong way, they’re not making much fuss about it.

Nina Krieger, the executive director at the Vancouver Holocaust Education Center, tells Quartz that she felt that Fielder’s humor “struck a chord.” The museum was pleased to be the surprise recipient of US $150,000 that Fielder donated, and to share the spotlight with the cult-favorite comedian. “There’s tension between his methods and the topic matter,” she says, “but Nathan still managed to bring real awareness to this issue, which has ongoing relevance given recent events locally, in the US, and internationally.”

Several celebrities are in on the joke, and the brand’s website features staged images with captions such as “Rob Lowe looking cool and Holocaust conscious in one of our fleece-lined softshell jackets,” and “Alexandra Daddario leaving Whole Foods with a healthy drink and a healthy awareness of one of history’s worst genocides.”

Joking aside, some took a sincere message from the Summit Ice project: