May 6, 2020

The National Bureau: Streetwear, NASA, And A Rabbit

Nick Schenck
Garment From The National Bureau

Ryan Britton talks about a fursuit in the same tone most people describe their grocery lists.

“In order for me to find a rabbit head that was of the quality that I wanted,” Britton said, “I had to ingratiate myself into the furry community and the fursuiting community.

“You can’t just be on Craigslist, ‘Hey, I really want a rabbit head. Bring me the offers.’ I mean, you got to get in line. Sometimes the line is a year. There’s just not a lot of people that can do this stuff.”

Britton is the founder of The National Bureau of Product Research, an Austin-based streetwear brand born in Britton’s backyard office shed. An Austin native, Britton is a middle-aged father of four who left his job as a NASA contractor in 2015 to pursue his own label.

The centerpiece of his brand is Edwin, a character that Britton developed to represent The National Bureau. A fictional Dutch rabbit, Edwin is referred to by Britton as “the patron saint of pointless miracles.” It’s all part of cultivating a shroud of intrigue and absurdity for a fashion line that is based on science.

Each of The National Bureau’s garments – from hoodies and jackets to t-shirts and long sleeves – tells a story of astrogeology and exploration. The designs and patches inside the apparel offer detailed historical information on NASA expeditions, space capsules, landers, and more.

Britton occasionally refers to his clothing as “nerdwear.”

Printing sheets of The National Bureau
Britton hired Shan Schaefer from Pixelbent Custom Textile Printing in Houston to print The National Bureau apparel. Britton wanted the designs to be as sharp as if they were printed on paper.

Said Schaefer: “When you heat a synthetic fabric up to 400 degrees, it actually opens up and it’s porous…so that gas permeates the threads. When you release the heat and pressure, it locks it in. And so you won’t get bleed.”

“With Edwin, I want him to be all things”

To create Edwin’s mask, Britton commissioned DrakonicKnight, a Wisconsin studio that has produced work for hip-hop group Insane Clown Posse and others. The resin-based rabbit’s head contains a cooling fan, eyes that illuminate, and jaw articulation that enables Edwin’s mouth to move as Britton talks.

Britton says masks like the one he purchased for Edwin range from $1,500 – $3,000.

“I really wanted to figure out a way to get out in front of my brand in ways that are unusual and also true to the brand,” he said. “And that’s kind of the point is like there’s this richness and this beauty sort of underneath the surface that is not available to the public. Nobody ever sees it. And we’re kind of bringing it out to the light of day. And so it’s digging, and rabbits dig.”

The shock value of Edwin is exactly the point, says Britton, who points to musical artists like Orville Peck, Daft Punk, and deadmau5 as inspiration.

“Not only can (Edwin) be an ambassador for the brand, he can also just grab and hold attention long enough for somebody to experience the brand,” Britton said. “I think that this is a really powerful thing. That’s something that I cannot do myself.”

Britton is the only person to wear Edwin. This image is from inside the kitchen at Britton’s home in Central Austin.

Enlisting the help of the L.A. fashion world

In fashion and streetwear circles, Austin is irrelevant. 

“I’m not ignorant to the fact that there’s probably over a few hundred thousand clothing brands – and I’m pretty sure there’s a few in Austin – but before meeting Ryan, I didn’t know there were any,” The Hundreds fashion stylist Lord-Justice Canton said.

Canton, a 27-year-old from New York City, serves as an informal advisor to The National Bureau. He met Britton in L.A.’s Fairfax District in 2019.

“My first impression was like, this is something I have to be a part of,” Canton said. “You don’t meet people like Ryan often. So me just seeing that he can design, he makes his own clothes. He’s a father, he’s married and his previous experience was working with the government and different things. 

“Most people, to be honest, are going to see Ryan and walk right past him and not even understand what he knows and what he’s capable of. And that’s what intrigued me about The National Bureau.”

Garment From The National Bureau
The Rescue Sign Zip-Up Hoodie from The National Bureau. This retails for $240.

Description from The National Bureau website: “The print on our Rescue Sign Hoodie is made from a 1961 drawing. NASA Engineers used these drawings to manufacture signs for the exterior of the Gemini space capsule. The rescue sign pointed emergency crews to the doors of the capsule in the event that things got crispy or went underwater.”

To overcome his outside status and “the invisibility problem,” as Britton calls it, he began working with The Residency Experience, a fashion PR showroom in L.A. that introduces fashion brands to celebrities and their stylists.

In recent months, The Residency Experience sent pieces to Usher, Travis Scott, and Kehlani. 

“Now we’re just waiting to see those placements,” The Residency Experience SVP Stephen Ledezma said.

So far, athletes like Mexican soccer star Chicharito and UFC middleweight champion Israel Adesanya have worn The National Bureau apparel organically on TV and social media, respectively. 

Another chapter in the saga

Britton seems unfazed by the challenges that The National Bureau faces due to COVID-19. According to this Fast Company article, clothing and accessory brands saw a 50.5% drop in sales in March. Britton did not share sales figures with 3rd & Lamar.

He sells direct-to-consumer through his website, and the lowest-priced items are t-shirts for $77 each. The price is due in part to expensive high-resolution, dye-sublimation printing, which minimizes the bleed on fabrics.

Ryan Britton as a young adult with his father.

“My dad was kind of this All-American guy, played high school football, he was varsity for four years as the quarterback. He’s really good-looking. And on the flip side, I’ve always been a little weird, always been a little bit off. I’m 40 pounds lighter than he is and didn’t grow to be as big as he was, but there was still that fundamental acceptance of everything.”

“I never priced it to cover a marketing budget, and I never priced it to sort of give it clout,” Britton said. “I’ve priced it to basically do small runs of clothing made in the USA, handmade, that allowed me to do another. And then put some food on the table.”

Economics aside, dedicating his time to The National Bureau appears to be a release valve for Britton, and the work lends itself to his obsessive compulsive tendencies. He once spent 80 hours tracing a quarter of the surface of mars for a field jacket design.

“I’ve always known that I was a little bit different than everybody else, and it was just something that I was going to have to deal with,” he said. “If that sort of whirling soup of thoughts in my head isn’t taken care of in some productive manner, then it just spins faster.

“It’s like a bright light that just gets brighter and brighter to where like – if you got this super bright light in your face, you’re not going to be thinking about much else.”

Growing up in Austin and attending Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas, Britton always wanted to do his own thing, and his family accepted and supported him. He’s felt the same embrace from the community at large as he tries to grow The National Bureau into a reputable fashion brand.

“This is Austin, I’ve never had any issues with anybody being like, ‘God, you’re weird,’” Britton said. “Now after Edwin shows up, it could change. So we will see.”

Click here to watch the ORIGINALS episode featuring The National Bureau.

Correction: In the previous version of this article, it stated that masks like Edwin’s cost roughly $6,000. We received new information that masks range from $1,500-$3,000. Per Britton, “Edwin was at the upper end of that. But a whole fursuit the quality of Edwin might be $10k.”