Max Wastler is a character to say the least— a charismatic personality, tastemaker, designer, and writer to be more exact. The megaphone for the maker generation, and contributing editor to Conde Nast Traveler, currently lives in Chicago, Illinois. Yet no matter how chic his life may appear from afar, (check out his popular Instagram account here) the native Missourian will always be a pull-himself-up-by-his-bootstraps kind of guy. As someone who throws himself into the unknown, he is confident, and comfortable, living in the grey area. Wastler knows that he will always figure it out. From television to blogs to e-commerce stores, mediums are malleable in his world— the barometer for trying something new is more about, does he like the person with whom he is doing it with? If a platform provides connection and freedom for his creative mind then the answer is probably “yes.” While he has already accomplished more than most do in a lifetime, like myself, he is always in search of the next adventure.
“Originally I wanted to be a broadcast journalist and cover entertainment news. At DePauw University, I hosted a late-night talk show, covered the morning news and served as the editor at the resident radio station—that is, until I covered a murder and realized that wasn’t the kind of work I wanted to do. It was not my intention to be Max Wastler on the night beat. I spent the last of my college years writing screenplays, producing, directing and acting.
After graduation I followed my girlfriend to England where I worked at the Speedo store in Piccadilly Circus. During that time I was secret shopped by the design team who insisted I come work with them. I literally fell into the deep end of the apparel pool. After that, I moved to Ireland where I worked as a bartender for six months. I learned how to pour the perfect Guiness and the meaning of a hard day’s work. Next, I was accepted into the Neighborhood Playhouse School of the Theatre in New York. The summer between my first and second year of school, I worked as an assistant in women’s design at J. Crew. There, I gained insight into how a mass market retail design team works. When I finished school, I went back to J. Crew and helped in the production department at Madewell. That experience was instrumental in learning how clothes come together.
As the assistant production manager at Madewell I worked on belts, bags, and shoes, which is when I began to realize that what we’re doing in China is wrong. I didn’t want to promote a culture of people sleeping at their desks and not seeing their children for weeks. After reading the book Let My People Go Surfing, by Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard, I began to see there was a gentler, more environmentally-friendly way of doing things. I immediately applied for the company.
Riding the path of uncertainty has always been a huge driving force in my career. Nerves are a good thing in my opinion.
After Patagonia hired me on as a sales associate, I worked my way up to a visual merchandiser position. During that time my hobbies became volunteering at an organic farm, leading hikes and white water rafting trips. I also became interested in the made-in-America world and, mostly, why I couldn’t afford these items.
Next I acquired a job at Conde Nast as a publishing assistant editing textbooks. To keep myself from dozing off, I started a blog about the manufacturing of American-made products. I became known as the factory tour guy and was quickly picked up by publications like Details, GQ, Esquire, and The New York Times. On my own dime, I drove around the country documenting mom ‘n’ pop shops and production facilities.
After that string of success, I became a traveling salesman for an American-made, shirt manufacturing company. My best clients were the Amish because, in the rest of the Midwest, menswear stores all had “Going Out of Business” signs on their doors. It was the fall of 2008 and the economy was falling a part.
After that I started an online vintage and American-made menswear boutique with a buddy of mine called Buckshot Sonny’— “the kind of store your grandfather would have taken your father.” It was packed with handmade baseballs, kites and military-issued watches. While super cool, our business model wasn’t incredibly sustainable. From there, my partner and I pitched a TV show called “Made Right Here” about the people that made stuff, as opposed to the stuff itself. We partnered with Maxwell Coffee and got a ten-episode deal, which they promoted on their website and social media channels. It was an invaluable experience that made me realize I could combine advertising, entertainment and the maker culture.
Thinking of myself as a character, even in real life, has always allowed me to have unlimited amounts of creative freedom.
Recently I reconnected with my little kid self that would read Variety and Entertainment Weekly cover-to-cover. Every night I drank a cup of coffee and watched David Letterman from beginning to end. I realized how influential he’s been in constructing my on-camera persona. Somewhere along the line he seeped into my personality. For as long as I’ve been alive I’ve wanted to host a talk show. I’m confident it will just take the right place and time—just like everything in life.