Ryan Roche is known for her thoughtfully appointed hues, block colors, and enviably tactile fabrics. What’s perhaps slightly lesser known is her approach to the providence of her materials and the garment workers who construct her pieces.
Laura Piety spoke to Ryan about the ethics embedded in her brand, the future of fashion, and her methods for channelling creative inspiration. We’ve transcribed the conversation below.
Ryan Roche: Hi, it’s Ryan.
Laura Piety: How are you doing?
RR: How are you?
LP: Very well, thank you. Thank you so much for taking the time to chat.
RR: Of course, no problem. It worked out perfect, it’s kind of a quiet week. It’s a perfect time to chat.
RR: Are you in New York?
LP: No, I’m actually in Los Angeles.
RR: Oh wow. We’re having a blizzard today so I’m home and it’s so snowy and so crazy out. I didn’t know if you were in New York as well.
LP: No, luckily! Although I’ve been watching it. I’ve got a bunch of friends there and so obviously just been watching on Instagram.
LP: It was 90 degrees here yesterday.
RR: Oh my God. Actually my youngest son who’s nine, he and my husband were checking the temperature in L.A. this morning because they were like, “We can’t believe it’s snowing.” And then I was like, “I’m going to check the temperature in L.A. We should definitely move to L.A.”
LP: Well I’m originally from London so even the fact it’s not constant rain here is a big difference to me!
LP: I’d love to just very, very briefly talk to you a little bit about Noble’s Clean Luxury series, and then maybe we can jump in? It’s a full content series around clean luxury and we’re partnering with a whole host of different brands, but again, with the idea of putting out fantastic content in this space that is beautiful and sexy. This sustainable space has a lot of PR issues even though I think it’s coming further along and we really wanted to concentrate on beautiful solutions in a way that’s meaningful, desirable, aspirational and luxury in our content.
RR: I love that.
LP: So obviously you were high up on the list to chat to.
LP: Yeah. I figured we could just have a conversation about anything and everything.
RR: That sounds amazing. I love that, I love what you’re doing. It’s like … Everything you’re saying is the philosophy behind my brand. It means so much more than just putting clothing out into the world. There’s such deep connection to every aspect of it that I care so much about that. It’s really holistic in that sense. I love … That’s cool, I feel inspired after your words.
LP: Thank you! So firstly, congratulations to you and your first runway show right?
RR: Yes, it was so exciting.
LP: Well done.
RR: I was so nervous but then in the end it was so much less pressure, it was so nice to be behind the scenes and it was really exciting.
LP: Let’s go back to the start. You mentioned you had a philosophy when you started your brand. What was it and how did you move forward?
RR: I started back in 2003. I had my second baby due and I started a kids brand. There was this amazing new reality with my life, being a mom and easing into the fashion world. I think my entry through the children’s world was really gentle and suited my life. Through this I started to build an incredible clientele of women who began to ask me to make them clothes as well.
Every step in my life overall has been so organic, and one thing has naturally led into the next. From the beginning with the kids line, I felt I had this opportunity to make really important decisions about the story behind the product. Which is what you were saying really resonates with me, of making sure that my choices were really meaningful and that it meant so much more.
It’s so much deeper and it’s so much more about the overall health of all of us, including what my input into the world can be. In that sense, there’s nothing superficial about it. What I’m putting out is very deep. It’s from my core, which I think people recognize. It’s such an incredible opportunity to be able to make those kind of choices when you have a brand.
LP: I love that. Can you talk a little bit about your design process, where do you get your inspiration from?
RR: I live Upstate New York and I’ve had a very un-ordinary lifestyle in terms of running a fashion brand! I grew up in Idaho riding horses –
LP: Oh, amazing!
RR: It was kind of a Western frontier environment! Of course, when I was old enough to leave, I couldn’t wait to come to New York! But as I’ve gotten older I’ve retreated back to it. I mean, now I’m sitting in my kitchen, looking out at my back farm and it’s so sterile and so quiet and there’s nothing around.
I think I’m at my best when I’m in this kind of quiet environment. It’s where I feel most inspired. We also have three children, four dogs, and my business. I couldn’t imagine being in the city. I would be so over-stimulated! This quiet environment soothes me so much.
RR: My eyes are always scanning for inspiration and I seem to capture it in all moments throughout my day. Putting a collection together is like working on a painting. It starts out with one thing, which leads to something else, and along the way I’ll discover so many new things that I hadn’t even initially thought of! It’s just constantly layering up.
It might sound crazy, but I really get this physical feeling when I’m starting to uncover something that feels really new and fresh, and I really pay attention to that.
LP: Can you explain more about that?
RR: It probably sounds totally crazy but I get this very physical feeling of like, knowing something is right.
LP: I totally get that.
RR: I really pay attention to that internal direction and that natural flow. I’ve gotten really good at just being quiet and listening to it, and it really seems to steer me in the right direction.
LP: I love that, that’s incredibly powerful.
LP: You know that you’re in a zone and there’s some momentum and your body’s channeling that creativity and purpose.
RR: Totally. I just have to go with it. When I overthink it is when I get into trouble. If I just go with it, I seem to naturally steer myself in the right way.
LP: That’s so cool, I love that.
“I used to get letters from women who had worked on our collections letting me know how much it was changing their lives. Nepal, it’s a really hard life, especially for widowers and women who are destitute. That’s why I started supporting this incredible group, and then we continued on. Now we work with another small factory, also in Kathmandu. Again, the way they support their community is incredible.”
LP: Who typically do you design for? Do you have somebody in mind when you design?
RR: When I initially started I thought about the close women in my life, who are all so different too. So it was like, “Okay, would Claire wear this? Would Deb wear this? Would my grandma wear this? Would my mom wear this? Would my daughter wear this?” You naturally think about the people you’re making clothes for. Sometimes I’m like, “Okay, I’m not the girl to wear that, but I know this girl’s going to wear that.”
At this point my girl is just this super cool, chic, effortless, timeless beauty who doesn’t want to be too fussy, she always just looks cool and beautiful.
LP: I love that.
RR: You want to be her, you’re just like, “Wow, she has such natural beauty that looks so effortless.” That’s the girl I want to make clothes for.
LP: Let’s jump a little into that sustainable space idea – of conscious consumers and just being mindful of where you source your products and that process. Can you talk a little bit about what that means to you, and how you interact with it?
RR: For the past, gosh it’s now 12, almost 13 years, since the beginning. When I started I was incredibly fortunate to meet a woman’s cooperative in Nepal who do hand knitting and all hand crafts, crocheting, macramé… That was the first supplier I started working with. I set the bar high, which was amazing. I had this realization, also being 25 years old, that if I was going to do it there was no other choice but to do it that way, and support communities that really needed it and make a difference.
I used to get letters from women who had worked on our collections letting me know how much it was changing their lives. Nepal, it’s a really hard life, especially for widowers and women who are destitute. That’s why I started supporting this incredible group, and then we continued on. Now we work with another small factory, also in Kathmandu. Again, the way they support their community is incredible. They pay for school for the children. It’s so much more than just giving a pay check to someone. It’s about the overall welfare of their entire family and that to me …well making something cheap in China versus supporting a family in Nepal, it’s a no brainer.
RR: How could I ever go the other direction? That’s where our focus has been. We’ve also worked in New York with local manufacturers which is awesome. It is beautiful to explore the garment district in New York City. There is such incredible quality there that’s kind of becoming lost, so it feels really good to be able to support that.
I recently started working in Italy as well which is a whole new situation and a different level of technology. Of course, Italy is the most expensive place to manufacture but you arrive and – I’m not kidding – everyone who works there has so much pride! They have the most beautiful quality of life. You get there and they take you home to their families to have a big lunch even before we begin working –
LP: Oh that’s amazing.
RR: They want to make sure you’re well fed!
RR: I want to live there!
LP: Yes, I love Italy.
RR: I want to work in your factory because this is an incredible quality of life! Watching your film [The True Cost] was devastating to me. I recall the woman who had to bring her little girl to the factory.
LP: Yes, Shima.
RR: There was poisonous air and I was just imagining that that mom feels exactly what I feel for my kids. She was forced to bring her daughter into a situation that’s so harmful to her health. I just feel like that has to stop.
Again, the prices in Italy are way higher but the workers have this incredible quality of life. They’re treated so well. They all have their vacations and their quality of life is so important. I can probably say that for everyone we work with, well I really embrace the way they take care of their employees.
Then beyond factories it goes down the line of working on fabric selection, our yarns, and more … Every step along the way we really scrutinize things. Yeah, yeah so that’s, in a nutshell, where I’m at, where my mind is.
“I think what excites me is that it feels like things are shifting around, people are trying new business models and it feels, in a way, like this great new beginning. There’s so many opportunities to play around and see what works instead of having to conform to a certain standard from the past.”
LP: You talked a lot about, in reference to garment workers, the quality of life. It’s something I’ve been thinking about in terms of customers. I feel like purchasing these kinds of products or being mindful consumers actually enhances our personal quality of life as well.
LP: Can you talk a little bit about conscious consumerism more generally? Do you think there needs to be a mindset change, or what would you say to people if you had a moment?
RR: It’s actually an internal conversation we’re having. We don’t plaster the conscious decisions we’ve made on any of our products. It’s a new conversation. Should we be educating consumers more about where these things are coming from? Do they care? Do they understand that’s why the price might be a little bit higher? But it’s an investment piece, and not fast fashion. Our brand is more about timeless pieces that you’ll live and love in for as long as you can.
RR: But I wish more people cared and … Even the fact that you’re creating this beautiful environment around content, with this kind of intention. We have to keep going.
We have to keep educating and I think that we’re the pioneers. It’s so important that we keep talking about it. It means so much to me when I buy something. I’m not interested in all of the noise and the product that’s made in China. For me it’s all about intention.
LP: Yes, I agree. I think conscious consumerism is sliding into the conversation without people realizing. It’s not even about slow consumerism or being hippy-dippy for the sake of it. I think because it holds a sense of truth it is slowly beginning to resonate with people, whether they even realize it or not.
LP: They’ll just begin to be able to see in their gut, this feels right. This brand feels right, there’s something about this.
LP: And I think consumers are getting further and further attuned to go, “There’s just something about this that feels good.”
LP: On that note, and last question, what is some of the most exciting things happening in the fashion industry or luxury space now?
RR: I think what excites me is that it feels like things are shifting around, people are trying new business models and it feels, in a way, like this great new beginning. There’s so many opportunities to play around and see what works instead of having to conform to a certain standard from the past. Even me doing my first runway show. Everyone loved my presentations. I had a few people say, “No, you can’t do a runway show. All the big brands that do runway shows right now, they’re doing presentations, why would you do a runway show?” And I was like, “I want to see my clothes move, I want to change it up but maybe next year season I will do a presentation.” I don’t feel bound to anything.
I think that there’s something really exciting about that, that you can pave your own way and do what feels right for your brand. There’s no set rules. That feels really great in so many different aspects. I’m like, “Okay, let’s see what works. Let’s see what feels right.” Now that feels really exciting to me.
FOR MORE VISIT: RYAN ROCHE
All images courtesy Ryan Roche.