10 Questions with... with Ashley James of Ruell and Ray

September 11, 2014

Juxtapoz has teamed with New England Outerwear co-founder Greg Cordeiro for a series of insights and takes in the world of industrial design and fashion, highlighting the diverse creative energy of young and established designers that we have been featuring in the print edition of Juxtapoz each month. Today, Greg talks with Ashley James, founder and designer of Ruell and Ray. 

In a male driven section of the industry, Ashley James, female founder and designer of Ruell and Ray is beginning to breathe new life into a heavily saturated denim and apparel market. With a focus on American made, craft manufacture of high-end goods, Ashley is a rare bird amongst the flock. The skill and labor required to create her small run pieces, reminds us of the artisanal craft that was once so prevalent in American factories.

For those of us who don’t know you just yet, can you give us a quick snapshot of yourself and your brand Ruell and Ray?

It is hard to talk about yourself…  I am a women trying to break into the ‘ready-to-wear’ market for both men's and women's under the label Ruell and Ray, which is inspired by American manufacturing.

How did you get started in the menswear/fashion business?

I have always worked retail in visual merchandising and decided that I couldn't do that any longer, I wanted more.  When trying to figure out what I wanted to do with the rest of my life, I realized clothing had always been a huge interest of mine and specifically denim.  I started out with men's and women's denim and ended up meeting men's buyers first.  Now I’m moving towards ‘ready-to-wear’ with a heavy focus on denim.

You are a woman, why menswear and do you plan on doing womenswear as well?

I met a ton of men's buyers first, thanks to a good friend, so my focus went straight to that.  Being a one-woman show makes it hard to focus on multiple things at once and I want to be able to come out with my women's line with a bang.  All in due time!

From inception how do you make an idea into reality? Can you give us an overview of how your design to production process works? 

A lot of my design process comes from friends.  I am always talking and asking my guy friends what do they want to wear or what is something that maybe they can't find.  That starts the process, then, it goes to sketching and tweaking of patterns or making new ones until I find the right idea.

What are your biggest issues and complications in your personal design process and with manufacturing here in the U.S.?

This is a good one!  Lets just say it is TOUGH.  In some ways American manufacturing has gotten too big for its britches.  They want big orders or they don't want to deal with you.  I was recently lucky enough to find a great manufacturer who is willing to work with small quantities and they pay great attention to detail but you pay the price.

What are your biggest challenges as a woman in a heavily male saturated market? 

There really are no major challenges, except some may not take you as serious in the denim realm.

What are your best inspirations to draw from when creating your new seasonal line?

Lately it has been music.  I’ve never really pulled design inspiration from music, but for FW15, I was heavily inspired by a few songs.  Experiences good or bad always inspire me in some ways.  

Running a small business can be stressful and daunting. Are there things you wish you could change or do differently now that you are a few seasons in?

I came into this business with zero business experience, so it has been a “learn as you go” process, which has its benefits and pitfalls.  It is hard to say what you would change, because at the moment I have complete total control of what goes on, but at the same time I do wish I had a team of people helping push forward.  More money is always a big help, money solves a hell of a lot of problems but also creates them too.

 Who is your favorite designer/line current or past?

For men I really like Nonnative and I do have to say John Elliott is crushing the basics.  For women I love Studio Nicholson first collection.

If you had the capabilities to make anything what would it be?

Weave my own denim and design specific fabrics for R&R, which goes completely against our business model of sustainability.  So I wouldn't do it.

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—Greg Cordeiro is the founder of New England Outerwear, and a new contributor to Juxtapoz Magazine.