I’m thrilled to have Ashley James on the blog today as part of my women series this month. I met Ashley through mutual friend Joe Gannon a couple years back. She designs and runs her own men’s denim line Ruell & Ray, and does a hella job doing it. To the point that her denim has reached cult status in the menswear industry and has women like me and Kat McMillan pining for her to make women’s (or just wearing the men’s). Ashley shares a bit about the brand and what brought her to men’s denim below.
Q. What is your background and what led you into the world of men’s denim?
A. I’ve been in the retail world for about 10 years, it all started at good ole’ A&F. I did a lot of visual merchandising, photo styling, management you name it I did it but I was never satisfied with my job at the end of the day. I wanted to do my own thing. So about 2.5 years ago I decided I was going to figure out what I wanted to do – Life is too short not to do what you love, and when it came down to it, clothing was my passion – I wanted my own brand. At the time denim seemed to be a great fit because I always obsessed over it. Men’s so happened to come first.
Q. You make all your denim with proper Deadstock materials, how do you source said materials?
A. I have a special label called Deadstock by Ruell and Ray in which I get my hands on denim that is not produced anymore, my next batch is 1 of 53 and it is a pretty special denim from Japan. The Ruell and Ray label, I try to use what is available and that is always a first priority, but in some cases you have to get a cool fabric where you can get it. (When I hit the market, deadstock is what I came out with, but came to realize that there isn’t that much laying around to have a lucrative brand built on using only those materials)
Q. What is the process of making a pair of Ruell & Ray denim, from design to final product?
A. It all starts with the fabric. I pick a fabric, make a sample, change details, make another sample and then produce. IT sounds pretty simple but there is a lot of coordination that goes on in between. While in production I make sure that I am at the factory as often as possible, my hands touch every single piece. I am the QC. (quality control)
Q. You have amazing style, what inspires you and your styles for Ruell & Ray?
A. I think menswear inspires my style quite a bit along with me just being me. I’ve always had different spins on how I put my outfits together-it mostly involves not much thinking, simply throwing on what I like. Just recently have I started to get my feet wet and be able to express my style through R&R. I think you will start to see more of my personal style come out in the upcoming seasons.
Q. What are some of the challenges and rewards of running your own business?
A. There are so many challenges but one that has been the biggest hurdle is getting my fit right. I look back at my very first production and how horrified I am at the cuts. But you live and learn and you correct. I am never satisfied and I am always making changes where needed. The reward is seeing my jeans on someone, that will never get old and always trumps the difficulties.
Q. You recently launched a site/brand with our friend Billy Moore of Cause & Effect. How did that collaboration come about and what do you guys have in store?
A. The collab started when Billy and I first met. We traveled all over together and shared our difficulties about being a small brand and just how to survive. We are doing what we love and trying to make a living off of it – Art and Survival. We wanted to spin off the Park and Bond shop that we did together, so we started our own site art-survival.com. Right now it is in the very beginning stages with our product available to buy direct, but we plan to have guest designers product up that we admire. So look forward to some cool funky things being added.
Q. Can you share a bit of what you have planned for Ruell & Ray for the coming years?
A. In the coming years, I have lots planned for R&R. I want to expand my men’s out to shirts, jackets, etc.-but very edited. I also plan to start my women’s line.
Q. Any advice for other women who are interested in working in the menswear industry?
A. My advice would be to keep barreling forward. I have hit so many stopping points, but I kept/keep going. If it is something you truly want to pursue, do it with your whole heart. The industry always keeps you in check.