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Rhuigi Villaseñor has one of those great rags to riches stories that can only happen in America.
He grew up in the Philippines, where his love of fashion emerged. His Dad was one of his first inspirations. He remembered, “My Dad had Gucci swag! He’d rock Gucci clutches with loafers and a Polo shirt, tucked in.”
His mother taught him how to actually make clothes. Rhuigi said, “My mom had great taste, but she also knew how to create clothes for very little. She knew how to make patterns. She made incredible clothes. I watched her whole process.”
When he was 11, he moved from the Philippines into his aunt’s one bedroom apartment, in Los Angeles. He had to learn the language, but also the culture, in order to fit in.
Rhuigi said, “When I moved here, I didn’t even know who Tupac was. And he was at the height of his powers! I was listening to NSYNC, The Backstreet Boys, West Life, Brittany Spears, that kind of stuff. The first day of school I wore Sketchers,” he laughed. “That’s how far I was from Western culture. I wore a Spalding vest and those cargos that you could zip up. And the kids made fun of me.”
But he never let that get him down. He decided that he’d learn the culture and soon arrived at school with a new pair of Air Jordans. He said, “I looked at it like a game. And I play to win. For me to be one of the cool guys, I needed to understand what the style language was.”
After graduating high school, Rhuigi decided to pursue fashion, as a career, and took an internship with Shaun Samson. He would take the bus from The Valley, to downtown Los Angeles every day, and would do whatever they needed.
“I never asked for anything,” he said. “I just wanted to be part of something. But the world is moving so fast now, that no one does anything for free anymore. I think the liberty of being young is being young. You don’t need much; you need the experience and the knowledge.”
To support himself, Rhuigi used his entrepreneurial skills. He remembered, “I’d go to Goodwill and sometimes I’d find Versace or Marc Jacobs, and then I’d sell it. And the $7 that I spent would turn into $200. I couldn’t rely on my parents. I had to go get it.”
When he founded his clothing company, Rhude, in 2013, he set out to create a brand that would be long-lasting. In the beginning, it didn’t seem likely. His first product was a $150 dollar t-shirt that no one bought. But he never doubted himself. He said, “Fortune favors the brave. I released my stuff, and in the first three months, I only had one order. And it was me! I just needed the boost. I was like, ‘I’m going to pay for it.’”
Rhuigi’s first big break was when Kendrick Lamar wore his bandana shirt at the 2012 BET Music Awards. Almost instantly, he had $150,000 in his bank account. He remembered driving around, in his sister’s beat up Toyota 4Runner, and crying tears of joy when he saw his PayPal balance.
Now that he had the funds to take on a new project, he decided to focus on designing an entire line. It was called Revolution. Rhuigi said, “It was what Yeezey is now. It was way ahead of its time. It was what is current now. I made the track pants at that time. I did all of it then. I was the only guy doing it.”
Rhuigi created the entire line, but it never made it onto the shelves because he didn’t know how to produce it. He had to take a huge loss. He had to sell a watch and a car just to have enough money to keep the company afloat.
While his company was struggling, Rhuigi was sleeping at his sister’s apartment. He remembered, “I wanted to get off my sister’s couch and get my own room. Eventually we bumped up to a three bedroom and that was the greatest joy of my life. I had a room! For the first time in my life, I had a room. But then I was like, ‘How do I take Rhude and turn it into something global?’ And it was taking those inner desires and getting right with the business.”
One of the keys to turning his vision into a reality was getting other people involved in the business. Rhuigi brought in a partner, and his family, to help take Rhude to the next level.
His next success was his Rebels collection, which was a precursor to Hedi Slimane’s Yves Saint Laurent collection. Rhuigi said, “It’s funny because I caught the wave. A couple months after I launched it, Hedi launched his collection. And I was like, ‘I got it at the right time!’ It’s all timing.”
Since then, he’s developed several full collections and will soon be expanding into eyewear and women’s fashion, as well as collaborating with other brands.
Rhuigi doesn’t measure success by his profit margins, instead he’s focused on the number of people he can reach. He said, “I define success as how many people you can reach; how many people you can relate to. I think a good product is something that a 16 year old kid, or a grown man, can wear.”
But how do those kids afford $500 shorts? Rhuigi laughed, “I don’t know, but these kids are doing it! I remember when I saved up for my first Pharrell BAPE shirt. I took the bus to Fred Segal. And I remember being so happy that I finally bought it!”
Rhude clothing is now sold at Fred Segal, as well as Barney’s, Nordstrom and the top boutiques in the world.
Rhuigi has come a long way from sleeping on a couch.
Only in America.
January 7, 2019 at 11:41AM
Forbes – Entrepreneurs