Ruffeo Hearts Lil’ Snotty Is Ethically Made Fashion for Outsider Futurist Feminists

By Erica Euse

Ruffeo Hearts Lil’ Snotty is what you get when you mix avant-garde silhouettes, streetwear swagger, and Japanese kawaii culture. Started by Brooklyn-based weirdo designers R. Mackswell Sherman and Sarah Jones back in 2005, the brand sits at the epicenter of a new movement in fashion that strives for ethical production and challenges notions of gender, while making it all look fun and futuristic. Their androgynous garments fit in eccentric ways—some T-shirts are dress-length, while some hoodies have an antifit-style like something out of a sci-fi movie. And the clothes are covered in geometric shapes and their own band of characters’ faces, all in vibrant Day-glo coloring.

The pair, who come from the small town of Olympia, Washington, wanted to create a line that brought together functionality and wearable art, while also practicing transparent business practices and local production. Neither of them graduated college and are self-taught when it comes to sewing and design. The first piece Sarah ever sewed was a unicorn costume for one of Mackswell’s experimental theater performances. Back in Washington, Mackswell was a rapper, known as Nameless, who performed multipersonality, feminist speed rap. He also practiced puppetry and had a love for film, which lead him to create multimedia shows. The first piece Sarah and Mackswell worked on together was for a story based on a love affair between a Hoover vacuum and a unicorn, who ends up giving birth to a Shop-Vac that gets kidnapped by Chuck E. Cheese.

In the mid 2000s, Mackswell and Sarah were active in protesting for workers' rights and fair-trade manufacturing, so when they were fed up with the lack of results, they decided to produce ethically made clothing themselves. What they came up with was RHLS, a line of well-tailored “streetwear” created to fill the void left between the experimental side of fashion and the stuff people are actually wearing on the street.

The emoticon designs that are endemic to the brand, and can be seen in Le1f’s music video for “Wut,” were born a couple of summers ago out of Mackswell’s screenplay about parallel dimensions and the Planet Z of Funness. The characters, such as Empathetic Eyes and Bitch Face, and their respective ponytail and cowboy hat tops, create a mix and match, choose-your-own-adventure type of fashion.

In order to expand their brand, Mackswell and Sarah moved to New York City, where they opened MOVES—a concept store dedicated to brands with transparent business practices—linked up with rappers like Le1f, and started sponsoring a bunch of other artists. I visited MOVES, which looks more like a funhouse that a boutique, in Williamsburg, Brooklyn, to talk shop with the up-and-coming designers.

VICE: You have come a long way from making unicorn costumes in Washington. What was your plan for RHLS?
Sarah: We tried to make functional, interesting clothes that you could be active in, but weren’t cheesy. I don’t think we ever intended to start a clothing line. We just kind of started, and it kind of grew. We were in Olympia and then in Seattle, we had no concept of what it was to start a clothing line.

RHLS is often considered a streetwear brand; I haven’t heard you describe it as that, do you guys consider RHLS streetwear?
Mackswell: I am this feminist MC and I am very interested in street culture and hip-hop, but I am kind of against commercial hip-hop. I think in a sense, we were trying to create a style we wanted—but I wouldn’t call it “streetwear.”

So who are you trying to reach with your clothes?
Sarah: We are trying to promote a universal subculture, an aesthetic that is for everyone and no one. It is extremely inclusive by not targeting anybody.

Mackswell: We are outsiders to everything. No one really thinks we are cool. We don’t have a demographic, we aren’t fucking hip. Our audience ranges from cute old ladies to a lot of professional women in their 30s and a lot of thugged-out dudes.

So what else are you guys doing through RHLS?
Sarah: We have always put on events, which is one reason we have a store. We have a clothing line, we host shows, we do lectures, we sponsor artists, and we give workshops. For us, only producing clothes is not satisfying.

You guys sponsor some amazing artists, including Le1f. How do you guys pick musicians to get behind?
Sarah: We like to collaborate with people who inspire us and we think are doing cool stuff.

Mackswell: We have some of the most amazing bands in the world. It is so nice to be a part of a thriving community in Brooklyn, who are wearing our clothes in music videos and on tour constantly. Prince Rama just toured wearing our entire Spring ’13 collection with Animal Collective. And Guardian Alien, the new band on Thrill Jockey. And Le1f is just the homie. Honestly, I feel like they sponsor us.

What is it like sponsoring LE1f, an openly gay rapper, when the fashion in the hip-hop scene can be pretty homophobic?
Mackswell: I feel like that is not even true, I feel like that is just record-industry bullshit. All the guys I know who hang out and smoke blunts in my hallway don’t seem to have a problem with homosexuality.

What can we expect from Moves and RHLS in the future?
Mackswell: MOVES is actually short for movement, so we would like to inspire other small design firms or different manufacturing communities to bring it back locally.  We would like to spearhead a movement for ethically made anything and kind of take away the stigma of the crafty, rough-around-the-edges look. It’s not really about us, we just make hot shit.

To learn more about RHLS, visit their website.

To purchase clothes, visit their online store.

If you're in the Brooklyn area, stop by the MOVES Concept Store at 419 Graham Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn.

@EricaEuse

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