INTERVIEW BY KIMBER MONROE & CREATIVE DIRECTION BY JULIA RODRIGUEZ

RUSTY RECONSTRUCTED is an LA based brand focused on reworked streetwear in everyday life. Arianna and Nikolas Knowles Sanchez-Wong are more than business partners. The couple and best friends have been working together since middle school, and this latest venture is their biggest and brightest one yet. I’ve had my eye on the brand for a couple months now since my friend, photographer Julia Rodriguez, started modeling and photographing their pieces. And now with the Fashion section underway, I knew that this was a brand I needed to showcase and highlight. It’s brands like RUSTY RECONSTRUCTED that are paving the way for the fashion industry and remind us all that we can truly go above and beyond in our work by simply taking advantage of all the resources available within our own homes and spaces.

Creative Direction by Julia Rodriguez. Photographed by Nik. Models (from left to right) Juliette, Julia Rodrguez & Jade Alexia

Tell me a bit about yourselves & how y’all met!

Nik: I got kicked out of my school and then was transferred to her school. We met in eighth grade and we’ve been a couple since then! It’s been 15 plus years. We grew up in the Pasadena area, about 25 minutes outside of LA. I think I’ve always been into clothing, streetwear fashion, whatever was trending at the time and then I was going to a lot of concerts and festivals at a young age. I was into all types of genres like hip-hop and rock, you know we had Warped Tour at the time. She was really into art, she was doing a lot of hand-painted stuff and then we took sewing class in high school. I didn’t do shit but she was paying attention.

Arianna: I loved it.

Nik: I would hit her up and be like, “Hey I’m going to this show, can you make me something?” and people would always flip out over my fit. But we always had a passion for art and fashion. We both went to fashion school while working retail. Arianne went for fashion design, and I went for marketing and merchandising. I think it was after we went to Coachella together for the first time, that we realized we had something here. She made all the outfits for us, and the next two years we coordinated with matching outfits for every day of the festival. People loved our fits.

How did Rusty Reconstructed come about?

Arianna: We started selling vintage clothes but we would also sell the pieces we made. And those were the pieces that people would always flip over, so we were just like “Why don’t we just sell these pieces full-time?”

Nik: We would be at the markets with all the vintage clothes, and you know like the typical flea-market scene where people would buy here and there. But I would be wearing a piece that she made me while selling one afternoon or we’d have two or three of her pieces on the rack, and people always really responded to those. So eventually, we just decided to use the remaining clothes we hadn’t sold and cut it up to do something with it! 

Arianna: A year and a half! We really took off during COVID. 

Nik: Well, maybe two years but the first half of the year was just the vintage stuff so we didn’t even really do that. We kind of took off during quarantine, when the face mask stuff started. We had a lot of fabric that we were intending to use for Coachella. We had all types of fabric, think ET, Starry Night… weird, random fabric. And then Arianna was like, “I’m gonna try and make a mask” and she made some for the family. And I was like, “This is so cool, we’re gonna need these.” And then I posted it on Instagram one time and people were just messaging us alllll night to order face masks. We had no idea who they were, legit just sending us money! Like we don’t even know if we can get you a mask, girl! I don’t even know how I’m gonna make it. We’re just at home watching Forensics Files and getting message after message. We were like, “What is going on?” “This is crazy” “We don’t even have elastic!” And I wasn’t even sowing at the time, I was cutting up fabric while she was sitting at the machine. I’m not kidding you, we were waking up at 9am and we were going to sleep at 6am the next day. I was at the post office every day, they know me there, they hate me there. It was horrible. But that’s how it kicked off, people were just messaging us about masks and from there, we moved onto pants, jackets, corsets etc.

What drew you guys to corsets?

Arianne: I took a corset-making class in school. And I just thought they were really trendy so I was like, “Fuck it, let’s try it.” Cut up a t-shirt and we did it. (Laughs)

Nik: The first one we did was a t-shirt. We bought race-car t-shirts, band t-shirts and then she put together the first corset with one of the shirts and we were like, “this is CRAZY”. And we sold it almost immediately. I remember I told the girl the price, and she was like, “I have to buy it, I have to buy it” and I was like “Are you sure?” Cause, we were selling good stuff but we weren’t selling crazy pieces like what we do now. And this was one of my favorite corsets that we ever made, and this girl bought it and I was like “Oh shit it’s gone!” (laughs) So we were like, “Let’s try another one” and now we have a whole rack of corsets at the market.

What were some of the challenges you both first faced when starting your brand?

Nik: Working. We both worked retail at the same place, it was like a teacher-learning store. It was Arianne’s first job and then she brought me in. And then we both were promoted to upper-management positions. We were really determined about the job, but we never had weekends off and we were always selling here and there at markets. But we weren’t able to make stuff. So literally like working retail was a challenge because we never had time to do it. But once we left retail, we were like “This is what we want to do”. And we’re so happy we left. (laughs) I mean we still work full-time, we have different jobs now. But they’re within the industry so it makes it easier, and we’re able to network at our jobs. But working in the teacher store was very difficult, so we wish we would’ve started earlier. 

Why is sustainability important to you/your brand?

Arianne: We’ve been vegan for the past five years. Forced sustainability to help the environment. And I hate fast fashion, I just despise it. 

Nik: I think it’s fast fashion for me. So Arianna literally sews everything and hand-painted everything until this summer, when she threw me on the machine. So now I literally don’t have any respect for fast fashion because it’s fucking hard work! Sustainability is such a big, broad word & nearly everybody uses the word when it comes to their work. Everybody wants to be sustainable but how are they really being sustainable, is our question. I think sustainability for us is more about being zero-waste. So for our Fashion Week collection, our Picasso puffer jacket, we stuffed the jacket with scraps. So literally everything that we were cutting, face masks, shirts, etc. we saved the scraps instead of throwing them away. And our families helped us cut them into little pieces, literally sitting for hours cutting away and that’s what we used to stuff our jacket. Use the scraps and put it towards other pieces. This is what sustainability is to us, conscious zero-waste. 

What do you think is the future of fast fashion?

Nik: I don’t even know. Little things like, paying the workers more. Also pricing the product to accurately reflect the materials. Some of it isn’t crazy expensive, but to someone else it might be. So make it more of a better quality if you’re gonna charge what you currently charge. I’m not saying we are perfect, we aren’t luxury designers like Louis or Balenciaga, but we don’t sell our stuff for cheap because our craftsmanship is pretty well crafted and that’s the feedback we get all the time at markets.

Whether people buy it or not, at first glance people think it’s something they could do themselves. And then they take a second look and realize there’s so much more to it. We don’t sit here and just try to cut things up and “Oh let’s sew it together.” We really put our all into each and every piece. Our process for making each item is talking about it in length and coming to a mutual agreement on how to move forward with it. For fast fashion, I’m hoping they really do become more sustainable in their practices versus just claiming sustainability in their taglines.

It also depends on the retail store. I used to work at a buy-sell-trade store and they used to say, “We don’t take fast fashion” but they’d take a lot of H&M, Urban Outfitters, etc. I feel like they should just expand what they take besides name-brand stores. Especially for the price points and what they buy people out of, it’s crazy. I love the idea and the concept but there are some things that could be improved.

What accomplishments have you both experienced with the brand so far?

Nik: Fashion Week. Yep, that was huge, that was really big. We got scouted for it. We didn’t even apply for it, so we were in a time crunch. They asked us to participate, they asked us if the collection was ready (of course it wasn’t ready) (laughs). They asked us to do September and that was when COVID cases were at a high peak in LA, so we asked to do February to avoid traveling during that time and they allowed us to. It was awesome, definitely an experience to remember. 

Also just being at markets, and meeting a lot of people is rewarding. Before, we were just like “yeah we’re selling clothes, come by and check it out,” but now it motivates us to talk to people and really network with new or aspiring designers, stylists, etc. It’s been really cool to be able to network and for free.

Something we want to do is open a store one day or a little showroom! That’d be cool. We’ve been getting a lot of stylists pulling from us so I don’t know. Everything we make is in our little sunroom.

Creative Direction by Julia Rodriguez. Modeled by Julia Rodriguez.

How long does it take to make a corset?

Nik: We get that question a lot at the market! We just feed off of each other’s vibe. Arianna works full-time Monday through Friday and then I work two other jobs part time. And that’s what a lot of people don’t get, like when they say, “Oh I can do that easy” like go ahead girl. We stay up until 3-4 am every night after we come home from work. So it’s whatever mood I’m in, she feeds off of it. She’s here sowing, and I’m like, “Alright I’m going to work”. It simply depends on what mood we’re in.

What can we look forward to from Rusty Reconstructed in the future?

Nik: More elevated pieces. We’ve designed a lot of half-and-half kind of wear, like half-windbreaker, half jeans. But we want to take it further, do more crazy pieces. With our Murakami pants, a lot of people looked at the pants and were like, “Oh did you find a patch?” We cut each piece of fabric, dyed each piece, waited five hours for the dye to go, set it outside for a day, washed it, we set times – and it does look like a patch. When you walk by and glimpse, you probably think, “Oh that’s cool, they probably threw on a patch” but we really hand-dyed each one, got the colors to where we wanted them to be, and then we sewed it all together. But it’s stuff like that, we need to showcase it so people can understand that we literally made the whole thing. Even our bandana jackets – we make those jackets down to the color because we can’t find those exact colors. We’ll water it down, bleach it out, dye colors – all the bandana jackets are mixes of old bandanas that we found and then we get the colors.

Do you think you can credit the growth of Rusty Reconstructed partially to the Flea Market?

Nik: I think so! Like I said, with networking and talking to people – we get a lot of stylists that reach out to us but then they don’t follow through or they expect too much. And we’re just like, “we’re not charging you for certain things, and we’re not asking for too much. We’re literally just asking for a simple tag if you’re gonna borrow it and use it.” You know? Little things like that. I think the hardest part is that not a lot of people understand it’s just the two of us that make everything. We don’t go to a factory, we don’t mass produce anything which we would NEVER DO. When we first started this company we agreed that we would not mass produce anything. Everything is just one of a kind, and it would be hand-made by us. People ask us too if we need helpers or sowers, but then that defeats the purpose of Rusty Reconstructed. We started this from the beginning, and we can do it together. Later on, we’ll get help financially when we try to open a store or have a person help in-store.

When we get a lot of people coming to the markets and they say, “oh I have a clothing design/brand” and I look it up and it’s all mass-produced. Like GIRL, you know your sewing machine didn’t make ALL 500 of these pieces that I can order in every single size. Like I’m sitting here and legit making it myself. That’s what’s most important for us that people know everything is done by just us two.

CHECK OUT RUSTY RECONSTRUCTED

Rusty Reconstructed: @rustyreconstructed

Creative Direction: Julia Rodriguez @alwys.moody

Models: Julia Rodriguez, Juliette @juliettesoumah, Diana La Diosa @dianaladiosa, Jade Alexia @jadexalexia

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