Rodolfo “Rudy” Castanos, knows a things or two about the fashion industry as a menswear, boyswear, and budding shoewear designer. The talented New Jersey native made the most of his time at FIT, but the real world of designed mixed with talent and drive has gotten him much farther than his resume.
The former aspiring comic book illustrator tells Trendcue how college exposed him to a career he never dream of, how his love for sneakers has matured over the years, and the not so glamorous side of his fashion journey.
How did you get your start as a fashion designer?
My time at FIT is when I really got exposed to fashion, and it just kind of grew on me. I wanted to be a footwear designer at first. One of the professors put me in touch with the chairman of accessories, but I wasn’t interested in designing women’s shoes and handbags. It led to me applying to menswear design.
As soon as I graduated I started working although its been an up and down experience, but I’m happy where I’m at now. I’m looking forward to taking further leaps and bounds in the next couple of years.
Can you expound on the ups and downs you’ve had in the industry?
When I graduated in 2008 I was fortunate to get a job a couple weeks after I graduated. You don’t realize how green you are until you actually start working. School can only prepare you for so much.
The learning curve was pretty steep, and I got hit with all this stuff. It was either adapt or call it a day. That was one of my challenges, and then about three or four months after I started working the recession hit. I got laid off, and it was really hard for me to get back on my feet because I didn’t really have a resume. All I had were a bunch of internships and this one job for a few months.
It was difficult just to get my foot in and establish myself. It was an obstacle in interviews due to my lack of experience it made them think twice about me. I spent a lot of time unemployed. When I was having trouble finding a fashion job I did marketing for a some time. It was a blessing in disguise because I got to see another aspect of promoting products, and be with a lot of personalities in the entertainment industry.
It took me a while to get things to where I am now. I’ve been at the company I’m at now for almost four years. At the end of the day I’m glad I got to experience that, and chalk it up as part of the journey.
What is your favorite part of doing menswear?
The initial inception because it seems like the possibilities are endless. That’s the most entertaining part, and the rest becomes very methodical and business oriented. In the beginning you’re not worried about pricing, marketing, or any of the other things that tend to take over as you get closer to making the product. You can ask any designer what it starts out as is completely different than what actually ends up in stores.
Do you do all menswear?
I’ve done everything ranging from suit separates, wovens, denim and now primarily boys outerwear. It’s been a progression.The first company started me on denim, and after being unemployed I did hats and tees for a small company. Eventually, I ran a gamut and did everything working with marketing and sales. After that I worked for Macy’s doing freelance menswear suits, and now I do outerwear for boys. I started off as the assistant for one brand, and now I’ve teamed up with the designer. We roughly design for eight in-house brands. We have house brands, while also do stuff for private labels. It’s been an evolution where along the way things end up happening. It wasn’t necessarily a plan for me to be a boyswear designer but I am one now.
With your diverse experience, what advice would you give to people looking to be in the industry ?
A level of perseverance is definitely needed because you’re going to face a lot of challenges. In terms of just design because the companies put pressure on you to make money.
Honestly, I’ve worked at multiple companies and haven’t met many other minority designers with the same ethnic background (which isn’t a complaint), but you kind of see that there maybe isn’t that pool of people who you can learn from when it comes to advice. Therefore, feeling like I need to make this happen because there’s no safety net.
I would also say have a plan. Looking at my background you get the idea that things just happen unexpectedly. I feel like along the way hard work and talent has helped me, but during school I interned for J. Crew, Polo, and Rag and Bone. I was able to make connections and put myself in position to see how these established brands conduct themselves and design. Put yourself in position to see something that you want to learn. Also, thick skin because in fashion everyone is a hater you can’t worry about making everyone happy. You gotta focus on the task at hand, and your vision. Believe the process, trust the process, and you’ll be alright.
Tell me about your interest in designing shoes.
When I did marketing it was working for a footwear company. I became cool with some of the designers and I was able to learn through osmosis. Watching them and how to go about creating lines I became very interested to the point where they would start asking me my opinion. It removed that doubt of not going to school for it, and still making it happen.
These designers who went to school for it were asking me my opinion on it. It was a confidence boost. A coworker in marketing got her brother, a footwear designer, to give me some pointers and show me how the pros sketch footwear. With my design background I was able to pick up on it very quickly and decided to make a book. I don’t know what compelled me but I saw an ad somewhere for a mens footwear assistant design position, and sent in a few sketches. They got back to me for an interview and it turned out to be John Varvatos. I didn’t get the job, but just the fact they were willing to meet with me really put the seed of “if I really put my mind to it I can be a footwear designer.” It’s something I’ve been trying to put together for a while. It’s not easy to start up your own company.It cost a lot of money and knowing the right people to get your product put in stores. It’s going to take a while, but looking forward to putting something out in the near future.
What do your shoe designs look like?
Its very lifestyle oriented for the guy who could wear this particular sneaker to work, but at the same time wear it on a date or go out. Others are more athleisure since I grew up a huge sports fan bridging that and fashion. Its reflective of my personal style.The idea of something that can be worn anywhere from the gym to going out and not missing a beat.
What are your thoughts on celebrities designing their own shoes and having shoe lines?
To be honest its been happening for a while now. Its happened before and it’s going to continue to happen because its a winning formula.The footwear company I used to work for they did the Simmons family footwear lines. You can’t knock celebrities for seizing these opportunities. Who wouldn’t want to have their own footwear line?
Most importantly in my own opinion is if it looks good that’s the most important thing because at the end of the day if the coolest celebrity puts out a product and its not good then that’s where the problem would lie. As long as the product is amazing what is there to say?
If you were able to have any celebrity endorse your shoes who would you pick?
Wow, I would go with one of my favorite actors Leo DeCaprio or Tom Hardy. I’ve been a fan of their catalogue, but the main reason for picking them besides being a movie fan is because they’re different. I’m in that mode of I like the Yeezys and I’m a guy who wears Nike. I would pick an athlete or rapper, but sometimes when it comes to marketing it’s just good to go left and take a route nobody would think of going.
With my picks it would make people question what’s going on. It forces you to take a closer look. When you do a partnership you have to raise the level of intrigue so people want to know what its really about.
What does your shoe collection look like?
I used to have a really big sneaker collection, but lately I’ve been wearing the Nike flyknit because they’re comfortable. I’m at the point where comfort is number one above all else. If the sneakers are not comfortable I’m not going to wear it. I had a bunch of nice sneakers that I spent a pretty penny on, but I won’t wear them because they’re not comfortable. I’m still a fan of sneakers and keep up with the news.
How do you stay on trend with boyswear?
Its interesting to me because all my brands are very dynamic. For example, what I do for Diesel is completely different than what I do for another brand that’s less name recognizable. Diesel is trendy whereas others are more basic. I’m constantly having to be mindful of being fashion forward. I fall into a trap where I do fashion forward, but there’s less of an emphasis on it while staying close to the brand’s identity for the lesser known brands. I look a little bit at menswear trends, but with boys its a lot more fun in terms of what you can put on it.
How has your experience in fashion changed your views on the world?
It changed my view that anything is possible. When I first graduated I never would’ve imagined that I’d do marketing or shoes then jump to ski, and now boys. Fashion has taught me that you can evolve if you’re willing to adapt. It breeds the confidence of anything is possible if you’re opportunistic and really put your mind to it. There is no ceiling in fashion, it’s quite the opposite. You can grow to be things you never thought you could reach. The possibilities are endless.