A clothing carpenter

Name: Ry Smith

Age: 26

Occupations: Founder and CEO of Sourced Thread, an apparel startup, and designer and owner of RÜTD clothing brand.

Describe your personal style: I love wearing fun pants and hats, but I feel like I’m better at dressing other people than myself.

How did you get into fashion design? When I was 5 years old, I went through treatment for leukemia. During that time, I had a lot of exposure to different art therapies, and I learned how much I enjoy building things, creating and working with my hands. After I recovered, I had the idea to be an engineer when I grew up. Fast-forward to high school: I got really into fashion. In a way, I combined my two interests and went to school for apparel design at Iowa State.

How did you form your brand RÜTD? When it came time to think about my senior collection at ISU, I was in New York City studying technical design at an internship with Bonobos. I went with a friend to church one day where they talked about bonsai trees. The plants that are put in pots as mini trees come from the exact same seeds as the ones that grow into giant trees outside. So the message was all about the value of growing strong roots and the importance of your environment for your own growth. I took that and ran with it for my senior collection. I liked the idea of being “rooted,” and I also had this connection to the “R” from the registered trademark symbol, like the “R” in my name. All of these connections came together that day and formed the basis for what is now RÜTD. That was in early 2020.

Just last year, I woke up, opened my phone and immediately saw an ad for the Jack Daniel’s Classic Remix (a grant competition for up-and-coming fashion designers). I just felt it so deeply in my soul that it was meant for me, and I knew it was time to bring RÜTD back. My designs placed third in the competition, and I received $20,000 to jump-start the brand.

What makes your designs different? I was trying to piece together what the idea of “rooted” might actually look like. I envisioned something intricate, interwoven, symbolizing the strength of roots. I came across macrame, but I’d only ever seen it done as decor for a more boho aesthetic. I decided to push it further into fashion and give it more of a streetwear aspect. I learned to weave — something I hadn’t done before in my design education — to tie different knots, and developed my own patterns. It was a lot of fun to learn, and I honestly love it more than sewing now!

I get a lot of my inspiration from nature. I look at different types of wood, tree bark, grasses, even birds. You’ll find the most beautiful color palettes and patterns in nature. The prints in my first collection were inspired by tree rings. I want to use wood as a medium in the brand a lot. Sometimes I even think of myself as a “clothing carpenter.” Right now I’m experimenting with wood carving and woodworking. I have a dremel and I’ve started to practice carving, but I’m also working with other experienced woodworkers to create things like bags and shoes and even jewelry.

Any dreams for the brand’s future? The future of RÜTD is craftsmanship. I’ll have a fall collection coming in September and, ideally, I’d like to start selling pieces out of my studio at Mainframe during First Fridays. Beyond that, I’m looking into the logistics of e-commerce and retailing nationally, and scaling up production versus doing custom-made items.

As told to Hailey Evans
Photographer: Joelle Blanchard

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