Q+A with Sonia Trehan, Founder and CEO of the Women Label Aiming to Create a New Sense of Community in Fashion
RŪH Collective is a women's ready-to-wear brand that launched its last collection just about a month ago. Instead of following trends, they intend to build their brand capital around the ideas of privacy and anonymity by limiting access to their content and proposing new ways to create a sense of community among women.
In order to demystify the reasons behind this thoughtful and unusual approach, we asked a few questions to RŪH’s founder and CEO, Sonia Trehan.
“The hype of the industry has always been off-putting for me, and I found myself seeking a brand that was grounded, multi-layered, and that I could engage with intellectually.”
— Sonia Trehan
What inspired you to launch your own womenswear label ?
I am a lover of style, but never considered myself a "fashion person." The hype of the industry has always been off-putting for me, and I found myself seeking a brand that was grounded, multi-layered, and that I could engage with intellectually. I also wanted to create a business that spoke to my generation - one that was born on the cusp of the millennium, and that I felt was balanced between a new technological reality as well as a nostalgia for the things lost (real interactions, real experiences, real privacy). The idea of beginning a brand around this idea consumed me, and eventually I felt the need to go out and build it.
I have read somewhere that you studied religion at Columbia University and that you never formally studied in fashion. Do you think this background has had any impact on the way you approach RŪH ?
Absolutely. I began as a total outsider, and I believe my naïveté was a huge blessing. Industry norms that can weigh heavily on emerging brands - expensive showrooms and catwalks - never felt important to me. I thought about fashion from the perspective of a customer - what's engaging about this brand, why will people care about this product, how can we create meaning?
Why is the notion of community important to you and why is it at the heart of your ready-to-wear brand ?
We don't see community building as a cultivated activity, but as a natural consequence of the kind of brand we want to create. It was never just about creating a product, but about tapping into a deeper philosophical sentiment that we felt deserved to be explored. I think this approach has naturally attracted people that share the same outlook and want to partake in the conversation. I hope eventually this will morph into a truly strong community, as I really believe that a brand is only as powerful (or as interesting) as the multitude of voices that participate in its world.
What are you hoping to spark off amongst women with RŪH ?
I would like RŪH to be identified with a movement - one where people are stepping away from the exhibitionism of our online world, and rediscovering a deeper connection to clothes and personal style. I believe there is a backlash to our current always-on-display culture and a return to the nuances of style: what it means to dress for oneself and to revel in the subtle gestures and personal histories that, for me, give fashion its depth and true appeal.
Digital content takes more and more place in the success of new fashion brands. Why did you decide to go against the grain by limiting the access to your content ? What do you think can emanate from this ?
I think content is an incredibly powerful tool but, like many things - the more content is created purely for content’s sake, the less engaging it becomes. There's simply so much noise out there. By limiting access to our content and approaching it thoughtfully and with a sense of purpose, we hope to encourage both ourselves, as a brand, and our customer to approach it with intention. We put a lot of time and consideration into whatever content we do create, and we believe this "slow" approach to sharing it actually makes it much more meaningful for us as creators, and for our customers as its eventual audience.
You talk about the importance for style to be meaningful. Do you think clothes can have an empowering role for women ?
It's an oft-repeated refrain, but I truly think the wearer makes the clothes. Style is a living, breathing thing because of the women who embody it. It's not necessarily that clothes empower women, but that an empowered woman can use them as a tool to project her poise, confidence and self-worth to the world. Clothes are a means, but a powerful one at that.
In addition to the online community you are developing through your platforms, you are planning to launch a series of physical events that will be taking place New York. Can you tell us a little bit more about this project ?
At the moment, we can't share much. But we're looking to build a different type of retail environment; one that is a physical representation of our brand ethos. In essence, it's not about flashy window displays, and thumping events, nor about making "Instagram-able" moments - rather it's about creating private spaces where women can congregate, interact with the clothes, and build a long-lasting relationship to the brand and the women that embody it.
Interestingly, I think men have always had these incredible private spaces to gather in, these "clubs" so to speak, and I feel this is somewhat missing amongst women. So we’re looking to address this in a distinctly RŪH way – through everything from the dynamism of the space to the ways in which the clothes are presented and experienced. That personal attention, integrity and commitment to quality is what I hope to provide to our woman.
“I think men have always had these incredible private spaces to gather in, these "clubs" so to speak, and I feel this is somewhat missing amongst women.”
— Sonia Trehan
Do you think that this sense of trust and of community you are trying to institute between the brand and the consumer is reflected in the garment of the collection you just launched ?
That was certainly the intention behind it. We focused a lot on the idea of layering as a kind of female armor - a protection and means of selective disclosure. We designed that way because we, as an all-female design team, felt the need to have this flexibility in our wardrobes. As such, you could say we very much embodied the customer ourselves and designed from this point of view. Hopefully, working from this place of self-reflection and intimacy is a gateway to the kind of trust we hope to establish with our clients.
“We designed the collection for a woman who sees her style as a reflection of her own desires, ambitions, and lifestyle, and not dictated by the external validation of others.”
— Sonia Trehan
Beyond these values, what inspired the design of the collection ?
We looked towards the life and work of Victor Pasmore as inspiration for our first collection. Philosophically, it felt right - he was someone who advocated the importance of good art standing in relation to itself, and not being some representation or facsimile of another thing. This idea had an impact because we designed the collection for a woman who sees her style as a reflection of her own desires, ambitions, and lifestyle, and not dictated by the external validation of others. For so long, women have been told what to wear, and how to feel, and I feel that the genius of Pasmore's approach is so relevant to fashion today; we took this as our guiding principle for this collection, and frankly all collections to come.
Aside from the philosophical alignment, one of the interesting aspects of his work, which you'll see in many of his paintings, is this idea of things being off-center. There will be lines crawling off the canvas, or the surprise of an unusual color; and we carried this into our collection through interesting button placements, or familiar shapes with a slight twist to them. It was about challenging our woman's views, while also retaining a sense of the familiar - something Pasmore was a genius at achieving.
How do you see the future for RŪH?
I want RŪH to be seen as a brand that changed a narrative in fashion, and pioneered a new kind of conversation for women. By staying true to our mission around privacy, exposure, and digital overload, I hope that that we create a space - both physically and digitally - where our woman's views, aspirations and outlook is represented through the clothes and environment. I hope, also, that by providing uncompromising quality and beautiful design, that our customers can rely on us season after season for timeless, yet progressive clothes in which they always feel comfortable.