His designs look so authentic you’d think they came from a flea market in Japan. WGSN Denim Editor Samuel Trotman meets the Brooklyn-based creative
With the influx of Japanese-inspired denims the past few seasons (just take a look at the men’s spring runways), it’s no surprise the trend has transcended out of the vintage and denim arena into accessories and footwear. One name really championing this new direction is Ryan Sullivan of Rigg NY, who for the past four years has been steadily churning out handcrafted indigo goods from his Brooklyn studio.
A self-confessed indigo-obsessive, Ryan has become known for his stunning transformations of classic Vans and Converse, reimagining these classic ecru canvas sneakers with ancient Japanese crafts like boro patchworks, intricate sashiko stitching and beautiful indigo dyes. His designs are so meticulous any untrained eye would think they’ve been pulled from a vintage flea market in rural Japan.
While the trainers are a favourite among his growing Instagram base, Ryan started off the Rigg NY project with tote bags, each of which go through an equally painstaking process. The beauty of his products lies in same thread as denim, with the indigo dyed cotton canvases washed and treated with natural indigo dyes that fade naturally like jeans.
Each piece is custom-made, one at a time, with no two looking the same. Orders usually take about two to three weeks to process with Ryan hand-dying, hand-stitching and patching up the pieces out of his studio. His experimental approach to colour, darning and patching pays tribute to traditional Japanese crafts, but is subtly executed with a contemporary spin. Fabrics and trims are all sourced either from the US or Japan including USA cotton canvas and vegetable tanned leather as well as vintage Japanese textiles.
To find out more about Ryan and his budding business we got in touch with him to find out his background, inspirations and future plans…
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself and your design background?
My name is Ryan Sullivan I run a company called Rigg that primarily specializes in accessories, textiles and customisation of pre-existing goods and I am currently expanding into other areas including a full line along with other lifestyle products. Before that I worked as an Apparel Graphic Designer for about 10 years for a variety of large and small companies.
Where does your indigo obsession stem from?
Even as a child I have always been drawn to all things blue. With indigo it has such a unique characteristic with the way it fades and wears unlike other dyed fabrics. Being a smaller more independent dyer and textile artist things might seem very controlled but the even the smallest things can result in different outcomes with indigo as opposed to using other dyes such as synthetic ones. So every piece comes out completely unique even just the smallest changes such as the difference of the absorption of the indigo in the seams of the same garment can be exciting.
Where, and when did Rigg start?
I have been always working on little personal projects outside of my jobs such as a graphic designer. I had a small screen printing studio in Brooklyn but was more interested in doing one off’s then doing 500 one colour printed logo tees for people. After deciding I wasn’t interested in doing production screen printing for other people I took a break from printing. At first it was just to get off the computer and get working with my hands again a bit more for myself. My first serious piece was a bag I had reworked four years ago and I have been building upon this project and brand ever since.
You are, by the looks of your incredible Instagram account and website, very inspired by historical Japanese textiles and indigo dye traditions. What is it that draws you to this aesthetic
I was first introduced the Japanese Fishermen Coats of Awaji Island back in college in my fibres classes from my professor, and was reintroduced to the book later on while doing graphics and prints at Ralph Lauren. The history of Japanese indigo and creative ways of repairing items with an extreme attention to detail is just so interesting. Especially the reuse of cotton in areas where it was unable to be grown. With my personal work, I do reference much of this history with my own reinterpretation including a great deal of experimenting.
You are based out of Brooklyn, NY. Do you have a store and workshop there or is everything produced at home?
Right now I have a workshop in Redhook, Brooklyn, but initially started at home which is quite messy especially with indigo compared to using other dyes like kakishibu. I have been in discussions about opening a full store and workshop to the public as well. I am also open to the idea of moving the operation out of NYC. It would be amazing to work outside during the warmer months, harvesting my own dyes and related things.
Can you tell us a bit about the process of making the shoes/bags?
The shoes are usually just basic Vans, Converse or similar basic tennis shoes or similar. The more basic, the better. I am working on developing a very simple silouhette of my own and in talks with collaborating with some other designers that work with moccasin style shoes and related. Currently the bags start off as super simple canvas bodies and I develop from there. I am working on some backpacks or rucksacks for someone right now as well and will continue to expand into other styles of accessories.
What is your biggest success and favourite creation to date?
Love Adorned one of my favorite stores approached me about doing a bunch of custom Converse which was both challenging but really enjoyable as well. I really enjoy the process of watching a shoe break down and change over time especially from walking around NYC. From the changes in color, fades and repairs. A pair of Vans I worked on this spring came out really great after a long hot dirty NYC Summer which I am about to resole and see how much longer I can get out of them.
Do you have a new or current project you want to talk about?
Yeah, I am currently working on an exclusive project for Free People, some home goods for another retailer and a few collaborations with other designers. All will be different but with my personal touch.
Any future visions or plans?
I am working on a bunch of new accessories including jewellery which I am working on right now and in talks about developing a fuller collection as well. Ideally expanding into a store front and having workshops as well. Just gonna keep at it and see where it takes me.
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