Ever wonder where your old T-shirts go? For fashion designer Rebecca Rivera, old tees make a great material for some of her signature pieces for her label IRISHLATINA. A lover of mixed prints, musicals and merriment, Rebecca creates clothes inspired by the two coasts’ street cred, hip hop and skate culture. It’s incredible how she could put together waste garment to create her graphic corsets, bomber jackets sported by DaniLeigh and the festive, intricately designed Confetti coat.
Before moving to New York City to study at the Fashion Institute of Technology, the South California-born designer had received her bachelor’s in Costume Design for the Theatre, which plays an influential role in her later seemingly non-related aesthetics – streetwear that is more on the rebellious side.
In this conversation with No Kill Mag, Rebecca reminisces on her favorite fashion shows before the lockdown. Each show was nothing short of a stunt. You can watch her latest, one of a kind digital fashion show in the Helsinki Fashion Week 2020, an annual fashion event celebrating sustainability in fashion. Or marvel at IRISHLATINA No New Waste Show at LA Fashion Week 2019 where a pole dancing performance at the center of the runway took the spotlight. After being shortlisted in numerous fashion design competitions – namely the FUSION Runway competition, Rebecca is now working full-time on her own label, IRISHLATINA, “mix of cultures and coasts”, as she would say. And part-time skater and pole dancer, too.
NKM/Jacqueline: Rebecca, you studied Costume Design for the Theatre before moving to New York City to study at the Fashion Institute of Technology. How has learning theatrical costumes translated into your current designs?
Having a background in costume design for the theatre has enabled me to see fashion in a new way. I love finding that balance between the two. I like to design garments that are wild, but wearable, and can bring something out in the wearer. Clothes are so powerful. When an actor puts on their costume, their character comes to life in a new way. And similarly with fashion, you can put on a coat or a gown and feel differently. That exploration is fun for me.
You’ve done quite a number of fashion design competitions. What was your best achievement and do you plan to keep on participating in future competitions or to focus on expanding your label, IRISHLATINA?
I plan on doing both! Competitions are valuable opportunities. They can force you to push yourself, and think in ways you wouldn’t have otherwise. I’ve always loved entering design competitions. When I was a kid, I would enter every coloring contest I could get my hands on. I even won a trip to Disneyland at 12 years old by coloring easter bunnies for a local grocery store contest.
Design competitions are also a great way to get exposure for your brand.
The first fashion design competition I ever entered was the most impactful for me. It was a fashion show between 16 students from Parsons, and 16 students from FIT in New York City. It was the first time I had put together a collection. It taught me so much about time management, and what goes into producing a fashion show.
What is your most memorable collection/runway show? Is it the Helsinki FW 2020?
Gosh. It’s hard to choose. My Helsinki Fashion Week show was groundbreaking for IRISHLATINA. It was the first time my clothing had been made digitally. The experience was incredible!
But back in 2016, putting my first sustainable collection on the runway for Los Angeles Fashion Week was monumental for my brand. At the time, people weren’t talking about sustainable fashion like they are now. Having the show written up by Women’s Wear Daily was a major highlight!
What inspires you and keeps you going?
I get really inspired by seeing other people make art. Whether it’s painting, dance, music… Those creations all come from the same place; a desire to share something inside of you.
An indispensable thing in your studio?
My straight pins. I use big quilter pins because that’s what my mom uses.
Is the name of your label, IRISHLATINA, a merge of your two descents? We’re curious about your brand’s “mix of cultures and coasts”, tell us more about it!
I am half Mexican, and half Irish. My best friend actually came up with the name “IRISHLATINA” in college when she was helping me come up with an email address. I began to use the term everywhere. It was my handle for everything, long before I became a designer. So once I started my brand, it was a logical choice.
I am a mixed person. I identify as a Latina, but also as a mixed person. I could write a whole blog post about this, as it’s a very powerful existence that anyone who is mixed will tell you has shaped who they are. I like to say that, just as I am mixed, I am inspired by a mix of things: quilting techniques, youth culture, folklorico dance, fiber arts…The list goes on.
You put up a story highlight saying you draw, drape, pattern cut and sew all by yourself. Why be a solopreneur? What are the pros and cons and do you want to have a team in the future?
I definitely hire help when necessary to complete a deadline. This past year, COVID restrictions have made that difficult, but I do plan on growing a more permanent team. On your own everything takes longer, which can be a con, if you choose to see it that way. But moving at your own pace can be a pro as well.
IRISHLATINA started taking sustainable initiatives in 2016, after you watched the movie The True Cost. Do you miss your pre-2016 collections? Was there more creative freedom?
Believe it or not, I don’t love a lot of freedom and choices when it comes to creating. I find that I am more inspired and pushed when I have to design with limitations. Hand me a trash bag full of random supplies and you’re gonna get something far more interesting than setting me loose in a Mood Fabrics.
I’ve always loved “the hunt” of shopping at a thrift store, and now I get to do it for my label, because that is where I source my materials.
Share with us how you source used T-shirts as materials for your collections! Do you take custom orders?
I absolutely take custom orders. I even make bomber jackets out of customers’ personal t-shirts. They can give me 10-12 of their favorite t-shirts and I make them a custom jacket. It becomes such a special piece for them.
Normally when I design, I source my materials (mostly t-shirts) from second hand stores, and warehouses. This way I can purchase in bulk, and by the pound. These garments are quickly headed for the landfill, so this is my opportunity to save them, and turn them into something desirable again.
The Confetti coat is such an elaborate piece. How long does it take you to finish one and any recommendations for customers in taking care of the coat?
The Confetti Coats are made from 14-22 post consumer t-shirts, and they take many hours to complete, as each piece is applied by hand. A labor of love, truly. They bring a smile to anyone who wears one.
After wearing, I would recommend hanging them up to air out, preferably outside. Sunshine can also help destroy odors. And spot clean where necessary.
And why corsets?
Corsets are common garments when studying historical dress, and designing period pieces, so I’ve been familiar with them for years. I also took several corsetry classes in college. But recently, corsets have made their way back to the streets. This isn’t new. Vivienne Westwood was known for putting corsets on the runway in the early ‘90s. Now that women are no longer forced to wear them, we can all enjoy their beauty.
IRISHLATINA is inspired by youth, skate and hip hop cultures. Over time if your brand matures do you plan to change its DNA?
I don’t ever plan to change the DNA of IRISHLATINA, but I do plan on going in different directions with my design aesthetic, in which case I will release these designs under a new, sub-label of IRISHLATINA.
This is actually something that’s in the works right now. Possibly a kids line, as well as a more avant garde line to get back to my costume design roots.
Your thoughts on using blockchain in fashion?
This isn’t just the future, it’s the present. It’s happening, and I’m glad I’ve gotten a glimpse into this new world of fashion.
I personally am not a tech person. Paper and scissors, and needles and thread are my expertise, but more and more companies are popping up to help designers get into the blockchain world. It’s worth exploring.
We love Rebecca Rivera the designer, but also really want to know more about Rebecca the pole dancer and roller skater. Do you view pole dancing and roller skating as your hobbies or a potential profession? And link to your proudest performance, please!
Aww. I love this question, because I honestly view everything as a hobby AND a profession. Anything you love to do can become something that you do everyday. It can become something that pays your bills, or remain something that you just do for fun. But having fun is a necessity for me! Life is so short, and I could spend it learning new skills every year. It’s incredibly fulfilling.
I love to move my body. Pole Dancing, Roller Skating, and even my newest love CrossFit, all keep me moving, which keeps me happy. I know people who make a living doing all of these things, and I am open to turning the thing I love into a career. Let it be known that you don’t have to choose just one career either!
If you could give one piece of advice to your younger self, what would it be?
Don’t wait! Do it now! “Perfect is good. Done is better.”
What do you want to achieve next?
I’ve been dreaming of starting an artist collective in east/northeast LA. A studio space that is also a shop, as well as an event space. A place to inspire, and be inspired. A place to support other artists.
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