In Conversation With Alfredo Rojas
What made you decide to start New Union?
The main motivation was the lack in supply, in the menswear market, of garments produced with integrity that did not compromise the aesthetic needed to complement the customers' personal style. Being a consumer myself, I found it extremely hard to locate garments and brands that offered quality products/designs with a conscientiousness behind their production process. So, I decided it was time to launch New Union Clothing to contribute to solving this issue.
Does the brand have a message?
Absolutely. We strongly believe in the resurgence of quality American manufacturing, so we are committed to supporting local businesses and communities, which is why we conceptualize and design everything in Houston, TX and manufacture in Los Angeles, CA. Being a small independent team allows us to maintain control of everything in order to never compromise on any part of the process. So our message is simple: deliver the best products, which will last years, while manufacturing in an ethical and sustainable way. We want to counteract the current “fast fashion” trend that is so prominent today.
How would you say the fashion/retail climate has changed since you started your brand?
I have been a big consumer and analyzer of the men’s fashion/retail scene for most of my adult life. I can say that there has been a substantial positive change in this industry. The biggest change I’ve seen is that men are really starting to embrace their sense of style and are less afraid of exercising effort in dressing. The concept of men interested in clothing has long been taboo and criticized against the conventional social norm.
With the explosion of the “menswear” blogs 10 years ago and, more recently, social media, it has become more mainstream for men to express themselves stylistically to the world. It has also allowed brands and stores to advertise and grow their businesses in ways that were not possible a few years ago.
However, this has also created and exacerbated trends that lead to many people dressing the same. But overall, the change in fashion, especially menswear, has been for the better.
What one word would you use to describe your brand?
What or who are your influences?
I have to start with my family that have and continue to influence me tremendously. My wife, who is my business partner as well, has been extremely supportive of this passion I have and has helped me a great deal developing the brand. My three-year-old son inspires me to create something that he can be proud of when he grows up and that he eventually, if he desires, can take over. Of course, my Dad, Mom and brother have always encouraged me to follow my dreams all my life. Finally, a big influence for me has been my grandfather. He worked in a coffee farm in rural Venezuela picking the beans by hand. Eventually, through hard work, he managed to buy the farm and start a small convenience store in his hometown. He named the store, “La Union” (Spanish for The Union) and was able to piece together enough money to send all his children to the U.S. to get an education. My grandfather couldn’t read or write but was smart enough then to know what benefit that would create. New Union Clothing is a continuation of his legacy.
Is there a brand out there that you wish you had started?
Well I can’t stay that I wish I had started the brand because it exists due to that designer’s own unique vision and incredible talent. But one brand I do admire greatly is Antonio Ciongoli’s, Eidos Napoli. It is a perfect marriage of a relaxed yet elegant individual and every piece is beautiful. His collections are very well executed and every season gets better than the last.
If you could live the life of any other designer for a day, who would you choose?
Without a doubt it would be Ralph Lauren. He is the godfather of menswear and a true pioneer in this field. What he accomplished with his brand, having no formal design training, is absolutely impressive. He was able to define and epitomize “American style” and is such a source of inspirations for many, myself included.
What goals/motivations do you have as a designer?
There are many! But mostly to create something meaningful and useful that people can enjoy. Clothing is sometimes seen as shallow and materialistic but ultimately we are attracted to it because it makes us feel good. The idea of providing that to a customer is extremely motivating and is something worth pursuing.
What’s the most recent book you read?
It is a book called Boro: Rags and Traces from the Far North of Japan. It describes the history of Boro fabric among Japanese farmers. Presented in a format that is easy to read, they explain the origin and utility of the pieces they sew together.
Did it feed into your creative process?
I found it interesting that the farmers were creating beautiful pieces that, inadvertently, are now highly coveted for their aesthetic and durability. The book describes each piece from a very utilitarian way and how the farmers recycled the pieces for generations. I highly recommend it, as it is informative and inspirational.
What is the biggest lesson that you have learned since you started New Union?
Biggest lesson I’ve learned so far is that you cannot do everything on your own. Reaching out for help is imperative, but sometimes this means you have to be willing to compromise on smaller things to reach a bigger objective. You will always find, within your close group of friends or community, people that can help in different ways. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at the amount of people that have genuinely offered help and I’m learning to really embrace that!
What advice/warnings would you give someone looking to start their own brand?
I would say that the last answer ties in seamlessly with this one. But I would like to add a couple more things.
The advice is: Take the jump. Whatever idea or concept you’ve developed go and execute it. I know this sounds cliché but I now firmly believe it. I was a culprit of this for a while; I hesitated for a long time to take the risk and start my own business. Knowing what I know now, I would have told myself, “Follow your instincts and go do it!” You will find that many problems you encounter will figure themselves out along the way, so long as you are dedicated to your dream. Just don’t be afraid of actually starting it!
The warning is: You will hear from many critics. The important thing here is to take the criticism and filter out what is useful to you. Analyze what the common constructive opinion is and see how you can implement that in your business. The key is to take advice without compromising the identity of your brand or your vision.
What is the best part of your job?
I actually have two jobs currently. Besides working on continuing to develop the clothing brand I am a full time engineer as well.
So, the best part of having New Union is getting to exercise my creative side and have an outlet for that passion. Also, having the opportunity to interact and meet people that I otherwise probably wouldn’t. I get to meet extremely creative and passionate people who share common interests with myself which is refreshing and motivating.
What is the worst part of your job?
The most challenging aspect is balancing the two careers and finding the time to work at them effectively and optimally without compromising time with my family.
What is your life motto?
Live and let live.
Credits: Jay Marroquin