BEHIND THE SEAMS: NTRL RBLS
On one of the only rainy days of the year in Los Angeles, we strolled down to Melrose Ave to visit the NTRL RBLS headquarters and soon to be pop up shop. When entering the space, we were flooded with creativity and some of the nicest people we have encountered. NTRL RBLS was created by marketing and branding guru, Alex Cotraviwat, after a four year fashion hiatus. With a knack for branding and extreme attention to detail, Cotraviwat is bringing his knowledge of the fashion industry and creativity together to create the next big thing in streetwear.
The brains behind the operation, Cotraviwat, is a force to be reckoned with. His creativity combined with business savvy and a passion for individuality brought him from his first clothing line, to his branding and marketing firm, Marendo Group, and now on the forefront of fashion with NTRL RBLS. NTRL RBLS is a lifestyle brand that is geared to the highend streetwear demographic we love so much. But this isn’t just any other streetwear brand; each detail has been meticululously thought out and planned to create a movement to inspire.
Labeling Men: Tell us about yourself and how you got started in the fashion industry.
Alex Cotraviwat: My name is Alex Cotraviwat. I started in the fashion industry because I was obsessed with fashion growing up. I wanted to be that kid to have something different than everybody else because I didn’t want to look like everybody else. I think that, I guess going against the grain for the brand, starting from that because I saw that everybody was wearing the exact same thing over and over and over again. From the back, I couldn’t tell who were my friends because they all look so similar. So I wanted to be that unique person that would dress completely different from everybody else. To be honest, that’s why I was excited about the fashion industry growing up.
Labeling Men: Definitely, you can be really creative.
Alex Cotraviwat: Absolutely.
Labeling Men: So, how did NTRL RBLS come about?
Alex Cotraviwat: I originally had a brand, called Kallusive, a hip-hop, streetwear brand. It was my first company as an entrepreneur and it taught me everything about who I am today. After I sold the business, I took a hiatus for about four years because I signed a non-compete and I wasn’t allowed to start another clothing company. It was my first project so I didn’t really know how it worked, so I got to learn about production, sourcing, and I told myself if I wanted to create another brand, I wanted a brand that I would wear every single day. That’s how NTRL RBLS got started.
Labeling Men: How did you come up with the name?
Alex Cotraviwat: Well I think growing up as an Asian American, I was very pigeon-holed, like you have to good at school and you have to be good at math and all this. To be honest, I was the complete opposite; I was not good at school at all! I was horrible at math, and I felt like, I was a rebel in a good way. Because I think that people perceive being a rebel in a bad way, but I feel like I’m a good person and I felt like I didn’t stick with the group conformity, I was just myself and I was a natural rebel. I think that name kind of stuck out as I was growing up.
Labeling Men: Is that kind of the message behind NTRL RBLS?
Alex Cotraviwat: 100 percent. I think the message is to basically push people to be confident about who they are and be their own individual and have their individuality. I think that kind of like, smashing the cookie cutter. I don’t want to be like everybody else, I want to preach to people that they can be themselves. You can look a certain way, you can act a certain way, you don’t have to be like everybody else to fit in. Because you should be proud of who you are and that’s how the brand started.
Labeling Men: That’s amazing! How would you describe your own aesthetic?
Alex Cotraviwat: Um, kind of like… evolution of streetwear. Kind of like, high fashion and streetwear making a baby. Yes, that’s my aesthetic. I’m very influenced by the Japanese culture, I was in martial arts since I was a kid, so I really love the whole karate gi’s and tae kwon doe things and the materials how they felt. So that’s kind of my aesthetic, kind of like high-end streetwear.
Labeling Men: So, the guy who wears your line, who is he?
Alex Cotraviwat: I feel like anyone can kind of wear it, but if I had to put it into a sentence, it would be the guy who appreciates quality of fabrics. I think, appreciates the quality of clothing. Instead of just a person who just wants to buy a t-shirt, they have to appreciate the look and the fabrication. We are really known for our fabrication.
Labeling Men: What kind of fabrications do you incorporate?
Alex Cotraviwat: All over the place from all over the world, sourcing fabric is something I really love to do. Huge. Like, how it drapes on your body. If it’s a hot season, obviously, we want to drop something with nice, really soft material, if it’s a cold season, a lot of thick [materials] we want something that will keep you warm. Fabrications for each season is something that’s really important to myself.
Labeling Men: That’s awesome; there are so many people who don’t really read that much into it.
Alex Cotraviwat: No, I am definitely, I don’t want to say a fabrication connoisseur, but throughout the years, like I’ve been in the fashion industry for almost 12 years now so I’ve learned a lot.
Labeling Men: Absolutely, it makes a huge difference. So what differentiates NTRL RBLS, aside from the fabrication, from other menswear lines?
Alex Cotraviwat: I come from a marketing and branding background, so to me, I’ve always told myself, creating amazing clothes is great. But to be honest, if no one sees it or no one knows what it is, what is the difference between this brand and another brand? I basically created a formula that even if you are miles away, you will for sure know it is a NTRL RBLS shirt, or bottoms or anything like that. That’s where the stripes come in. So having the aesthetic of the stripes on one side, or on the back on the garment throughout everything. From our accessories, our bags, our socks our underwear, everything has those stripes. It’s something that is very recognizable and something that’s very cohesive throughout the brand. That is where it can make us completely different from everyone else. We kind of want to take the whole ‘Frankenstein Approach,’ grabbing different fabrications and putting them together, fabrics that don’t necessarily make sense. I think I really came up with the idea because of the whole layering system. It came from a female actually; I saw her wear a blouse and then put a cardigan over it. I was like, “what if people don’t understand how to style themselves?” Why not create pieces for people that don’t have style, why not teach them? You don’t have to be so super stylish; we can help you with that. So I created a whole idea of one of our Project Polos. You have a polo top and a blouse on the bottom.
Labeling Men: Oh, nice! It’s like built in style!
Alex Cotraviwat: Yeah, it’s the whole Frankenstein thing.
Labeling Men: I would totally wear that! I love that term, the Frankenstein Approach! So, what or who would you consider your biggest inspiration?
Alex Cotraviwat: It sounds corny but, my mom! It probably has nothing to do with fashion, but that’s the honest, honest truth in my soul. My mom is my biggest inspiration. This whole thing has been built because of my mom.
Labeling Men: That is amazing. So she was just super supportive?
Alex Cotraviwat: Not supportive, but I grew up in a very humbling beginning for sure. Watching my mom work multiple jobs and you know, to be honest with you, but just to see what my mom had been through, inspired me to be who I am today. She is the one who inspired me not just for fashion, but through everything in my life. But I think if I had to answer in the fashion sense, who inspired me most in fashion, probably overall, Japan. I think Japan is beautiful, the culture is amazing, the aesthetic of how much they take pride in everything they do, even making sushi, even taking someone on tour, they take pride in everything they do. So for me, that’s why our packaging is so, we take a lot of time to make sure everything is perfect. Our clothing, even our hang-tags.
Labeling Men: Yeah, definitely trying to incorporate all of those meticulous details in there. Do you have a favorite piece from the collection?
Alex Cotraviwat: Yeah, actually! My favorite piece is actually the t-shirt that I’m wearing.
Labeling Men: Oh, I love that! With the asymmetric details.
Alex Cotraviwat: The reason that this is my favorite, I mean I have a lot of favorite pieces, but the reason this stands out the most is because no one has ever done this, for sure. I can guarantee that someone is going to copy it in like a month. But I’ve never seen a fishtail, front and long in the back. You can tell by the cut that it’s super dramatic. That’s why I wore it today [laughs]. But my second piece is actually from the capsule collection. The quilting is from a karate gi. I was very inspired by that. Another thing I wanted to share, something very cool about the brand is that I created it as a unisex brand, so both men and women could wear it.
Labeling Men: I noticed that. I saw Jenny had that same shirt on like as a dress, I really like that!
Alex Cotraviwat: Exactly, because when I sold my original brand and started a consulting agency, I consulted with a lot of brands and what I realized the most is that if women were going to dress to a streetwear look they would want to wear guys clothing. I think that’s the reason that a lot of men’s brands that try to do women’s don’t really work out. If they wanted that look, they wanted that certain look from the men’s side. So I thought, why not give it to them? So I wanted to create something that I think both men and women can wear. Obviously it’s a men’s brand, but yeah, I think that we made it to where women can wear it too.
Labeling Men: Definitely! I mean, especially ever since developing our website, I notice so many pieces from men’s lines that I’m like, “Man, I want to wear that, I could totally rock that.” So it’s cool that you mention that, and there is that kind of need or the customer that wants it. So, do you have any words of wisdom for other aspiring designers?
Alex Cotraviwat: Yes! Definitely, and I’m sure they hear this all the time, but for me, I’m the perfect example of follow your dreams. A lot of people say it loosely and they may not know what it really means, but I came from a very humbling beginning and for myself, I believed in what I was doing and if anyone tells you that you can’t do something, I think they are full of shit, honestly. Because if I can do it, I feel like anyone else can do it. I wasn’t school-oriented at all; I barely graduated. I mean I wasn’t a hooligan or anything [laughs], but I feel like if you really put your heart into it, you can make things happen.
Labeling Men: That is great advice. So what's next for you guys?
Alex Cotraviwat: What’s next? I want to inspire the world. Honestly, our brand is not the brand to make five or ten pieces at a time, but you know like to me, I didn’t understand the whole value of making things extremely hard to get. For me, I want to inspire the world, not just five people. So that’s what’s next for us, we want more people to know about the brand. I’m really ready to inspire the world.
Labeling Men: Big goals!
Alex Cotraviwat: Very big goals! I also really want to coin the evolution of streetwear, that’s what we are geared to.
Labeling Men: And then you are opening the store?
Alex Cotraviwat: Yes! Mid-Novemeber, opening the store on Melrose. It’s going to be a pop up shop, not sure how long it will be around but we are excited!
Shop the collection and find out more at ntrlrbls.com
Interview and Photographs by Mischa Teichgraeber