Interview: Ryan Looysen of RAYGUN and Looysen Fine Clothing

Today’s interview is of Ryan Looysen, graduate of the University of California, Davis Textiles and Clothing graduate program (and with quite a unique Master’s degree, as you will see), current Merchandise Manager, Webstore Site Manager, and blogger for RAYGUN, a small apparel company based in Des Moines, Iowa, a fashion designer featured in People Weddings and InStyle Weddings magazines, and former international runway and print fashion model.

Lauren Michel: RAYGUN looks and sounds like a lot of fun, and your blog on the site is an entertaining read.  In fact, you recently heard from actress Betty White’s legal representatives regarding one of your tshirt designs.  What can you tell me about that?

RL: I work for RAYGUN, a small company based in Des Moines, Iowa. We have a line of graphic tees that are printed by us in-house and sold in our two stores, our webstore, and in a variety of retail locations around the Midwest.

I am the Merchandise Manager. This means I am responsible for all the products we carry.  So, I’m the buyer for men’s, women’s, and other cool stuff. I attend market in Vegas twice a year and do some other buying with small companies I believe in, that I find out about randomly.

Ah, the Betty White Tee!   My mom has loved Betty White for as long as I can remember.  In recent years, it has become quite trendy to like Betty White, so I thought it would be cool to pay homage to those who liked Betty White before it was “cool” to like her.  There are a lot of people who make this claim, and so after doing some research about using celebrity names (it’s a grey area about whether or not you can use them), we went with it.

No more than an hour after the release, Betty’s “licensing agent” contacts us and threatens legal action! What?! Once we told the world about that via facebook and twitter, we sold out of most of our stock in hours.  With the few remaining pieces, we printed over so it says “I Liked Old White Ladies Before it was Cool.” It was weird because we were saying positive things about Betty – but we understand it’s all about $…but I also don’t think they have any idea about how low our sales volume really is at RAYGUN.

Additionally, I am responsible for new product development for our own brand, whether that means pushing the direction of our t-shirt designs in one area or another, or developing a new line of jeans with factories in China. I am actually going to China in January to visit a few factories to make sure they have good working conditions before I finalize our order.  Making sure the workers are not in sweatshop conditions is VERY important to us. (We would have produced in the USA, but wholesale prices at $200 a pair for us is absurd, when we want our RETAIL to be at or under $50…)

I’m also the Site Manager for the Webstore. One of the key places that I think clothing stores make errors is that they hire a web designer to design a webstore.  Web designers don’t know anything about consumer behavior – how people feel about clothing, how they prefer to shop, or anything of the sort. They simply follow trends and try to copy across various categories (i.e., they make a site for a car company, and they think they can use the same framework for a clothing store).  When I came to RAYGUN, my first major project was to head the development of the new webstore.  I had to push a lot and force some things through, but it was eventually done, and there are some very unique attributes that have proven to be great for us to have.  Web designers hate me because I say “I know you normally do ________, but I want ________.”  I could literally talk for hours about this.

LM: When you were in your first year of college, studying Pre-Business at University of Iowa, you were discovered by a model scout in Iowa City, and subsequently spent the next 3 years modeling in New York City and Europe. What brought you to fashion studies first, school or your work as a model? And how?

RL: A) I have always been aware of fashion – (my whole life I’ve gravitated towards the best design and quality – call it a sixth sense I guess).  BUT, when I knew I wanted to be in the field?  I can place it in the summer of 2001, when I was modeling in Milan, Italy.  After countless castings and jobs, I started to ask myself “what is it about this stuff that makes it so great, anyway?  Why is this better than the clothes at Target?” So I was sitting one day at a casting for Moschino, and I decided to look at the garment inside out – to look at it critically. Once I did that, I said, “I can do this.”  And that was that. I knew I was going to go back to school for Apparel Production and Design at Iowa State University when I quit modeling – and that’s what I did.

B) How did I end up in grad school at the University of California, Davis? In the summer of 2006, my friend, actor Brandon Routh (pictured above, photo credits below, suits by Looysen), worked with me to develop my custom menswear line, Looysen Fine Clothing. When I built a client base, I was meeting with a variety of guys of varying backgrounds, ages, ethnicities, and geographic locations – and many of them said things like, “I feel like my hips look big, can you fix that?” and “I feel like my shoulders are too broad, can you do anything to make them look narrower?” After modeling, I worked for four years in the bridal industry, and I had heard women say this, but NEVER men!  So, I asked a former professor if she knew anyone who had studied this.  She said Dr. Susan B. Kaiser at UC Davis was the only one she could think of.  I contacted Dr. Kaiser, and it turned out she was working on a federally funded grant to study these exact things – the male apparel consumer! AND, they were looking for a grad student to kind of take ownership of the project.  One thing led to another, and three months later, I was at UC Davis.


LM: I attended one of your presentations at the International Textile and Apparel Association‘s annual conference in 2007, “Dress Like a Man: Exploring Fashion Discourse in Esquire Magazine 1980-2007.”  Tell me about your research from graduate school and your thesis topic.

RL: In grad school, I studied the “hegemonic male apparel consumer” – in short, this is the boring guy that nobody ever thinks about. He probably lives in the suburbs, has a wife and 2.5 kids, and a dog.  OR, he is the guy that is trying to fit into the “hegemonic norm.”  It is interesting, because everyone wants to study the more “exciting” – the outliers (the guys that dress strangely, for example, or the “metrosexual” guys).  But I find the mundane, overlooked topics to be fascinating.  And studying this was ABSOLUTELY fascinating.  I learned a lot studying what I did, and I am literally the only person in the world with a Master’s degree that is focused completely on the male apparel consumer as a whole (which includes all socioeconomic groups, ethnicities, etc.), and how they deal with the issue of conforming to the hegemonic norm of what is acceptable when it comes to apparel. Given that most of the literature out there is about the female apparel consumer, this means I really earned a degree in the “apparel consumer” as a whole – something I find very valuable. In graduate school, I was very fortunate to work with a phenomenal professor who encouraged me to take chances and be creative in asking and answering difficult (often unasked) questions.  As a result, I published numerous papers (on topics ranging from facial hair to the way Esquire Magazine talks to its readers to the importance of the evolution of Clark Kent’s artistic rendering (see below).  I traveled around the world to present my work at conferences, and learned a lot that I still apply to my work every single day.

LM: Do you have any academic research currently underway?

RL: I do not have any research currently in progress, but I am learning daily that the M.S. in Textiles I earned is a very powerful tool that is applicable in many ways. It saddens me that many four-year textiles programs are being beat up on by two-year programs that don’t teach the real “meat” of what goes into apparel design, merchandising, and production.  I am always learning from the daily experiences we have at RAYGUN – keeping a mindset of “absorption” is something I see as a crucial part to my approach.  So, while I do understand the consumer well, I still get to learn about the intricacies of it all every day…pretty awesome!

________________________________________

Selected presentations and publications:

PUBLICATIONS

Kaiser, S.B., and Looysen, R. 2010.  “Fashion Variations.”  The Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress & Fashion: General Perspectives, Berg: London.

Kaiser, S.B., and Looysen, R. 2010.  “Antifashion.”  The Berg Encyclopedia of World Dress & Fashion: North America, Berg: London.

Looysen, R., and Kaiser, S.B.  In press.  2008.  “The Beard of Consumption: Capitalizing on a Ritual.”  Proceedings of the 9th Association of Consumer Research Conference on Gender, Marketing, and Consumer Behavior.

Kaiser, S.B., Looysen, R., and Hethorn, J.  In press.  2008. “Un(marketing) Hegemonic Masculine Fashion: On the Politics of Cultural (In)visibility.”  Proceedings of the 9th Association of Consumer Research Conference on Gender, Marketing, and Consumer Behavior.

PRESENTATIONS

Green, D., Kaiser, S.B., Looysen, R. “Material(izing) Networks:  Disposable and Reusable Surgical Textiles.”  Presented August 2008 at the Conference for the Society for Social Studies of Science (4S) & European Association for the Study of Science and Technology (EASST), Rotterdam, The Netherlands.

Looysen, R., Kaiser, S.B.  “The Beard of Consumption: Capitalizing on a Ritual.”  Presented June 2008 at the 9th Association of Consumer Research Conference on Gender, Marketing, and Consumer Behavior, Boston, MA.

Kaiser, S. B., Looysen, R., Hethorn, J.  “Un(marketing) Hegemonic Masculine Fashion: On the Politics of Cultural (In)visibility.”  Presented June 2008 at the 9th Association of Consumer Research Conference on Gender, Marketing, and Consumer Behavior, Boston, MA.

Looysen, R., “Ridiculing Masculinities.”  Presented May 2008 at the 6th Annual Meeting for the Cultural Studies Association, New York, NY.

Looysen, R., “Masculinity is Spinach.”  Presented March 2008 at the Joint Conference for the National Popular Culture Association and American Culture Association, San Francisco, CA.

__________________________

Photo credits:

1.  RAYGUN

2.  RAYGUN

3.  RAYGUN

4.  Burburry Spain/Portugal

5.  InStyle Weddings; Looysen, Brandon Routh, and groomsmen at the wedding of Brandon Routh and Courtney Ford, November 24, 2007, suits by Looysen Fine Clothing, photograph by Stacey Kane.

6.  Brandon Routh at the UK premiere of “Scott Pilgrim vs. The World,” August 18, 2010, London, UK.

7.  7×7 Magazine, photograph by Beau Roulette

Related Articles

1 Comment

  • 'Worn Through' Interview with Ryan | My Blog
    March 16, 2011 - 2:43 pm

Leave a Comment

Monthly Archive

Affiliations

Available now: Punk Style by Worn Through founder, Monica Sklar, PhD. Find it at : Amazon.com, Powell's Books, or a bookseller near you.