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Rocky Clark Clothing just released their second capsule collection. This year their inspiration came from the “Year of the Dog.” They combined a streetwear inspired approach with their dog-head logo to create eco-friendly graphic tees. The collection doesn’t stop there, RC offers a fresh take on a pair of jeans with their initiative. They let the clothing speak for itself and we’re here for it. We had a chance to sit down with Joseph “Rocco” Rotondo to talk about influences outside of clothing, Rocco’s motivations, why he wanted to start a clothing brand, and what keeps the train rolling.
Why did you choose clothing as your medium of self expression?
From a very young age, I would insist on dressing myself. I had three outfits I would alternate between: A white turtleneck, denim jacket, jeans and work boots with a tool belt as an accessory. The second outfit being a full suit with a briefcase, and the third a New York Yankees uniform. I wore the first two to be like my dad–his “going to work outfit,” suit, and his weekend/work around the house outfit, denim. Little did I know that this would shape my style and ultimately be the foundation of Rocky Clark. It wasn’t until college where I was enrolled in the textile design program at The University of Rhode Island that I began to understand my deep appreciation for clothing. I have used clothing as a means of protection–emotionally and physically. It’s a guard, a shield, you could say. Being obsessed with the concept of cool kid clothing was my way to project emotion within myself, without verbalizing it.
Where did your creative journey begin? At what point did you realize fashion is the direction you wanted to take?
I was always into the way I presented myself and how I dressed. I loved sports growing up so when it came time for college, I thought I wanted to go into exercise science. But that mission soon shifted into wanting to design sports uniforms. That evolved throughout college ultimately becoming Rocky Clark, which is ever-evolving. As a kid I always loved music, playing guitar and pretending I was a rockstar. I would put on concerts when I was 4 years old in front of nobody. Now, I find such escape in Rap because of the empowerment it gives you. Kid Cudi has brought me through dark times and Kendrick has given me introspection, while Kanye brings confidence. Playing sports was an outlet. I would be in the backyard or in my driveway by myself pretending to play in Yankee Stadium, Madison Square Garden, or Giants Stadium, making that last second shot, striking out that guy in the bottom of the ninth or passing the game-winning touchdown. Looking back, I was always expressing myself in different ways. Clothing was something I always found solace in. I enjoyed creating different outfits in my wardrobe. I actually never wore the same thing twice for a year because I just had too many clothes. It’s interesting to think back about how we used to perceive something versus the true importance of it. Now I can wear the same thing every day for two weeks straight and love every second of it.
What early experiences gave you the tools to create a brand?
Coming from a family of self employed men and entrepreneurs; It’s in my blood to create clothing, it’s in my blood to be my own boss and own my own business. Sports have also taught me great discipline and gave me a place to test my limits. I keep going back to sports because I truly believe in the value of them, they taught me so much growing up. I love the saying “if you’re 5 minutes early, you’re on time, if you’re on time, you’re late, if you’re late, you’re running laps.” That discipline taught me so much growing up and has carried into my professional career. Also the desire that burns in my heart to create and work with my hands, specifically under Rocky Clark is what keeps me going. I truly believe in this and love it. I couldn’t imagine not doing it.
How has Rocky Clark been helpful or inspiring in other areas of your life?
Being the creative force behind the brand forces me to analyze all of my actions, from consumption to business decisions. It inspires me to be a sustainable human being and to represent that in every aspect of my life. I turned those dreams into reality because they honestly became overwhelming, I had to put them into this physical realm. RC has made me realize that I am capable of inspiring others and also turning dreams and creativity into a reality. It’s about building a sustainable business and to create a living for myself and my team.
How has being a young entrepreneur affected the relationships in your life?
Being a young clothing brand owner in itself is a great responsibility. Being a voice for this generation, I am held accountable for my follow through and actions. It’s a tough balance, being young but wanting to hustle and work all of the time, but I’d rather put the work in now for my future self. I am always thinking about my future self and how I can make my life easier tomorrow, how I can put my future self and future family in a position to succeed? Something I’ve learned about entrepreneurship is that everyone dreams. Everyone has creative juices flowing through their heads. It takes discipline to set aside time for yourself and tap into that creative space. It’s great for the soul and the benefits of doing it will make their way into other areas of your life. I sometimes see myself as a sacrifice of DOING. Not letting dreams stay in space but putting them into reality. “The hustle” and the sacrifices we need to make in order to create something. There have been countless nights and opportunities where I’ve had to pass up social events to stay home and finish working. Muhammad Ali said it first, “Don’t quit. Suffer now and live the rest of your life as a champion.”
Are there times you felt you didn’t have it figured out or felt blocked? How did you overcome those feelings?
Everyday. I’m not the best designer, drawer, sewer, accountant, marketer, etc. The list goes on. I do know I’m the hardest worker and I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty. I will go toe-to-toe with anyone’s work ethic and that’s my advantage. I will go through creative periods and periods of experiencing writer’s block. When I’m in that creative space I put my head down and get all of my thoughts out and put my vision into the physical space. This may last a month or two and that’s when 99% of the collection comes together. After that period, I switch gears to focus on other aspects of the business, like marketing and website housekeeping. I set time aside everyday to meditate and journal and that frees up a lot of headspace, allowing me to focus and put 100% energy into a task. Trying to make it as a small brand is incredibly challenging. Being noticed, standing out, being taken seriously. Every day I doubt, but that’s the fuel, to prove myself and others wrong. It’s challenging to manage such a big vision, I pick the battles that I have the best chance of winning, take that gamble, and try to be the best leader I can be.
How did you block out the noise of societal conformity?
From the time I was a child, my parents always told me “learn to ignore.” It has become a habit to let certain things go through one ear and out the other. I am becoming a great listener, but I’ve always been a great observer. I take everything with a grain of salt, no one knows your thoughts and motivations, you have to do what makes you happy. I’m investing in myself and taking a gamble while I’m young. I’ve gotten pretty good at putting my head down and working with laser focus. It is especially crucial now to be represented through the brand as authentic and original. My message is to display the importance of the clothing industry in its entirety, from sourcing to production. Consumerism has gone overboard, and I want to make clothing that lasts. And who the fuck doesn’t love dogs?
What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned from creating a brand at your age?
Anyone can do it. Seriously. Everyone is capable of doing what I’m doing. I just work. I need to work with my hands and I need to work hard. RC literally burns inside of my mind, body and soul. The secret to it is time, hard work and resilience. The biggest takeaway is being grateful for how far my team has taken this vision. The support behind me also drives me harder. My family and friends have always encouraged me to keep going. I hope to inspire others to be bold enough to follow what’s truly in their hearts. I have to earn the respect of my peers and others in the industry who have been doing this longer than I’ve been alive. It’s a great privilege owning your own brand, one that I don’t take lightly and one I will never stop being thankful for.
What does the future look like for Rocky Clark and the clothing industry in general?
I think brands are forced to switch gears into becoming more sustainable. It’s the right thing to do, for us and the Earth. The future of Rocky Clark depends on the market, and the market demands transparency, authenticity and sustainability. Rocky Clark is for the fashion conscious consumer who appreciates purposeful products and attentive design. I could sit here and say I know exactly where RC is going, but I don’t, and that’s the beauty in it all.
See collection here.
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