The Denim Brand That Gives Back
And designs one-of-a-kind vintage pieces that we’re *dying* over
There are certain people that we meet who we instantly crush on. Erin Feniger, the founder of Rialto Jean Project, is one of those people. Ironic considering the inspiration for her denim brand came partly from a girl-crush she had on an effortlessly beautiful Venice Beach surfer who she ran into on a daily basis at her local coffee shop. Think; perfect out of the water surfer hair and white tank (sans bra) paired with paint-splattered denim (the real deal considering she was an actual artist).
When Feniger started her philanthropic brand (which offers insanely cool one-of-a-kind hand-painted vintage products) she thought she’d be selling to a few Venice Beach hipsters. Fast forward three years and Rialto Jean Project has *made it* (no, but really, they did a collab with with Oprah (!) for NYDJ). We sat down with the talented and overly-charming Feniger to chat vintage denim and get the details on the amazing partnership she has with Children’s Hospitals.
The inspiration behind RJP:
“I was inspired by actual artists who walked around with paint all over their jeans. I was living in Venice Beach, and would see girls walking around in their baggy boyfriend jeans with paint all over them. I got sick about three and a half years ago with a pain disorder, and I had closed the doors of my old company, so I was looking for my next project. I was a vintage denim lover and it all kind of made sense. I asked a friend of mine who was an artist if I could spend a week with her in her studio watching her paint to see the actual process of how she wiped her brushes on her jeans. Then I started painting, and being that it was a pain disorder that I was dealing with, I noticed that every time I was having a bad day mentally or physically I wanted to paint—which is ironic, because my pain disorder directly affects my hands.
I started thinking about kids and hospitals and how they might not be able to understand what was going on and their process of healing. I travelled around and visited children’s hospitals around the country, learning about what art therapy brought to kids and then it all just kind of made sense. I would paint these jeans, they would be one-of-a-kind, and a portion of the sales would go to support art therapy programs in children's hospitals.”
On choosing which hospitals to benefit:
“We started the company in California (in Venice) and when we moved the business to New York it just seemed logical [to also give proceeds to the Children’s hospital here]. Our whole goal is to help as many children’s hospitals as we can, so as the company expanded to the different coasts it made sense to split the proceeds between the two hospitals on each coast.”
On sourcing the (vintage) goods:
“I have some incredible collectors that I’m very close to, that’s where I source them from. Mainly I go through one person in L.A. who’s kind of my inspiration and my denim mentor, she helps me source them.”
On the painting process:
“It can take anywhere from a couple hours to a couple days to a couple weeks [to paint each piece]. [It’s like] a piece of art—sometimes it totally comes together and it just works, and there’s other times that you have to step away from it [and then] come back to it. It depends on my mood, the atmosphere, everything.”
How she gets inspiration for each design:
“It depends on what the collection is that we’re working on—it can be as simple as finding inspiration from the mood you’re in. When I first started painting I went through a breakup and you could literally see my healing process throughout the jeans—they were really dark and then got really bright. As the brand has grown our inspiration [has] definitely expanded from much more than [feelings and moods] to what’s actually going on in fashion and the next season. We also find a lot of inspiration for this particular brand with the history of denim being that we use vintage Levi’s. I have a coffee table book called Denim Legends and I find a lot of inspiration from that because fashion always cycles back around.”
Her dream collaboration:
“Loaded question! My ideal person to do a collaboration with would be Ralph Lauren just because he encompasses everything I love about fashion. Even though he is doing painted denim right now, so we’re basically already doing a collaboration [laughs].”
The newest collaboration and what’s next for the brand:
“We just launched a collaboration with a company called DFBK, which is Defend Brooklyn [and they are] down in the Seaport with us. Soon you will see a new collection coming out playing with all of the different vintage Levi’s—really bringing back the original Levi’s, that look and that distress.”