Meet the Design Duo Behind the Jackets Everyone Is Talking About
If you don’t own a piece by Carlton and Tulie Yaito, it’s time to change that.
The first time we ever laid eyes on a Yaito piece, we audibly gasped at its beauty—it was a custom denim jacket with a perfectly distressed Roc Nation logo on the back. Simple enough, yes, but with details and a likeness all its creators’ own. Fast-forward a bit, and the brand has exploded, having been seen on the likes of Aleali May and Biggs Burke (hence the aforementioned Roc jacket), with collaborations such as Levi’s, Tommy Hilfiger, Awake, and Russell Athletic.
It wasn’t long after we saw the Roc jacket that we met and became fast friends with Carlton and Tulie Yaito, the design duo (and couple) behind the brand (it’s funny how life works, isn’t it?). In true Cov fashion, we immediately wanted to hear their full story, and well, here it is.
Prior to meeting Tulie (it all went down on Facebook, but we’ll get to that in a sec), Carlton was spray-painting custom t-shirts, which ended up inspiring him to study fashion design. From there he began to create the one-of-one distressed denim we were talking about, which ended up being featured in a Complex magazine spread on Cov-alum Greg Yuna. While all this was happening, Carlton met Tulie, and after realizing they both had similar goals, they made the decision to launch a brand together.
And so, with one $225 paycheck, Yaito was born, a brand that now creates made-to-order or exclusive pieces (think jackets, shirts, shorts, and most recently, even pillows and bedding). Currently, Tulie acts as the art director and muse of the brand, while Carlton is the designer. Keep reading for all the little details on their careers, the work that was required to get Yaito off the ground, and who Carlton turns to when he needs a sounding board.
How they met:
Tulie Yaito: “We met on Facebook…”
Carlton Yaito: “She was a suggestion, and I was like, ‘Oh she’s fire’ [laughs]. I requested her, and I think I messaged her at the same time. Oh, matter of fact, her birthday was coming up and I was like, ‘We should do something for your bday.’”
TY: “I was like, ‘OK, look at him paying attention.’”
CY: “That was six, going on seven years ago.”
Their first memories with fashion:
CY: “[Mine] would be walking on Jamaica Ave. at five or six years old and going to the Colosseum to get a leather jacket that my dad used to make me wear with cowboy fringe. I used to cry because I hated that shit so much. It was Christmastime, I think it was 1985; he ripped my jeans up, and I had this leather jacket on. He took me to see Santa Claus in the Colosseum mall. I took the picture in my fringe leather jacket and was crying. That was my first memory with fashion.”
TY: “My first memory was being two or three years old and my mom dressing me up with scrunchies and baubles in my hair and frilly little dresses.”
On learning the industry:
CY: “I started sewing when I was in high school [at] the High School of Art & Design. I learned some of the basics [there], but I truly started sewing in college while attending Nassau Community College in Garden City, Long Island.
“My time at school was interesting. I learned what I needed, but mainly I learned what I didn’t want in life. I started to realize majors were made to help you pick a career in life, but not to start your own business. I knew I wanted to create something unique that I could only do through my own scope. Being in college showed me how to have independence, [and] that has become the strongest tool I possess.”
TY: “I attained my associate’s degree in fashion marketing, merchandising, and management. Carlton has taught and continues to teach me how to sew. And now that I am no longer obligated to a nine-to-five, the freedom to learn the fundamentals, technicalities, and intricacies of the art will soon lend aid for the extension of a lingerie line.”
How the brand came to be:
CY: “This was in February 2010. I was in the streets at the time, that’s why most people didn’t really know what I was doing. I was hustling, and when Tulie graduated, I spent all my time at her house. I stopped hustling—someone went to prison for me, and I was like, ‘OK, I need to stop this life.’ I had no money at the time, and she was working at Modell’s and wasn’t making shit. She took her check this one week and was like, ‘Hey, let’s make a website and everything.’ It was $225 if I remember correctly, [and] we bought a pair of jeans, the stuff to customize the jeans, the website, and we didn’t sell anything.”
TY: “It was quiet for like, seven months.”
CY: “Dead quiet. Then one day Kanye was wearing this jacket from an artist who had drawn a bunch of letters on it. I was like, ‘I can do something way better than that.’ I had a case of pencils at her house, and I drew this Greek god and distressed the beard. I took a picture of it, and that shit went crazy. We did [denim] for a couple years, but it was a slow grind because people didn’t really understand it and it didn’t really translate well in photos.”
They then made the decision to switch up materials:
CY: “[We did this in] March/April 2019. For a while I was [working] with a marketing company, and they did creative experiences with Nike. I was traveling a lot; we went to Portland, and this guy had a bunch of bandanas, and I thought, Imma buy a bunch of these and make a scarf or something. I sat on them for a couple of months, then one day I chopped it, sewed it, chopped it, and sewed it again and made this big long fabric [that was an] array of color. I had some old patterns from a jacket we had made four years prior, and I reworked the pattern and made this little jacket. [Tulie] wore it, and I have never seen people go so crazy for a piece in my life.”
TY: “It became this thing—like, let’s try to create a piece every week and see the response that we get.”
CY: “Every week we would put out a piece. Thursdays are the drop day, and now it’s just like, Shit, I’m a full-fledged designer now. I haven’t spent this much time in years buying fabric. I just find different textiles and figure out how to come up with my own patterns.”
How their orders work:
CY: “Most times I’ll make something, put it up, and see if someone buys it. If someone wants something [custom], they’ll show me a reference and I’ll shop for a fabric. Then I ask, ‘Which style of jacket do you like?’ You can decide what color jacket you want, I can show you different fabrics, but then I’m going to just create something.”
TY: “He works better when he’s free-styling. It just flows.”
On managing work-life balance:
CY: “[In the beginning] she supported everything, I had no money. People say, ‘I support this dream,’ but that shit is really hard. She said it, and then she lived it. She would have to go to work, and then there were events happening and things going on, and she didn’t get to be there. It’s hard, and I didn’t really appreciate it. Then I started to realize that she always had to be working—when I’m working at home for the brand, she’s working. When I’m enjoying certain shit, she’s still working.”
TY: “Now we’re starting a new chapter where I’m no longer working. I can give my full energy to the brand and learn more.”
If there have been any mentors over the years:
CY: “The closest thing I’ve had to a mentor are my brothers. We’re not blood brothers, but you don’t need blood to maintain the relationship we have over the past 16 years; [A$AP] Ferg, Waun Daun, LA the Rebel & Jaywest. They’re a tad older than me, so I’ve always looked up to them. When we were in high school, I created to impress them, to get their sense of approval, and in some ways I still do to this day. Collectively, they really helped mold me into who I am as a creative.”
The most pinch-me moments of Yaito:
CY: “I did this Roc-A-Fella jacket for Biggs [Burke]. He was in L.A. for the Kith opening, and I started getting all these calls and messages because he wore it. That was a big moment for me. I got tons of requests just from that one piece.”
TY: “Another pinch-me moment was when Don C’s wife, Kristen Noel Crawley, hit us up for a jacket for Saint [West]. We still haven’t seen it, but we did a little GOOD Music jacket.”
CY: “Levi’s was a big moment, Tommy Hilfiger was a big moment, Russell Athletics—all of those. A lot of it came off of Instagram, Russell [Athletics] was a DM. It’s always been so organic because we’re still a small brand. Carmelo [Anthony] DM’d me from his account [recently], and then his people hit me up like, ‘He just really loves your work.’ Every day there’s a wild moment.”
TY: “The idea for handbags [came up]. One night we were both drunk, and [Carlton] just started to sketch out the whole shape of the bag, and we decided on one.”
CY: “I had leftover vinyls from a jacket, [but] I didn’t have the right tools for my machine, and I literally forced the vinyl through the machine. I threw [the sample] inside my closet, and it sat there for...six months?”
TY: “I kept pressing him because we had a friend of ours that knew a manufacturer and we were planning to take it to him. We finally did, and now we have a sample [for a handbag]. We’re looking forward to that.”
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