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Calvin Rucker Founders on Crafting Chic and Tough Clothes for Women

Twenty years ago, Caroline Calvin and Joie Rucker were sitting in a dark bar in San Francisco when they originally conceived of starting their own brand. Both women worked at Levi’s (and were nicknamed the ‘terrible twos’), and in Calvin’s words “tortured” their merchandisers with new ideas.

“We had a lot of fun together,” said Rucker. “We pretty much started to identify what was happening in the market.”

But both women ultimately ended up following different paths before finding each other again. Calvin became an SVP at Levi’s. Rucker moved to L.A. and started working for Marciano before she founded a few startups. One day, Calvin called Rucker to tell her she was planning on moving back to L.A. after spending the last two years surfing in Costa Rica.

“We were surfing one day, and [Caroline] was like, ‘Come on, it will be so fun and so easy. Let’s start our own brand,” Rucker recalled. “So when things get really gnarly, and it’s intense. We just look at each other and go, ‘Are you having fun yet?’

When the two came together in 2012 to form a company in downtown Los Angeles where everything is designed, sourced and produced, they knew denim would be a substantial part of it.

“Because denim is part of our DNA, it was naturally a part of the Calvin Rucker collection when we started,” Rucker explained. “We didn’t want to include a collection that didn’t include jeans because we feel like the person’s wardrobe, the woman that we want to dress, wears jeans part of the time. And it’s a big part of her go-to wardrobe.”

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Calvin said they’re designing for the woman with killer street style that catches your eye.

“It’s like the girl you see at a party and you go, ‘Oh she looks really unique, but not weird.’ We look at a girl who really likes to mix it up. A pair of ripped up jeans with a beautiful men’s tuxedo jacket and a T-shirt,” Calvin described.

When asked about the challenges of working in an industry that’s dominated by men, both remarked that they don’t see it as an obstacle.

“When were in the denim factories and laundries, we have great partners, so we see no barriers as a woman, we only see advantage in the industry,” Calvin said.

The two test wear their clothes, and say that gives them the upper hand in a competitive market.

“We know what a woman wants to feel and look like in the jeans,” said Rucker. “And guys only know what they want women to look like. We naturally make jeans that make women feel really beautiful and comfortable and also we can make jeans out of the wheelhouse of what a guy would think of in a jean.”

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Although many designers choose to work alone, Rucker and Calvin are confident they could not succeed without each other.

“The most important part of Calvin Rucker is the Calvin and the Rucker working together from fabric to concept to designer inspiration to actually shipping,” said Calvin. “I think that part makes this brand unique because no individual could have done.”

The only major problem they have is editing the line. Both women want to produce more than they can afford. Rucker said the way they cut items out is by asking, “How many different outfits can we make with the collection?” The pieces that can’t be used to make as many outfits usually get the axe.

Perhaps more than anything, the two are united not only in their decades long friendship, but in their keen sense of humor. When asked about what their favorite part about being a woman working in denim was, Rucker said, “That we have a lot of jeans that we can wear that suit us and are cool.” While Calvin added, “I mean seriously. We can make whatever we want.”

Calvin and Rucker plan on releasing a denim capsule, called Calvin Rucker Denim, in the spring. The brand also plans to start selling items via their website in the future.