Many people have noticed him around campus, at the happening bars and parties, and around Lubbock: the dark haired man who looks like a page ripped from history in his carefully creased trousers, slicked back hairstyle and ‘50s letterman jacket. Upon seeing Eric Renteria one is caught by a pleasant surprise, by this character that simply begs to be explained and explored. Luckily, it doesn’t take much prying to get the 34-year-old UT grad-turned-Tech student to talk about his recent venture into the fashion design industry with his vintage revival line of letterman sweaters.
“When I originally started out, I wanted to make tee shirts or something like that,” Renteria said. “All of my friends back in Austin are in the fashion industry, or they’re musicians and things like that, and they always ask me what to wear and what matches, so I’ve always had an idea that I wanted to do something like this. I’ve always been really good with colors, naturally. I don’t draw, I don’t play an instrument – all the things that I think are “art” I can’t do, but, I can put things together.”
Although he had not planned on becoming a clothing designer, Renteria was inspired to create pieces to add to his own wardrobe, which garnered more attention than he ever could have anticipated.
“When I came back to school, I made my own letter jacket and people loved it,” Renteria said. “I made one for my stylist friend Sandra’s boyfriend and he was like ‘man, everybody’s always asking me where I got it when I go out!’ So we got to talking, and (Sandra) really pushed me to get this going. I didn’t expect it to grow as fast as it did, and by grow I mean I didn’t think anybody would be interested in these. I started out making my own because I liked the look, and then people were constantly coming up to me and asking me about it. That’s really how it got started.”
Although Renteria’s area of education was not in fashion, he was taught the value of being able to make and repair clothing from a young age.
“I got into it because of my mom, she used to be really crafty,” Renteria said. “She made my Halloween costumes and stuff like that. She’s actually a great seamstress; she would always fix all my stuff. It wasn’t always the coolest looking, but I was really fascinated to see how she could make things. I would always go with her to (the fabric store) and she would take me to craft symposiums and events. It was just cool spending time with my mom, I thought – she’s just such a cool lady. I finally learned how to sew in middle school, because back then they used to have home economics classes. I feel that a lot of people, now, don’t know how to do the simple things; (people who make their own clothes) are a dying breed.”
The fact that fewer people can make clothes these days has created an American consumer that is unable to recognize quality. When consumers are ignorant to craftsmanship and the processes of clothing construction, they struggle to make informed clothing purchases, and often wind up disappointed.
“With the cost, and companies now outsourcing everything, people want to go to places like H&M where they end up losing out on quality construction and small details,” Renteria said. “Now, people want a fast solution. People want things quickly, whether it’s the latest trends in the form of clothes that have been carelessly slapped together, or it’s their homes, or whatever. I wish people would chill out a little bit more.”
Additionally, fast-fashion has resulted in high-fashion, editorial looks becoming more accessible. Because brands have created a system in which they can have knockoffs on the rack seemingly moments after they are seen on the runway, trends are able to trickle down from the top to the bottom of the retail world in record time. The result of this is a far trendier, modern or ambitious look seen on everyday people. Renteria would prefer to see a return to the classics.
“A lot of the styles coming out now are so far-fetched,” Renteria said. “It’s cool to look at a magazine and admire out-there design, but I don’t feel like they’re realistic. I wish designers would get back to the basics. I have this affinity for post-war fashion, and I think that I would like to keep with that. The clothes I like to wear are usually cut in a very old man kind of way in the shops, but with my clothes I like to keep it young.”
One of the benefits of a classic, rather than trendy wardrobe, is affordability. According to Renteria, there is no reason to spend a fortune on high-end basics when they are available for reasonable prices. Much of why he is so captivated by post-war fashion is because people could not afford to spend a lot on their appearance, but they still emphasized the importance of looking their best.
“I love the fact that people didn’t have a lot of money, but the way they looked and the way they dressed made them look like millionaires,” Renteria said. “I had this yearbook from 19 – I think it was 32 – during the depression. I look through at these high school kids and their hair was combed, and they were wearing ties, trousers and polished shoes, and the girls looked like movie stars the way they did their hair – and it was just for going to high school! It shows that it doesn’t cost money to look nice. It was just a clean, respectable look, which is what I really like.”
The pressure put on appearances has lessened drastically, and not only in terms of dress. Decorum has decreased in every aspect of society, from the way we talk, to the way we dress, to the way we interact with one another. Renteria may not have experienced it in his lifetime, but he has nostalgia for that formality society no longer seems to have, all the same. For this reason, he decided to call his line Etiquette Vintage.
“It’s funny; I never had a problem deciding what I wanted to call my line, which is Etiquette,” Renteria said. “I believe in the significance of having courtesy toward one another in everything you do, whether it be running and opening a door for a woman at school, or letting a girl get on the bus before you, having respect for your classmates when you got to class – it’s things like that that need to happen. That’s really what I wanted to do, myself, and what I want to see from others. If I can’t do that, why do I expect everybody else to do it, you know? I don’t want to get up and iron my clothes every day. I don’t want to do that, but I do it because I have respect for myself.”
Evidently shoppers agree with his outlook, as his line has been steadily growing since it started thanks to his website and etsy page, where he sells his pieces. With some assistance from a stylist friend, Renteria premiered his collection of sweaters in a fashion event entitled Mi Familia at South by Southwest in Austin last week.
“I think this is the first or second year that they’re doing fashion at SXSW – it’s called Fashion X, and it’s a great way for people to get a look at your stuff,” Renteria said. “It’s amazing how at SXSW you have people coming in from film, magazines, musicians, actors – so, it’s a great way to get your stuff out there. Sandra (his stylist friend) just kind of used all her resources and got it sponsored, and she got a couple of companies involved. It was the Etiquette Vintage premier fashion show, so I was the only one showing my stuff and we got to use Stag’s clothes to go along with my pieces. They just opened up in Austin, and were actually in GQ for being one of the best men’s clothing stores in the United States. A lot of their stuff is American, so that was something that I really liked. I’m very privileged because I don’t think a lot of people who studied this in school get the kind of opportunity I’ve received.
I had the people there who could pull it off, and had those resources, and I think I have a product that a lot of people like. I think if I was making something shitty, my friends wouldn’t want to back that up because their name is on it, too. A lot of people are really pumped about my designs, and that’s what’s so cool about it; it’s something that everybody likes and has pushed me to pursue. Without them, and my family of course, this would not be possible. My parents gave me money to get started because they’re excited about it; I think that they’re happy just to see that I’m happy.”
With support and assistance from his friends and family, Renteria has turned what started out as a single sweater he made for himself into a growing vintage revival fashion line. For now, though, Renteria is open to wherever the line takes him – as long he is still having fun.
“Right now, I have an open mind,” Renteria said. “If this is something that lasts for three more weeks, that’s fine. If it turns into something bigger, that’s fine too. I’m just happy to make other people happy. When someone comes over to put something on after I make it, they’re smiling and so pumped about it, and that’s where the good feelings come in. It’s not about the money; I mean it takes a lot of time and money to make these things for minimal profit. But, it’s fun. I think once it stops being fun, I won’t want to do it anymore. For the longest time, I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. People would always say ‘do what makes you happy’ and I was like, ‘what in the world?’ This makes me genuinely happy, and I do it because of that.”
Renteria said he enjoys making people feel confident and happy with the sweaters he makes for them, but he also strives to make strangers feels good through random acts of kindness. He even intends to do charity work with the earnings from his line in order to help college students that cannot afford textbooks.
“I really enjoy helping people. I like doing small things that make people happy. Sometimes at the coffee shop, I’ll pay for the person’s coffee behind me. I just do it because I think it’s cool that I could have made that person’s day. I try to do something like that every day, and I’d like to incorporate kindness into what I’m doing. I set aside a little bit of money from every sweater I make, whether it’s 5-10 bucks, or whatever, and once I get enough, I want to start helping the students back at school. I remember there were times I couldn’t afford a textbook, and the professor told me I could do this or that, but I didn’t have the best grades as an undergrad, and everything is geared toward helping people that have a 4.0. I just feel like there are plenty of B or C students who can’t afford textbooks. There are kids that spend all their money out drinking rather than buying books, but there are also kids that work two or three jobs and they’re doing it on their own. I just think it would be cool to help them out.”
In order for Renteria’s textbook philanthropy plans to become a reality, though, he will have to expand his line further. According to Renteria, the next step from selling his sweaters online and in personal transactions is going to be expanding to a retail business.
“I wear these around campus and, I see people smiling, or I’ll see people laugh, and I have to wonder ‘are they making fun of me, or do they like it?’ ” Renteria said with a grin. “But, most of the time, people will come up to me and tell me they like it. It still surprises me a little, but what I’d really like right now is for somebody to come to me about putting these in a store, like, ‘make me 15 and let’s see where it goes from there.’ I just get a kick out of seeing them around, and on campus. Like, ‘wow, I made that, and somebody actually wanted to buy it!’”
If you are interested in carrying any Etiquette Vintage sweaters by Eric Renteria at your business, please feel free to contact him at RichardEricRenteria@gmail.com