It's not often that we come across a person who challenges others to "do," not just talk -- but Josh Schmitz qualifies. The founder of Ruckus Apparel, Schmitz was born in Denver, graduated high school in Wheat Ridge, and turned down a rugby scholarship at the University of California, Berkeley to attend the University of Wyoming because it was closer to the home he'd missed while playing rugby overseas. After getting a degree in sociology and religious studies, he was introduced to the creative/fashion industry by a friend who worked at a screen-printing shop. After he made his first shirt, it caught the eye of other friends who asked him to reproduce his creation. Only four years later, Ruckus Apparel is a leader in the fashion/design business in Denver, and Schmitz is in charge of today's Brass Ring fashion show for the Children's Diabetes Foundation. He took time out from his busy schedule to answer a few questions. See also: Fashion shows and shopping on the calendar this week
Westword: Ruckus -- how did you come up with the name?
Josh Schmitz: Embarrassingly, the first T-shirt I ever printed all those years ago was of a hunter being eaten by a polar bear. While working on the design I was listening to Wu-Tang, and I randomly worked the word "RUCKUS" into the background of the design, and it just stuck. I wish I had some cool branding strategy or meaningful story, but honestly, that's the way it happened. Dumbest yet best decision I ever made.
Tell us about Ruckus Apparel and your demographic.
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I was thrown into the fire; I didn't go to business or fashion school. I got in trouble because I wasn't paying my sales taxes: I asked, what are sales taxes!? I've learned a lot over the years. According to our Facebook analytics, we appeal to 18-to-year-olds, 60 percent women and 40 percent male. Honestly, we don't do all the target marketing stuff; I'm not trying to sound like a douchebag; we just honestly appeal to a wide range of people. I like to call them upstream swimmers: everyone from pastors to bikers, bankers, barbers, athletes and musicians. Our demographics are more than a 9-to-5; our clients want more. Ruckus Apparel is more along the lines of a social club than clothing line. I can't pinpoint how we do it, exactly, or how we cross extreme demographic barriers with no problems. We just do. I guess when it comes down to it, Ruckus is about restoring hope and confidence in broken people, and I think that is something that appeals to a lot of people.
How does fashion play a role in restoring hope and confidence?
Fashion can do a lot of things. You can put something on and literally feel different about yourself. It's like when a bride puts on her wedding ring for the first time. That simple act makes her feel wanted, beautiful and secure in her future. Clothing is the same way. The right piece of clothing or that "right" outfit can literally alter how you feel. My family was extremely poor growing up, so my dad and I had a lot of random side jobs to bring in money.
He tells this story about how one day he had to auger through this massive compost pile in the back yard of a rental property; once he was all done, he realized he had to clean the auger before he could return it. So he grabbed a hose and began to squirt the blade from a distance, but the water would only take off so much. There came a point when he realized, he couldn't stand at a distance with a weak hose if he wanted to get it clean -- he would have to put the hose down, use his hands and get dirty. Life is like that. And I think people are like that, too. They want to stand at a comfortable distance, use a nice, safe hose and just point and shoot. They don't want to get dirty; they don't want to get uncomfortable.
I hope that when people put on Ruckus Apparel, they understand that life is about getting a little dirty. Life is about adventure, and love, and blood, and sweat, and hard work, and about being really, really uncomfortable. There is no patron saint of mediocrity.
Let's talk about the Brass Ring Luncheon on November 19, a fundraiser for Children's Diabetes Foundation. How did you get involved? Is there a personal connection? My grandmother works with the Diabetes Foundation. A lot of non-profits are struggling to stay ahead of the curve in this day and age. They are trying to appeal to younger businesspeople, and are looking at keeping up with the times when it comes to changes in advertising, raising support, media and the boom of social media.
This year they were brave enough to bring us in to help. Rozemerie Cuevas, owner and designer for Jaqueline Conoir, was the featured designer/producer for the past two years and I simply held the model casting and did styling for the shows. But then this year I got a call asking if I would do it from top to bottom, and with Rustin Coburn and Autumn Binion we have a killer team. I don't care if you hate it or love it, the show is going to evoke some type of reaction -- that is what fashion is all about.
Josh, we ask all designers/fashion creatives this question: What is your take on Denver's fashion community?
I have a ton of respect for people who are actually doing things, like Charlie Price and Matthew Morris, Mondo, Jiberish and Steadbrook -- they are constantly putting out solid products. Outside of that...I mean, if your work is good there will always be enough of the pie. You have to clear away the smoke and mirrors in the Denver fashion community and once you do, it will be tough for some people. What I don't understand is how people complain about Denver, or say it's "too small, I need to move to L.A.," when they haven't even dominated in Denver.
Fashion in Denver sometimes seems to be like a bunch of kids running around trying to protect their own little kingdom of dirt. FGI wants me to pay to be a part of a group that hasn't done anything relevant in years -- how can they offer business advice or add relevancy to me? If you are not in the action, you lose credibility. Fashion isn't nice, and there is no neutral. Life isn't nice, and there is no neutral. You are either getting better, or you are getting worse. You either get on the bus, or you get under it.
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Keep reading for more photos of Ruckus Apparel.