A Conversation With Cal Green of Raised By Wolves
For over a decade, from Canada’s capital city of Ottawa to Montreal and back again, Cal Green has been at the forefront of the nation’s streetwear scene. As a trained graphic designer who felt uninspired by traditional design roles, Cal found happiness in entrepreneurialism, linking up with long-time friend Pete Williams to start the famed streetwear brand Raised by Wolves, and put Canada on the streetwear map. We got the chance to speak with Cal about navigating through the last year as an entrepreneur, supporting his community, putting together a cohesive collection that can speak to the masses and tips for the new generation of designers. As fellow Canadians, speaking with Cal was an absolute pleasure and we know the reading won’t be any different. Hey Cal! Thanks so much for taking some time to chat with us. The first thing we want to talk about is production. One of the core pillars of Raised by Wolves is the “Made In Canada” mantra. Why has producing in Canada been so important to you and Pete for the brand? When we started the brand, our collections were quite small and finding local suppliers seemed like the easiest way to get things made. We had no idea where to start looking overseas so we found a local screen printer to do our tees. After that we got a connection to a knitting mill and so on and so forth. Our production network in Canada grew over time and has become one of the cornerstones of the brand. While it wasn’t a consideration at the start, we grew to really value supporting domestic production and the local economy. Ensuring factory workers are paid fairly in a safe space and that we’re minimizing our environmental impact by avoiding shipping overseas is super important to us. We know that producing clothing isn’t a sustainable practice but doing it locally is at least a step in the right direction. We also try to use as much existing or deadstock materials as possible. Do you think that being Canadian played to either an advantage or a disadvantage during the development and growth of the brand? When we started there weren’t many Canadian brands around yet. I think it helped define us for sure. Ultimately I wouldn’t say it was advantageous or not but it helped shape the brand internally because we were so separated from the industry. We had to learn everything on our own by observing what was going on in places like New York and LA where there were strong streetwear subcultures at the time. Fall/Winter '21 Details Raised by Wolves has worked hard to uplift local communities, especially during covid. Why has this been so big for the brand? It has always been important for us to have a strong local presence and community support. We gained traction early on by throwing club nights and events, so we began to build in the community that way. With covid, our business basically ground to a halt when all of our factories closed. We knew that other businesses were going to have a hard time. We started a series called RBW Support Local to highlight Canadian artists and small businesses in our community doing great things. It was a lot of fun and we saw a number of other businesses coming together to do similar things. I think covid forced a lot of people to get creative and step out of their comfort zones while helping one another. We also used that brief pause as an opportunity to publish Braised by Wolves, a digital cookbook featuring recipes from local restaurants, to raise money for the Ottawa Food Bank. It is still available online and has raised just over $13,500 at the time of writing this. Definitely agreed! Speaking of RBW Support Local, who are some up and coming Canadian brands or artists that you think are doing great things right now and deserve a shoutout? Oh man, there are so many people killing it right now. Jeremy Karl - Amazing designer who always impresses with his ability to seamlessly mesh military, luxury and tech. Most recent work includes Arc’teryx System_A and NOCTA. Excited to see what’s next. Colin Meredith - Incredibly talented and inspiring designer making techwear/gear by hand from scrap materials. Has done everything from work for Louis Vuitton to making an entire collection with products from Dollarama. Tam Vu - All around great dude and Beast Bowler. His eponymous label and art biz is one of the most exciting projects that I’m watching right now. Courtney of @idorugsnow - The most fun! The giant burning cop car rug Court made for us is dropping soon. Penny of @torontodenimrepair - Love this project! Garment repair is super important and undervalued, in my opinion. There is no better way to make something your own than to wear the shit out of it, fix it and keep wearing it. Would love to see more of this in general, not just with denim. My friend Katie grew up around sewing/the garment industry and recently discovered her love of quilting .. and she’s a natural! Keep an eye out for some RBW work ;) Julien Arphi, the designer behind atelier DNHN, is doing some really amazing upcycled work. He makes ball caps, apparel and accessories from scratch in his Montreal studio. When I say scratch, I mean he is literally making the visors and sweatbands. Over the years, RBW has graduated from a couple tees and hats to large collections and collabs and now Fall/Winter ‘21. Can you break down your process for developing this recent collection? In terms of designing a collection, I start with the season. Fall/Winter or Spring/Summer. That helps determine the weight of the fabrics I’m using, what kind of garments or accessories I’m going to make. I tend to design for Canadian seasons, although that’s not necessarily the most practical approach for customers in warmer climates. After that, I’ll sort of build a skeleton collection, really it’s just written down - what product categories do you need to design for, headwear, outerwear, bottoms, etc. Depending on the season and my interests at the time of designing, I’ll come up with a broad product type, like “polar fleece half-zip” and do a bunch of research on that particular product. I ask myself what are my favourite versions of this product. Vintage Patagonia? Is there a military reference? A sportswear reference? I’ll make an image folder for each product, save a ton of images and break my favourite pieces down. I like this zipper. I don’t like these pockets. It’s a bit like creating a Frankenstein product. I nerd out about the smallest details. And then you have to ask yourself how can I make this mine? How can I change the fabric in a way that’s unexpected, but still references workwear or whatever you’re doing. How will it be branded? This is more or less how I approach the design of each particular product, but then you also need to take a step back and look at the collection as a whole. Is it cohesive? Does it make sense? I honestly don’t know how other people do it, but this makes sense in my head. Coming up with specific products can be challenging enough, but finding the manufacturer who can actually bring these products to life, the way you envision them, is another beast altogether. Many manufacturers have a niche and are good at producing a specific type of product. Finding the right manufacturer can be a challenge, but worth the effort when you do. Fall/Winter '21. Shot by William. Modelled by Kevin. Rug by Courtney. You and Pete have been working together all the way back to the very early 2000’s and built some incredible things together. What are some tips you’d share for fostering a strong business partnership that can last for decades? Pete and I met in middle school and started hanging out in high school. We have a lot of shared interests and values which brought us together. Good communication is super important. Being aware of your individual strengths and weaknesses. Make sure that you’re both putting in equal efforts. I think these are some of the things that form the basis of a strong partnership. Photo: Pete (left) & Cal (right) from wayyyy back. What is some advice you’d give to new designers trying to turn their passion into a business? You have to do it for yourself and because you’re passionate about it. Don’t do it because you think it’s going to please others. Don’t let a lack of information stop you from trying to make stuff. Do your research, teach yourself, refine your craft. Take risks, but know when to play it safe or say no. Lastly, what are you working on these days that you’re excited about? We have a bunch of exciting collabs in the works. Some footwear, headwear and amazing accessories. Not going to share more than that, but they’ll start rolling out soon! I’m also really excited to introduce our upcoming alpha/beta line we’ve been developing with Julien Arphi. This collection will consist of one-of-one or super limited runs of upcycled/recycled apparel and home wares made by independent artists, sewists and designers. The focus is on using our samples, defects, returns and overstock fabric/trims as well as military surplus, vintage denim, etc. alpha/beta is a reference to the hierarchy or pecking order in a wolf pack. alpha products get to eat first so to speak. They get access to premium materials, are more experimental, one-of-one pieces. beta products reference alpha, but are more accessible and produced in limited runs. delta products are accessories, made of scrap materials from the entire process. The pandemic made us realize just how much material we have accumulated over the years. We’ve never destroyed anything, as is unfortunately commonplace in the industry, so it was important for us to challenge ourselves to use these materials to create new products. I hope to see more of this kind of thing throughout the industry. Photos: Materials and wash tests for alpha/beta line. Make sure to check out Raised By Wolves Fall/Winter '21 collection out now on the brand's website and follow their instagram for updates on the alpha/beta drop and more great releases coming soon. As always, keep it locked to Pier Five for more interviews and stories with the coolest entrepreneurs, designers, artists, activists and more.