Rentrayage Turns Found Vintage Into Couture

Photo: Courtesy of Rentrayage.

For designer Erin Beatty, one half of the then-industry darling, now-closed Suno duo, the prospect of starting anew — and on her own — wasn’t a pipe dream. That she’s now a solo artist means freedom, not pressure. And time, which should feel more ephemeral than ever after trust-falling into the world of freelance, is a friend of hers. Rentrayage, the new line that sees the New York-based creative putting her contemporary spin on vintage finds, is a passion project that fuses her skill for design (Beatty spent years at Gap, Tory Burch, and Suno, and has since consulted for friend Michelle Waugh and ready-to-wear label Arias) and her interest in curbing fashion’s waste problem.

Why exactly Beatty’s starting a new business venture when retail numbers are declining faster than they have in a decade is a good question. And, it’s not lost on those who take into consideration the fact that Suno closed in part because the fashion industry isn’t set up to foster small businesses (let alone lines with a social conscious). If you ask her, she’ll even tell you it’s “totally terrifying” and “almost stupid” — but, for someone who considers making crucial changes to the fashion industry a matter of the heart rather than a sensitive business decision, it’s actually not a bad idea; crazy enough, in fact, that it just might work.

After 8 years in business, Suno closed. Beatty, who was pregnant at the time, felt as though she’d lost her way. “I didn’t know what to even set as a goal. I was very confused,” she reflects. “I was talking to big [fashion] companies about going in-house, but the industry was in a very weird place (and continues to be). It was a horrible time for sales. It felt like I would go somewhere and not be allowed to be creative and then get blamed, so that didn’t feel like the right next step.” To start Rentrayage, Beatty used funds she’d saved from her consulting gigs and a small inheritance she received from her grandmother.

L-R: Max Osterweis, Tracee Ellis Ross, and Erin Beatty at the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Awards, 2016.
Photo: Taylor Hill/FilmMagic/Getty Images.

Last season, she launched Rentrayage’s debut collection alongside an offering of custom vintage T-shirts (cut in halves and sewn together, straight down the middle). Praise was instant, though sales would take some time. Rentrayage isn’t so much a departure of Suno’s aesthetic, which drew mostly from East African kangas and what the West would call “tribal prints”, so much as it’s a reflection of Beatty’s eye for silhouettes and color. And, when it comes to the name, she admits to being inspired by Louise Bourgeois and her An Unfolding Portrait exhibit at the MoMa, specifically the Pink Days and Blue Days mobile.

It works like this: After scouring vintage bins across the nation (Beatty has plants who help her source “the good stuff” in places like Ohio and Tennessee), she Frankenstein’s fabrics of different patterns, and sometimes garments, together (there’s a blazer fused with a trench coat, for example), and creates the blueprint of which many other copies — all of varying prints and colors — can be made from. Like couture, every single piece is one of a kind.

“To me, the idea of owning a piece that speaks to you — you go into the store and see these pieces, they’re so weird but they’re so lively and cool — and you just, I don’t know, it’s just yours. It’s only yours. In this crazy world, what could be better?" she says, adding that "if you see something and you want it — you have to buy it because it will go away.”

Beatty isn’t so much contributing to fashion’s waste problem as she’s making lemonade out of scraps — and it's what she considers her answer (or an answer) to the burdening stat that humans are consuming too much — and that we can’t rely on people to recycle. Many consider the fashion industry the world’s second largest polluter, next to air pollution. And the industry accounts for more than a third of microplastics found in the oceans. Recycling, in the long-run, does little to improve fashion’s supply chain when so many enhancements need to be made at chemical and textile levels.

And that’s something else Beatty wants Rentrayage customers to know, too: the more you know about where your clothing comes from, it will feel more worthy to you. Beatty considers Rentrayage an example of controlled clothing. “It’s why I’m making things out of stuff that has already existed, so there’s nothing new. I’m not putting anything new into the environment; all of these things already existed.”

She continues: “The unfortunate counter to that, and the reason we need to care about sustainable development, is the fact that the population is growing. We will need to clothe people; it’s fundamental. The other point is: People will never not care about the way they present themselves. And I would never want to take that away from people. We have built a society that is disgustingly disposable and overly consumeristic. But, that being said, the idea that people aren’t going to want to add new things into their life and their wardrobe is just not possible. It’s not human or who we are.”

It’s this spirit, though — the belief that clothes can impact people on a level more intense than basic necessity — that makes Beatty a standout in her field, an industry rife with men atop female-founded fashion houses. You’d be hard pressed to find a designer who cares about where their clothes come from and what happens to them after they’ve found them.

“One thing I cannot get away from is that I’m a feminine designer. The clothes that I make tend to be more feminine. Who knows where it comes from but that’s my point of view,” she says in response to the showmanship of male designers, whose lack of creativity is made up for in Instagram followers. Beatty, a CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund veteran who boasts 20 years in fashion, seeks more from what the industry (and the celebrity that comes with it) has on offer. “I will say that embracing that and owning that, even after having Suno and worked at so many different places, has been a real understanding that I have something to give to the world in terms of what this is going to look like. That’s been a real climb.”

“In the end, that’s kind of why I’m doing my own thing. I think that modern businesses should be run by community-oriented people. I am collaborative almost to a fault, but as long as I can remind myself to be direct, there’s no other way to create something new in the current environment.”

As for how she plans to convert those reared on disposable fashion into advocates (consumers) of clothes that’ve been saved from extinction and made cool again, she acknowledges the risk factor — and reminds us why style is so personal. “First of all, a lot of work has gone into it — we had to measure the whole thing out, it’s been touch by a tailor, etc.,” she says of some of the thousand-dollar price tags. “It’s essentially couture, but the fabrics are older. The talent that goes into the making of these dresses involves a skilled tailor. It’s not a sewer or a machine — I can’t send this out or make it in China.”

The way Beatty designs Rentrayage is a lesson in how consumers should shop: She looks at the clothes, like a surgeon would the inside of a body, and explores them. Because, like us, each piece is one of a kind — and begs the question of why shouldn’t it be? Of course, that may not work for those who shop for events instead of life’s more valuable, in-between moments. But no matter how much bang is behind your buck, fashion is, and will always be, an investment.

So, to those who can afford a $125 t-shirt, or at least aspire to: Ethical consumerism may come at a price, but Rentrayage is proof that originality still exists — and good things come to those who wait.

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