CLOSE UP: Yaito LLC.
I met Carlton Yaito not long after moving to NYC, we were at an event and our mutual friend Kyle introduced us. He instantly inspired me with his vision, his humble nature, and his unique talent. We stayed in touch over the years, and I watched Carlton continue to expand his vision, reconstructing and creating denim pieces that are truly works of art. You could see Carlton’s intricate art on the denim of any major streetwear junkie, and on his collaborations with brands like Levi’s, Tommy Hilfiger, and Awake. Later down the road I was introduced to his amazing partner Tulie, who clearly is an ideal match for him. They have worked together to build a one of a kind brand, that creates wearable art, truly- to own a Yaito one of a kind piece, is to own art. Recently they have expanded into creating handbags that I became instantly obsessed with, and to no surprise with each drop they sell out within minutes. I spent the day hanging out with Tulie and Carlton at their studio, where we discussed the past, present, and future of Yaito LLC.
EJ: Okay, Hi guys! I am going to start with the sentimental but essential question, how did you guys meet?
CY: So truthfully speaking. We met on Facebook back in 2013. She was a suggested friend & I befriended her. We started small talking in messages & the rest is history lol
EJ: I love that haha! You and Tulie have such a dynamic relationship, and seem to cater to each other's strengths, why do you think your partnership works so well?
CY: Honestly, the reason for that is that we don’t always get along & we acknowledge it. Our relationship is layered. We went from being friends, to in a relationship, to now being partners. It’s been a struggle & sometimes people look from the outside & think it’s all perfect. There’s a lot we don’t always agree on, but one thing we’ve come to understand is for the betterment of what we’ve built. We always stick together, no matter what. Some people will never get the opportunity to build what we have, we have a lifetime bond & we created a brand together. That’s bigger than both of us. Knowing your flaws is knowing your strengths. That’s how I’ve always seen it & that’s what keeps us together.
EJ: I feel that you’ve been such a trailblazer in opening people's minds to the limitlessness of deconstructing clothing, and how the act of distressing denim can be so intricate, and tailored, as opposed to the conventional idea of raw, and edgy. Was this always something you consciously sought out?
CY: Never. I always wanted to create. It’s still what motivates me today. The one thing that defines me & that doesn’t for a lot of designers is that I’m trained in actual design. Coming from where I’m from, you don’t see that too often & I’ve found ways to take what I’ve learned & create new systems within it. That also wasn’t planned. I’ve always just gone with the flow & naturally created new ways of designing along the way.
EJ: Where did your love for denim come from? When did it occur to you to take the distressing trend to the next level?
CY: Honestly my love for denim came from my boy @brickowens & some from my boy @jaywest. I like denim just like anyone else but Jay West had a thing for RRL, he loved it. One day we were going out & where we were going, I needed a pair of jeans, West gave me a pair of his RRL to wear & I was stunned at how amazing they fit. From there, Brick was heavy into the distressing & I just loved how he did it. I tried my hand at it one day on those same pairs of RRL & people loved them. So much so that I kept distressing & that’s how I created the system for distressing that I did. Just a lot of practicing. After a while, it was all I was known for.
EJ: You've been an industry staple over the last few years, and anyone who really has paid close attention to trends within denim knows your name, however in my opinion a-lot of your genius goes uncredited. How do you navigate seeing larger brands move in stylistic directions that are clearly inspired by your original work?
CY: I love it. It makes me know that I’m doing something right. That influence can be felt, that’s why I’ve taken a break from the denim. Started to design apparel again. It’s building the audience for the Yaito Brand. Then when no one is expecting, we’re going to create the denim we wanted to years ago. When the time is right...they’ll know what truly started this movement.
EJ: What would you say are some of your biggest career highlights if you had to choose a few?
CY: Biggest highlights would have to be creating the Rocafella jacket for Kareem “Biggs”. The Awake collaboration we did with Angelo Baque & the LifeWTR commercial I did at the beginning of this year, that was life changing.
EJ: As you’ve now evolved your creative direction and moved beyond denim, what has it been like, and did you have any reservations?
CY: Never had any reservations. It’s the reason I focused on denim. I realized working on denim was tedious, it was long, tiring & aching. It prepared me to create garments again. It was years in between the time I left college to when we launched the Yaito brand. I needed the practice & denim gave me that. Once we started creating outerwear. I was flying through concepts easily. There’s so many ideas I’ve reserved over the years. Now I’m letting them out little by little.
EJ: We are currently in the midst of an unprecedented time culturally, where there seems to be a true initiative to make change in the fashion industry and beyond, what have the past few months been like for you, as a Black creative, and small business owner?
CY: Honestly, the past few months have been enlightening & amazing. I’ve spent many years focusing on understanding me & finding knowledge of self, understanding what it means to me to be a Black man & finding comfort & peace within, while living in a country that seemingly wants to hold me back. Watching our people become aware & stand together. It’s truly been the most beautiful time. 2020 made the vision clear for our people.
EJ: If you had any advice for young Black creatives, especially ones who like you have a very original and unique point of view, but maybe not know how to get started, or get their foot in the door- what would that advice be?
CY: I would tell them like I’ve told some before already. “Get started....”. That’s it, have an idea of what you want to create & make it & make it again, then again & again & again. Don’t stop. Master what it is you want to create & once you’ve mastered it, create it again in a different form and then master that. It’s a process to become good then become great at something. Once you’ve done that, the world will notice as long as you’re not afraid to share it. Let the world see you & what you can do. Eventually, people will take notice.
EJ: What would you say is your vision for the brand going forward, and are there any exciting developments we should keep our eyes out for?
CY: Honestly, no. This may be wrong but I don’t plan out my visions. How I envision the brand is exactly how I design. I let it take its own form, let it take shape naturally, never controlling any aspect of what feels right moving forward. It changes everyday & so far, it’s helping us grow pretty fast. In terms of developments, we have a lot more handbags on the way
EJ: I want to thank you both so much for taking the time to speak with me! I am so happy to see all of your continued successes, and creativity! It has been truly incredible to watch the brand grow and evolve over the years, and you’re original - through and through.
CY: We’d have to return the thanks. You’ve always shown us love when we were just living in Hollis queens, making 1 garment a week. Sometimes hoping to get it on someone & you’ve always supported us. Watching things come full circle & we’re here doing this truly brings joy to my heart. It makes me excited to see how much further we can climb in the next few years God willing. We love you Elisa!