by DJ Martinez
This fall, local clothing company Rebels & Scholars commemorates 3 years of staying true to their mission of celebrating cultura en el noroeste (culture in the Northwest.) Whether you’re catching a show at The Crocodile or cruising through Beacon Hill, you’re likely to see one of the South End based company’s signature t-shirts in sarape lettering, or their classic Los Marineros snapback– caps.
I first became aware of the clothing company last year, after meeting co-creators Jackie and Ray Morales vending their merch at The Station’s annual Block Party at The Station, where I had to cop one of their Wa-Chingón snapbacks. Ray is the assistant principal at Cleveland High School in Beacon Hill, and Jackie is the Vice-president of Social Responsibility at the YMCA of Greater Seattle. I caught up with both of them to talk a little bit about living, working, y celebrando en el noroeste.
Where does the name Rebels & Scholars come from?
Ray: We are believers in formal education, it has played an important role in getting us into our current professional positions. However, we know there is much to be learned outside of any formal institution. Whether it be traveling, working, actively challenging the status quo, unique life experiences or knowledge from the street. Being a Rebel & Scholar is finding balance among the different identities that shape our lives.
Jackie: To me it is an identity. Rebels saw the light at some point. They became conscious of inequity and actively seek justice for all. The search for the consciousness/knowledge, gained through books or community, makes rebels by default, scholars.
So, who’s the rebel and who’s the scholar?
Jackie: Haha… At one point or another we’ve both embraced being rebels & scholars. The culmination of our lived experiences have left us feeling like one can’t be
without the other.
Ray: The actual name was inspired by a Boogie Down Productions song… “Jack of Spades.” The line goes “I am a renegade teacher and scholar…” It fits since KRS-One has always referred to himself as a Teacher. The idea of a business for me started over a decade ago when I was living and working in New York. I came across the names of Puerto Rican, Dominican and other Caribbean revolutionaries/activists that I had never read about growing up on the West Coast. My initial idea was to make a weekly calendar/planner that highlighted these people, folks that were lesser known but of course still important. So I spent a year or so in my off time researching and coming up with 52 different names.
My longtime family friend, Rich Garcia (KeepOne) did the original art work and I came up with the biographies. Then… life. This big bundle of work and passion just sat dormant for years until a few months back when I decided to move forward with making a 2018 calendar. We are currently taking pre-orders for the calendar, it is so dope but especially important to me because of the time that I put into it way back.
You both work other jobs in addition to running your own business, do you think entrepreneurship is one of the many aspects of Latinidad?
Ray: I am in my 13th year of education. I have worked previously in high schools in the Bronx and SeaTac. Many of our people still work in some part of the agricultural realm. My parents both come from migrant families and worked in the fields. Times are changing though; I’ve read many recent articles pointing out the high percentages of entrepreneurship among immigrants from Central America and Mexico.
Jackie: Many of us grew up seeing our parents find creative ways to provide for our families. For me, my mom was the ultimate entrepreneur. In El Salvador, she sold cocos on the side of the street, sold tortillas and with time was able to have a tiendita. In the U.S., my sister and I managed a small vendor booth at flea markets in Yakima and Toppenish after school and on the weekends, while our parents worked in the fields. I know many of our families hustled to provide for their children…it’s in our blood.
You’ve both spent years building community here in Seattle through your professional networks. Can you talk a little bit about how having that community in place has helped with your new business venture? Do you engage with these communities any differently?
Jackie: Being a part of the community has always been a priority for us. Our commitment to giving back came years before we were in our current roles. Yes, having strong communities has most definitely helped with Rebels & Scholars. Our community knows what we are about and that’s why they support R&S. We don’t do anything differently now than we did before.
Ray: I agree with Jackie in that we don’t do anything differently now than we have done in the past. Most people who know me, know I have love for my city, the Northwest, and supporting the community. I have to give a shout out to my mom for helping me see the importance of community and remembering where you came from. One thing that may be a little different now is in the name of Rebels & Scholars we have given back to the community via in-kind and monetary donations. Our community page on our website highlights a few of the organizations.
In your bio, you describe yourselves both as Latinx, can you explain what that means, and why you personally choose to use it?
Jackie: Latinx is proof that our language is fluid and must evolve as our community embraces various identities. Prior to using Latinx, we used Latin@, in our attempt to steer away from male dominated… As we learned more about Latinx we realized it fits who we are.
Ray: It makes room for people who are indigenous, trans, queer, non-binary, gender non-conforming or gender fluid. It may go without saying, but we do not use the term Hispanic which pays homage to Spain; colonizer of the America’s. Personally, we identify as Mexican, Salvadoreña and Indigenous.
Who does your designs? Who are your models?
Ray: The designs start with us. We have an idea, we sketch and/or talk it out, then we consult the graphic designers we work with. The majority of our images have been executed by two Seattle graphic designers. Our models are all local; friends and family. They are DOPE and continue to hold us down. We are huge on keeping it local. Our graphic designers, artists, photographers, models, studios, webmasters, consultants, print/embroidery shops, and more are all local. This keeps money in the community. Sustaining local businesses and entrepreneurs is important to us. We are also very intentional about who we work with and keep people of color at the forefront.
Do you have any advice for people who want to start their own brands? Has any advice been especially helpful for you when you were first starting?
Ray: When we first decided to start down this road we didn’t know anyone who had created their own apparel brand. We made a lot of mistakes. I chalk it up to growth though. We are still growing! It feels great to able to help folks out who are just getting started or who have questions about business in general. I’ve lost track of all the people who have asked questions whether at a Pop Up Mercado or through Facebook. I’ll do whatever is within my power to impart a little bit of knowledge.
I have a lot of advice but for the sake of time I’ll say; passion, humility and hustle. You have to be passionate about what you are creating, if not then it comes off as a gimmick or disingenuous. Be humble; stay grounded and ask your people for help but don’t exploit them. Reaching out to the community helps when you are trying to serve the community. It doesn’t hurt to have a little hustle in you. If you want it, go get it.
Pre-orders of their calendar are available here. Catch Ray and Jackie at a pop- up mercado near you.
Featured image by Alex Garland