I first discovered DINO Apparel, founded by eco-chic entrepreneur Suzanne Rjinveld, about 10 years ago when I was the spa director at The Carneros Inn. The timeless styles and soft fabrics oozed resort and spa chic. The bonus was that the line was manufactured domestically, in fact, locally in California, with fabric that was as sustainable as it gets. You may be surprised to hear that ten years later, I still wear the DINO Apparel pieces from when I first discovered the brand. The fabric has worn well and the styles are still easy and stylish. Yes, you heard that right…the organic cotton Supima, modal blend still wears well, even after ten years! I’ve been a fan ever since.
You can imagine I was thrilled to reconnect with Suzanne a couple of years ago, now knowing more about sustainable fashion than I did ten years ago. When I had first met Suzanne 10 years ago, I knew she was inspired to start DINO Apparel during her divorce from a difficult marriage and named the line after her son, Dino. As I began to explore the brand deeper, I realized that DINO had everything that I look for in beauty—sustainability, authenticity, and amazing products— and just like that, I wanted everyone to know and fall in love with DINO Apparel.
As you know, the Beauty Heroes standard is high, and I didn’t take launching a new category in the Beauty Store lightly. Just as you have come to trust us with curating the very finest in beauty, I know that once you touch, feel and wear DINO, you will come to appreciate the quality of this exquisite and sustainable fashion brand. You will want to wrap yourself up in DINO as a daily beauty ritual, whether you’re running errands, dropping the kids off at school, or traveling to an exotic location. DINO brings comfort, softness, and substance.Read on as Suzanne and I share the inspiration behind us bringing you DINO Apparel to our Beauty Store, and how it works together with us to use less, live softly and, definitely, love more. You’re not going to want to miss out on the DINO Apparel Limited Edition (and first-ever) Lifestyle Discovery!
When was DINO founded, and what was your original intention?
That’s a tricky question because it happened in phases. I would like to say that I had this big vision and created a business plan, and then got investors, and then launched this concept for soft clothing that heals mind body and soul. But, absolutely none of that was the case.
I had always wanted to do something in the fitness/wellness category and had a concept back in the 90’s for a workout top that would be both functional and cute. I wanted it to have straps that you could interchange and the top would come in a bag that you would also throw in your gym bag. It would not-so-cleverly be called STRAP. This was in the 90’s, way before athleisure was a category, and was back when those chunky Speedo tops were the only type of workout tops on the market. But, I was in my 20’s and had started my career in Chicago in corporate adverting, with low pay and no real foundation for driving this concept forward. I got as far as researching straps in downtown LA and gave up. By 2000 I moved to The Netherlands, started working for NIKE in brand strategy, had Dino in 2001, and followed the corporate path. Upon moving back to LA in 2004, now with a family of 3, I began working in marketing for Red Bull. At that point I was having serious marital problems, and was struggling to keep myself going. I isolated myself from family and friends, became complacent, and lost my entire self to the point that I lost focus. For a creative outlet, I started looking into fabrics, and the process of making a pant that I had envisioned from my days in Europe. I was obsessed with comfort and softness and always had been very tactile as a child. My husband was becoming increasingly emotionally abusive, and then physically, and began protesting my creative outlet. The further I got into the pant-project, the angrier he became. So at a pivotal point, one day I went to work and resigned.
I hadn’t really considered the implications of resigning, so things became worse at home. I was slowly spiraling downward, and all the while trying to protect Dino. So one day while sitting for coffee after dropping him at pre-school, I was at the fork in the road. On one prong, I had a call from Red Bull with a newly created position, a new salary, and security, and on the other prong, were the pants. Do I lean back into the corporate web or follow a new path that was already in motion. And I chose the new path. I took a consulting gig on retainer with Red Bull, which gave me the freedom to grow creatively and be there for Dino. With the SkirtPant being the first design, I became known around the Venice community as “Pant Girl.” Mainstream yoga was on the rise, and the SkirtPant found it’s home in EXHALE and other local studios, and among the Venice yoga scene. However, yoga was never my inspiration. The pant itself was inspired by real women in The Netherlands, on their bikes riding in the rain with three kids hanging off of the back, dressed chicly in a skirt with jeans under it, all the while smiling. Women like us doing their daily routines, but choosing fashion for comfort, functionality, and beauty. I thought, how might that concept convert to a self-contained pant? And that was 2005 when the SkirtPant was born.
By 2006 I made a plan to leave my marriage. I can only describe it as ‘fugitive style’, the kind of thing you see in movies. Mother, child, dog escaping in the night, sleeping on a floor, with $40 in the bank. It wasn’t pretty, but it was liberating. And this was the point where my absolute pit bull obsession to build DINO the business was born.
So, as the story goes, my original intention was to create a platform for freedom for myself and Dino. To allow us the independence to grow as high as the sky, without limits. To show my son what a powerful woman means, and to be there for him as he grows into a young man. The three human needs of food, shelter, and clothing all boil down to COMFORT. The pants became a symbol of comfort, resulting in a community with a foundation of women and men whom we would have never met otherwise. With viral marketing and the power of social media, now more than ever, a global community is possible. Human connection is limitless and crosses boundaries where we would never have traveled otherwise. Everyone has a story, and when DINO is a small part of someone’s story, whether it’s a caftan to soothe a mother at the bedside of her sick child, or a jogger to soothe post-surgical pain, or simply buttery fabric on the skin to elevate a sense of well-being and happiness, it’s the fuel that keeps me/DINO/Dino going.
While DINO is a lifestyle company, I feel like it’s totally related to Indie Beauty? Do you feel the same way?
Yes, you are correct! In fact, I believe that Fashion IS beauty. It really just boils down to what beauty means to you. We focus so much on eco-conscious lotions and potions, which is awesome, but then we’re putting plastic leggings on our skin. It’s counterintuitive when I see women swaddled in spandex when all the while they’re obsessing over rose oil for the face. Beauty is often focused on the face, while fashion isn’t. But our skin is our largest organ, so why wouldn’t we care for our entire body the same way we do our face. Don’t get me wrong, we don’t make our clothes out of hemp seeds and lavender. But, we do create fabrics that are sustainably made, so the earth is happier, and insanely soft, so that our customers are happier too.
I believe that Indie Beauty and fashion both have a place under the umbrella of Lifestyle Wellness. There are so many amazing Indie Beauty brands that are ultra-fashionable and chic that tell beautiful stories! Whether it’s about how they are made, or the life of the maker herself/himself, it’s inspiring to see. This is where I envision DINO’s sweet spot. We are Beauty in Fashion. It is my mission to create a softer lifestyle for women to FEEL soothed, supported, comforted and an overall sense of well-being, while looking beautiful. This to me is Beauty. It’s simple, if we feel beautiful, we can’t help but glow from the inside out.
Going back to the three human needs, food, shelter and clothing, it all boils down to COMFORT. The luncheon you invited me to in February was really a turning point and a moment of clarity. I had asked myself, ‘WHY did I start DINO?’ Well, it was definitely not because I wanted to be a fashion designer. I started DINO to fulfill the dream of a softer and more comfortable life for myself and for Dino. So, while I was looking to create comfortable clothing, the lifestyle piece was to create a more comfortable schedule to meet Dino’s needs, comfort in my own skin through touch, and comfort in the knowing I was driving a business forward that would radically affect my own personal recovery and change our lives forever. I knew that if I was looking for a softer lifestyle, then chances are, other women (and men) were too.
During our recent conversation, you shared with me that it’s been a process to get Dino to the level of sustainability that it’s at right now. Can you share with us the challenges with creating a truly sustainable clothing brand?
We are lucky enough to be in a city where there is a fashion supply chain, so it never occurred to me that people DON’T make things here. I had no idea that so many brands manufacture off-shore, primarily because I had never really thought about it. Clothes were clothes, and I wore them. I had no idea that there was a dark underbelly to the industry – from human rights issues highlighted by Rana Gaza, to the toxicity of textile waste, to the inhumane practices against animals. As a young child, I had a connection with nature and all living things. My mom used to take us to the forest to hunt for Gnomes. She would tell us to look into the downed trees and under rocks because that’s ‘where the gnomes live’. In creating my own brand, I was drawn toward the natural fibers, specifically the tree pulps.
I immersed myself in finding the right fabrics in downtown LA, and what I learned is that there are textiles you can buy off the shelf, and there are textiles you can make yourself. The ones off the shelf have an uncertain history. We have no idea who’s touched them, whose life they impacted, and how they’re made. But we could get them cheaply and quickly and in small batches. The ones we can make are special. We can trace the origins of the fabrics, from the pulp of the tree to the fiber to the finished fabric. We know how the tree is harvested, how the fiber is extracted, and how the process impacts the environment. I knew that tree-pulp fibers were leading innovation in transforming the textile industry, and became fascinated by the process. When the layers were pulled back, and I began to learn more about textiles and fashion, I read a statistic that ‘the textile industry is considered to be the #2 most polluting industry next to crude oil’. This was an awakening moment. We’re talking about a product that every single person on the planet uses. Every single person. And if it’s not clothing, it’s bedding. And if it’s not bedding, it’s bath towels. So I began to approach DINO through the filter of the ingredients of fashion, rather than the finished product.
So, the biggest challenge for DINO is that creating a sustainable clothing brand is much more expensive and takes more time than the alternative. It’s the difference between buying a freshly baked loaf of bread at the local bakery where you know the baker and he takes a meticulous amount of time getting it just perfect, and a loaf of Wonder Bread. As a slow-fashion maker, and being a niche brand, we don’t carry excess. I believe in less is more in all areas of my life, including inventory, which makes production planning even more critical. We don’t have the luxury of keeping mounds of fabric in stock, so we cut and sew and go to market quickly. When we’re out of stock, we start over again. From scratch. It makes for serious hustle, and I wouldn’t do it any other way.
You mentioned that you have about 15 items in your closet. That’s pretty minimalist. How did you get to that place? What are the advantages to a lean closet?
Since we moved around so much, I’ve been forced to consolidate. I went from packing life into a yellow Samsonite, to moving into a small beach cottage reminiscent of Little House on the Prairie, with a 4-year-old and essentially a half a closet. So paring down was by necessity, and I never expanded again. Making clothes for a living also helps. I make what I like, and while I respect the designs of other brands, I don’t necessarily have the need for more clothes at this moment. My black jumpsuit is a great example. I wear it with my Palladium canvas boots during the day to run around, and then with a vintage $6 Levi jean jacket, my black wedge booties and a cool necklace at night! This is precisely why I don’t put logos on the outside of the clothes. Because it limits the use.
All of this, combined with becoming less and less enamored with fashion as a whole, also play a part in my less is more lifestyle. Part of feeling good, to me, is less life-excess. Less clothing means less clutter and less laundry means less water. That’s a huge advantage to having a lean closet.
Dino’s call to action is to Live Softly. I’d love for the Beauty Heroes customer to hear what that means in your own words.
Living Softly is a lifestyle concept that refers to kindness to yourself, to others, and to the Earth. Yes, we are soft on the skin, but to live a softer lifestyle is to live a kinder, more conscious lifestyle.
At DINO we do this through our demand for sustainably produced textiles, our continued education on best-practices in pulp to fiber production, our participation in spreading the word of the Fashion Revolution, as well as our fundraising efforts through our charity DINO Bark, advocating for high-risk and hard to place canine breeds, as well as other causes close to me personally.
You designed Dino for the ‘runway of our lives.’ Can you explain that?
I respect the fashion runways for their historical relevance. Without high-fashion, we wouldn’t have the GAP. But I despise the elite nature of fashion and I believe that Fashion Week has a long way to go before feeling inclusive. I would love to see the runways reflect real women in real clothes, and to use it as a platform to tell the story of a modern-day woman who is sexy, seductive, feminine, and powerful! I would also like to see Fashion Week used as a platform for change in the textile industry. Even as recent as 2 years ago, the highest profile event in fashion was still dropping the ball on sustainability. If the most reveled fashion outlet is turning its back on the truth in fashion, then who is going to speak out?
When I say I designed DINO for the ‘runway of our lives’ what I really mean is the super-highway made of roads that cross over each other in a web of confusion. As real women, we are in perpetual motion. We’re in the car, at the desk, in the aisle of the grocery store, going to and from the gym, in the kitchen, at our kids’ school; our runway is never pretty and is ever-changing. So my goal is to continue to offer designs that make a woman feel pretty, even at her lowest point of the day. To give her the perfect outfit for rolling around on the floor with her child, and at the same time feel sexy enough to dust herself off and grab a glass of wine with friends. DINO is more than studio-to-street or athleisure or yoga. It’s clothing for wellness from fiber to the fascia, and everywhere in between.
We recently did a photo shoot with Dana, Michelle and Elysse, three Indie Beauty Brand Founders. Something amazing happened after the shoot, we didn’t want to change back out of our Dino Apparel. Do you get that a lot Once you start wearing Dino, is it possible you might not want to wear anything else? Why do you think that is?
First of all, reading this nearly made my eyes swell in tears. Sounds silly, but as Kahlil Gibran once said “Work is love made visible”.
Someone once told me that “There is magic sewn into the seams of the clothes”. That stuck with me because what it said was exactly what I had hoped to achieve, which was to create clothing that was not about me or the brand, but was about the end-use —you. I do believe that natural fibers hold that magic because they are not man-made and they carry energy. Of course, we are not claiming to be a healing product, but I do believe that the natural fibers, combined with the absolute passion and love that goes into making the clothing, and the respect we have for our makers and supply chain, all combines to create products that not only feel soft because of the tactility, but also have a positive vibration that people feel because of the way they are made.
The fabric of Dino feels so amazing. It doesn’t pill or pull and it lasts a really long time. Can you tell us how you achieved that feeling and wear?
I work with an incredible eco textile house. They are family-owned-and-operated and have knit our fabrics since the very beginning of DINO. They’re based in downtown Los Angeles, and they create the highest-quality combinations of both natural and synthetic yarns, as well as recycled plastics. They are experts in the field of eco products and cellulose yarns. The combination that we use in our fabrics is 45% Beechwood Tree (Modal) 45% Supima (domestic cotton) 3% acrylic and 7% spandex. Many people like Modal because it’s soft. I’ve learned that Modal and many of the other tree pulp yarns are soft so they have amazing hanger appeal, but when they’re worn once, they start to pill. In the beginning, I used Modal/Span, but it took me one season to realize that the pilling happens, almost immediately. I couldn’t consciously put something out on the market that wouldn’t hold up to wear. So combining cotton was the answer. Just like your favorite cotton t-shirt that you wear time and time again and it only gets softer, the cotton we use functions the same. Supima is considered “superior Pima” which means that it is harvested here in the US. So rather than bringing cotton from China, we could reduce our carbon footprint by using domestic cotton, combined with already eco-friendly beechwood, and we have the perfect formula for soft + strong. The acrylic is a very small part of our collection that we are slowing getting away from, but it adds the heather to the fabric, just as spandex adds the stretch.
How do you recommend we take care of our Dino Apparel?
Our care labels read Wash Gentle, Lay Flat, but my secret is that you can wash and dry and the fabric will hold up. Obviously, if you wash with sandbags it will rub and break down the fabric, but I like to dry gently because the fabric only gets softer.
What Dino Apparel pieces are you wearing right now? Do tell! And what can we expect from Dino in the future?
As I type this, I’m wearing the jumpsuit in pewter. I’m petite, 5’2”, so everything I design has to work for all body shapes and sizes. There’s nothing worse than being short-waisted and never being able to wear a jumpsuit that cuts you off in the middle or is too long. I live in DINO jumpsuits! I also wear the RP Sweatshirt a lot lately, because it fits my body shape well with it being a bit shorter-waisted, I can wear a tank under it, so it’s perfect for layering. But my Fall go-to is the Caftan or Car Coat and jeans, and the Prayer Hoodie.
I love thinking about the future of DINO, and hope it’s bright! The goal for the near future of DINO is to create a softer world. And by that I mean to build on the equity we have in our fabrics, and truly own ‘softness.’ With the launch of the DINO Habitat capsule consisting of blankets, throws, and a duvet cover, we extend beyond fashion and into the home, hoping that this will open up a new market as well as keep our current customer engaged. A big part of this transition is influenced by the idea that DINO is beauty and wellness, and fashion is just a part of that.
In 2019 we will be further developing our positioning of Clean Beauty in Fashion as first-time exhibitors at IBE. My hope is that this will give us a platform to start to carve out an entirely new category—Fashion—as clean beauty.