Words from the Wise: Rat Boi

Hawaii native Alexa Coughlin grew up exploring the oceans and mountains of Honolulu. At an early age, she was taught to respect the land and to remember it was her responsibility to nurture and care for it, not the other way around. "Growing up surrounded by beauty every day creates a natural and intrinsic desire to protect and preserve our planet,” Alexa said of the early inspiration for her brand RAT BOI.

Her love and appreciation for nature sent her to Pitzer College, where she studied Environmental Science. After graduating, Alexa joined a small production company to make documentaries, one of which, Kiss the Ground, is now on Netflix. “Because it was such a small company, we all did everything,” Alexa said of her need to wear many hats — one of which required her to schedule an interview with the President of Brazil. “It was then that I learned I could do anything.”

While she enjoyed her job, the only hat she truly wanted to wear was that of an entrepreneur. “My side hustles have always been a way to express myself creatively,” she explained. 

One of her many side hustles started with a scrunchie. “I’ve always had really long hair, and when scrunchies began making a comeback, my hairdresser gave me one that I absolutely loved — but it immediately broke,” Alexa explained. She thought back to her early days in Honolulu, where she kept her hair back with Japanese elastic. It never snapped and her hair never sagged. She began making scrunchies for herself and her friends, and from there, RAT BOI was born.

After 7 years with the production company, Alexa made the leap to take RAT BOI full time. A month later she was featured in Teen Vogue. “A friend of a friend was writing a story about scrunchies,” Alexa explained, “so it was a bit of the right place at the right time.” While Alexa acknowledges that luck was on her side, she also knows that it took a lot of time and hard work to be prepared to be ready at the right place, at the right time. 

“My friends and family began to see RAT BOI differently once I got press, they saw it as more legit,” Alexa said of the shift that took place post-Teen Vogue. "And then I started to feel legit too, even though I was still doing it out of my garage.” From there, she had to do a little bit of faking it until she made it to keep the momentum going, and sure enough, it did. She now has influencers and celebrities placing customized orders and shouting them out on social media, elevating what was originally a side hustle into a full time job. 

The success of her scrunchies has allowed Alexa to take RAT BOI to the next level, branching out into apparel and other accessories like face masks and duffel bags. The bags, which are Alexa’s favorite product to make, are created out of quilts that need a bit of TLC before being transformed into wearable bags. “It’s such a process,” Alexa exclaimed. Many of the quilts are missing parts, or have areas of damage and wear and tear. While they’re the most difficult to make, the duffels are by far the most rewarding. “I’m so sad when I mail one out,” Alexa laughed noting that of course she’s always happy to make a sale, but that these are particularly hard to say goodbye to. “I pour my heart and soul into each one."

The duffels are for sale on RAT BOI's site for $128 to $350, depending on size and style. Alexa breaks down the cost on her Instagram, citing how much she spent on materials, labor and packaging to show customers what they’re paying for. She compares it to wholesale brands, who would charge closer to $600 at a comparable margin. By selling direct to consumer, she’s able to keep the price down. 

Transparency is only one of the many ways in which Alexa is building RAT BOI sustainably. “To me, sustainability is finding materials that aren’t going to be used anymore, but are really beautiful and made with so much love, and updating them to make them usable again,” Alexa said of her emphasis on recycling materials. She added that another crucial aspect of a sustainable business that often goes unseen is loyalty to employees. Alexa’s first and only employee, for now, is a seamstress she met on Craigslist two years ago. “The company she was previously with took their business overseas, and that’s sadly not uncommon. My seamstress has been so much a part of RAT BOI that I can’t think of a scenario where I would outsource her high quality work to a cheaper option overseas,” she explained of her commitment to her team. 

Conscious of how manufacturing overseas is taking away skill-based manufacturing jobs, Alexa does her best to keep her work inside the US. “Doing what you can locally on a smaller scale, with smaller batch production, also minimizes waste,” she said of her commitment to local production. The only aspect of her brand that isn’t produced nearby are RAT BOI’s woven tags, which she’s only been able to find overseas. Originally, Alexa had found woven tags which claimed to be “Made in the USA,” but after a bit of digging, they turned out to be produced overseas and simply designed in the US. The worst part — she paid 6x more than what she would have paid if she had gone overseas on her own. While she may have been fooled by the greenwashing that tricks so many of us, she’s done her research and evolved RAT BOI to being almost 100% “Made in the USA” — by two women in Ventura, Los Angeles. 

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