I have a sister. Our relationship is the one that gives me the most grief and the most pleasure. She has this weird ability to brutally put me in check while being my biggest supporter. That bothered immensely me growing up. But I now realize that only a sibling can serve you the whole truth and nothing but the truth on a shiny silver platter. And that is priceless.
I have personally known Roberta and Sarah for a large part of my life and it is apparent that their bond is similar to that of mine and my sister’s. Yet it is interesting how observing other pairs of sisters continually gives fresh perspectives on my relationship with mine. The relationship with a sister is the most significant one could ever have. The disagreements, the squabbles, the rivalry, the competition… those all prepare us to confront life, to navigate it with thick skin and to be the most honest versions of ourselves as humanly possible. This bond, as I have witnessed time and time again, between Roberta and Sarah, is the most unique, special and equivocal bonds there is. Only a sister knows why we are the way we are, why we feel the way we feel, without having to utter a word. We are our sister’s keepers.
When the Rhau sisters walk into a room, they are never alone. There is a third entity always present. A very palpable aura that is so bright one can almost discern eyes, a nose, a mouth, arms and legs, a heart, a soul. Their collective aura, because of the power of their individuality, is big, bright, beautiful and inspiring. It is present in the way they move as a collective, the way they speak, the way they create. Owning a Society Misfit bag is like acquiring a fragment of who they are as earthlings. Trust me, I know. And you should, too.
Dearest eyeballs and minds perusing these words, kindly be forewarned: this is not a white picket fence, lollipops and rainbows interview. This will be a raw, thought inducing and revealing Q&A. Grab your metaphorical scuba gear, we are going Soul Deep!
KR: So, Roberta and Sarah, what’s your story? Please introduce yourselves.
Both: We are very close in age and have always been very close (along with our other siblings). We grew up in Haiti in a very business-oriented family, so trying new ventures has always been in our blood. From a young age, fashion has always been part of us and our passion. From working in one of our family businesses, one of them being a department store where we were buyers, to just wearing what we feel and expressing ourselves through that, has allowed us to push the boundaries and see what else can we do and how do we do it with respect to who we are. Our path and journey leading to Bali has been one for the books in self discovery.
KR: How do two sisters from Haiti end up in Bali?
Roberta: Sarah opened a furniture store in Haiti called BALI DÉCOR and exported furniture from both India and Bali. When I started working with her, I told her I’d join her on her next trip to learn more about the whole process of buying and exporting. I immediately fell in love with the country the minute I stepped out of the plane. Of course she looked at me like, “Ok calm down (eye roll).” Little did we know, both of us, would end up spending seven years there and diving into the world of possibilities.
KR: What are the challenges and advantages of working together as sisters?
Sarah: Robby has always been the “crazier” one, perfect example of middle child syndrome, and I have always been more level headed with a silent demure personality. Challenge and advantage, I would say, is one in the same. Being so different helped bring a different edge into our designs in both retrospects. Our discussions start as difference of opinion, but would later on lead into creating something that represented our “gypset” lifestyle with a passion for travel, local cultures, and the arts, inspired our brand’s unique look and feel—because when you’re jet setting around the globe, functional fashion is a must. The bags are individually crafted from python, calf hair, and distressed leather, designed for gypsies, wanderers, and misfits alike.
KR: How are Haiti and Bali similar?
Both: Haiti and Bali are similar in the island life environment. The art, the history, and the power of unification of their people is strong and apparent.
That comfort of knowing how amazing Bali is in its simplicity in nature, made it feel like a second home – meeting people and seeing them around on a daily basis. Their resilience as a people, as a country; both Haiti and Bali are similar in that perspective. Most importantly, relating to a country where the people have to sustain and rely on foreigners. It’s a different notion to relate to – unless you’ve lived it. That’s what helped us infiltrate with the people there on another level in creating, working, and expanding on a business and cultural level.
KR: How are they different?
Both: The major difference is everyone who moves to Bali is either escaping from their life or trying to find themselves. You reinvent yourself whilst working on being true to who you are to your core.
Not having anyone judge you for your past or know enough about your upbringing to self consciously doubt yourself or influence you to do things because you should or have to; this is a whole new ballgame. It’s refreshing, scary, and all around gives you a slap in the face wake-up call in sense like “So now what?” Clean slate. You realize who you are and can be without the norms of what you’ve been instilled with and the norms of your society.
KR: How do both places inspire you?
Both: We wouldn’t say Bali and Haiti inspired our designs, just more in the sense of everywhere we’ve lived, traveled, and experienced, we take a bit of it all and include it all into formulating and designing a line which speaks loudly, subtly, and daring all in one.
KR: Your brand is called “Society Misfits.” Who qualifies as a misfit?
Both: A misfit is someone who challenges themselves in all aspects of their life. They are risk-takers, they challenge themselves, and venture beyond the beaten path.
KR: Tell us the most rebellious thing you have done together as sisters.
Robby: - Being together and venturing off half way around the world, I would say, is the top rebellious thing we’ve done. Trusting our gut, having Sarah believing in me as well (believing in us), was rebellious in it’s own right. From there, we worked with amazing people, we created our own brand, and actually built our own lounge/bar from the ground up: spray painting books and hunting for vintage decorative pieces, making our own pieces from distressed leather, expanding from a one-floor box office to a two-floor authentic lounge, the menu, the drinks, the events, videos, and all-around atmosphere.
Sarah and I would actually look online as to how to make mirrors look vintage (to create our mirror ceiling on the ground floor); we actually burned ourselves a few times in the process. In the process we were hot, sweaty, miserable but it was all worth it. The whole logistics behind it, bringing our culture into Bali, in its infrastructure; was rebellious by pure definition. TUSU, our bar and lounge, taught us to bring out and show yet another side of who we are, no inhibitions.
KR: Define rebellion in your own words.
Both: An act of unarmed, full-frontal transparency regarding life, values, mannerisms and self-truth to an established conformed society.
KR: When is breaking the rules ok?
Both: Breaking the rules has to do with breaking the boundaries of what limits you to properly grow individually and do things you wouldn’t normally do. That’s when it’s ok, that’s when you are a misfit. Its not about breaking the rules or what’s ok, its about breaking barriers in which rules shouldn’t adapt to you.
KR: What values are you committed to?
Both: We are committed to the essence of true value of life. What it means to live, what it means to have family, friends, commitment, integrity and respect… without succumbing to what needs to be done in order to succeed in the entertainment/fashion world.
KR: Today’s customer is spending money on experiences and products that add meaning or value to their lives, how would you describe the experience of owning a Society Misfit Handbag?
Both: The whole concept behind Society Misfits is discovering and producing a product as unique as we are. Our muses are bold, infamous women in our society — honoring them by naming the bags after a few standouts. Each bag is made for misfits on the go; designed to be as versatile as the next, while still being fully functional.
Robby: I remember going back and forth carrying so many things for events and personal engagements (come on, we all know the struggle), having to hold a bag just kept getting in the way of living. At that time, I was super into vests, so I thought: BOOM! Why not make a vest that’s a bag!? Herein lies the creation of the ROBBY VESTY… subsequently many more ensued.
In terms of us as sisters and partners; I (Robby) let the clothes speak for me, I create how I feel. Whereas, Sarah speaks for the clothes; she has a magical way of making even the simplest T-shirt speak volumes.
Our bags are not a story, it’s the story. We want to add another level of edge to having a timeless piece; flipping the script… Taking “Everyone needs a little black dress” and changing it to “Everyone needs a Society Misfits bag to pair with that little black dress”.
KR: A lot of your bags are made of snake skin; in an industry that is now shifting toward supporting more ethical products, how do you survive?
Both: What a loaded question, and a good one. If and when snake skin would ever be endangered or on the endangered list, we would move to a more sustainable supply source to incorporate in our designs. Until then, its best to respect all opinions in consumerism and life choices. Let’s leave it at that.
KR: As a society we’re consistently doing more with less; tell us about how your process of design and manufacturing accomplishes that feat.
Both: All of our designs are based on that. Every piece we design … the most important question we asked ourselves is: How many ways can we wear this? Will this be timeless and yet stand out? How many different components can we include so that it’s convenient and transitional?
That is the question and challenge most women face, so why not find a way to help us all? Complicated, yet so simple.
KR: Which is your best-selling product? What do you attribute to its success?
Both: Well, we aim for the misfits. We started off with designing handbags for ourselves, which led to a surprising amount of feedback. That gave birth to the whole creation of Society Misfits. All of our bags are so different, that it attracts all women and men of different backgrounds and styles, can relate. That is success to us, that is what makes our products best sellers in our eyes.
KR: Who is your favorite handbag designer in the fashion industry?
Both: We don’t necessarily have a favorite, but one that has caught our attention and we relate to is: The Volon by Eujung Jang.
KR: What about their craft inspires you to make yours better?
Jang’s been quoted saying, “I don’t try to convince myself that I am super-talented at one specific thing like other artists, but I was always confident that I could understand the beauty of art design and felt that I was pretty adept at harmonizing them.”
That’s epic. Her whole aesthetic speaks volumes and links all that she has learned, studied, and became, no matter how varied it is in relation to career paths she’s ventured into, we relate to that completely.
We didn’t move to Bali to design handbags… we started off with purchasing and exporting the Balinese craft of furniture sculpting, which transitioned into meeting people, having an opportunity to dip into that fear of unknown curiosity that we had, and putting it into effect. That’s what it’s all about in the end: having a chance, jumping on it to contrive different formulated aspects within oneself and molding dreams into concrete reality.
It’s not about making us better, its about drawing inspiration from knowing that there are people out there in which we formulate a community of drawing from experience and knowledge into creating something that speaks for itself.
KR: Obsession is essential to creativity, what are you are currently obsessing over in terms of Society Misfits growing as a brand?
Both: Our obsession has always been in our creativity; individually and as partners. Right now we are in the works with working with a few artists to add a different element to our handbags. Python has to be treated with care and there is the risk working with colors, it can distress the bag. Why not have the option of linking our misfits to fellow artist misfits? That brings a certain authenticity and new depth to recycling something you previously own, keeping it, and bringing it back to life.
KR: What other weird obsession unrelated to fashion and design do you have?
Robby: - My weird obsession is being home and going through my closet and just trying out outfits for the sake of it. The crazier the better, the more wine, the better-ish (laughs). Of course, the next day there is a lot of “OMG” and editing looks but in the end always it’s therapeutic fun.
Sarah: My obsession would be linking all that is fashion, design, travel, connections, and relations that continues to feed this hungry mind of mine.
Robby: Check her laptop she has a million sites, articles, design aesthetics, workshops open.
KR: Tell us about your respective mentors and the most important lessons they’ve taught you.
Both: Our father and mother are the humans that has shaped us into who we are. They grew up in the provinces of Haiti and started their own companies from nothing, absolutely nothing. They instilled in us the power of believing in what hard work can achieve. At a young age, they put us to work; whether it was wrapping presents or being a cashier in their store – they made we were grateful for what we had and never lost sight of that. When our father passed away, that was one of the hardest and greatest life challenges we faced as a family. It reminded us that family is everything. For that, we are eternally grateful and blessed.
KR: What is the best advice you have given to each other as sisters?
Both: Stop thinking what others want, as it can get lost when you start getting in public eye and critics. Do you. Believe in what you do. Be frank and stick to what is real. Everyone has an opinion; be reassured that happens everywhere with everything. As long as you don’t lose your voice, and let what you do speak for itself.
KR: What do you want to be when you grow up?
Both: Uhmmmmm, grow up?? Who us? You never stop growing up. We are all Peter Pan. No one wants to know and no-truly-no one knowns what they’ll be when they grow up. Just live and let be. Period.
KR: What can we expect to see from Society Misfits in the near future?
Both: That’s unclear. And that’s ok. When it comes, it comes, when we do, we do. It’s all about the ride. What is certain is that we will always keep creating and designing true misfit style.