Style & Vibes: Q+A with Butch Diva’s Tiffany Rhodes

July 29, 2011

Words by Mikelah Rose

We first featured Butch Diva when pictures of owner Tiffany Rhodes and Dancehall diva Patra surfaced last week. An avid dancehall fan circa ’90s era and inspired by the culture, Tiffany teaming up with the “Queen of the Pack” Patra was ultimately fate. After meeting, the pair instantly felt a sistren-ship and Patra has now become the face of Butch Diva. Brooklyn-based Tiffany Rhodes is the designer behind Butch Diva, a hardcore yet feminine line of spandex wear with an edge. The standalone pieces, high-waisted skirts, shorts and jumpsuits with bold colors and unique patterns, are made for boss-lady, fashion-forward risktakers from the concrete jungle to an island fete.

Working in the fashion industry, primarily on the production side, proved to be a great learning experience as she got to see the business side and gain her entrepreneurial footing. A solo-preneur, Tiffany makes custom pieces for clients out of her own studio, primarily by appointment only, though also features ready-made pieces in her online shop. The half-Trini designer gave us an inside scoop on how she got started, connecting with Patra and of course how she came up with the name Butch Diva:

LargeUp: Tell me about your start in design, what made you want to become a designer?
Tiffany Rhodes: I went to the High School of Fashion Industries. I also found my mom’s portfolio and she was into design as well, so it was kind of embedded in me. I’ve always known that I wanted to do this. While working in the industry, I learned a lot. I worked full time with various designers and freelanced for companies like Alice & Olivia and Ralph Lauren’s Black label. I’ve always done custom-made pieces on the side, but it was hard to balance because I was working long hours. Working in the industry was a great experience because I got to learn about the merchandising, sales, production and sourcing, pretty much all aspects of the business. About three, four years ago, I moved back to Brooklyn. Coupled with the bad economy, I was freelancing at the time, made me officially launch Butch Diva.

LU: How did you come up with the name Butch Diva?
TR: Well, I wanted something that really defined my ideal customer. When you think “Butch” you think aggressive, bold, really out there. When you think “Diva” you think dainty, boss lady. At first when I came up with the name, it wasn’t as accepted and people thought I was crazy and tried to put it in a box. Over time, along with the change in pop culture and with the imagery from some of the shoots, branding on the blog and looking at the clothing people really started to get it.

LU: I know you do sample sales, how else do to reach your customers?
TR: I try to do the sample sale twice a month. It’s in my studio, just to give a more personal experience. We have food, drinks and people have a chance to look at some of the fabrics I have to offer and make a whole day of the experience. They started off small and ended up getting bigger and bigger. Most of my pieces are custom made for clients. People contact me directly to make pieces for them, and I have a pretty quick turnaround. I do have an online shop as well.

Tiffany Rhodes

LU: How long does it take to come up with designs?
TR: Generally not as long as you think. I actually have two parts to the line. Butch Diva is more of the one-of-a-kind, avant-garde pieces—jackets and unique pieces made from cotton and other fabrics. Those take longer. Spandex & Chaos is the line that I’m pushing right now. Because I work primarily with spandex, it’s pretty easy. It’s not as intricate as other pieces since they’re primarily leggings, jumpsuits, dresses, high-waist shorts. The patterns come ready and I just add my details. I can come up with a concept and complete in like 30-60 minutes. For the online pieces that can be mass produced, I use a factory in New York City Garment District so I have control over the production process.

LU: How did you team up with Patra?
TR: Really and truly, I just put it in the Universe. I’ve always been a fan of her. I’m really into dancehall culture. I love watching Dancehall Queen competitions and the movie — the idea of going to a seamstress to get your clothes made has always been cool to me. I’ve loved her since “Queen of the Pack” days—the era is such an inspiration. I had a client of mine that mention[ed] she knew her, but I didn’t take it too seriously. I was cleaning out my studio and had just left when I got a phone call from that same client who said Patra was in town and looking for something to wear for her BB Kings performance the same night and she didn’t have anything to wear. I still didn’t completely believe her, but I went back to the studio and an hour later she shows up at my door. I was in complete shock that this woman that I’ve admired for so long, now I’m actually designing a jumpsuit her for a show. She was so humble and down to earth, but definitely the “Queen.” She said, “Where have you been all my life?” It was a perfect fit and with her re-launching her career she definitely wanted something that fit her image. I was blessed to have her come in. So she’s become the official spokesperson for Butch Diva, she’ll be wearing the clothes in her upcoming promotional shoots and upcoming performances.

LU: What’s the future for Butch Diva?
TR: Primarily do[ing] custom designs, that drives the business. But I have some great timeless pieces for the online store, I definitely want to update it more often and create more pieces that can sell online. I’m looking to get into more boutiques. I just came back from France and London to see what the market was like out there, to see about getting in a few boutiques there. I have quite a few international clients but wanted to see what it was like. I definitely want to have a Butch Diva store. That is coming next, hopefully by next year. Timing is everything. I’m a one-woman show so I need to expand and keep growing as an emerging brand.