Ryland Hilbert of Ryland Life Equipment: “Learn how to accept criticism and praise”

A Thriving Society Is Required For A Thriving Business — Make Sure To Give Back. We are nothing without our community and customers. Giving back to the people who support you is a priority for our company. Working closely with your neighboring businesses is imperative as well. To form a strong community, communication is incredibly important as […]

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A Thriving Society Is Required For A Thriving Business — Make Sure To Give Back. We are nothing without our community and customers. Giving back to the people who support you is a priority for our company. Working closely with your neighboring businesses is imperative as well. To form a strong community, communication is incredibly important as we know we are stronger together.

As part of our series about the 5 things you need to succeed in the fashion industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ryland Hilbert, founder of luxury e-commerce and Sag Harbor independent retailer Ryland Life Equipment.

A multigenerational Hamptonite, Ryland’s heart, and soul are deeply connected with Long Island, and after seeing a gap in the market for something unique and special for men, he used his years of experience in luxury retail to help bring an amazing assortment of products together. Finding unique brands that have interesting backgrounds and ethos has always been a personal interest of Ryland’s, and he brings that to his customers, featuring hand-selected, quality pieces from both world-renowned brands, like Missoni, and independent locals, such as Long Island ceramicist, Tracie Hervey. Curating a lifestyle through an amazing assortment of apparel, homeware, apothecary, pets, Ryland equips you for whatever life throws at you. In addition to running the store every day and personally welcoming all that stop-by, Ryland also feels it’s important to invest in the community and give back, partnering with local organizations including The Retreat, Campaign Zero, and the Brooklyn Bail Fund. Despite closing through COVID after only being open a year, this luxury lifestyle brand is a large success with Ryland at the wheel.

Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

I’ve worked in the fashion industry the majority of my life. When I was in high school, I worked at a local boutique part-time after school and on weekends helping the owner with odd jobs. I knew that fashion was more than “just a job” for me and found myself saving up all the money I earned to buy designer clothes! Eventually, I gained more responsibility and started working more in retail. I went to the Fashion Institute of Technology for advertising, marketing, and communications. My passion for retail and fashion only grew stronger, so I found jobs in the wholesale industry and dabbled in some fashion design. My dream all along was to gain the experience I needed to open my own business.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started?

Without a doubt, the most interesting and challenging thing that has happened since I started Ryland Life Equipment was navigating the uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic. I had to figure out how to keep the business running with the doors closed. I had to figure out how to retain the amazing team I had built. And now we are open again, I have to navigate how to create a unique, exciting shopping experience while keeping both our clients and our team safe and healthy.

What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?

I strongly believe that the health of a business is inextricably tied to the prosperity of the community in which it operates so we try to invest back into the community as much as we can. Growing up locally, I knew how much of a challenge it was to operate a business year-round in a seasonal place. Many businesses close their doors post-season in the Hamptons, but I felt that this image of having everything closed isn’t always productive for the community overall which is why we stay open year-round. I feel like this is important to strengthen the vibrancy of the downtown culture in our community. Additionally, the Hamptons is often seen as a getaway exclusively for the wealthy. However, I know from growing up here that it’s just like any other community and that there are people who need help and whose life circumstances place them in challenging situations. We run programs at Ryland Life Equipment to do what we can to help those in need, including special shopping events where we donate the profits to local charitable organizations.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Make sure you take time for yourself. It can be small five-minute breaks or the helpful little breathing tips on an Apple watch, but taking pauses to check-in is super important. I personally overcome stress, burnout, fatigue, etc. through a work-out schedule. Working out in the morning before I open the store sets a great tone for my day and allows personal time where I can focus solely on myself. What I create by working out is both positive energy and balance, so I don’t feel like I am just “chugging along”.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that was relevant to you in your life?

Many people have a moment in their lives where they ask themselves “What am I doing?”. I asked myself this question quite a bit as I was working throughout my 20’s and often had the feeling that I was stuck and I was constantly trying to figure how to break the cycle and advance in my career and personal life. I received advice during a conversation with a family friend, and they gave me some relatively simple insight that completely changed my perspective. They told me, “You’re already doing what you need to be, just look at it differently.”. From there I applied myself differently and made a decision to take my current experiences and values and apply them in a different way. Instead of focusing on changing everything, I realized that I just needed to fine-tune, which allowed me to get into the headspace of owning my business.

Do you see any fascinating developments emerging over the next few years in the fashion industry that you are excited about? Can you tell us about that?

Fashion, as an industry, has been in the process of being disrupted for years. The trend around “disposable fashion,” which is incredibly harmful to the environment, is being replaced more and more by a focus on timeless styles and a return to high-quality craftsmanship. Also, I think that COVID-19 will accelerate this approach and ultimately define a new era in the fashion industry that is more creative, more profitable, and better for the environment.

What are your “Top 5 Things Needed to Succeed in the Fashion Industry”. Please share a story or example for each.

  1. Learn how to bounce back from a “NO”. Early on, when Ryland Life Equipment was more of an idea than a reality, I was starting to look for some amazing brands to bring into my store. Not having a proven concept, and not yet having a track record of launching a retail store, I was met with more “no’s” than I can even begin to count. It was honestly really difficult at first, it can start to become really defeating, but in the end, you need to use that as a motivation to be more creative, which leads me to my next point!
  2. Get creative, if there is no easy way, don’t give up. It’s easy to throw your hands up when things get tough but I’ve learned that persevering in times of adversity can have tremendous results. When I was met with so many hurdles while building our brand assortment, I looked for newer and more exciting brands that weren’t maybe as “mainstream”. This has now become the backbone of the majority of the brands we feature in our store. I also was looking for a fabulous cashmere brand to bring into the mix. Having trouble finding it, I thought “why not create it?”, which led to the development of our exclusive brand, Hank.
  3. If someone is willing to give you advice, listen. We can always learn from others. When I was developing the concept of the store the knowledge of my peers and my friends is what helped me to get to this point.
  4. Learn how to accept criticism and praise. Sometimes not all advice is positive, and it’s important to take this constructively. When I mentioned the concept of the store to some people they would exclaim “retail now? You’re crazy!”. I know it can seem daunting in the climate we live in but the concept was something I knew I could bring to fruition with a combination of my background and a fresh, modern approach. I also quickly learned that a retail concept needs a multi sales channel approach, the synergy of the two has allowed us to grow a lot quicker than expected.
  5. A Thriving Society Is Required For A Thriving Business — Make Sure To Give Back. We are nothing without our community and customers. Giving back to the people who support you is a priority for our company. Working closely with your neighboring businesses is imperative as well. To form a strong community, communication is incredibly important as we know we are stronger together.

Every industry constantly evolves and seeks improvement. How do you think the fashion industry can improve itself? Can you give an example?

There needs to be more flexibility and adaptability in the industry. The whole industry and business aren’t going to be turned over in a few weeks or months. There needs to be contingency and the pandemic is actually a great example. How can we break out of these current seasonal cycles, buying calendars, etc. so we are not so married to an archaic system that clearly no longer works? I think the idea of sustainability is multifaceted and find it frustrating that brands put out collections and then mark them down at a rate of just a few weeks. I think that pace is terrible for the industry and environment and just leaves a bad taste in the mouth of the consumer. There’s a huge difference in what today’s customers are looking for, even compared to just a decade or two ago. People now are a lot more tuned into what’s environmentally-friendly and looking at how they, even on an individual, personal level, can have an effect on the long-term sustainability of the planet.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would love to start a movement around media literacy — helping people to distinguish between facts, opinions, propaganda, and lies. Our media landscape is so complex right now with vastly more platforms serving “news” than there ever has been before, but people have never been trained to understand how to determine if something is legitimately fact-based news or opinion — we should be adding this to curricula in schools. Without a free press and a well-informed populous our whole system of democracy is undermined.

How can our readers follow you on social media?

Instagram: @rylandlife

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!

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