Complex SHOP Presents Reconstruct: The Art of Upcycling with Carlton & Tulie Yaito
Carlton and Tulie Yaito, the team behind the fashion brand Yaito, have always been upcyclers.
When the term wasn’t as ubiquitous as it is now, Carlton remembers going to thrift stores to find affordable denim pieces to customize. These were the early days of Yaito, when the focus was solely on making creative things and presenting it to the world.
“A lot of that early-on stuff, we were scrapping for some of those pieces,” says Carlton. “We used to go from thrift shop to thrift shop, and we weren’t in Brooklyn thrifting. I'm talking in the hood thrifting. We were on Jamaica Avenue. We was in the dungeon, for real, for real, like,
‘Look, this is a denim jacket right here.’ We were washing, repurposing the shit out of this, getting stains out, dying them. Any little thing that we could do, we were doing them to this denim, so I was like, ‘Okay. You want some upcycling? I can do that.’”
So for “Complex SHOP Presents ‘Reconstruct,’” Carlton and and Tulie were right at home and for the first time they will be producing their popular knot bag, that’s made in New York, from leftover flannel scraps. Carlton says it took five days to repurpose the leftover fabric pieces, which had to be sewn together, and construct the one-of-a-kind bags, which retails for $185 and be available to purchase exclusively on Dec. 8 at ComplexLand.
The knot bag, which Yaito launched this year, is a big development for the brand. Prior to introducing its popular knot bag, Yaito was known for their highly detailed customization work. Carlton, who attended the High School of Art and Design and studied design at the Nassau Community College in Garden City, Long Island always dabbled in fashion—he remembers painting his Air Force 1s in high school and launching Privacy in Public, a streetwear brand around 2017. Tulie, who is from Jamaica, moved to Queens in 2005 and attended Wood Tobe-Coburn, a private college in New York, where she studied fashion marketing management and merchandising.
When Tulie and Carlton met, they connected over their interest in fashion and decided to launch Yaito together. It was a side project at first —Carlton worked for a marketing agency and Tulie worked as a financial advisor at a bank—but they both got more serious about the brand when jeweler Greg Yuna asked Carlton to style his Complex shoot. Another big look was when Kareem “Biggs” Burke wore a customized Roc-A-Fella Records denim jacket he designed—he met Burke while working on Nike customization activations.
“We bounce ideas off of each other,” Tulie says about how she and Carlton work together. “And he usually makes the prototype and I’ll help whenever he needs it. In terms of just coming up with ideas, we work hand-in-hand.”
Tulie lost her job in late 2019, and then the pandemic hit, which gave them both even more time to dedicate to Yaito. They started creating home accessories. First a faux fur and vinyl pillow with a Louis Vuitton inspired monogram, and then a matching, 3-foot-tall shopping bag. It went crazy on social media. Around the same time, Carlton was looking into Japanese design. While on set for a shoot prior to Covid-19, he noticed someone on set pronounce his name Yaito, which is actually his middle name, correctly and tell him it was Japanese. Carlton, who is of Jamaican and Liberian descent, looked further into it and discovered yaito is a word used in a specific Japanese dialect that means yarn and stringing.
“I was like, ‘That's some real universal 360 shit,’" he says. “So I just started looking more into Japanese designs.”
He came across the knot bag, which was similar to the shopping bag he constructed but with one handle. He started out making them on his own from bandana fabric, then found a manufacturer in New York.
“It was so organic and so special to us,” says Tulie. “We were locked in and there was nothing else to do besides create those bags. We were kind of nervous to release them because there was so much going on with Covid and George Floyd and everything else, but then we released them and they sold out within hours.”
They were both shocked by the success of the bags, and decided to make more in different colorways and fabrics. “It was like, ‘Oh shit. Let's do that again,’” says Carlton. “Then we just kept doing it and we just kept adding colors.”
The bag has opened new doors for Yaito, but it’s also reconfirmed values they grew up with. Carlton says he wants to stay in Queens—he has no desire to move to Europe—and he wants to keep the bags affordable. Their ultimate goal is to design home accessories for Target.
“I like expensive shit. But I'm from the block, I've been through enough, and I know people that want to look good, and they don't want to murder their pockets,” he says. “This ain't a cash grab for me. I'm not doing this shit for no hype, and I'm not trying to be in Milan. I like being right here in Queens. I'm in New York. I'm not changing none of this, no matter how much money we make, no matter how much we don't, it doesn't matter. This is for us.”
“It’s so funny because we, as in any normal relationship, knock heads all the time, but in certain things we have the same vision,” she says. “And when I went to school, that's what I also learned, it's just like Walmart and Target and those big brands are a great way to sell your products because it's reaching the masses. So in terms of him wanting to eventually work with Target, I'm for that as well,” says Tulie. I'm currently writing a book of poetry and I accidentally fell into accessories, and now I'm just in love. Right now we're just figuring out, explore and experiment and just have fun with it.”
Yaito's upcycled knot bags are now sold out. But keep an eye out for tomorrow's "Complex SHOP Presents 'Reconstruct'" drop featuring Mentor en Route, available at 11am PST on complexland.com.