Being gay can be challenging. So can being a minority. Now growing up gay and a minority in a predominantly straight and white state such as Wisconsin, however, is anything but easy. While adversity can break us, it can also turn us into diamonds. The perfect example being our designer friend, Rafael Soto.
Rafael Soto is a veteran designer, holding over thirty years’ experience designing clothes for some of the most successful brands in existence. A few industry giants that have used Soto’s designs in their collections are Brooks Brothers, Ralph Lauren, and John Varvatos.
Recently, Soto co-launched his own brand, called Proto101 – which he considers the brand he’s always wanted. Proto101 is an apparel start-up that unites the performance of athletic wear and the comfort of high-end basics, such as t-shirts and denim, all while leading the way for sustainable fashion brands worldwide.
Proto101 believes in making a big impact but a small imprint, something they do and do very well. Not only is Proto101 leading the way for sustainable fashion, but they’re also setting the bar for diversity in leadership positions. In fact, all three of the founders are born of immigrants, so diversity and promoting an all-inclusive brand is at the top of their company’s values.
Proto101 has been years in the making for Soto, who had attempted to launch his own brand a few times in the past without success. However, Soto was fortunate to partner with Liyin Kok and Ashleigh Corker to finally see his dream come to fruition. Seeing that the other two founders had everything Rafael has been needing to succeed on his own, and vice versa, he refused to take no for an answer.
Ashleigh is a mother of three children, all under the age of five. When approached with the idea of launching a business together, she initially turned it down as she questioned whether she could do so while mothering her children. Rafael then encouraged her by letting her know that he accepted her fully, taking into consideration her circumstances while still wanting her to be a partner.
“I told her it didn’t matter. I wanted her to be my partner because I believe in her. Life shouldn’t be limiting.”
Rafael is known to inspire and bring the best out of anyone he encounters. This is validated through one of Rafael’s co-founders, Liyin Kok, who stated, “Rafael is an open book, also the most secure and authentic person I’ve come to meet. It’s impossible not to feel comfortable around him” – Liyin Kok, Co-Founder of Proto101.
Designing has always been on Rafael’s mind for as long as he remembers. He joked that it’s impossible for him to walk into a room without completely redesigning it in his head. This has led to such incredible collections and designs that continue to outdo each other every time.
I’d like to close with some advice from Rafael on how he maintains his confidence through all aspects of his life.
“Accept yourself for who you are and don’t let anyone’s opinions change that. You can’t change how other people see you, only how you see yourself.”