Clothing designer Ralph Diesel wants those who wear his Royal Dynamite clothing brand to feel more than stylish. “I want them to feel…like they’re the s—t, like they run everything around them,” he says bluntly. “Just like back during the Roman empire, the royal family was treated with the highest respect. If you were royalty you got the best. I want people to feel like, ‘I demand the best, I yearn for the best, and I am the best.’”
Born Ralphael Saye in Sierra Leone, West Africa, Diesel survived a number of unfashionable circumstances. He yearned for a better quality of living, working passionately to achieve the desires found tailored to his heart. Through educational measurements, Diesel learned to turn his testimony into textiles – launching his popular Royal Dynamite brand in 2010. His most recent achievement: A deal with Issa Rae Productions for a season-long collaboration with their hugely successful web-series Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl.
With his Royal line in high demand, Diesel aims to continue making business transactions equally respectable, confidence-boosting, and, of course, designing fashionable and stylish clothing. He tells all in this exclusive SoulTrain.com interview.
Soul Train: How long does it take you to get dressed?
Ralph Diesel: 40 minutes…and that’s because my wardrobe has staple products. And of course I have my Royal tees. I’m an everyday guy that still tries to keep it fashionable and keep up with the trends, but I do have staple products and brands I try to rock on a daily basis.
Soul Train: What article of clothing takes you the longest to decide on?
Ralph Diesel: [Laughs] My tees, man; with the different designs and the different meanings behind the designs, and it depends on how I’m feeling that day. My tee has to represent the mood I’m in. The second longest would be my shoes.
Soul Train: It’s always the shoes, isn’t it? [Laughs]
Ralph Diesel: [Laughs] Yeah, man, it’s always the kicks.
Soul Train: Ralph, tell me about your all-time favorite outfit.
Ralph Diesel: I had a Phat Farm jean suit back in the day. I had the big jacket with the matching baggy jeans, and I wore it with my FUBU boots. That outfit stood out! It goes down in the history book, man! I remember 9th grade and the first major party I went to as a high-schooler; I got way too many compliments on that outfit. The girls were complimenting me. I look back on it now like, “Dang, what was I wearing??!”
Soul Train: You said you dress to be stylish but to also fit your mood, but what is something else about you that influences what you put on your body?
Ralph Diesel: Well…my background. I’m a socially conscience person, I like giving back in everything I do. That’s helps me decide what I wear. First of all, I’m only wearing socially conscience brands such as TOMS, WeWood watches, Proof sunglasses. I come from a very impoverished country where things are limited, and wearing specific brands puts you at a certain stature in the community. That helps me gauge what I’ll be wearing. And I’ll only wear something with meaning.
Soul Train: For someone who has experienced hardships, what can a nice article of clothing do for their demeanor?
Ralph Diesel: It can help them walk with confidence. They’re walking with their heads high feeling they can take on the world because they’re so confident in their appearance. To me appearance is a first impression that’s a lasting impression on anyone to come across your path. For me not having a haircut or my t-shirt ironed can have my whole day in disorder because I’m not walking with the utmost confidence.
Soul Train: I hear you about not having a haircut! So, Ralph, is it a challenge to look at people and not judge them base on what they’re wearing or how they’re dressed?
Ralph Diesel: Umm… It is a challenge just because there’s that stigma of if you wearing “this brand” you’re automatically “in” society. In society the brand of clothing you wear tells a lot about your personality. So you wearing urban brands means you have an urban personality; you wearing more socially conscience brands tells me you’re a more socially conscience person. You wearing high fashion brands means you’re a high fashion person with a lot of money to spend. It does play a big role, and I’m not a judgmental person. To me everyone is equal in their own rights, but you wearing certain types of clothing does tell a lot about your personality.
Soul Train: You’re making some notable strides with your brand. When you’re meeting with people for business transactions what do you notice about them first? Is it how they present themselves to you with their business etiquette or do you first notice how they look?
Ralph Diesel: I think I have a gift of gauging people on both those ends in one shot. From their handshake I can gauge them. Even through college I’ve been taught a firm handshake means you’re totally confident in the business transaction you’ve got coming up. I gauge personality based on how you introduce yourself – through diction and grammar, choice of words, all those things are a factor. So with a first impression I’m gauging their etiquette. I’m a very picky person; I like to see everything 100% clean and done right.
Ralph Diesel: Yes! Kanye West had a quote in his song “The Glory” where he said he could stand up at the Grammys in a Speedo and still be looked at as a hero. That made a lot of sense because you can wear Gucci this-and-that, but your behavior while you’re wearing those brands can totally water down those brands or it can hold that brand at a high standard. My brand, Royal Dynamite, encourages everyone to think in their royal sense. You ARE royalty. So you wearing a Royal Dynamite t-shirt will tell the rest of the world that this person knows they’re of quality. Your behavior has to present that also.
Soul Train: Since you brought up Kanye let highlight a few other notable people. What does President Obama’s clothing say about him?
Ralph Diesel: President Obama is a real sharp guy, man. I think his wife has more of an in depth fashion sense than he, but he is a real clean-cut fashionable guy. He always dresses in a nice fitted, tailored suit, always has a fresh haircut, I can tell he takes care of the little details. He doesn’t take a lot of fashion risks like his wife, he’s always straight-forward – which I commend him for because he is the President.
Soul Train: What about Tim Tebow?
Ralph Diesel: [Laughs] I think Tebow is a more playful fashionable guy. He’s not too focused on the high end or GQ look. He’s a more chill, relaxed, casual guy.
Soul Train: Okay…what about Nicki Minaj?
Ralph Diesel: Nicki Minaj…her fashion is her brand. She’s known as a take-a-risk artist. In order to keep that headed where it’s going she comes with the crazy outfits. Of course she competes with Lady Gaga in regards to the really weird outfits, but she’s a risk taker in fashion. I commend her for that.
Soul Train: Last one: Miss Piggy. Here is a character very conscience of appearance and is ALWAYS designer down.
Ralph Diesel: Miss Piggy tells children to always want the best quality of everything you want to achieve in life…and to obtain it! Always strive for the best. If you make it a goal to want to be presentable, you definitely work toward that compared to you being complacent, not working toward it and settling for less. To me Miss Piggy’s role was to tell children always have the utmost confidence and always work for more. Don’t settle for less.
Soul Train: How do you handle being judged on your appearance?
Ralph Diesel: Now I have a Mohawk, I’m tall and dark-skinned, I wear fitted pants, my t-shirts are fitted, people judge me as being a hipster. I’m not a hipster, but in certain circles I’m automatically considered one just based on how I look. And to them nothing else about me matters, so that’s where my business etiquette comes in. That’s where my knowledge of finance and fashion comes in. And I try to wear a nice tailored suit when the occasion calls for it. That’s how I get the true respect I need.
Soul Train: Does your person background encourage you to want to find your place and try to fit in, or set trends by being a leader having people follow the example you’ve set?
Ralph Diesel: I come from Sierra Leone…I come from a family that had no choice but to fit in, and take the basics and survive off that. I wanted to break the mold, show it’s okay to step a little bit outside of the box and be called a weirdo as long as you get the results, deep down inside, you wanted out of it! I wanted to step outside the box and not be the normal African guy who wears normal clothing, and just succumbs to the norms of society. I created a brand, created a style proving it’s okay to be weird and wear weird designs on your t-shirts.
Soul Train: Ralph, since you’ve been in the United States was there a point when you felt emotionally undressed? And what did you do to put everything that made you feel good back on?
Ralph Diesel: Umm…man…that’s a critical life question you just asked me. I felt emotionally undressed the day I decided to cross over to Christianity. I went to a church and I felt like the pastor chose me out of everyone in that room. He chose my story and decided to tell it to the rest of the room. It made me feel like, damn, I’m standing here naked and everyone is looking at me. Only I see it, but they don’t. I said God you’ve proven that I need to come and adhere to your word…so here I go!
To get fresh Royal Dynamite gear visit RoyalDynamite.com, “Like” them at http://Facebook.com/RoyalDynamite and interact with @RalphDiesel on Twitter.
–Mr. Joe Walker
Mr. Joe Walker, a senior contributor for SoulTrain.com, is an acclaimed entertainment and news journalist published thousands of times regionally, nationally, internationally, and online. He loves to create, loves that you read. Follow him on Twitter @mrjoewalker, and visit ByMrJoeWalker.blogspot.com.