Robert Riley jeans

Robert Riley Jeans- Interview With Robert and Nigel

Robert Riley Jeans is a new company started by two young, sober friends. Living in New Life House recovery community gave them a good foundation for business.

Sobriety opens up a lot of doorways and possibilities, especially when you’re young and ambitious. Nigel Tanabe and Robert Sunderland, two New Life House alumni, have taken advantage of their second chance at life and decided to chase their dreams. The two, who met through New Life House, have partnered up to create Robert Riley Jeans, a luxury denim brand that reflects in its boutique apparel the unique and uncompromising attitude that both bring to their lives. I had the opportunity to talk with them about their company, their sobriety, and their goals.


How did the two of you guys meet?


Nigel: We met when I got into New Life House. Rob was one of the senior members when I came in – he was actually the first person I saw graduate. As I got more time sober our relationship developed.


So what does a day look like at Robert Riley Jeans?


Nigel: Day-to-day our work is based on creative development and fashion – trying to bring our own creative twist to the denim industry. We work hard to promote ourselves in the most attractive way possible and spread our name and brand – to try and create an empire for ourselves! (he laughs)

Rob: Today for example, we are getting ready to start sales for the Spring 2015 line. That means we’re choosing stores we want to be featured in and spending time scheduling models, agencies and photographers. We’re shooting a look book tomorrow. All of the production and designing is done, so we’re focusing on the sales aspect. Meeting buyers, looking at markets – things like that.


(left to right) Rob Sunderland, Erik, Sam Black, and Nigel Tanabe

(left to right) Rob Sunderland, Erik, Sam Black, and Nigel Tanabe

Where did the idea come from?


Nigel: Well Rob had been developing clothing for years – small time, out of pocket. The idea to develop it into a business came from us getting together and deciding to take it a little more seriously. I had about 5 years in the fashion industry in sobriety and we got together and collaborated and decided to inject our selves into the stream of fashion.

How has sobriety equipped you to handle all of this?


Rob: Well there’s the ability to speak with people. I didn’t have any formal training doing this stuff so just like in sobriety, I had to stick my hand out, network and meet people – step outside of my comfort zone. Dealing with the integrity of the brand is something else I learned in the program. When we produce, we don’t cut corners. We pay all of our workers well and we take care to insure our quality and working conditions are excellent. The same integrity, honesty and hard work ethic I learned getting sober has been taken and applied to our brand. The same way you can’t cut corners in sobriety, you can’t half measure your brand. Either you do it all – do your best and produce the best product – or you don’t.

Nigel: In a nutshell, it’s kind of everything! I know for myself I wasn’t capable of showing up physically or mentally when I was drinking and using – it just wasn’t something on my agenda. Being sober I’ve gained the ability to show up for other people and situations and in this case, professional environments.


What kind of obstacles have come up and how has working a program allowed you to overcome them?


Nigel: There have been day-to-day things with different personalities in terms of production and step-by-step work conflicts. Being able to be level headed and clear has allowed me to assess situations for what they are. I wouldn’t be able to navigate certain situations without being sober and having the ability to defuse these kinds of things when they happen.

Rob: These kinds of situations happen every day. I know how to ask for help when I come across a situation I don’t have the answer to, which is something I learned in the program. Also, there is a lot of fear involved in doing something like this. The program has allowed me to have the faith to walk through things that I didn’t know were going to work out. I have to rely on the fact that if I put one foot in front of the other and keep moving in the right direction, things will happen how they should.

Robert Riley Jeans

What’s on the horizon for Robert Riley Jeans? What are your goals?


Nigel: (laughs) To get to the top! You know, we’ve created a name for ourselves but we want everyone to know who we are and have a chance to experience this product. It’s an extremely competitive industry and we want to go head-to-head with the big brands. We’re fully capable of being the next one.

Rob: I’d like this company to be in as many stores as possible and continue to produce a dynamic product that people are going to like and be excited about. Continue to be creative and produce something we’re proud of. We want to allow the brand to support itself and refuse to compromise the creative direction and quality that separates us from the pack.

Do you guys have any advice for young sober entrepreneurs?


Nigel: Stick with your plan. If you have a vision and a dream, which all of this has to start with, stick with it! Businesses are started with an idea, a projected vision of what your goal is, and the moment you start to alter that because of people’s opinions against you, the less integrity you have in your company and your original vision. Stick with your dream and don’t do it solely for money. Being a strong enough person to work through the doubts and influences is a direct result of New Life House and getting sober.

Rob: In general, don’t get too wrapped up in the results and the fear that you conform to other’s ideas. Take risks and don’t allow the fear of stepping out of your comfort zone control your life – in every aspect of your life – not just starting a business. If you’re fearful you have to be willing to take action and walk through change. It’s really about walking through fear and not settling for something you aren’t happy with.


Thanks guys!


Check out Robert Riley Jeans at and on Instagram: @robertrileyjeans

  • Sara
    Posted at 09:04h, 09 August Reply

    Cool guys, well done, I’m inspired by your success and determination. I’m in the UK and I’ll do my best to keep an eye out for your range and make sure people hear about you over here. Good luck and I hope you go far.

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