“People and Planet Prioritized”: Alexa Coughlin joins the sustainable garment revolution with Rat Boi.

RAT BOI CREW from left: Kiko Hawes, Alexa Coughlin (owner), Tina Chavez and Ashley Cole.

By Alex Wilson | Photos by Viktor Budnik

Alexa Coughlin enjoyed crafting and sewing clothes with her mom growing up in the town of Mākaha on the west side of Oahu, Hawaii. “I was basically a craft nerd. I loved just making things,” said Coughlin, whose entrepreneurial spirit also shone early on as she excelled at selling Girl Scout cookies.

It wasn’t until after a seven-year career working on environmental documentaries that her sales and sewing skills were at the center of her life again. In July 2019 Coughlin founded a Ventura-based apparel company named after her 90-pound gray and white-speckled dog, Rat Boi — so nicknamed due to his resemblance to an “extra-large New York City subway rat” from some angles.

“I also like the juxtaposition of making these kind of goofy, you know, flirty garments, but with this kind of grungy name, named after my pit bull,” Coughlin told Ventana Magazine about the pooch she works alongside, adopted from a Bakersfield shelter.

PUPPY LOVE Rat Boi founder Alexa Coughlin named her
company after her beloved 90-pound rescue pit bull.

Sustainability, the silver screen and scrunchies

Coughlin moved to Southern California in 2008 to attend Pitzer College, a private liberal arts school and one of the institutions in the Claremont Colleges consortium, where she earned an environmental studies degree. After college, she landed a job with Big Picture Ranch, the production company behind “Kiss the Ground,” the award-winning 2020 Netflix original documentary about regenerative agriculture and narrated by actor Woody Harrelson.

When Big Picture Ranch moved from Santa Monica to Ojai, Coughlin found a in Ventura home near the beach, just two blocks from Rat Boi’s current sea-breeze-infused design studio at the corner of Front and Laurel streets, a short walk from the Ventura Pier. It was while Coughlin was still working on environmental films that she and a friend started a jewelry brand that faded away when her friend moved away. Coughlin missed making jewelry.

“I kind of felt this void of this creative outlet outside of my job because my job was a lot of, like, logistics and production stuff. It wasn’t as creative as it sounded. So, it was really nice for me to have something outside of work to put that energy into,” she said. “When I didn’t have that anymore I just started making scrunchies.”

And boy, did those scrunchies take off. It wasn’t long after officially launching Rat Boi that her colorful, comfortable high-quality scrunchies made from “upcycled” fabric were adopted and celebrated by the high-fashion crowd. Rat Boi scrunchies were even highlighted in Teen Vogue and the style section of New York Magazine. For the uninitiated, scrunchies are those fabric and elastic hair ties popularized in the 1980s by celebrities including Madonna and Demi Moore. Scrunchies stormed fashion runways once again in 2019 when Teen Vogue called them the year’s “biggest fashion trend.”

“I just made a website and eventually I decided to quit my job. And two weeks after I put my notice in, our scrunchies were featured in Teen Vogue, to our surprise,” Coughlin said of the kismet-like timing of her company’s launch. “I was like, okay, I’m doing the right thing, even though this sounds ludicrous to, like, quit my production job to make scrunchies.”

Coming up Roses: A delicate lace trim and small rosette are hallmarks of the Rat Boi brand.

’90s Nostalgia

Today, Rat Boi has moved far beyond its early product line, which not only included scrunchies but also duffel bags and other simple garments made from scraps and other recycled materials. Rat Boi’s focus now is more on comfortable cotton basics like loungewear and underwear adorned by a little signature satin rosette and lace trim.

“I think it’s nostalgic,” she explained. “I was inspired by my first training bra that I ever bought from Sears. So, it’s kind of nostalgic. It’s kind of cute and romantic. And in a lot of ways it’s, you know, timeless. It just adds, like, a little extra femininity to a basic piece. It’s kind of flirty, I would say.”

Just as with the scrunchie phenomenon of 2019, Rat Boi managed to be ahead of the trends with its signature lace-trimmed style, Coughlin said. “That whole aesthetic has kind of just taken off in the last few years. But again, that was just a situation where we were…first to bring that look back, you know, from the ’90s.”

Coughlin also cited the company’s “people and planet prioritized” business model, values and ethics as reasons Rat Boi’s products resonate with customers, along with the family-run factory in Los Angeles hired to sew the clothes. The factory is regularly featured in behind-the-scenes videos on TikTok.

“I think they like supporting small businesses where they feel like they’re getting a more thoughtful experience. You know, we’re not releasing like, 50 new styles and marking them down every year. We’re only producing what we’re going to sell, and we’re really intentional about what we put out there.”

THREAD BARE While a family-run factory in Los Angeles helps with manufacturing, plenty of sewing and design…and all packing and shipping…take place at the company’s studio not far from the Ventura Pier.

Top Shop

While more than half of Rat Boi’s sales come from internet-based transactions, the brand has steadily expanded its brick-and-mortar presence from small boutiques to major retailers including Urban Outfitters. Coughlin sounded excited to reveal that Rat Boi was in the “onboarding process” with Nordstrom to sell her wares starting this summer at the Seattle-based department stores known for high-quality garments.

“One of my early jobs was working at Nordstrom,” she said of the summer after her freshman year of college. “I was a seasonal sales employee there, bouncing around all the departments, like, wherever they needed me. So yeah, it’s pretty cool to be there…And I think I had that same feeling, too, when we partnered with Urban Outfitters because, you know, I grew up shopping there, and just like thinking that store was like the holy grail of all stores. And so, to be in there just feels like a big accomplishment. And we’re just really grateful for the opportunity.”

While there are no stand-alone Rat Boi stores, the design space and offices in Ventura do occasionally operate as a place where fans of the brand can gather for events.

“It is zoned for retail. For the most part we’re just working there Monday through Friday on design, packing, shipping, doing customer service. But we also open our studio doors for pop-ups,” Coughlin explained. “They’ve been really great and we’ve had a lot of people coming out to them, which has been awesome. And it’s just fun to have people in the space, you know, after working there. They’re able to come in and see the pieces, try them on, you know, experience the brand firsthand.”

Rat Boi