Today we’d like to introduce you to Rochelle Porter.
Rochelle, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I never intended to be a designer. Ever. I graduated from college with a double major in English and history and the assumption that I’d end up in publishing or academia. Ironically, I landed a job as a computer programmer at a Fortune 100 company in New York City. It was 1999 and Y2K hysteria was in full swing. Desperate to avert the Millennium Bug, big companies were willing to pay big bucks to train “promising liberal arts graduates” like me to add two extra digits to the year in old-school banking software. While initially elated to have a guaranteed gig after graduation, I soon realized I hated computer programming.
Though I would never have dared to call myself an artist at the time, I loved clothes, drawing, and painting, and I knew I needed a creative outlet from my buttoned-up, left-brained job. On a whim, I enrolled in a 3-day Intro to Fashion Design course at the Fashion Institute of Technology (the Project Runway school). The first day went fine. On the second day, the instructor told us that if we were serious about a career in the industry, we’d likely have to produce our designs in China. Immediately, visions of child labor, pollution, and gross human rights violations danced in my head. I didn’t even bother to show up for Day 3. Certain that this cruel industry wasn’t for me, I pursued work in other fields.
More than a decade later, I started hearing buzz about sustainable fashion and learning that ethical, sweatshop-free manufacturing was possible. I also started getting these otherworldly signs everywhere I went. Upon opening my passport, a Delta ticketing agent mused that my name sounded “like a clothing line.” A random stranger told me that God had “given me the gift of creativity in the area of fashion.” Someone who’d only seen a Post-it Note doodle I’d posted on Facebook told me that my artwork would use on bedding, home goods, and clothing all over the world. After a couple of years of this, I started to pay attention.
Several Google searches, YouTube tutorials, and trade show visit later, I figured out how to turn my art into pattern designs that could be transferred onto products. In 2015, I launched an e-commerce website with a small collection of throw pillows, wall art, and phone cases bearing my prints, and just like that, Rochelle Porter Design was born. Since then, I’ve been fortunate to have my work displayed at the High Museum, West Elm stores, and other cool places across the country.
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
The road has been rewarding, but definitely not smooth. Given that I have no formal training in my field, the learning curve continues to be steep. Much of the knowledge I’ve gained has been through trial and error, and I sometimes feel overwhelmed by the sheer weight of what I don’t know yet. Then, I remember how blessed I am to be living in my calling, and I thank God and get back to learning.
Balance has also been a challenge. Until recently, I held down a full-time corporate job while spending nearly every evening and weekend on my business. As much as I love what I do, the grind can get pretty draining.
To younger women who are just starting their journeys, I say have faith and dream BIG, but don’t quit your day jobs (yet). Entrepreneurship is unduly glamorized in our culture, and it’s not for everybody. Even if you plan on launching your own business eventually, make sure you maximize your time working for “The Man.” Save money, build your network, and develop a strong work ethic. You’ll need all of these for the road ahead.
Please tell us about Rochelle Porter Design.
I often say, I’ve never met a blank surface I didn’t want to draw on. I’m an artist and surface pattern designer. This means I translate my original drawings and paintings into patterns the can be used on a variety of products, like apparel, home decor, textiles, wallpaper, greetings cards, and coffee mugs. I strive to create work that’s vibrant, stylish, and life-giving. In a world barraged with despondency and despair, I want people to look at my designs and feel pure joy.
My tagline, design for abundant living, means that I want everyone who experiences my products to live abundantly, from the farmer who picks the organic cotton for my fabric, to the seamstress who sews my skirts, to the fashionista who rocks the final product in her Instagram pics. I currently specialize in ethical home decor and gift items. My throw pillows, for example, are made of sustainably sourced cotton and linen and filled with super soft inserts made from recycled plastic bottles. But clothes are my real passion. I’ll be excited to be launching a small collection of brightly-colored organic cotton skirts this summer, and even more items in the fall.
I’m proud to have maintained my commitment to responsible manufacturing practices (fair pay, eco-friendly dyes, organic materials whenever I can) that favor both people and the planet. As an immigrant (my family moved to the U.S. from Guyana when I was five), I’m also proud to be building a brand that will create opportunities for people in the developing world, particularly in the Caribbean and Africa. I recently returned from a sourcing trip to Kenya, and look forward to collaborating with some talented dressmakers, artists, and retailers in that country soon.
Who have you been inspired by?
I’m inspired by the grace, grit, and resilience of the women in my family. They manage demanding careers, raise healthy families, achieve lofty goals, and somehow make it all look effortless. With a lineage like that, I have no choice but to kill it in whatever I do.
- Throw pillows start at $48
- Greeting cards start at $6
- Zipper pouches start at $28
- Website: www.rochelleporter.com
- Phone: 404-915-0005
- Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Instagram: www.instagram.com/roporterdesign
- Facebook: www.facebook.com/rochelle.porter
- Twitter: www.twitter.com/roporterdesign