In 2015, Jessica Rich, CEO of the self-named business, Jessica Rich, set out on an ambitious journey to become a shoe designer. At the time, she had a deep love for fashion and $1,500 in seed money to fund her dreams. In what some might consider being a short time, the self-taught designer was able to learn the ins and outs of the business, master her craft, and garner the support of celebrity clients who have helped her extend the reach of her brand. As a result, Rich has partnered with major retailers such as Macy’s, DSW, and Nordstrom. Rich is the first Black shoe designer to ink a deal with Nordstrom. Shoes from her collection can be found at five Nordstrom stores in Las Vegas, Miami, Los Angeles, Houston, New York, and Nordstrom.com.
While being the first is notable, you have to be ready for the opportunity. Rich was ready. “I never dealt with a major retailer before, and it has been a great learning experience. We had to upfront a lot of funds for production. I’ve never had to order this much product at one time. So, having a savings account is one word of advice I recommend in case you do get approached by a major retailer.”
Always Be Ready To Pivot
Six years into the business, Rich has opened two Los Angeles stores, one on Melrose, which she decided to close during the pandemic. “In the very beginning of the pandemic, nobody knew what to expect. We were quarantined, so not many people needed to purchase shoes to go out. I adjusted to the sales, took advantage of Black Friday, and worked hard on social media and marketing. The sales I ran helped keep us afloat,” said Rich.
Her business acumen and ability to be nimble set her up for success. So much so that she was able to open the doors of her second brick-and-mortar store in the Beverly Center. But it was no easy feat.
“I had to get out of my previous lease that I had a year on still, rush inventory, and build my staff rapidly because we are required to be open seven days a week. My team also had to remodel the office and store to make it my own as it originally was a Giuseppe store,” said Rich. She also had to find clever ways to market the new location during the closing of the store on Melrose.
As someone who pivoted from a career in public relations to pursue her childhood dream of becoming a designer, Rich knows first-hand what it is like to navigate the world of design without support. “At the beginning of my journey, it was hard trying to find supporters and investors as a Black designer. I didn’t have the best credit to secure large amounts of bank loans,” said Rich. Before landing deals with major retailers, she was told no countless times when pitching.
Giving Back And Paying It Forward
Fast forward, Rich is making room for others at a time where corporations have found it trendy to give back. As a part of The Black Designers Fund, Rich is granting five designers a total of $50,000. To qualify for the program, the grantees have to be in business for at least six months, have a viable product, and submit a detailed application outlining their business goals.
“These funds will help them financially, and with the PPP loans, it makes it harder for some business owners to obtain funds as they require you to have your business at least a year, whereas with you would only need to have been in business for at least six months to qualify for our grant,” Rich shared.
“Creating this program was a no-brainer. We’ve been in business for years, and throughout our journey, we’ve been fortunate enough to build the foundation and funds to where we’re able to afford to put together initiatives such as this,” said Rich. “I felt the need to give back and support my community. It’s no better time for me to help out my fellow brothers and sisters now that I have the capability to do so. I once was a young designer coming up in the industry, and I know how it felt to be overlooked and turned down by so many people.”
Rich has also created space for designers to showcase their products at her Beverly Center store. “I hope that the designers take advantage of the program, invest in their brand, and take it to the next level.”
As Rich continues to give back, her advice to others is to be adaptable and know that you belong.
“There’s enough room out here for everyone. I got very discouraged at the beginning, but I leaned on what I knew. Figure out your niche and find your target audience,” said Rich.