Vivid, sustainable, and Caribbean-inspired – Rochelle Porter Design is a lifestyle brand that you’ll be so grateful you found (if you haven’t already). The brand features a home decor line including textiles and wallpaper, gifts like bags and phone cases, and a line called Fit by Ro which features vibrant athleisure. I had the pleasure of interviewing with Rochelle to learn a bit more about the coming of her brand, how she thrives as a creative business owner, and some fruitful advice on walking in your purpose.
Can you share the story of the birth of Rochelle Porter Design, and how you chose it or how it chose you?
“It definitely chose me… Or maybe God chose me for it.” Rochelle offered the brief version on what was a long journey to Rochelle Porter Design. For as long as she remembers, she’s always been drawing on blank surfaces – whether that be a notebook, or even a wall in the house. She describes it as more of a compulsion than a talent. It always came naturally.
Originally born in Guyana before her family immigrated to the U.S., she grew up in a traditional Caribbean household where you’re reminded of your family’s sacrifices, and feel the pressure to fall in line with going to a good school to be a doctor or engineer. Art was not in that equation.
Rochelle ended up double majoring in English and History in college, although still controversial amongst her family’s ideal path, but ended up landing a job as a computer programmer after graduation. She soon realized she hated it. “I’m sure it would’ve been great for somebody else but it was just the worst fit for me.” But with the steady responsibilities of adulting, especially living in New York at the time, she couldn’t just quit her job. In exploring creativity, she took a 3-day intro course at FIT but became a little discouraged when one of the classes insisted that they would have to source clothing from China. She immediately became worried about the labor ethics and environmental impact this would have.
Fast forward to over a decade later, living in Atlanta, a few things happened. She learned a lot more about ethical fashion but discovered that there was still a demand for items with an emphasis on “fashionable”. She took an art class as a nice escape from her corporate job and at the end, one of her classmates, now a friend, said “You know, I feel like there’s something that you picked up a long time ago but you thought you couldn’t do it so you put it down. But I feel like God wants you to pick it back up again.” Now it sounds profound to her, but at the time she kind of brushed it off.
Soon after she walked into a department store, and had an epiphany when she realized a lot of the textiles in the store looked like her doodles. She began researching, going to trade shows, and learned about surface pattern design. Rochelle then took the leap to start a business using all the methods she’d discovered.
Can you share some of the focal points of your Caribbean culture that impact Rochelle Porter?
Rochelle attributes her aesthetic largely to her roots. “In the Caribbean, no matter where you go, you’re going to see color from the brightly painted houses to the flora and fauna to the fruits that we eat. There’s just a vibrance and an energy to it. And it’s literally in my blood.” If you didn’t know, Guyana is 3.1% of the Amazon rainforest. She uses a lot of this inspiration in her collection like tropical birds, prints that are very rainforest inspired, and even a print with the jaguar which is the national animal of Guyana.
What is your process of bringing a product to life?
I try to always be creating, whether I have a collection in mind or not. Inspiration can come from anywhere, and often from going outside. “One time I was inspired by the pattern on the subway grate that covers the street.” A sketch can start out on a post-it note or using her iPad to design digitally. Once the designs are digital, it allows alteration of the shapes or colors for printing. From there she uses an eco-friendly dyeing process to transfer drawings onto textiles.
For Fit by Ro, all of the apparel is printed and sewn on demand once a customer places an order. This is how Rochelle actively exercises sustainability versus printing a large sum of products that can eventually end up in a landfill. She also ensures high quality so that the products last a long time. Both her home decor and apparel products are produced in ethical factories.
What does a balanced work life and personal life look like for you?
Instead of work-life balance, Rochelle prefers the term “work-life integration.”
“As a creative, you can’t escape it. Even on vacation if you see something that catches your eye, you’ll want to find a way to capture it.” In terms of day-to-day work, she sets boundaries like no longer working 9-5pm and by listening to her body. She shares that “the old me would’ve tried to push through that resistance, but this version of me knows that at a certain point it’s diminishing returns and you can’t pour from an empty cup.”
What piece(s) of advice could you give to black women who are grown but still growing?
“Get your money right and get your spirit right.” Learning from the past, Rochelle wishes she had either another stream of income while she was building her business, or just more knowledge in managing personal finances. One book she recommends for those who are entrepreneurial or not, is Profit First by Mike Michalowicz. It’s a practical book that will teach you to allocate and track your money efficiently.
In terms of spirit, she highlights the scripture, Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. (Proverbs 4:23). Rochelle reminds us that once your spirituality and your heart are in a good place, everything else will just flow. “It won’t be perfect, but you will be aligned with what you were uniquely created to do.” She attributes everything she has to God. By praying, reading scriptures, or even just sitting in silence and listening out for that voice as a guide.
Rochelle’s products can be found in Macys, Nordstrom, Amazon, West Elm, and HomeGoods.
Asya is an accounting and finance professional who loves fiction novels, travel, writing, nature, and being a plant mom.