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Award-winning footwear designer Jessica Rich is forging her own path

The fashion industry is a competitive space to break into, especially for newer brands and houses. But the second Jessica Rich got her foot in the door, she strutted in with full stride, and never looked back.

The acclaimed designer, whose eponymous brand is beloved by celebrities ranging from Jennifer Lopez to Kim Kardashian, quickly developed her signature style (the use of PVC), and made a name for herself that can’t be forgotten.

Women around the world have turned to Jessica for footwear that helps them exude confidence, class and comfort, and Jessica’s authenticity, realness, and charisma at the helm of the brand has helped it expand and flourish into what it is today.

Even more, Jessica has shattered glass ceilings for diversity in fashion. “Seeing an African American brand, let alone my brand, sitting on the retail sales floor next to some of the biggest names in the shoe industry is surreal,” she exclusively shares with GLAMOUR South Africa. “It’s so important to give back and uplift those within my industry and community. We can all achieve greatness, despite the obstacles and whatever the naysayers have to say.”

Jessica’s hard work, passion, and creativity has earned her Footwear News’ highly-coveted Emerging Talent award this year. The ceremony celebrates game-changing names in the shoewear industry, with Jessica among them. Ahead of the celebration, the designer opened up about her journey to success, staying creative, finding balance in life, and why she always keeps her head held high - but her heels higher.

How do you most enjoy expressing your creativity through fashion?

I find myself expressing my creativity the most when I am designing new shoes and collections for my brand. I have always been a creative mind, however, once I started playing with new materials (outside of PVC) and different fabrics, I felt a new wave of creativity wash over me. I love what I do for so many reasons, but the ability to express myself through my designs is one of the most important to me. I also express myself a lot through my use of makeup! I love a fun pop of color eye shadow – that’s my signature look.

What are some of the most exciting trends this season that you're leaning into?

During the first four years of Jessica Rich, I never included much color in my collections. My designs were predominantly neutral colors. I have never played with or created so many colorful designs as I have this last year, and that’s because the trends are changing – people want color and a lot of it! And I’m really excited about it! I feel like since the world shut down due to COVID-19, we all want to be very expressive and “over-the-top”, and I believe the best way to do that is through fashion!

As a self-taught designer, how are you continuously challenging yourself to learn and try new things?

I have always lived by the notion of, “tomorrow is never granted”. I truly believe that the energy we put out into the universe is exactly what we get back. It’s important to me to continuously challenge myself every day, to do things I’ve never done before, and to live and think outside of the box. I’ve always been someone who pushes myself extremely hard – you are your own worst critic, right? But I constantly push myself to grow, evolve, and dream up new directions and ideas for myself and my brand. I want the most out of my life – in all ways, success, love, etc.

You're doing so much with your platform to empower and support the next generation of Black designers. What does it mean to you to be able to give back and uplift others in your industry?

Thank you. I am extremely humbled to have this platform and to represent African Americans in this industry. I never thought I would be in such a position. It means so much to me and it is with great appreciation and gratitude that I continue to show other Black designers that they can follow their dreams. Seeing an African American brand, let alone my brand, sitting on the retail sales floor next to some of the biggest names in the shoe industry is surreal. It’s so important to give back and uplift those within my industry and community. We can all achieve greatness, despite the obstacles and whatever the naysayers have to say.

What would you like to see change in terms of representation in footwear?

That’s a good question, thank you for asking it. I would like to see more women continuing to express themselves through footwear, rather than through clothing. Footwear can be so expressive if you lean into it. I believe shoes are the most important part of an outfit. My mom always told me, “you can tell a lot by the shoes someone chooses to wear”.

When you're not designing and working, how do you stay balanced with your busy schedule? What does your wellness routine look like?

Wellness, self-care, and routine are all very important to me. I exercise regularly and I find it helps both my mental and physical health. I usually do hot yoga 4-5 times a week, along with Pilates. I prioritize my sleep, I get at least eight hours of sleep each night and if I don’t, I make up for it over the weekend. I routinely visit the salon and get facials, taking care of myself this way makes me feel good and confident. By doing this, I never walk out the door feeling anything less than amazing. As for my eating habits, I follow a Keto diet. However, if I’m craving something, I’ll indulge. I don’t believe in depriving yourself of anything. Life is short and we only get one – eat the pasta.

What are your best tips and tricks for incorporating fitness and health into the lifestyle of an entrepreneur on the go?

I think the best trick I have learned and adopted is to set realistic goals and expectations for yourself. Overcommitting yourself and time will only set you up for failure. Do things that are easy and make sense for you and your lifestyle. For instance, I know for sure that I can carve out an hour a day to work out so I make that commitment to myself. I am also a huge fan of meal prepping, it makes it so much easier to live a healthy lifestyle on the go. Something that helps keep me on track is reminding myself that a lot of people look up to me. I have a responsibility to set a good example. Also, you have to feel just as good on the insides as you do on the outside. It’s important to take care of yourself, so you can take care of others.

How does your fashion choices change by the season, and what's your best advice for having a closet that you can easily transition/mix up?

My sense of style and taste has changed a lot throughout the years. Nowadays, I dress in what’s comfortable and relaxed. Most of the time, you can catch me in a bodysuit and pants, a jumpsuit, or sweatpants paired with heels. I often wear monochromatic looks, it makes getting ready easy for me. I love the casual but sexy look. Los Angeles, as a whole, is big on this style. I have never been super “brand crazy” when it comes to clothing. However, designer bags and shoes are the exceptions. My favorite designer of all time is Tom Ford. It’s a dream of mine to collaborate with him. My best advice for building a closet that can be easily transitioned/mixed up is to have a mixture of casual and more dressy or formal looks that are fit for any occasion. You want your closet to be versatile, that way the items you own actually get some use, and you can mix and match. Personally, a lot of my looks consist of neutral colors which makes it simple to pair different items together.

What is a staple that every woman needs in her closet?

I might be biased but…JESSICA RICH SHOES.

Why shoes? What about the process of designing shoes and innovating the industry excites you and motivates you?

When I started, I sourced and sold costume jewelry I found in Downtown Los Angeles. Then I transitioned into clothing, after which I moved into the footwear space. I remember talking to my boyfriend at the time about wanting to start a different venture because the fast fashion and clothing industry was becoming extremely oversaturated. This pivot led me to start designing shoes. I would have never dreamed I would’ve gotten this far doing it. It’s been such a blessing and I am so happy that I found a job out of my passion.

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