Courtesy Ripley Rader
“I made it,” replied Rader. In fact, ever since she was a teenager, she made her own clothes. “Sewing for me was always a joyful expression to share time with my grandmother, mother and my sister,” she explains.
Rader’s grandmother taught her how to sew. “There were never any boundaries. If we saw a picture of something we liked or thought we could improve, she would say, ‘let’s give this a go,’” recalls Rader. When she was a teenager visiting Russia with her ballet dance company she brought back the most beautiful fabric she had ever seen which she envisioned for a dress. They drew off a pattern. “We always believed if you can see it, we can make it,” shares Rader. “Let’s make it happen.”
By the time she was in in junior high she was making and selling hippie shirts for $15. She made her classmates’ prom dresses. “Making clothes built my confidence. Whether they were perfect or not, I felt great in these clothes because I had made them,” she says. “And then to see other kids at my school wearing them was also really empowering to me.”
It turned out that the woman smitten with her jumpsuit was Joi Davis, a buyer who owns Rocks and Silk at the iconic clothing store Fred Segal. The store is known for its innovative well-curated clothing. Loyal Fred Segal devotees have included the Beatles, Elvis, Diana Ross, The Jackson Five and Jefferson Airplane.
For a designer to get their threads into Fred Segal is quite a coup. But the democratic and versatile jumpsuit was a standout. It can go edgy or conservative. “It’s the sisterhood of the traveling jumpsuit,” says Rader of the wrinkle-free piece. “It can look good on a 22-year-old and incredible on a 68-year-old.”
“If you turn this into a brand and make it in America we will want you,” said Davis. The following week, in a moment of true kismet Rader, wearing the same jumpsuit, was at party when Linda Immediato, Style Editor at Los Angeles Magazine, approached Rader. “Where did you get your jumpsuit?,” she asked. Rader, who had a thriving career performing in musical theater, shared that she was hoping to launch her clothing line. “When you do, we will do a story on you and help you launch,” Immediato replied.
Suddenly Rader’s life took a seismic pivot.
In 2014, Rader’s clothing brand, Ripley Rader was born. Rader had never gone to fashion school. But she was able to “hire really good people” and teach herself. “I have gotten an education in the logistics of fashion pattern making, marking and grading,” she says.
Ripley Rader has since evolved into a full collection, featuring caftans, wide leg pants and dresses. And of course, there’s the classic jumpsuit. “Six years ago we started with one jumpsuit,” says Rader. “With no outside funding, we’ve grown the company to a ready-to-wear brand sold nationally with Neiman Marcus as our latest partnership.” Her RR Essentials Collection is available in sizes XS through 4+, to ensure all women feel gorgeous and represented. The brand is beloved by many celebrities including Amy Schumer, Laverne Cox, Alessandra Ambrosio and Our Lady J.
Devoted to making her business more than an apparel company, Rader’s mantra is to leave the world better and continue reminding women that they are gorgeous. That is what constantly drives her. “When you are a fashion designer and work with women in clothing every day, you can’t have a fashion brand without discussing the crisis of confidence in women,” explains Rader. “I discovered that the issues women have at 14 are similar to what they’re dealing with at 40.”
Rader is determined to address these issues from an early age and help change the conversation surrounding women and their bodies. “It seems to me that it’s socially acceptable for women to say, ‘I look fat in this,’” she says. “But it’s not socially acceptable for women to put on an outfit and say, ‘I look amazing.’ So often we do look amazing, but there’s this idea that you can’t be confident and humble at the same time.”
To that end she founded Camp Rocky Road which helps empower and instill confidence in young women. Last year she brought ninth grade girls into her studio for a week. They were introduced to women working in creative jobs and were given exercises in self-love. “We wanted them to have a toolbox to take with them because entering ninth grade means they are going into new schools,” she says.
It was such a success Rader realized the experience should be a sleepaway camp. “I wanted the magic to stick overnight,” explains Rader. Her goal is to build the capital to launch a sleepaway camp for up to 40 girls in 2020. To help make that goal she designed a tee-shirt that says, “Who wouldn’t want to be you?” 10% of all profits go to the camp. “I look at women all the time and think, who wouldn’t want to be you?,” says Rader. “You’re strong, a mother and a warrior.”