On Nov. 30, Jessica Rich will be honored with the Emerging Talent Award at the 36th annual FN Achievement Awards. Below is an article from the magazine’s Nov. 28 print issue about Rich’s rise in the shoe business.
If there’s one thing Jessica Rich knows how to do, it’s hustle. The Grand Rapids, Mich., native, who launched her eponymous brand in 2017, said she’s always been focused on “making it,” and she counts her mom as an inspiration for her work ethic.
“Growing up with a single parent, my mom was working two jobs, but I’d never know we were struggling. Having my mom’s drive, that’s in my blood,” she told FN.
Over the past few years, Rich has made her mark in the footwear industry with a collection of ultra-sexy heels that have caught the eye of influential tastemakers like Cardi B, Jennifer Lopez and Kylie Jenner.
And major retailers have embraced her aesthetic as well. “Heels are back, and Jessica’s footwear is the aspirational choice for customers looking for sexy, modern updates to their heel wardrobe,” said Tacey Powers, Nordstrom’s EVP and GMM for shoes. “Her shoes are emotional and appeal to our customer’s need to dress up, go out and have fun. We launched the Jessica Rich collection in spring 2021 and have enjoyed working closely with her to build her brand.”
For Rich, though, her ambitions began when she worked in entertainment as a PR executive and then as a reality TV star in VH1’s “Real Chance of Love.” She decided to capitalize on her 15 minutes of fame and moved to Los Angeles.
“I was just on a mission to just make sure I utilized L.A. for what it’s worth,” Rich said, “‘How can I be paid to just be me?’” With that mindset, she started crashing red carpets and created her own persona as a style expert, which landed her segments on “Access Hollywood” and the like. It soon clicked for Rich to open an online fashion store in 2015, which progressed into developing shoes.
Since then, Rich has been keen to grow — and quickly. In December 2020, she opened her own store in L.A.’s Beverly Center, taking over a space formerly occupied by Giuseppe Zanotti. The store is closing this month as she focuses her attention to a stronger wholesale strategy. And while she’s still the 100% owner behind her label, her next step is to find investors where she can expand on her marketing and storytelling efforts.
“It took me so long in this business to be respected the way I am today. Being African American has made it 1,000 times harder, and the second part is I’m an American designer in the footwear space. I have to work super hard, and it’s not easy,” she said.
While Rich described initial challenges breaking in the shoe business, she said momentum picked up greatly in 2020 as companies began to spotlight Black-owned and minority-owned businesses more than ever before.
The designer credits her wholesale partners for the brand’s recent success and rising awareness, citing Nordstrom and Bloomingdale’s as some of her strongest relationships. Marissa Galante Frank, fashion director of accessories at Bloomingdale’s, said, “Her designs had emotion, they took risks and they made a statement. Her attention to detail is what makes her shoe designs so unique. Jessica is helping to pave the way for Black accessories designers, and we see her business getting stronger each season.”
The brand is also sold at DSW, Belk and Fred Segal. “Wholesale is very important for us because we reach more people day-to-day, and that has been great because we get a lot of feedback from customers,” the designer said, noting that she’s also expanding into independent specialty stores as well.
As she plots her next steps, Rich’s goal is to continue expansion with online retailers, with her sights set on Farfetch and Moda Operandi. And she has been flexing her design muscles. While the brand’s bread and butter is PVC pumps, Rich furthered her spring ’23 assortment with colorful platforms, flats, sandals and more. She also created her first thigh-high boot design, set to debut this winter.
For 36 years, the annual FN Achievement Awards — often called the “Shoe Oscars” — have celebrated the style stars, best brand stories, ardent philanthropists, emerging talents and industry veterans. The 2022 event is supported by presenting sponsor Nordstrom, as well as Caleres, FDRA, Merrell, Vibram and Volumental.