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Who would have known a passion for art, that was expressed first on the walls of her parents’ home as a child, would have created an enterprise in adulthood and a niche in one of America’s major stores? That’s the story of Rochelle Porter, the owner of Rochelle Porter Design (RPD) who secured a partnership, last December, with West Elm to supply her product line.
Rochelle was born in Guyana on June 10, 1977. At age five she migrated with her sister and parents but has worn her Guyanese identity close to her heart and with pride all through her life. Growing up she checked all the boxes that would make a family proud. She was an obedient child. She studied hard. She has a bachelor’s and a master’s degrees and right out of university landed herself a financially rewarding job with a Fortune 500 Company in the United States commercial capital, Wall Street, New York. Where some would have seen the reward for hard work and make a career of the opportunity, Rochelle knew when she was attending corporate meetings and whilst others thought she was taking copious notes she was doodling on her legal notepads, fueling the innate passion for art that kept nudging her in another direction.
She shares the stories of her several chance encounters, all of which were pointing her in the direction of pursuing her passion. She recalls vividly a dream one night of a child coming up to her on a skateboard, and said into her ear, “Let’s start a movement called Kenotype.” She said she never heard the word before and when she looked up the definition the significance was impacting.
One woman met her at church and began praying with her. She prophesied that God has given her the gift of creativity in fashion, and she was going to be successful at it. A few months later an acquaintance told her almost the same thing. Then there was an encounter with a Delta agent on her first flight to Africa. She was heading to Tanzania and the agent looked at her passport and told her, her name sounds like a clothing line.
Rochelle said with every encounter she gracefully thanked the person or what some would call the ‘messengers’ but at the time it did not resonate in ways that would cause her to pursue fashion, and also, given the fact that she had a steady job, was living on her own, and could have paid her bills.
A passion, a calling she could no longer ignore
Rochelle admits having no formal training in art but a passion for art, saying it is all she ever wanted to do and sees it as “the end game” for her. But it was while attending an art class, a classmate looked at her and according to her, “out of the blue” told her she has a dream for fashion and should pursue it. These encounters were coming at her over a three to four years period. The religious would say, Rochelle was getting a calling.
She then started to look at how she could get her artwork on products and discovered she could do it through surface pattern design. Surface pattern design is creating art for the surface of mass manufactured products which Rochelle she was doing all along but did not previously know what it was called. After ascertaining how her art could be mass-reproduced she wanted to ensure her work was not part of the fashion industry unethical practices, such as Child Labour, human rights abuses and destroying the environment.
Rochelle said she started out by putting her art on throw pillows to test if her designs resonate with people. Additionally, she is making her mark on sustainable development and standing for human rights. She said her pillows are made with organic cotton and recycled bottles and are so soft they feel like down pillows. According to the principles of her business, “everyone along our value chain should live well—from the farmer who picks the organic cotton for our throw pillows, to the customer who puts them on her sofa. To that end, RPD prioritises fair pay, ethical manufacturing, and the use of sustainable materials when possible.”
Her art reflects her Guyanese/West Indian roots, combined with African and Scandinavian flare. Her colours are vibrant, including the black and white mixes, and have a pleasing and soothing play on the senses. Visit her website www.rochelleporter.com to learn more about the journey of this Guyanese woman who is weaving the culture of Guyana into the world’s fabric of humanity. Rochelle’s tagline is “Design for abundant living.” Her story has been one of abundance and proves dreams do come through with passion, determination, and hard work.