Guyanese designer debuts eco-friendly designs

Show off deisgn: Eco-friendly home decor designer, Rochelle Porter shows off her pillow designs at her pop-up shop at the West Elm furniture store in Manhattan on Sept. 11.
Photo by Jordan Rathkopf

Pursuing fashion was not on her immediate table but finding a loophole into design whilst having a full time job is what brought this designer to the industry.

Fashion designer Rochelle Porter recently debuted her home decor designs in her pop-up shop at the West Elm furniture store in Manhattan. The now Atlanta-based designer, originally from East Flatbush — never faithfully studied fashion, but by teaching herself the craft and having a passion for human rights, it brought her to the world of eco-friendly fashion.

“I’m not an environmental activist, but I was every interested in the human aspect of fashion,” said Porter, designer and founder of Rochelle Porter Designs. “This is my way of doing this business. I would love that for everybody, it’s not just an environmental issue.”

Growing up in between New York City and Atlanta, the Guyanese-born Porter studied English and history at Rutgers University, and later attended graduate school to study media. When Porter decided to descend into the world of fashion she was in shock to learn some truths of fashion-industry practices.

“I took a fashion design class at the Fashion Institute of Technology and my first class — I liked it,” said Porter. “Then I took a second class and the teachers talked about going to China to get clothing made, and I thought a lot about human rights abuse.”

The eye-opening experience gave Porter second thoughts about fashion, and introduced her to the world of eco-friendly fashion.

“After that class I realized I did not want to be involved in this,” said Porter. “It upset me greatly when I learned about sweatshops. That was something that struck a chord with me.”

Despite her lack of formal training in fashion, she taught herself designing. Equipped with a love for drawing and doodling, she became curious about seeing her artwork on home items — such as pillows.

“I did my research. I would see things on greeting cards, home decors, and wonder ‘how does that happen, how do you get artwork on clothes,” said Porter. “So I went through conferences to learn about ethical fashion and print design.”

As a fashion enthusiast, Porter says the safety of the workers who work in factories producing the clothing are just as important in fashion, explaining that this initiative she takes will benefit the fashion industry if more designers considered the material used to make the clothes and the damage chemicals from it can cause.

Now only a year since she began focusing on fashion, Porter works in technology. She hopes the opportunity to display her designs at more pop-up shops grows so she can pursue it as a career.

“I had to learn this all while working full time. Hopefully, not too much longer, I’ll be able to generate a complete income,” said Porter. “Coming from a Caribbean background, we are expected to be doctors or lawyers. There are many Caribbean adults who don’t want to pursue an artistic career — and there definitely needs to be more of us.”

Reach reporter Alexandra Simon at (718) 260–8310 or e-mail her at asimo[email protected]

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