Remember when we were in grade school and our teachers would ask what we wanted to be when we grew up? Nothing was out of reach. Whether it was to become a doctor, a lawyer or a musician, at that age the sky was the limit. Growing up I wanted to be a pediatrician because I loved kids. I always knew I had a knack for talking peoples ears off and asking loads of questions. I was good at reporting any news, and writing more than any of my peers. I realised I had the skill and talent of a journalist… the journalist in me awoke. Now the more I think about it, I think my love for kids will always remain but perhaps as a mother rather than a pediatrcian. For most people, you fast forward a few years and their dreams for some reason or the other starts fading, the passion takes a little less priority and practicality starts kicking us in- daily.
Cortney Rhodes is no stranger to falling for life’s hard knocks- she had that practical job that payed the bills. She never, however, lost sight of her dream which was designing hand made garments. Growing up, she’s always enjoyed the texture and colour of these beauties and how it can transform an outfit effortlessly and elegantly. Here’s Courtney, a Chicagoan making us proud and living her dream. She speaks to me with passion while her eyes are filled with sparkle and joy that is quite contagious. She is one of those people that inspires us all, ‘I think the key is I never lost site of it. When I was in college and lived in NYC every holiday I came home, I would paint and host a trunk show out of my house or local business. Rho always stayed in forefront of my mind’ she shares. Chatting with Cortney was fun and inspiring, her voice just like her designs are gentle with a pop of laughter just like the pop of colour on her work. Meet Courtney Rhodes:
Your business has a unique concept, how did it get started?
I was taught how to paint silk about 7 years ago when I was living In Nashville – An amazing dancer by the name of Eric Harris worked in the costume shop I worked, and needed to dye some fabric for flamenco skirts he was working on. So I became his assistant for the week and taught me everything he knew. I then continued to paint throughout college -hosting small trunk shows out of my parents house as well as designing most of my senior line around my dyed garments.
So this was something you always wanted to do?
CR: Yes, but I did move to NYC for awhile and had the great opportunity to work my dream jobs. I conducted a show for Fashion Week, and worked for Ann Taylor Corporate, but still had this feeling that I wish I was building Rho Silk. Every job I worked I would get asked where I got my (insert rho scarf or garment) and once I told them I painted silk they would follow up with asking why was I working there. That just added to the itch that was already there. I then decided to scratch it. I packed up and moved to Chicago and started Rho silk and I took it full time last Fall.
It must feel unique to be a business owner of silk scarves… what sets you apart from other collections that offer similar work?
At times I thought I needed my designs to be a certain look to fit in and be successful. But as Rho grows over the years we realize our clients love us because we offer such a broad range of products and prints. It’s something completely new each season. We never want to get boring. We are painting the world as we see it. If you have two people sit down and ask them to paint what they see, you will get two completely different images. We are just being ourselves and I think that is why we stand apart.
Being from the Midwest you know how our style is perceived. What do you feel about that?
While working in New York I heard quite a bit how conservative we were. It’s who we are though. Big brands send completely different things to the west coast as they would the east coast and we in the midwest are no different. I feel we are more comfort, classic, staple piece driven.We like to get the most out of pieces. Which I think makes the midwest a perfect market for us! We pair perfectly with a staple suite for work, jean and a t-shirt for the weekends and everything in between. So just leave it to Rho to help spice up your “too conservative” look.
What are you currently obsessing over from your collection?
I would have to say my favorite would be Rainglass. It’s a very effortless, chic print that has this fiery life about it. Clothing it would have to be our new vest silhouette. They haven’t hit the website quite yet because we keep selling out in stores. They are so versatile I’m in LOVE. I had mine on with a little black dress and heels for an event, then transitioned it to brunch with the girls by pairing it with leggings, boots and a long sleeve t-shirt.
Do you have role models or someone you aspire to be like?
I’m a HUGE fan of Marimekko. I think she was an amazing artist, and you cannot wear her prints without having a smile on your face. I actually had the pleasure of meeting some fantastic people from Finland who knew her personally so to get a behind the scenes peek at her life and business was really amazing to hear, but at the end of the day I think we should all just aspire to be the best version of ourselves.
You are quite the traveler and spent time in Finland but out of all the places you have traveled, where do you draw the most inspiration from?
I would have to say small island towns always catch my attention for color! It’s everywhere and the combinations are fantastic. Also Europe in general. I could walk around for days on end just to people watch and see the mix of patterns they put together. I think most of my photos from my Europe trips are all of random people walking down the street, small boutique windows and random things on the side of the street that blend well together.
What does the future hold for Rho Silk?
The last year have been a whirl wind for Rho. Right now we’re taking it day by day trying to figure out where Rho will be next month. Down the road I would like to add more of a philanthropic cause. Giving back and helping bring smiles to those in need. It’s always been in the back of my mind since day one.
I chose Chicago for many reasons. I found it to be the perfect In between for me and Rho. It’s has the right balance of nice, friendly people that are here to work hard and help each other grow. And who doesn’t love a city with a beach. I’m also closer to my family and friends so for me starting this company, having my supportive friends and family around me has been HUGE for Rho’s growth, both emotionally and physically.
· Shop– Just because I’m bias -I love Comfort Me boutique in Lincoln and Hyde Park. Alyssa and Bethany are awesome chicks! They have such a great mixture of local artist and fabulous finds.
· Eat– Anywhere with a good outdoor seating area. Wicker and Bucktown are full of them.
· Play– The only play I’ve been able to do lately is hitting up some concerts. I just saw my old time favorite Glasvegas at Schubas not too long along and hopefully hitting up a few more.
How has Chicago helped your entrepreneurial spirit?
Chicago offers you everything you can possibly want. It’s just a matter of how hard you’re willing to work for it. Everyone has been amazingly helpful with launching Rho and my own personal development. Old co-workers, friends, family, networking with some of Chicago top talent- they are all here and have your back.
Quote you live by?
A quote that I saw recently by the late Robin Williams- “I thought the scariest thing in life is ending up alone- but the scariest thing in life is ending up with people who make you feel alone.”
Any advice for our readers?
You must always try to surround yourself with loving, supportive people. People who know your values and see them just as important as you do. This is especially true when starting a business or making a big move, you need those people who wont let you give up, who push you creatively, emotionally to be the best version of you.
Rho Silk is found online and sold in a few select shops in Chicago. Visit: http://rhosilk.com
Photos by Nancy Rahman