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Beckley native finds success in fashion design

Register-Herald photo by Brad Davis Fashion designer and Beckley's own Ripley Rader poses for a quick photo during a trunk show at Greenbrier Avenue during the Greenbrier Classic Weekend.
Register-Herald photo by Brad Davis
Fashion designer and Beckley’s own Ripley Rader poses for a quick photo during a trunk show at Greenbrier Avenue during the Greenbrier Classic Weekend.

BECKLEY, W.Va. — In many ways, fashion designer Ripley Rader has come a long way since her high school days of wearing window treatment miniskirts. In others, she’s the same girl, with different fabric, a different name and a different ZIP code.

In the late 1990s, Suzanne Rader — Ripley is a family nickname that stuck later in life — was a student at Woodrow Wilson High School, active in just about every creative endeavor possible.

“I was always dancing and always singing since I was 5,” she said. Legendary dance instructor Jerry Rose got her feet moving and her parents drove her to Charleston regularly for vocal lessons.

As her interest in singing and dancing progressed, so did her interest in fashion and designing and making her own clothes. Fortunately, her parents, David and Margaret Rader, owned Rader’s Fabric and Upholstery in Beckley, providing her a vast array of material with which to design.

“I was walking around with window treatment mini skirts,” she said with a laugh, turning to look at drapery behind her. “I mean that totally would have been a mini skirt.”

During her senior year at Woodrow, she began making clothes for other people, selling “hippie” shirts at school and even making her best friend’s dress for the winter Snowball dance.

Designing clothing was just fun though and Rader headed off to NYU, where she was one of about only 60 students accepted into the prestigious school’s only musical theatre program.

Through Cap21, which she completed in three years, Rader gained invaluable experience performing in three Off-Broadway shows. Following graduation, she earned her Equity card — meaning she was then a professional — when she booked a role in the Off-Broadway show “The Awesome 80s Prom.”

Her next gig, however, was the big break she had waited for as she was cast in the touring production of “Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat.” With one month to go on the tour Rader’s best friend Ellen Etten asked her if she’d like to move to L.A.

“The tour was in L.A. for two weeks and I made the deal if I could find an agent in those two weeks, I would move,” she said. “I really thought I knew enough people to hook me up and if I could get in the door they would sign me.

“So I got an agent, and I moved to L.A.”

Some “cool shows” and small TV parts followed, but Rader said she realized that if she were to have any real future in the entertainment industry, she and Etten needed to start creating their own material.

“I wanted creative control whether I was in the piece or I wasn’t in the piece,” she said. “So we created Red Tent Entertainment with the goal of creating female-driven media.”

She and Etten, a writer and actor, created the short web-based dating series L.A’d, which was featured on Zooey Deschanel’s website Hello Giggles, along with other projects.

But although Rader’s dreams never included the world of fashion, she continued to make her own clothes from time to time and about two years ago, a “magical” piece caught the right set of eyes.

“I sewed a jumpsuit for myself to go to a concert in Los Angeles and I got scouted by the buyers at Fred Segal,” she said. “They said, if you make this a brand, I will sell it.”

Although encouraged by the offer and asked about the jumpsuit everywhere she wore it, the final straw — the magical moment — occurred on a girls’ trip a few months later.

“I went on vacation with a bunch of girlfriends of all different sizes,” she said. “They all tried it on and they all looked incredible. It’s the sisterhood of the traveling jumpsuit. I mean, it truly is.

“Something happened when I made this piece. People who are 5’1 and size 0 wear it and people who are 5’10 and size 14 wear it and look really good in it. I don’t know how, but there’s magic in it.”

And so the Ripley Rader clothing line was born…

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