As a young girl, Richards, a Kanawha Valley native, loved the heart shaped, black and white silhouettes that were featured during the credits on the classic 1950’s television show.
It was the beginning of a love affair with fashion and design. What followed was a youth filled with designing clothes on sketch pads.
“I used to say that I wanted to design swimsuits, but not shoes and handbags,” Richards said. “That’s so funny, because that is my niche now.”
Richards has taken her talents to the big time with her company, Morgan Rhea. She hand assembles timeless pieces with personalized designs and superb craftsmanship.
The pieces are designed for the ”individual who wants to express their personal journey through an accessory that is a conversation in its self.”
Currently, Richards is working out of the Charleston Area Alliance’s small business incubator. Located at 1116 Smith Street, the incubator offers an affordable office and warehouse environment, along with the business coaching and consulting necessary to make sure startups or expanding businesses succeed.
“The Alliance and the West Virginia Small Business Development Center have been amazing,” Richards said. “I wouldn’t be where I am today if (Alliance President/CEO) Matt Ballard did not push and guide me into the right direction. Morgan Rhea would not be where it is today if it wasn’t for the kindness that the Alliance and the Small Business Development Center has shown us.”
Richards graduated from South Charleston High School and attended the Kanawha Valley Community and Technical College, where she received an associate’s degree in fashion merchandising.
“It was an amazing school to go to,” Richards said. “I was able to see if fashion was what I really wanted to do and I had great professors.”
She then continued her education at the Savannah College of Art and Design (SCAD) in Georgia, where she focused on accessory design. After graduating from the school in May, Richards was still undecided on her career.
That changed in June when she won the “Best Student Made Handbag” award at the International Handbag Designer Awards. She won the award for “The Ronald,” which was a buffalo leather briefcase that she designed.
The awards ceremony, which was held in New York City, was judged by industry professionals from fashion conglomerates, such as Kenneth Cole and Kate Spade.
“Winning the competition helped launch my business into the right direction because my briefcase is currently in the September issue of InStyle Magazine,” Richards said.
Richards netted an apprenticeship at handbag mecca, Coach, and was given the opportunity to design and present singer-songwriter John Legend with a pair of shoes that she made.
On Thursday from 5-8 p.m., Richards’ work will be featured at Tony the Tailor during Downtown ArtWalk. She will showcase her current collection, “Silently Speaking Gratitude.”
Richards’ said the collection is inspired by people in her life and their journeys in this world.
“Each of the stories is laser etched onto the accessory,” Richards said. “For example, I have a tote bag and duffle bag that I designed and it has my aunt’s story about her journey through breast cancer written on it.”
Richards will be selling leather phone cases, tassel key chains and small wallets. She will also be taking pre-orders for the “The Ronald” briefcase.
Charleston Area Alliance President/CEO Matt Ballard predicts Morgan Rhea will be a household name very soon.
“Morgan’s designs are amazing and her ability to make quality handmade accessories that anyone would want to have and to personalize them with your own story has tremendous value in the marketplace,” Ballard said. “The Alliance specializes in assistaning small start-up businesses and I am excited about the future success of Morgan Rhea.”
For more information on Morgan Rhea and to view Richards’ accessories, visit her website at www.morganrhea.com.