BY NAN BIALEK | PHOTO BY DAVID SZYMANSKI
Designer and entrepreneur Donna Ricco built her famous label and a reputation for dressing real women in New York, but her passion for fashion began in Milwaukee. Today, Ricco divides her time between New York and Mount Mary University, where, as executive fellow, she shares her business savvy and professional connections to help fashion students create their own success stories. She tells MKE Lifestyle about her commitment to local aspiring designers.
Are you from Milwaukee originally?
I grew up on the south side of Milwaukee. I attended Hamilton High School, then studied fine arts at UW-Milwaukee. I loved all things “art” — the history, the culture and the creativity. I also loved to sew. A friend was studying fashion merchandising at Mount Mary and mentioned they also offered a fashion design program. I realized I might have more career success if I joined my two loves — art and creating clothing — and transferred to Mount Mary to focus on fashion design.
My Five favorite Things!
Why did you want to teach at Mount Mary?
When I was a student at Mount Mary, I was so inspired and felt so prepared by the professionals who were involved in teaching, critiquing and speaking to us that I left Milwaukee after graduation to start my career in New York City. I hope to “give back” to students by offering the tools and providing the knowledge they need to do the same, wherever they choose to do it.
What’s the most important lesson you want your students to learn?
Fashion is VERY competitive. Social media and technology have created so many opportunities for fashion grads to become involved in so many ways that weren’t available to me. I would encourage students to understand and respect their strengths and weaknesses. I hope students can focus on what [aspect of fashion] they love to do and that Mount Mary can provide the resources to help them be prepared to launch a career in whatever area their strength may lie.
How has online shopping changed the business?
I am excited to see variety and new ideas when shopping online. Many new businesses open stores after first having success as an online startup. Online, they’re able to tell their story, make their statement and gather a following far and wide before committing to real estate. That’s a healthy way to start a business and could be a smart way for our graduates who may have an entrepreneurial spirit to get in the game!
How can you help Milwaukee develop as a fashion hub?
I’m just becoming exposed to Milwaukee’s fashion community, which seems to be developing on its own just fine! I’m anxious to represent Mount Mary as part of this community, and to meet everyone involved. I hope Mount Mary can become a resource and a partner for some of the startups and events, since we have so much to offer. Of course, I’m anxious to explore the stores too, since I love to shop.
What do you think is the next big trend in fashion?
Lately, I see the benefits of active wear being applied to everyday wear as becoming so important. The consumer loves comfort, so stretch and breathable fabrics, adjustable details and pockets are key to fashion in all areas. I’ve been reading more about the development of sustainable fabrics, as well as recycling, restyling and repairing clothing — very new and exciting trends for fashion, but also good for our environment.
Who would you like to dress?
Seeing Michelle Obama wear my dress that she bought off the rack really tells the story of my success as a designer. My dream was always to see “every woman” wear my dresses. I think it has something to do with the values I developed growing up in the Midwest — to be inclusive and to be realistic. As a result, many women I meet today will say they had or still have a Donna Ricco dress in their closet. MKE