Illa Ridder: Not Your Average Fashionista

Photo courtesy of Illa Ridder

Photo courtesy of Illa Ridder

Where others see a problem, Illa sees opportunity. Tasks that seem impossible to you and me, she finds a way almost immediately. How does she do it? Or maybe more importantly, what is she doing differently?

I came to the conclusion that it’s all in the approach. See, any interaction I have with Illa, is always positive. Take for instance how we started collaborating.

A couple months ago, I somehow stumbled upon Fashion Gala Event’s Instagram account. I saw that it was a company in Omaha so I started following because you never know where opportunity might knock.

The next day, Illa sent me an email saying she noticed I started following her and was wondering if I would be interested in blogging about her fashion show. As if it really was that simple as asking for what you want. Doubt never factored into her equation.

She could have chosen not reached out. No one would have faulted for her that. People who work in the fashion industry can be perceived as ruthless, unwelcoming and especially unforgiving. 

“I’m not into the cut-throat culture of the fashion industry. The vision for my show is about family. It’s a collaborative effort of supporting each other and not competing.”

An industry so exclusive, yet Illa took refuge in it when she was growing up.

“I was homeschooled until ninth grade, and I was bullied for it,” she tells me. “Sewing was my escape, my bliss.”

Illa loved sewing so much that her mother gave her a vintage sewing machine when she was 7 years old. Her mother also made quilts and tried to get Illa to make them, but she wasn't interested.

Illa when she was growing up.

Illa when she was growing up.

“I wanted to destroy clothes and reconstruct them,” she says. I even made clothes for my Barbies and created stores for them to shop at.”

Illa continued taking sewing classes in high school but says she didn’t take it seriously. She thought she wanted to model instead. It wasn’t until a photographer she was working with suggested she make an entire collection from scratch after seeing her deconstructed clothes.

This moment of collaboration started her journey as a fashion designer. She had never made an entire collection before. However, she was having a hard time finding opportunities for her profession in Omaha. She thought, “If I can’t find any opportunity here, I have to create it.”

A garment she made for her first fashion show.

A garment she made for her first fashion show.

She packed her bags and headed west to Los Angeles with a dream to attend the Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising (FIDM) for fashion design. At the time, the job market was so bad, Illa had to move back to Omaha before she was able to enroll. She eventually transferred to the Academy of Art University (AAU) and later dropped out to start her company, Fashion Gala Events, in 2015.

“Living in LA I learned: it’s not where you live that makes you who you are,” she says. “It’s the opposite. I didn’t fail. I came back and did exactly what I wanted to do. Omaha needs me more.”

Since starting Fashion Gala Events 18 months ago, Illa produced two fall/winter shows featuring 10 designers, created fashion camps for students ages 6-12 and partnered with Girls Inc. of Omaha.

She hopes to impact the community by stimulating growth, providing educational art workshops for students and creating more job opportunities.

 “I love helping people succeed,” she tells me. Before I started Fashion Gala Event, I asked my friend, who is an actor, to do modeling work. He ended up making it big in Chicago. I think, ‘how many more people can I do that for’?”

Illa’s vision may be unconventional according to the established fashion patriarchs, however, that doesn’t make it any less plausible. She doesn’t get caught in the details of how something might not work.

With continued support from her team, friends, family and local creatives, Illa is doing something she was once terrified to do.

She says: “Doing what I do now scares me, I don’t like being in the limelight. But I’m glad I force myself to do it. It’s taught me anything is possible.”

Illa at Fashion Gala Events 2nd Annual Show on Nov. 11 at the Holland Center.

Illa at Fashion Gala Events 2nd Annual Show on Nov. 11 at the Holland Center.

Illa feels it’s important to express yourself in a way that you don’t care what other people think. No one ever regrets doing their best.

“Since I was a kid, I’ve always wanted my name in history for doing something different with fashion,” she says. “It’s going to be revolutionary, and I want future designers to learn about me because of it.

So the next time you feel like giving up or that your dreams aren’t worth, try looking at it Illa’s way with optimism and absolute certainty. You might be surprised by what you find possible.

Check out Fashion Gala Events on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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