From Kajang to Kuala Lumpur Fashion Week — Rico Rinaldi has come a long way. While he might be living the dream as a big name in the local fashion scene today – like any inspiring success story that is off to a bumpy start, Rico’s journey was no exception.
He may have cemented a record of fine achievements throughout his career – having won a number of awards, boasting a celebrity clientele and owning a couple of prosperous boutiques…
But years prior to assembling runway-ready pieces and designing for high-profile figures like Datuk Siti Nurhaliza and Neelofa – Rico Rinaldi was a struggling fashion designer who operated in a tiny, independently-run, far-flung obscure studio in Kajang.
EARLY YEARS AND HUMBLE BEGINNINGS
Born and raised in Kajang to Indonesian parents — the 31-year-old said that Rico Rinaldi is, in fact, his birth name.
Being the only one in his family with a foreign-sounding name – Rico admitted to hating his name while he was growing up and wished to have had a more conventional Malay name.
“I hated Rico Rinaldi when I young. I wished my name was Muhammad Faiz or Hafiz…”
“But now that I’m in this industry, I feel so blessed to be having this name because it’s very commercial. I’ve had people telling me how international it sounds and I don’t have to think of other names for my brand,” he told The Mole.
Rico’s early years in pursuit of fashion were far from glamorous. He began his career in 2006 at the age of 19, during which he was juggling the uphill task of managing his startup business in Kajang with teaching as a tutor at Limkokwing University.
Reflecting on his days a newbie, Rico said one of the struggles he faced then was finding his own artistic style or rather, his “DNA.”
“My journey as a fashion designer was actually very hard in the beginning because it took me some time to identify my signature, my DNA… And it was difficult because at the time, fashion was really booming.
“Plus, I was surrounded by a lot of young talented designers, especially from other universities (such as UiTM and Raffles College) so I tried to search for an element or identity that suited me,” he said.
In addition to a lack of manpower, the toughest part about growing his brand was the fact that he was based in a locale that is seemingly off the fashion radar — which made it challenging for him to put his name on the map.
“I started with just one tailor. We both worked together while I was teaching at Limkokwing at the same time for two years. I only started attracting more clients when I was a tutor…
“And it was not easy for me to convince people to check out my stuff because not everybody was familiar with Kajang,” he said.
“When people asked me where my boutique was – I’d say that I didn’t have one as I only had a small studio in Kajang… But I was glad to find that most of my clients would still be willing to drop by to know more about Rico Rinaldi and thankfully now I have two boutiques,” he added.
ON THRIVING IN FASHION
Along with hard work – for Rico, the fashion business also calls for the need to constantly be proactive and self-evaluating.
“Whenever I plan to put together a collection, I will prepare a year in advance. I will also refer to my previous collections, identifying what was right and wrong. Not all of my collections have been successful, so I will design based on what people have liked,” he said.
Nevertheless, no matter how fast-paced the fashion world may be – he points out that being slow and steady is still more fulfilling when it comes to the personal growth of a designer.
“My advice for young people who want to do fashion is to start from scratch and learn from the beginning,” Rico said, adding that taking shortcuts would only keep one from truly learning the ins and outs of the business.
“You can’t expect to be successful overnight. It’s okay to start small and slow. You’ll actually learn to appreciate your journey even more this way,” he said.
“Besides financial problems, the reason I wasn’t in a rush to open a boutique in KL was that I needed to have a strong base. I didn’t have high-profile clients simply because I was in Kajang then. Therefore, I had to make sure that my brand was well-established first,” he added.
Given the industry’s cutthroat nature, Rico stresses the importance of having a competitive streak and standing out from the crowd in order to sustain.
“When I was studying fashion, I realized how hard and competitive it is. I wanted to get noticed, so I started joining several competitions as a way to not only polish my skills but also build a social network,” said Rico who graduated with a Diploma in Fashion and Retail Design from Limkokwing University.
To date, Rico has bagged 11 awards – including Winner of The Malaysian Batik Fashion Accessories Design Competition (2006), Triumph Inspiration Award in Malaysia (2008), Mercedes Benz Stylo Young Designer Award by MODA (2009), Classical Designer of the Year in ELLE Style Awards (2016) and Best Bridal Gown in 1st International Bridal Awards by ELLE SPOSE Paris (2017).
HIS STYLE AND DESIGN INSPIRATIONS
An ardent traveler, Rico frequently draws inspiration for his designs from the places he visits.
“I like to travel a lot and I source fabrics abroad. I get easily inspired when I look at my surroundings… From there, I start to sketch and I’ve been doing this for nearly 12 years,” he shared.
To be distinct and fresh, he tends to avoid looking at magazines for inspiration.
On his style, Rico prefers to keep a good balance of simple and striking.
“I am into simple silhouettes, but with eye-catching details. I love clothes with a statement. Even if the silhouettes are simple, there must be an element that sticks out,” he noted.
As much as he gravitates to pastel hues, Rico still does not shy away from playing with bold colours.
Being a lover of flora and fauna – his designs are often personalized with naturesque aesthetics and floral prints.
THE 2019 SUMMERAYA COLLECTION
On his latest development, Rico recently launched his Hari Raya collection for 2019 called Summeraya – a portmanteau of the words “summer” and “Raya.”
The first installment for this festive summer-themed collection was introduced in 2012. This year, Rico has decided to play up his fascination towards flora and fauna.
Inspired by an imaginary place he calls the ‘Secret Garden of Butterflies’ – Summeraya 2019 embraces a soft dusky colour palette with vivid emphasis on rich floral motifs and dainty butterfly embellishments.
Imbued with loose silhouettes and layered sleeves, the collection features 45 ensembles which Rico considers to be practical and versatile.
“The attire can be worn in any season – not only during Raya but also after Raya. You can mix and match the tops with different pants and skirts. You can even pair them up with casual wear,” he said.
The whole collection is available online at ricorinaldi.com as well as at Rico Rinaldi boutique at Plaza Damas and Bangi Sentral.