It all started with the red dress hanging in her mother’s closet.
That dress inspired a grandma from Fresno who doesn’t know how to sew to start designing dresses. Rhonda Temple, 59, took an unusual path to becoming a designer, but is now selling her vintage-style dresses on her website Rohonda.com, at Amazon and Dear Danger mobile boutique. She hopes to be in more stores soon.
The dresses were originally intended for women 45 and up, but Temple quickly found their Audrey Hepburn vintage style appealed to women of all ages.
She created the brand Rohonda – inspired by a piece of junk mail that misspelled her first name – after she couldn’t find the dress she wanted in stores.
“Through the years when I looked for a red dress, this is what I had in my head,” she says, pulling her mom’s dress out of her bedroom closet.
But the red dress is made from stiff fabric. Temple lamented that it and other vintage dresses weren’t made with the stretch and give of modern fabrics.
My husband was like, ‘Would you quit complaining about not finding something you like and do something about it?’
Rhonda Temple, Rohonda
So she decided to design her own.
The dresses – the Ruby, Lucy, Grace and Olive – are named after her granddaughters. The dresses have features that are friendly to lots of bodies: Longer sleeves than the typical little black dress, necklines that aren’t daringly low and a cotton-spandex blend of fabric that flatters but doesn’t cling to the body.
“There’s a difference between tight and a nice fit,” Temple notes.
The belted Olive dress has pockets – which alone is enough to inspire joy in women – big enough to fit an iPhone 6 Plus.
Temple didn’t know how to sew and said she didn’t have the talent to sketch what she had in mind, either. She didn’t have a background in fashion. Her career was spent running a video production company and then SermonSpice, a company that provided downloadable short films and other media before it was sold.
She found Indie Source, a Los Angeles company that helps people develop, manufacture and market their own clothing lines.
The experience was brand new for Temple.
“It’s like, ‘Hi, I’m a grandma from Fresno,’ ” she remembers telling them, but made it clear she did not want “grandma ugly” clothes.
The company assigned her a project manager, who walked her through a pay-as-you-go process helping with steps like sketching the dresses, getting a sample dress made, finding wholesale fabric and a manufacturer to make the dresses.
It’s a touch of vintage.
Rhonda Temple, Rohonda
Temple doesn’t have a design studio or an office, but does most of her work at her kitchen counter in her Fig Garden home. Her home is also a distribution center of sorts, so when 400 dresses were delivered to the front door she stashed them all over the house, in closets and in garment bags slid under beds.
Many were sent off to Amazon distribution centers around the country – 20 here, 10 there – where they stay until they’re sold.
The dresses are made in L.A. and sell for between $90 and $120. They’re generally between sizes 4 and 12, with a few zeros and 2s available in some styles.
The idea that the dresses would be geared toward women 45 and older quickly went out the window when Temple started working with bloggers and others to promote the dresses.
Howard, 32, says the vintage look attracts customers in their early 20s to women in their 40s and 50s.
“The whole Audrey Hepburn style is something women my age and younger (love),” she says. “We’ve watched ‘Breakfast at Tiffany’s’. The ruby dress just screamed Audrey Hepburn.”
Temple has launched a social media campaign promoting the dress on Instagram at @rohondadesigns. Calling herself a “reluctant blogger,” she tells stories and poses for photos with her granddaughters who inspired the dress names on her website’s blog. She has also given dresses to bloggers who wear and blog about them, such as the Chic Over 50 blog and Doodles & Dresses.
Temple has assembled a team of local women to promote the dresses, with Howard, who is also a model, becoming a sales rep selling the dresses to boutiques.
Megan Mooney – who is co-owner and cake decorator at Frosted Cakery in the Tower District – has also modeled the dresses and helps with social media.
Temple’s daughter-in-law Michelle Temple is their photographer, with creative shoots at Fresno spots like the Amtrak train station and the newly remodeled Workspace offices inside the Pacific Southwest Building on Fulton Mall.
Temple has more dresses she wants to create, including a vintage-inspired wedding dress. She’ll have to find a new way to name them though, because she’s out of granddaughters after whom to name them.
Overall, the new experience has been challenging, Temple says, but also fun. She still can’t sew.
One thing she did learn: “Don’t be afraid, even when you are a grandma, to try something brand new.”