No one is stopping you, but YOU. Act as if it’s your last day to launch that company, create as if you have endless hours in the day, and manifest the path you see for yourself.
As part of our series about the 5 things you need to succeed in the fashion industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Risa Kostis. Risa is the owner and founder of RISTYLE Consulting, a boutique styling company that specializes in bridal styling, one-to-one client styling, and wardrobe shopping & editing. Since 2014, Risa has been considered one of Arizona’s leading stylists and has been featured on Huffington Post, the E! Channel, Style Me Pretty, and in the pages of Scottsdale Modern Luxury + Modern Luxury Weddings, So Scottsdale! Magazine, Inside Weddings, Phoenix Bride and Groom, to name a few. She frequently appears as a fashion expert on Channel 3’s Your Life Arizona and has been spotted on Channel 12 and 15 sharing Oscars fashion notes and brands she supports to the valley’s viewers.
From her experience rooted in bridal hair and makeup and her early days working with handbags and shoes, to her time as an NYC fashion publicist, she currently runs a full-scale styling company that caters to the needs of all her clients through a customer service-based business; delivering the best hands-on styling on the market.
In addition to working with private clients, she also specializes in her signature Bride’s Best Friend service, a unique concierge-style wedding styling service for brides and their bridal parties. Risa has mastered this offering and it’s the backbone of her newest venture, The Rescue Kit Company, alongside her co-founder and sister Jessica Zeldner.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
My journey began after a life-altering car accident in my home state of Maine when I was 17. After suffering from PTSD and being forced to leave college, I moved to Boston to pursue a license in cosmetology when I was 19. I knew my life had a bigger purpose after what I had gone through, so my goal was to learn about skincare and how to do makeup so I could work with women who had suffered severe scarring like me. There weren’t YouTube tutorials and advanced makeup programs nearby at that time, so I figured this was the best step toward a career in the beauty industry (and I definitely had a knack for doing hair and makeup). I’ll never forget when a friend of mine called me and asked me to do her hair and makeup for her wedding. It was the scariest yet most thrilling moment of what would soon become my budding career.
Shortly after completing the cosmetology program, I moved to San Francisco with a few friends and took a job at a day spa where I met an up-and-coming handbag and shoe designer. She took me under her wing and my position took me around the world to places like Paris, Florence, Barcelona, and across the US. I was immediately in the throes of a fashion company that gave me experience in wholesale, retail, manufacturing, production, leather goods, public relations, events/trade shows, e-commerce…you name it, I did it.
From there, I ended up moving to NYC where I was hired as an in-house public relations director for a small women-owned and designed brand called Prairie New York. After about a year and a half in the city, the economy was turning, and I knew it was time to go back to school to finish my degree.
I attended Arizona State University and made the first moves toward starting my styling company. In 2013 I started working on a website while on a three-month personal sabbatical in Florence, Italy. I returned to Arizona with a plan to capitalize on the skills I had acquired and quickly launched my business RISTYLE Consulting in 2014. I started with closet clean-outs, family photoshoot styling, and teamed up with various photographers to do editorial shoots for magazines and online publications. I eventually circled back to weddings and started developing a signature styling service that catered directly to brides and their bridal parties.
I felt like the bridal industry was missing the attention to detail that I provided to my photoshoot clients, so I wanted to bring this service to brides to make sure that their investment was protected and that they felt like the best version of themselves for the biggest day of their life. I built a personal styling kit that was equipped to solve virtually any issue that arose, and I soon became known as the stylist who was ‘saving the day’ for dozens of brides. I firmly believe that the combination of my varying skillset and every job I had done led me to create The Rescue Kit Company and my incredible partnership with my sister.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started?
Interestingly enough, I had always worked around products and small businesses selling products, but I never thought I’d have my own. I had been asked a number of times to recreate my styling kit by clients and brides that I had worked with, but for a long time, I felt protective of my secrets and problem-solving tactics. After piecing a few small kits together for my top clients and solving some major wedding day disasters, I realized there was a need for a consumer version of what I had spent years curating. It was time to share my knowledge in order to help people, thus The Bride Kit was born and The Rescue Kit Company was formed.
Luckily my sister Jess was willing to take the journey with me, and it’s been really interesting to switch gears from a service provider to a product-based company. It’s amazing how a career in problem-solving and service can really guide product development, and we are now professional wardrobe problem-solvers for brides all over the country. Having patience with our goals and ideas has been hard, but we realize it’s all part of the process and we can’t wait to release more in the near future.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
A few months before we launched in 2019, we were approached by a company that wanted to carry our inaugural product, The Bride Kit, in their traveling luxury pop-up inside Saks Fifth Avenue. We were still sourcing items for the kit and hadn’t yet decided on our final box to hold the contents of the kit, so we had to scramble to source the contents as well as a beautiful box that we could get quickly.
We found a company that was willing to do a short run, with a quick turnaround time and great pricing, free shipping…it seemed too good to be true! Which, it turns out, was. Had we paid more attention we would have realized the return address was some guy’s personal apartment in the mid-west. He had bootlegged a website and was running his own unprofessional operation.
When we received the boxes they were an absolute mess! The ink was smudged and they were falling apart. We were due to be in Saks in a few days, so we stayed up all night supergluing each individual box to reinforce them. We were debating whether or not we could use whiteout to fix the smudges….it’s a lot funnier now than it was then, to be honest. The lesson that we learned very quickly is to slow down, ask questions, and pay attention to the details even when you are crunched for time. The launch was still a success, but we’ll never make that mistake again!
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
Absolutely. There isn’t another company out there that’s doing exactly what we’re doing. We like to call our Bride Kit “Risa’s brain in a box”, because everything in there was chosen specifically by Risa, a seasoned wardrobe stylist, to recreate what she would have on hand while working on set for a photoshoot or wedding event. We’re female and family-owned, and we launched and have persevered in an unprecedented time for brides and the wedding industry. Right now, consumers need to feel taken care of. They want their investment protected, and they need peace of mind. We have made it our mission to offer that from the time you visit our website to the moment you use the first product from the Kit.
Additionally, we offer full-size products so our brides can use our kit through all of their wedding day festivities and have the ability to share with their wedding party. Any product that is used near or on the body is non-toxic, and the partnerships we have created with the vendors we’ve included make us feel great about the product we have created.
The versatility of the products in The Bride Kit has allowed for a natural progression to our second product, The Closet Kit, as our customers are now asking for something they can have on hand long term. We’re excited to expand and serve everyone who gets dressed. Our dedication to helping our customers find ways to solve their own problems is unique and really allows us to stand out in the wardrobing world.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Our number one tip to prevent burnout is to stay connected. Reach out and ask for the help you need in your industry, and in return, be generous with your time and knowledge. When you are running your own business time can feel like such a premium, but we have never regretted the hours we’ve invested in creating strong bonds within our community. We absolutely could not survive without our amazing network of wedding professionals, and we all rely on each other for collaboration, support, and cross-promotion on social channels.
On the flip side of that however is our second tip, which is to make sure that you have strong boundaries! As professional problem-solvers we naturally have a hard time turning down requests for help. Over time we have realized that sometimes we end up in situations where we are giving more than we are able to. Knowing our limits helps us to put time blocks on everything and create boundaries for ourselves so we can set clear expectations for our colleagues.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
One of our company statements is that ‘we believe empowered women empower women’. We feel strongly that the efficacy of our tools allows others to feel empowered to get dressed confidently. Risa often says that ‘everyone needs to get dressed, so give them the tools to do so with ease and excitement’. Our ultimate goal is to give everyone, not just brides, everything they need to problem solve so they can feel confident and powerful in what they wear.
Risa’s long career in fashion has led her to this…she believes in sharing all of the knowledge and insider secrets that she has gained over the years with the world. Wardrobe styling should not be a mystery. If we can put a product out there that helps people feel ready to solve their own wardrobing mishaps, we feel like we have done a great job.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that was relevant to you in your life?
‘The things in life which don’t go to plan are usually more important, more formative, in the long run, than the things that do.’
— Maggie O’Farrell
Had Risa not experienced a traumatic car accident, there never would have been an opportunity to pursue a passion to help others. Had her life gone the direction it was headed, it’s possible she wouldn’t have had the experiences in the fashion world that led her to start her own companies. Both of us agree that the darkest parts of our lives have pushed us to a deeper exploration of who we are and what we want to see in the world.
We believe that the things in our lives that haven’t gone to the plan have ultimately made us more creative, more flexible, and more empathetic…all important qualities to have when you are starting and running your own business and striving to empower those around you. There’s no better reward in life than turning your struggle into success, whatever that means for you and your goals.
Do you see any fascinating developments emerging over the next few years in the fashion industry that you are excited about? Can you tell us about that?
One of the most exciting developments we have seen recently is Alessandro Michele, the creative director at Gucci, deciding to cut down from five shows a year to two. We are hoping to see more fashion houses follow suit. Our company strongly believes in offering tools that allow you to wear the clothes in your closet, and by returning to slow fashion we hope to see a trend in consumers purchasing high quality, staple pieces that they wear forever.
To piggyback on that, we love the direction sustainable fashion and the world of resale has taken. One of our goals as a company is to teach people how to give our product as much mileage as possible, and problem solves with purpose, so we’ll be working a lot more sustainability into our business model as we gain traction and new products are released. People have gotten so creative with inventions, and the idea of DIY has taken such flight, so be on the lookout for our contribution to the invention and new developments that will make getting dressed that much easier.
What are your “Top 5 Things Needed to Succeed in the Fashion Industry”. Please share a story or example for each.
1. Thick skin! There’s a lot of criticism in the fashion industry and an ability to stay the course will allow you to forge forward.
2. Originality. We believe that staying in your own lane is a long term solution for a steadfast legacy.
3. A love of fashion. If you don’t love what you do, others won’t either. Authenticity is vital in order to achieve your greatest potential.
4. Networking skills. If you don’t connect, you can’t propel. Risa quickly realized it wasn’t only her knowledge or skill set that allowed her to succeed, it was her ability to connect and maintain those relationships. Leave people with a lasting impression at every turn, show them you care, and listen more than you speak and you’ll go the distance in your career.
5. The ability to get out of, and stay out of, your own way. No one is stopping you, but YOU. Act as if it’s your last day to launch that company, create as if you have endless hours in the day, and manifest the path you see for yourself.
Every industry constantly evolves and seeks improvement. How do you think the fashion industry can improve itself? Can you give an example?
The fashion industry is making major moves with showcasing and accepting all shapes, sizes, colors, and body types, but it still has a long way to go. Normalizing sizing with sampling and adjusting the way off-the-rack clothing is offered would make a massive difference, as well as changing the tune on marketing and fashion aesthetic ‘norms’. Progress has been made, but there’s still some work that needs to be done.
As we mentioned before, we are huge fans of the sustainability movement and recycling/donation programs that some companies have implemented. Patagonia has been leading the charge in that area for a while, we love H&M’s garment collection program, and we’d love to see the whole fashion industry fall into line when it comes to using recycling and reducing excess waste. As one of the highest-grossing industries in the world, we see this as an opportunity to set the pace and make a huge difference from production and manufacturing to retail.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
Our ideas are big, but they are simple. For us, it starts with building confidence but that’s only the beginning. If we could use our platform to inform, educate and inspire, we’d create an approachable movement to change the way people get dressed; from learning how to shop, to completing daily looks that make them feel like the best version of themselves. So to us…our products are a small step toward something really special.
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This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!