“Everything I have on is from a thrift store and I look amazing”! Naida Rutherford exudes the confidence as bold as the blue, green, red, pink and yellow rainbow vintage silk shirt she’s wearing. Since her days of growing up foster care Rutherford has always thrifted. “I never thought of it as someone’s junk,” she says. Rutherford has managed to turn other people’s trash into a successful business she named “Styled by Naida”.
She never thought what started as a side hustle would turn into a profitable business that has afforded her the opportunity to have Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris shop at her store while on the campaign trail or that she’d be able to start the Styled by Naida Foundation which helps college students with job interview attire and hygiene products.
Life after foster care. In addition to being an entrepreneur, Rutherford is a nurse practitioner and holds five college degrees, but she hasn’t always been so fortunate. “I grew up poor”, she says. Naida grew up in foster care. “I didn’t have a positive story many children have in the system,” she adds. She says her foster mother was abusive and sometimes forced her to sleep outside and eat off the floor. Without much money, Rutherford wore second-hand clothing. Her prom dress was even thrifted. That didn’t stop her from winning prom queen though. “I don’t know how to fail. I know what it takes to win”, she states matter-of-factly.
It’s that same determination that keeps her thriving in her business, despite the challenges she’s had to overcome in her life. Two days after high school graduation, her foster mother put her out of the streets with only a back pack and the clothes she was wearing. She bounced around moving in with several friends until she went to college where she had the opportunity to join the track team.
Thinking of a master plan. Even though life had gotten a little better, Rutherford continued to thrift shop. Soon her closet filled with tons of clothing. Some second-hand and others designer like Gucci, Prada and Louboutin. These clothes are what she was left with once she found herself transitioning through a divorce. Cash-strapped, Rutherford experienced having her lights and water turned off. One night it dawned on her that the money she needed was in her closet. “I was lying in bed, praying and crying. I looked in my closet and said, ‘you’re sitting on thousands of dollars of worth of stuff’”! A garage sale was the answer to her financial problems. She used internet platforms such as Craigslist to advertise the sale. Her first event was a hit so she hosted two more. By her third garage sale, she had made over $20,000 and had to hire staff and security.
One month later, a friend suggested she start an Instagram account and sell her clothing through the social media network. Online, Rutherford is the face of her brand, serving as the mannequin for her unique vintage pieces. “The business is successful because of me,” she boldly proclaims. Her first followers were her friends. She started with only about one hundred followers. Soon those followers told their friends and Rutherford’s popularity exploded. Her Instagram page now has more seven-thousand followers who engage with her and purchase featured clothing.
Lessons learned. Rutherford continued to sell clothes from her home until she was able to open a warehouse. Sales continued to increase and a year later, she opened her own storefront. That same storefront is where Sen. Harris was photographed trying on a sequined jacket. That photograph has been featured in news outlets around the world, including the LA Times. The opportunity came about when the presidential hopeful wanted to meet specifically with female entrepreneurs who had a story to tell. Since she fit the bill, a client suggested Rutherford. It’s connections like these that contribute to her success. She encourages other entrepreneurs to surround themselves with people who can provide guidance. “I don’t have everything figured out, but I sought mentors. I put myself in situations so I can ask more seasoned people,” she says.
Rutherford reflects on her past and realizes it’s the tough times that have shaped who she is as a business owner. “You’re never going to outwork me. I have cry sessions, but I give myself a one-minute time limit. Then I figure out a solution. That’s what makes entrepreneurs win,” she advises.
A word of advice. Having gone through and overcoming many obstacles, Rutherford offers several pieces of advice to other entrepreneurs: 1. “Figure out your why. It can’t just be about money. You won’t go far if it is.” 2. “Be a representative of what you are trying to sell.” 3. “Have a work ethic, time management and understand your workflow.”
Keys to Success. To add to this advice, Rutherford sums up her keys to success in three points: “Strong work ethic, solution-driven and faith. Pretty simple,” she says. She plans to use these keys to move forward in her business. Her storefront is doing well but she has set her sights on a larger building. It’s at the top of her wish list. She says, “I don’t need money but I wish someone would donate a building”. She also says she hopes more people would donate their unwanted clothing: “We take all kinds of donations. We can re-purpose anything”.
Not only does Rutherford hope for donations, she also gives back through her Styled by Naida Foundation. For the past eight years she has donated career wear and hygiene products to the “Tiger Career Closet” at her alma mater. In 2018, she gave over $10,000 in donations. She wants to help other underprivileged students get basic necessities for free. In fact, it’s her dream to see similar initiatives at every college in the country. It’s a lofty goal, but she believes it can happen. Her purpose drives her to remain faithful despite obstacles and hopes to inspire others to persevere through their circumstances. “I just want to show people you don’t have to look like what you’ve been through. That’s the why behind Styled by Naida”.