Emerald Grippa silk scarves join RVA’s growing fashion scene

A chance moment prompted this freelance illustrator to start a company that makes high-quality silk scarves.

In 2011, a young woman dashed across a Richmond street, her large red scarf billowing in the autumn breeze. It’s a moment many would easily forget, but it gave Emerald Grippa an epiphany.

“This is exactly what I want to make and what I want to do,” Grippa said, recalling her immediate reaction to that brief moment.

Just a few months later, Grippa’s eponymous line of silk scarves were on sale at Need Supply Co. Soon after, she opened her own online shop. And not long after that, Teen Vogue and Refinery 29 highlighted her scarves.1

And all this without any fashion experience. “I really had to teach myself how to start a line from scratch,” Grippa said.

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Grippa came to VCU in 2004 as sculpture major, but soon transferred to illustration. “I graduated in 2008 and for a few years after that…I was trying to become a freelance illustrator.” She created a series for Quirk Gallery and was commissioned by local shops Heidi Story and Need Supply Co.

“I was getting a few projects…but I felt like I wanted something more.” She soon read an article about digital printing, particularly its use for printing designs on fabric. “I was really interested in the technology,” Grippa said.

Some time later, in Fall 2011, Grippa was driving around Richmond. “I happened to see this girl who had a humongous red scarf.” At that moment, she found a way to combine her interest in digital printing with her illustration background: by creating custom scarves.

But not just any scarves. Ones made with high-quality silk that were lightweight and durable. “Beside the drawing aspect, everything was new to me,” Grippa said about her idea. She didn’t know a business that had a suitable printer or one that could even source silk scarves.

She researched online and eventually found a business in China, a nation with a large silk industry. She would design the pattern for her scarves in Richmond, and then have them made overseas. However, eventually she’d like to move her scarf production from China to Richmond.

But there was no guarantee that anyone would buy them once the scarves arrived in Richmond, so she asked a Need Supply Co. employee: “is this something people would want to buy?” Management at the clothing store said yes, and agreed to carry a small stock of two initial designs, which appeared on the racks in early 2012.

“People had a really positive response,” Grippa said after they debuted. She said that once people feel how light and well-made each scarf is, they’re won over. She added a mirrored floral scarf to her line in summer 2012 and four more designs later in the fall. She now offers 12 scarves. Corresponding with her fall 2012 line, Grippa launched her website. “That’s when I officially went into business,” she said.

“My overall theme for the brand is I love vibrant, feminine, really fun prints and designs,” she said. Her scarves cost either $98 or $150. “Considering the quality and how well they’re made, they’re actually considered affordable when you look at other brands doing the same thing,” Grippa said. It’s true: other brands can charge between $185 to upwards of $600 for scarves made from quality silk.

Contrast those high-end scarves with the low-priced ones in stores like Forever 21 and H&M, and the price for Grippa’s scarves lies somewhere in between. “And that’s where I want to stay,” she said.

It seems a good place to be. She said online sales have been “steadily growing” since the website’s launch late last year. But while online sales trend upward, Grippa said she wants to increase the number of her retail partners. She recently added Los Angeles boutique Myrtle to that list.

She also hopes to do more pop-up shops to give people a chance to touch and see firsthand the quality of her scarves. “It’s one thing when you see them online, it’s another when you see them in person,” Grippa said. She’ll attend the upcoming Well Worn Market on August 25th at Gallery5 from 11:00 AM – 6:00 PM.

All money she’s made thus far from the business have gone back into it. So to supplement her income, she continues to work as a freelance illustrator. “But eventually the goal is to make [her line] full-time.”

She admires another local fashion company, Ledbury, which she said has “put Richmond on the map in the fashion scene.” She hopes that her growing line of scarves will further dress up the city’s reputation for trendy haute couture.

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  1. Local restaurateur Kendra Feather wore the Pink Braid Habotai on the cover of an October 2012 issue of Style Weekly
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Nathan Cushing

Nathan Cushing is a writer, journalist, and RVANews Editor.

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