Manhattan Beach’s Rochelle Webb Knows Being an Underdog Can Push an Individual to Do Great Things

Out in front.

  • Category
    Fashion, People
  • Written by
    Tanya Monaghan
  • Photographed by
    Monica Orozco

Entrepreneurship has bubbled in Rochelle Webb’s blood for a very long time. Growing up in Atlanta, she remembers playing in her bedroom, lining up her stuffed animals and dolls in rows seated at attention and then assigning them all tasks. The idea of building something and expressing herself creatively drove her forward.

“I knew there was a very special place in the world for me,” Rochelle shares. “It was just up to me to find it.”

She worked on the prized Apple account at advertising agency TBWA\Chiat\Day before taking on other blue-chip accounts like Visa, Activision and Quicksilver. She used all that invaluable experience to create something personally meaningful to her: the lifestyle and fashion company Optimist Made.

The inspiration for the business came from her work travels. She loved shopping abroad for pieces she considered original and different. When she came home and friends or colleagues inquired about her purchases, she realized an opportunity: bring that fashion home for domestic consumers.

“I say that we try to stimulate the underdog economy,” she says. “An underdog by definition is someone who is expected to lose, and I feel like I have been that person my whole life. If you look at me at face value, people expect me to lose. I am a part of the underserved. I am a minority. I am a woman. And I am amongst a group of people who don’t look like me. I have to compensate in other areas to make sure I am seen and heard. I also know that I am not the only person who has this story. But I have been able to draw from my experiences to get me where I am today.”

Rochelle sees her business as a win-win—the designers get their shot at making it in America, and the consumers get a taste of different cultures they might not experience in person. Currently Optimist Made represents 18 designers from six countries. Rochelle buys their merchandise in bulk upfront and handles their marketing and social outreach.

“I knew there was a very special place in the world for me. It was just up to me to find it.”

She also created a proprietary curriculum that trains the designers on running a successful business. With kindness a central theme of Rochelle’s mission, she donates a percentage of her proceeds to 45 charities, all aimed at bettering the lives of those less fortunate.

One of her designers started out collecting scraps of material and having them sewn together by a local tailor to create her designs. The tailor paid it forward by giving her a three-minute sewing lesson so she could do it herself. This gave her the foundation necessary to start her own line, and the rest she learned by watching YouTube videos.

Telling personal stories and connecting with the designers one-on-one goes straight to the heart of Rochelle’s business. “We usually both end up in tears,” she confides. “We help them see something that they didn’t see in themselves before. And it’s at those times that I feel like I am looking in the mirror. I still find it surprising when people believe in me or want to support me, and I really want to be that mirror for these designers.”