Turners Falls designer Richie Richardson creates ‘clothing that makes a person look truly fabulous’

  • Richie Richardson of Richie Richardson FAB on Second Street in Turners Falls. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Richie Richardson of Richie Richardson FAB on 2nd Street in Turners Falls. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Fashion for sale at Richie Richardson FAB on 2nd Street in Turners Falls. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Richie Richardson with one of his creations at Richie Richardson FAB on Second Street in Turners Falls. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Fashion for sale at Richie Richardson FAB on 2nd Street in Turners Falls. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

  • Richie Richardson FAB on Second Street in Turners Falls. STAFF PHOTO/PAUL FRANZ

Staff Writer
Published: 11/17/2021 5:23:29 PM

When it comes to high fashion in Franklin County, FAB’s Richie Richardson is one of one.

The Trinidad-born high fashion designer can be found at a humble boutique on Second Street, but don’t let the size of the shop fool you — Richardson is no stranger to the brightest lights of the runway. After partaking in the family trade and branching off to start his own business in Trinidad, Richardson moved to New York to continue his career alongside some of the biggest names in fashion. He then bounced between New York and Brattleboro, Vt., before bringing his iconic “ethnic chic” aesthetic to Turners Falls.

In his adult life, Richardson self-identifies first and foremost as a “Caribbean New Yorker.” Before he was a New Yorker, though, Richardson was a kid from Trinidad. Richardson said that at just 4 years old, however, he not only knew his calling was fashion, but that he would be the best at it. He credits his Trinidadian upbringing for his creative fabric, describing the community as a “tribe of people who are creators.”

“They were the kind that were very involved in spirituality, music celebration and cultural arts,” Richardson said. “There is an identity to who we are. So wherever we are, we carry our identity proudly. ... For me to talk about me, I couldn’t be here without that.”

Richardson began his foray into fashion as a sign maker and screen printer for carnival bands, something his father had done by trade.

“That laid the foundation for me to recognize this is my calling,” Richardson said. “There’s something that felt comfortable, very appealing and natural about it.”

At 25, Richardson began working in graphic arts, sign making and screen printing alongside his four siblings. During this period of his adulthood, he trained as a tailor and studied alongside Carlisle Chang, a pioneer of international masquerade costume exhibitions, in his carnival style. Chang innovated the idea of putting costumes in a gallery alongside information that explained the art to people. This sparked Richardson’s investment in daring high fashion aesthetics.

“Carlisle taught me that carnival could be a 24/7, 365 days per year thing,” he said.

Alongside a team of other established designers, Richardson designed his own collection and held a fashion show. According to Richardson, by the time it ended, the whole collection had sold. It was soon after that he felt the need to go bigger.

“There is only so far you can go on an island,” Richardson said.

Richardson moved to New York in 1990. While he said the move was a means of “starting over,” he described the transition as an “easy entry” into a culture he felt familiar with. He said he not only felt like Trinidad’s cultural and industrial diversity prepared him for life in New York City, but he had been to the city several times before, even having done a photo shoot with Class Magazine.

Shortly after getting settled, Richardson began working for Jamaican-American artist Victor Bloise, whose credits include designing official tour merchandise for Jamaican dance hall legend Shabba Ranks. Under Bloise, Richardson flourished, designing and screen printing until Bloise could no longer afford Richardson’s services. Instead of continuing to employ him, Bloise gave Richardson all of the clients he’d already designed for, including people like Sunny Jung, who Richardson said had been the biggest creator and producer of ethnic T-shirts in the world.

New York had everything Richardson thought he needed until he began dating somebody online and fell in love. He traveled to Brattleboro, Vt., to meet with the woman he’d been dating and the two took a “gallery walk.” The town’s magic triggered a visceral response in Richardson.

“What am I really doing in New York?” he asked himself.

Richardson moved to Brattleboro in 2009 to accommodate a relationship that would turn out to be short-lived. In 2012, after unsuccessful attempts to get comfortable both romantically and artistically in the town, Richardson met another woman who introduced him to Turners Falls. There, he met Rodney Madison, a Black shop owner and “collector of stuff” whose gallery and character immediately resonated with Richardson.

“He had a personality that drew people to him,” he said.

Richardson began his fashion endeavors in Turners Falls by designing Madison’s show windows with T-shirts. In the process, he grew comfortable and appreciative of the “connectedness and community-mindedness” that he hadn’t found in Brattleboro. Then, in 2015, Richardson made plans to hold a pop-up shop with Black History Month in mind. He brought in artists from both New York and Turners Falls to provide evening entertainment and establish his presence. A couple weeks into the New Year, Richardson wrapped up the pop-up, encouraged by his sales and general reception.

‘“OK, this sleepy town has something,”’ Richardson recalled thinking.

In 2017, Richardson decided he needed a space to “permanently build from” and opened Richie Richardson FAB. He set out to make the boutique a space that would empower “ethnic” designers and celebrate their creativity.

“A huge part of the fashion world is ethnic who gets no recognition for what we do,” he said before framing Turners Falls as an ideal place to recognize ethnic creatives. “The reason New England worked for us is … there aren’t a lot of Black or ethnic designers in New England.”

Nowadays, Richardson continues to enjoy the “cottage-based, home-based economy” New England has to offer as he grows his presence. He has held two fashion shows at FAB thus far, with an invite-only “show and sell” featuring never-before-seen pieces taking place at the boutique Nov. 18 from 7 to 9 p.m. When he’s not commanding the runway, Richardson aims to continue learning about the local community, as well as his own craft.

“I was trying to get a sense of how to make a difference. ...We’re still learning about the community, and hopefully, the community is still learning about us,” he said. “I trust the public because the public, more than anyone else, tells us where we are going. … I’m really interested in making clothing that makes a person look truly fabulous.”

Reach Julian Mendoza at
413-772-0261, ext. 261 or


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