Rick Rhodes faced almost 40 fashion models inside the Sidney & Berne Davis Art Center. They were there for him, rehearsing for a night that did not seem possible 16 years ago. That’s when Rhodes, then 22 and now 38, was sentenced to an Indiana state prison for gun and marijuana charges.
Rhodes addressed the models on the choreography of the rehearsal. And at 7 p.m. Friday at the art center, 2301 First Street in downtown Fort Myers, the visions Rhodes had of rebuilding his life will come to fruition in Rick Rhodes: The Phoenix Rising, “The Awakening of the Fire Within.”
At the rehearsal, Rhodes met with the mayor, who encouraged him and told the gathering that someday the people of Fort Myers could look back on this moment as the genesis of the next big line of fashion, like Chico’s.
Rhodes, who spent much of his youth in Fort Myers, returned home in January 2020, after being released from prison in late 2019.
On Nov. 26 of last year, he launched Rick Rhodes Fashions as an online, high-end fashion line for men and women. Rhodes left his first post-prison job at a furniture store in January so he could devote himself full-time to his passion of fashion. He’s planning to open a brick-and-mortar store in Fort Myers in 2022, and he’s also hoping to land his products in luxury hotels, not just in Florida but across the country.
“While in prison, I wrote out my business plans,” said Rhodes, who did most of his time at Wabash Valley Correctional Facility in Carlisle, Indiana. “I designed the logo that I put on my shirts.”
Rhodes also educated himself. He earned a bachelor’s degree in organizational management from Grace College. He earned an associate’s degree in general studies from Indiana State. He received graphic design certification from Vincennes University.
“He got himself educated while he was in there,” said Fort Myers Mayor Kevin Anderson, who was introduced to Rhodes by Fort Myers city council member Teresa Watkins Brown. “That right there said to me that this guy is serious about a life change. When you see someone who’s that serious, how can you not get behind him?
“My hope is that one day, we’re going to hold him up as such a great success story. And on both sides of the street. And what I mean by that is by showing other people in that situation that you can get out of it. And also by showing people who are reluctant to give people a second chance, how it is so worth it, giving that person another chance.”
Most of the women who will be modeling the clothes are from Fort Myers. But Rhodes did recruit Kimberly Brown, who has professional modeling experience. She is the daughter of Pro Football Hall of Fame running back Jim Brown.
“His journey has been a triumph,” Brown said of Rhodes. “To overcome being in prison and coming out and creating his own business. It’s his love, and it’s his passion. It’s admirable. I think he’s an inspiration to other men and other women who have been locked up and been able to overcome the obstacles of not being able to find employment. But also to able to create his own masterpiece.”
Bringing in the models, securing the art center as a venue and marketing his line of products, none of it was easy, Rhodes said.
He received a $2,500 contribution from the city of Fort Myers’ Community Redevelopment Agency. The grant went toward Friday’s event. “It’s not cheap at all,” Rhodes said. “We’re getting sponsors. We’ve had some great sponsors.”
The path to post-prison success wasn’t exactly easy, Rhodes said. “I have had some doors closed because of me being incarcerated, because of me being on probation. Some jobs weren’t hiring me. I went through the process of just getting something. I needed to get some work credit.”
Rhodes found it with Badcock Home Furniture, first as a delivery man making $12 to $14 an hour. “Then they wanted me to be a sales associate,” he said. “Then they moved me to a new store out in Lehigh. They promoted me to a sales lead.”
But for as much as Rhodes needed the job, he needed more time to devote to his fashion line, which prompted him to resign from the furniture store this year. “On January 4 I stopped working there,” he said. “I knew I was going to be an entrepreneur. I had to elevate myself to this passion.”
Focusing on fashion full time has made all the difference, Rhodes said. “We want to build a fashion empire for the Fort Myers community. This also makes me the first African-American designer to have a fashion show at Sydney Berne Davis. We’ll have a high-level of production. My purpose is to be an example to this community.”
Admission to the fashion show is $85.