Hopeless and homeless are two words Nadia Rutherford uses to describe her past, but those words quickly turned into her motivation to create a brighter future. At just age 3, Rutherford was thrown into the foster system in Florida. Now, the entrepreneur and philanthropist stops at nothing to motivate others to keep pushing for the best version of themselves.
Naida Rutherford owns her boutique, Styled by Naida, that aims to make people feel confident and empowered merely by what they have on. She strives for positivity and motivation daily, but it was not always that easy. Rutherford recalls her days in foster care when her foster mom mistreated her. “I looked different than the other kids,” Rutherford said.
She remembers having to sleep outside some nights and not getting to eat dinner on other nights. “I had to deal with a lot of verbal and mental abuse,” Rutherford said. Right after high school, Rutherford’s foster mom sent her packing with nothing but the clothes on her back.
Stranded and disheartened, Rutherford said she relied on her kind heart to keep her going. People in her community knew Rutherford was a good child so they allowed her to stay on their couches. “People gave me what they could,” Rutherford said. “But ultimately it was me, and I did not have anything.”
Rutherford recalls the day her life changed drastically. She traveled to Benedict College because her friend had an audition for the track team. The coach took great interest in Rutherford after her friend’s mother advocated for her. Instantly, she made the team and gained a full athletic scholarship to Benedict College. “I was given an opportunity to better myself and my life,” Rutherford said.
Even with a full scholarship, Rutherford could not afford the necessities of being a full-time college student. She made friends with the cafeteria employees, so they gave her a loaf of bread from time to time.
Rutherford recalls sitting down after class one day and thinking about her future, “I could have been just another girl who got lost in the shuffle.” That was a huge turning point in her life. “I knew what I had to do and what I wanted to accomplish in my life,” she said.
Rutherford came to the school with nothing and left with a degree in biology; she said those years at Benedict College remarkably influenced her life.
Rutherford is aware that children everywhere are going through the same hardships she went through and worse. She wants to influence kids to take advantage of the opportunities that come their way. “Most kids succumb to that environment and choose to live with that hurt and pain,” Rutherford said. “But, they don’t have to stay that way.”
She wants to be a voice of hope and reason for people who fail to live up to their potential and emphasize how important being brave is. “Bravery only exists in the atmosphere of fear,” Rutherford said.
Just like that, her mantra was born: you don’t have to look like what you have been through.
A longtime friend of Rutherford, Latasha Sauders, said Rutherford had been the same authentic person since the day she met her. “Her testimony about her being homeless and how she uses clothes to make people feel good is very inspiring,” Sauders said.
Styled By Naida is a thrift shop that Rutherford created to share fashion at an affordable price. Growing up, Rutherford said she always wore second-hand clothing, but when she could afford clothes, she still chose to shop at thrift stores. “There is just something beautiful about taking something that someone else threw away and finding beauty in it,” Rutherford said. She found passion in helping people in the community feel beautiful and inspired by clothes. “In many ways, I feel like I have been up-cycled into the woman I am today,” Rutherford said. “At some point, I was also trash to someone.”
It is not just about the clothes for Rutherford. She formed her own nonprofit dedicated to empower less fortunate communities. She strives to educate them about the importance of professional dress and self-awareness. “It does not matter if you are 5 or 95,” Rutherford said. “We try to teach you how to present your best self always.”
Rutherford’s goal is to use her foundation to teach people how to compartmentalize, prioritize, and find the help they need. “Dress the way you want to be addressed,” Rutherford said.
For Rutherford, the clothes are just an outside element; the key is to help people to self reflect on their positives no matter what they have been through while pushing forward to feel the best they can feel.
Long time customer of Rutherford, MaryLou Stinson said Rutherford helped her become a force in her world. “I am 45-years-old and very curvy,” Stinson said. “I had never felt more confident and beautiful when Naida styled me.”
Rutherford hopes to establish a closet in every college campus where students can go to and get free clothing items. “I want to lighten the load of any student who wants to make something of themselves,” Rutherford said. She hopes people can use resources to their advantage and learn to dress up for careers they are hoping to get.
Rutherford is working on raising money to help her reach these goals, and she plans to increase awareness so she can provide this service she thinks is necessary everywhere. “There is beauty in repair and fixing the old while presenting it in a new way,” Rutherford said. “We can up-cycle people and help people find a purpose.”
Along with improving her business, Rutherford said she has personal goals she is working on like becoming more organized and trying to find a better process to handle her busy life. “I think I have everything figured out, but I always switch up last minute,” Rutherford said.
Styled by Naida is located at 607 Lady Street; Any purchase made at the thrift store will provide a 1$ donation for every $10 purchase made to The Styled By Naida scholarship fund.
For more information on Naida Rutherford and her mission, visit StyledbyNaida.com.