Perhaps the boldest moment of Donna Ricco’s career in fashion came before she even had a career at all—when she made the decision to move to New York City shortly after graduating from Mount Mary University. Without a job, on faith alone.

“The truth is,” says Donna, “I came to Mount Mary not knowing where I would go in life. But Mount Mary really helped me understand that I had a passion for fashion and the ambition to do something right away. So I left Milwaukee without a job, without a place to live, and moved to New York, because it’s the capital of fashion.”

As a student, Donna took full advantage of Mount Mary’s strong ties to the New York fashion scene, making lasting connections with legendary fashion designers like Charles John Kleibacker and Steven Stipelman. She also traveled to New York as an undergrad on a weeklong school-sponsored trip that gave her a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the industry and a taste of the city.

“I was so inspired by all the opportunities I was given at Mount Mary,” says Donna. “They gave me the tools, provided the education, and really the sense of boldness to make the move to New York. I thought I’d get a job in the industry and ended up starting my own company.”

Donna sold her first dress to a small boutique and turned her NYC apartment into a studio. It was only a matter of time before her designs were carried by Nordstrom, Macy’s, JC Penny, Lord & Taylor, Dillard’s – practically every major store in every city across the United States.  

“There’s nothing more exhilarating,” says Donna, “than seeing one of my dresses on another woman. But It’s never been about the dress for me. It’s always been about the woman. How it makes her look, how it makes her feel. When she walks into a room, I don’t want her to hear, That’s a great dress. But rather, You look great in that dress.”

One woman who looked great in a Ricco design was First Lady Michelle Obama, when she appeared on The View in 2008 wearing a black-and-white, high-waisted Donna Ricco.

“My phone immediately started ringing off the hook,” says Donna, who had to hire a publicist to navigate all the interview requests suddenly pouring in. “The beauty of that experience, was that it happened naturally. I had no idea she was going to wear one of my dresses! She bought it off the rack, which says so much about what I’d been trying to accomplish my whole career.”

Donna designed dresses fit for the everywoman: affordable and flattering. Dresses for middle America. (“I’m from Milwaukee, after all,” she says.) Her inspiration comes from watching women go about their day.

“Every woman should look great in the clothing she wears,” says Donna. “And it’s my role as a fashion designer to make her choice as simple as possible.”

“I’ve had a long career as a designer,” she continues. “What Mount Mary did for me is bring all the stuff I had inside of me … the passion, the ambition, the tools … to the surface to help me achieve my career in fashion. Inspiration, I’ve learned, is a tool provided by education. And Mount Mary gave me what I needed to help me take my career to the next level. Mount Mary helped me become who I was always meant to be.”

Here’s to the bold.