The Rio Branner Story
The year is 1995, and a high school senior sits in the principal’s office. Some parents are concerned about her contributions to the high school fashion show; mini-skirts, fishnets and vinyl. It’s bold fashion for a small, rural city. But Rio Branner persevered, and her first small collection made it to the runway.
After graduation, Rio moved to Victoria, BC. She worked at a high-end retail shop by day and created fashion accessories by night. Rio's supportive boss recognized her sensational instincts and offered valued mentorship. Meanwhile, sales of her handmade goods took off, and in 1998, Rio quit her job to become a full-time designer and maker.
For over two decades, Rio Branner designed fashion accessories for people who appreciate handmade and love, fabulous, one-of-a-kind style. Her use of unique, reclaimed materials became a signature part of her work and inspiration; discarded leather jackets were transformed into stylish handbags, and vintage wallpaper became statement earrings.
Rio’s love of hats was reignited in 2011 with the royal wedding of Catherine Middleton and Prince William. Wedding guests rocked countless fabulous headpieces, but one particular hat caught Rio’s eye; Phillip Treacy’s modern ‘pretzel’ creation, worn by Princess Beatrice. It inspired Rio’s full turn towards headwear, and she expanded her accessories design business to include fascinators.
By 2018, the call to millinery became too loud to ignore. A determined Rio began a substantial investment into the tools, rare vintage hat blocks and materials required for the specialized millinery trade. She bought up dozens of vintage and antique hats, adding the most impressive to her private collection and setting aside the damaged and dated pieces to be reworked into something new and fabulous. Then, in 2020, she registered with the Hat Academy of Australia and began her formal training in millinery. After receiving her completion certificate in early 2021, Rio set her sights on the next goal—a hat shop of her own.
Rio Branner, Milliner & Merchant opened its doors in Spring 2022. Located in downtown Kelowna, the boutique is the culmination of Rio’s decades as a successful designer, artisan and businesswoman. The welcoming store showcases Rio Branner originals, Canadian-made hats and select global brands like Kangol and Bailey. A champion of fabulousness, Rio Branner, Milliner & Merchant also stocks handmade artisan jewelry, personal and beauty products, vintage costume jewelry and more.