Prescott native Emma Kay Riley is a statuesque, poised and energetic young woman with sparkle.
At age 20, the 2017 Prescott High School graduate is an Arizona State University junior with a double major in justice studies and human development who this year launched a nonprofit, online luxury jewelry business aimed at promoting women’s charities. She hopes to graduate a year early so she can pursue gemology at the same time as she is kicking off a modeling career.
With the university now back in session, the six-foot-tall brunette with her mix of aspirations is keeping a whirlwind schedule – and she has far from lost her “sparkle” amid the heat, the hustle and the spotlight.
“I’m trying to figure out how to meld it all,” Emma said as her face breaks into a cheek-to-cheek smile. “I like to have my fingers in a lot of pies.”
Emma’s latest endeavor is one even a year ago might have earned a shrug off her tall shoulders – but now has her rethinking at least her immediate future: on Oct. 3 to Oct. 5 Emma will be one of the Top 40 runway models for the 2019 Phoenix Fashion Week at the Talking Stick Resort in Scottsdale, the most prestigious fashion design event in the Southwest.
A fan of Project Runway and America’s Next Top Model when she was younger, Emma never imagined herself as such a celebrity.
In high school, Emma immersed herself in scholastic and extracurricular life. She was president of the Mock Trial Club and an officer with Future Business Leaders of America where at one competition she won the interviewing category. She was involved in Spirit Weeks even as she worked as a head lifeguard at the Prescott YMCA.
Emma’s grandmother, Barbara Riley, taught her to sew at a young age, and so in her spare time she often would make her own clothes, and regularly created her own Halloween costumes.
“There was not a lot of downtime in her life,” said her mother, KayAnne Riley, a Prescott Realtor, who recalled her daughter tagging along with her to community theater events. Emma was a backstage fixture, she said.
Modeling didn’t become something she even considered until after she got to college.
In her first two years at ASU, Emma was hired to work full-time as a “brand ambassador” for a Phoenix-based food company. She saw this “modeling” work more as a means to pay tuition and rent than as a potential career. Then early in the year she was selected to be a headline model for a bridal exposition, her first runway show.
She was encouraged to consider auditioning for Phoenix Fashion Week.
With no expectations, Emma entered a field of hundreds. So she and her mother, KayAnne Riley, a Prescott Realtor, were beyond elated when she was picked for the show.
“We’re still just over the moon about it,” said Riley, who raised Emma as a single mother with the help of her own mother, Barbara Riley.
To Riley, the Phoenix Fashion Week show is a chance for her daughter to sparkle the way she wants to help other women sparkle in their lives.
Emma’s non-profit that is a work-in-progress is one she devised to be a showcase for female jewelers who in selling their products benefit underprivileged, impoverished or otherwise defeated women. She hopes she can segue modeling, and future studies in gemology, into the charity.
On a study abroad last summer, Emma said she was mistaken for a model when she was checking into a hotel in Prague. Her stay coincided with the Prague Fashion Week
Though she got a chuckle over it at the time, Emma now thinks it might be worth a try – right now the modeling door for her appears to be wide open.
“Now I’m just having a lot of fun, but I still want to do it right,” said Emma who admits she is willing to pursue professional modeling as yet another avenue to promote women.
Once Fashion Week ends, Emma intends to take on her next challenge: auditioning for one of the Miss Arizona scholarship competitions.
Her former YMCA aquatics supervisor Kelly Winkels said she was unaware Emma was involved in modeling. But she finds it “awesome” she is taking advantage of this opportunity.
“She is beautiful inside and out. I can see it being a total fit for her,” Winkels said.
“She’s always been a go-getter,” her mother declared. Not everyone comes from a wealthy family, but everyone can find ways to accomplish what they want to do. And Emma has.
“It’s fun to be her Mom.”