Interview: Nikki Marie

Is there anything more special than a dress that was literally made for you? Doubtful. It's not something you typically see every day so when I found Nikki Marie and her made-to-order vintage-inspired dresses, I couldn't believe how beautiful her pieces are.

Filled with gorgeous prints and sweet accessories, it's immediately clear how much care Nikki puts into the items she makes. It's brands like these that remind me why it's so important to support small businesses over fast fashion. Shopping at a big retailer would never give you the same feeling of putting on a dress made from good quality materials and constructed specifically for you in mind. And buying from one of those places would never allow you to support someone so passionate about her what. From reading Nikki's answers to my interview questions, what struck me the most was 1. how much passion she's put into turning her work into a career and 2. the community she's cultivated through it. I love how she's utilized loved ones and friends to grow her business and how she's currently connecting with customers on Instagram. Starting a business can be a lonely, thankless job for some, but Nikki is proof that it doesn't have to be. I hope you enjoy her story as much as I did, and I know you'll be drooling over her gorgeous retro pieces the same way I did too.

Q: Let’s start from the beginning. Can you tell me a little bit about the process of starting your business? What made you want to do this and how did you turn your idea into a reality?

A: I have always had a love of fashion since I can remember as a little girl. I love how fashion can take you to another planet and make your day brighter. I wanted to make clothing for all women to feel confident and happy. I started my business in 2012 right after graduating from West Valley College with my degree in Fashion Design. Lucky for me my boyfriend at the time (now husband) had his business in IT for almost ten years. He helped build my first website and we would do photoshoots in his office inside his parents' house of garments I would create. Also, being the daughter of very self-driven parents really helped shaped me into the hardworking boss lady I am today. Like any business story, I really didn’t start making money until just five years ago. When I moved up to Sonoma County from the Bay Area six years ago, my whole life changed for the better. There is a sense of community here and a lot of women that are very supportive. The first boutique I sold my garments to was through Mad Mod Shop, my friend and fellow boss lady Andrea Hoogendorn. It was the perfect match since her boutique is all vintage inspired and perfectly curated for the 1950s/1960s fashion enthusiast. I’ve met clients and friends for life through San Diego Fashion Week. I am forever grateful for meeting Amy Schaus who did an article about me in Sonoma Magazine for the 2016 article “Two Local Fashion Lines to Add to Your Must-Check-Out List.”

Through there, I met her friend Malia Anderson, Sonoma County’s Stylist for all. Malia took me under her wings as her Tailor for her clients. Then from there I built relationships with these clients. It was like an amazing domino effect. Then these clients started ordering custom dresses from me. I would and still cry with joy! I get to do what I love everyday.

Really amazing because just before I started my business in 2012 I went through what I call a “quarter life crisis.” I didn’t like my retail job, my living situation and how I was being treated at the time, but being the doormat that I was, I didn’t speak up. So like a soda under pressure, I kept it all bottled inside. Then one day I just snapped. Something I wouldn’t recommend, but I quit my horrible retail job on the spot and never looked back. I literally felt like a million bricks had been lifted off my shoulders. I finally realized why my whole life I would get sick at parties or stomach aches. I have anxiety and also needed a backbone!

Thankfully, my husband had experienced it all with his personal story so he knew what to do. We got the help I needed and now I am able to holistically take care of my mind through therapy when I see fits, nature walks and my favorite is weight lifting. I also learned that it’s ok to say no. Repeat after me, IT’S OK TO SAY NO! Also, surround yourself with good vibes. I can’t stress this enough. Toxic people are going to pollute your dreams. Have a group that is rooting for you and if that’s only you, that’s ok too!

I’ve always worked full-time retail jobs anywhere from Nordstrom to a local boutique to pay for my fashion books and supplies. I’ve had my share of many failures, but I never let that keep me knocked out. I always got back up and used those failures as lessons.

Q: What was your first product to take off or find enough success that you were encouraged to do more?

A: The first products that took off were from my Spring 2015 collection I showed at San Diego Fashion Week. The Sid Top in the orange diamond jacquard knitted crew neck sweater crop top and the Katarina Skirt with the blue and orange version of the diamond jacquard knit. They later went on to sell through Mad Mod Shop and we gained popularity from there.

Q: What were your friends and family’s reactions to you starting a business? Were you nervous to share it?

A: My family was a mixed bag when I first said, “I’m getting my degree in Fashion Design.” My dad didn’t get it. He thought I needed to get a degree in Business, which is funny because it is a business. But now he sees I have made a successful business out of my love of fashion so he understands it now. My sister and mom were very supportive. My whole extended family has been supportive from the start. My aunt even hosted a pop-up trunk show at her house. My friends and family have modeled for me at shows when models flake. My family and friends buy my art now which is the biggest compliment! My best friend of 19 years has always been there for me. She keeps bugging me to name a dress after her. I just haven’t gotten the right inspiration yet. I want it to be perfect. I’ve lost a few friends along the way that told me I was too “colorful” or had a “weird last name.” You know things people say when they are trying to dim your light. That’s life! Also, I have tried to surround myself with women that run their own shows too. I always like to learn to be better at my craft.

Q: How long did it take you to transition into a full-time job?

A: I left my last job of being a host for Willy’s Seafood in Healdsburg, California three years ago. What a wonderful last job before I transitioned into full-time with my company. All so supportive and it was a great experience to be around business owners that treat their employees kindly. I used to wear my colorful creations and have my business cards in my pocket. Whenever a guest would comment where I got my dress or outfit, I would hand out a card. I still till this day always hand out a card when I get compliments on my outfit or style.

Q: What are some of the pros and cons of creating items made to order?

A: Pros: Better for the environment, no inventory taking up a small workspace, the item is made with love and special attention for each client, the garment fits better and less need for alterations, you can say it’s couture baby! Textiles are printed on demand, you know who is sewing your garment or accessory and know that they are in healthy conditions

Cons: Buying fabric by the yard is more expensive since most is printed on demand, not all shoppers like to wait 4-6 weeks for a garment to be made and with wedding gowns it’s longer, profit is lower because of shoppers not willing to wait or end up buying from overseas (my biggest frustration lately), competition manufacturers garments so they can ship quicker

Q: Now that retro and vintage inspired styles have become more popular, what do you do to try to stand out amongst other retro brands?

A: I recently revamped my instagram, where I get the majority of my sales, by introducing a weekly fashion history lesson, sketching for fun, having the audience choose what I should style for Pink Friday, and Pink Friday styling video with either a garment or accessory from our shop. I try to post in my stories what I work on during the week and it can include alterations I think would be helpful for my seamstress followers and also interesting for everyone else to see that I make everything by hand. I have been getting requests for a sewing channel so maybe soon I will try that out. I just try to be my pink colorful original self and promote positivity. I would like to see more diversity with sizing and any human being wearing my designs would be marvelous.

Q: What do you wish more people knew about running a small business?

A: It’s not easy and that I am not a bank! Haha it’s the truth with mostly alterations. It’s frustrating when you work so hard and someone thinks it’s ok to not pay you for your work. It has happened more times than I would like to admit. But you just gotta keep moving forward. Also, if you are looking to start a business, please have a clear vision in mind. It took me some years to get there. Set goals every year and once you check them off, keep setting new ones. It is not easy running a business, you work long hours, have to work every day and you continuously question whether you're insane or not for starting it in the first place. However, the PROS outweighs the CONS. You get to do what you love everyday and every day is a learning experience. You get to meet amazing people once you let your walls down and be confident in what you and your business stand for.

Q: Favorite item in your shop currently?

A: The Marilyn Leopard Dress! I love that it’s a coral leopard print and so fun and vibrant. Also, the cotton sateen is so comfortable. I love dresses. I take a dress anyday over pants. haha!

Q: What goals do you have for your business going forward?

A: I would like to become the next Betsey Johnson Dior. Have an atelier with a whole team to create couture gowns, dresses and outfits that are fun and eco-friendly. Continue the tailoring business to provide help all throughout the state and possibly the USA. I would like to dress Gwen Stefani and Lizzo, and many other boss ladies.

Q: Lastly, let’s spread the love. What are a few of your favorite small shops owned by women that you personally shop from?

A: Mad Mod Shop, Declarative, Revel Floral Shop SF

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