$30 Gifts That Give Back

No sooner had our pumpkin’s faces decayed to zombie status than the post-Thanksgiving deals starting singing their Siren song. Ready or not, Christmas consumerism has landed. The wreaths and red and white streamers have descended upon every entity with a cash register, and they mean to say one thing. Green light, Go. …START SHOPPING NOW!!! BUUUYYY STUFFFF!!!

So, how do we keep our hearts full of cheer, love and charity, when we spend so much of the holiday season fulfilling our gift obligations? In other words, how can we take some of the materialism out of giving material objects?

As a savvy blogger and boutique owner, I’m entrepreneurially encouraged to offer you a Holiday Gift Guide. I’m sure you’ve seen a few already– Here’s how mine is different:

1. Nothing is sponsored. Oh really, the perfect Christmas gift is this random major brand’s make-up remover?
(ok, there are a few Catherine Nicole items.)
2. Everything is more or less $30. Perhaps you have a few $100 people in your life, but I’ve decided that +/- $30 is the perfect amount for a lot of people on our lists.
3. The included gift ideas ALL benefit a philanthropic effort.

$30 Gifts That Give Back
PIN, SHARE and SUPPORT philanthropic businesses!!!

Star light
tenthousandvillages.com

Rectangle tray
noondaycollection.com

Wooden bowl
tenthousandvillages.com

Kitchen gadgets tool
tenthousandvillages.com

Metal vase
tenthousandvillages.com

Tassels home decor
noondaycollection.com

Star ornament
tenthousandvillages.com

Leather bag
ssekodesigns.com

Leather bag
oliberte.com

Evening bag
burtsbees.com

Earrings
catherinenicole.com

Serpent Ring
catherinenicole.com

Kara Earrings in Oxblood
catherinenicole.com

Gold Square Studs
catherinenicole.com

Krochet Kids Intl.
krochetkids.org

Assorted Blue Petal Bowls
tenthousandvillages.com

Bossypants
betterworldbooks.com

How to Start a Small Retail Business

I received an email last night from a friend who wants to start a small retail business and doesn’t know where to begin. As I mentally contrived a response, I realized that you, dear reader, may also be interested in my two-cents. My business has undergone many many incarnations. In fact, at some point, it’s been almost every version of a retail business (a brick and mortar shop, an art show booth, an international wholesale line, a studio, a Mercedes Benz Fashion Week participant, a pop-up shop, and primarily an e-commerce boutique).

My current studio- 2014

At Parsons, where I studied fashion design, I was under the impression that everyone had a shared goal of launching their own fashion line and seeing grand global success with it. Several years later (three years after I started my business, to be precise), it didn’t occur to me to think smaller than that. Why wouldn’t I want my jewelry sold all over the world and making magazine cameos? So, I sent press kits across the country and met with some of the top fashion magazines (always in my $30 H&M dress and my sister’s heels which I swiftly removed the moment I walked out the building). I called stores and magazines all day and travelled the country, meeting with boutiques and setting up booths at the Fashion Markets. I briefly worked with a PR company and sent samples of my laboriously handmade jewelry for them to loan to TV shows and stylists that may (or, more likely, may not) use them. And it worked. But it was EX-PEN-SIVE. Very expensive. And what rookie designers don’t realize, is that many (let’s be honest, most) small fashion houses, launch with a hefty sum of money and a connected network of contacts. This is what the first year of my wholesale business included:

The contents of my first press kit:
-A glossy folder with my logo printed on it. ($200-$400 for folders, cards, etc..)
-A Designer Bio (free)
-Line Sheets, with of photo of each style and the item’s details. This requires graphic design knowledge. (Price depends on what you need to hire out. I do my own product photography and graphic design work).
-A Look Book or Catalog [The photoshoot alone cost about $2000 (model, photographer, hair/make-up), and the printing was almost $4000]

Life at Catherine NicolePhotoshoot for Look Book 2007
Look Book CoverLook Book Cover

Wholesale markets:
You have to apply, and the booth fees are about $2500+, plus participation fees which are similarly priced. You then need signage, displays, etc.. And you’re competing against lines with custom booths that look like permanent stores that miraculously manifest the night before the show and vanish within two hours of the show’s end. You also need to factor in the price of travel, accommodations, food, flights, car rental, etc.. It honestly cost about $7000 per show to have a pretty basic booth. I cringe at the picture below, knowing how much sleeker I would make it now.

My booth at an Accessories show in New York- 2008

Showrooms:
A showroom is a company that has better access to stores and buyers than you do. You still have to pay show fees at Market, but you probably have better booth placement and they ostensibly will connect you to press and buyers. A good showroom will make connections and open accounts year round, not just during Market. They charge a monthly fee plus a percentage of your wholesale cost, which is generally half of the retail price of your goods.

PR Company:
If you really want to make it big, you need to get your name out there and get your product seen and validated. The most popular decoration for a Market booth is press clippings engulfing the walls or shelves and indicating to new exhibiters that press is more important than product. A PR company can help expedite the process of getting press, but it’s a very expensive risk that may not work.

A good fashion PR company costs about $2000+ per month and you need to give them at least one sample of each item in your collection. This was difficult for me because two of us were making everything by hand at a big expense to myself. The PR company’s other clients mainly outsourced mass production overseas and were less concerned by items that went missing. For example, I would get a call that a popular tv show wants to borrow several pieces that they may use in their next episode, but they would not be returning samples. Another time I was told that an actress wanted some earrings for the Emmy Awards, but didn’t want to reveal the color of her dress (which means I would have to send a lot of color options and had zero direction). Keep in mind, they are simultaneously borrowing from other sources. Now this is certainly not always the case. Doing my own PR, I’ve worked with great stylists and media outlets that treat my product with great care and return it promptly. I’m just aiming to reveal some of the realities behind the PR promises.


Most of these were garnered by our in-house press outreach – 2008/9

SOOO, this is where I was. I had skimmed the surface of all of this. I had the door cracked open, and I basically needed to decide whether or not to walk through. Walking through would entail continuing at this expense level for quite a bit loger. I would need a lot more money, more help, and would likely need to eventually fabricate my product overseas. Or not, but either way, I needed to really want it and really commit to it. But I didn’t really want that. I would leave the New York shows, drive to my family in Connecticut, put on sweatpants and spend the rest of the evening trying to feel like myself again. Then I’d go to Market again the next day with my Fashion-face on. I missed the small store I had opened in Savannah 3 years earlier. I missed my sweet customers who were so excited about their purchases and the idea that I made a piece longer or shorter right in front of them. That I wrapped it up in special packaging, and they would always remember that they bought it from a jeweler in Savannah, in her cute studio boutique.

Thankfully for the future of Catherine Nicole, the economy collapsed (this was 2008) and the decision was out of my hands. I would not work with PR companies, showrooms, or do any Markets that year. I would focus on my new home city, Austin TX, and ride out the economic downturn without taking any big risks. It worked. I was soon consigning my product in 15 Austin stores (which is a lot, considering you can only sell in one store per neighborhood, and Austin isn’t that big). I continued to wholesale to national and international buyers who sought-out my line. I participated in events, shows, built relationships with local media and won People Choice for Best Designer at the city’s first Fashion Week.

Store event 2009
Catherine Nicole RunwayRunway Show 2009
Austin Fashion Week Red CarpetAustin Fashion Week – 2009
Austin Fashion AwardsAustin Fashion Awards – 2009
Good Day AustinHorrid picture from a TV interview – 2010
Austin Fashion Week 2010Store event – 2010
Austin Fashion WeekStore event 2011

But I still missed my customers. I spent a lot of time chasing down money, and I didn’t have any control over my customers’ experience with my work. How was it displayed? Did they keep it clean? What did the stores tell the customer about it? How did they package it? I also felt the need to have my work be of some use to the world. If I sold it myself, I could apply some of the extra profit to a needy and important cause. So, I decided to stop consigning, to not pursue any wholesale (other than accounts that seek me out) and to sell it myself, make the world better, yada yada.

No more fashion markets, runway shows, PR events. Just me and my customer and an extra $5 per item to help impoverished girls become entrepreneurs. This is what feels right for me. I don’t feel like I’m peeling off a mask when I come “home” from work (or walk down the hall, as the case may be). I may not see my customers face-to-face as I did in my Savannah store, but I’m connected to people all over the world and have full-control over how I present my work, myself, and my company’s values. Instead of starting small and growing the business, I started big. I got a good look at what that would feel like, and it just felt wrong. Wrong for the fabrication of my product and wrong for my personality and my lifestyle. When I thought about what would feel most authentic and inspiring to me thirty years down the road, I imagined myself creating new work by hand and packaging it up for the person who would wear it. In my fantasy I’m wearing comfortable clothes and a headscarf and am surrounded by the colors and memories that fill my converted garage studio.

So here’s my advice, Megan (who wanted tips to starting a business)– Think about what kind of business model fits best with who you are and your lifestyle. For example, 5 years ago, I knew I wanted to start having children. A lot of the choices I’ve made for my business have been ones to best accommodate that. I also really missed working directly with my customers. So, e-commerce with some wholesale (without the shows) has been a perfect fit for me.

For others, however, wholesale markets are fun, exciting and a great way to connect with stores all over the world. Designers like running into industry friends and visiting the cities that hold them. People feel a similar camaraderie who participate in art shows and craft fairs. Just keep in mind that you WILL have moments when no one is in your booth and the booth next to you is kicking ass.

And if, like me, you want to pursue your retail dream in the e-commerce sphere, what next? Where do you begin? My advice is to choose a low-barrier-to-entry marketplace, like Etsy, Cafe Press, Scout Mob. For starters you need a name, a logo, good photographs of your work, multiple photographs of your product. But customers are not going to know you’re there just because you have product available for purchase on the internet. At least not without an obscene amount of effort on your part, or a really unique product.  A lot of your business is going to be about building a community. Joining Etsy Teams, interacting with people, getting involved on Pinterest… these are all ways to promote your brand. If you want to create your own marketplace, it’s the same deal. Unless you sell a really unusual, specific and search-friendly product (antique phonographs, for example), your store needs to constantly be at work. But if you’re willing to do it, it’s the best, and it’s fantastic to a have a business agile enough to make changes with our swiftly changing world.

Savannah City MarketMy original studio – 2004
Catherine Nicole PhotoshootPreparing to launch my debut collection- 2007
070519_17Working from the Airstream trailer where I travelled and lived for most of 2007
Catherine Nicole StudioMy current studio
Catherine Nicole JewelryMy current studio
Catherine Nicole JewelryMy current studio

Questions? Comments?

Kids Fall Style Guide: Tots Edition

If you have little children, particularly ones that just went back to school, pre-k or daycare, you’ve probably found that your fall fashion budget is destined for smaller people. Here’s my toddler fashion round-up and a glossary to online children stores for when you splurge beyond Carters and Target, but want something different than Janie and Jack.

Children's WearFrom MyLittleJules

Fall Fashion for the Little Ladies… 

Zara Kids- Ahhh, I’m so excited my kids fit into this now. I feel a little sick at how cheap some of it is though. I mean, you can buy a top with pin tucking, embellishments and hidden buttons for $7.90. That might be too cheap for my conscience.  Most of the really cute stuff, though, is about $25-$38.

Sweet William Ltd- This store carries a lot of great (and pricey brands). When you want to splurge, it’s a great site to wander.

Kickee Pants- This brand is great for newborns. The fabric is crazy soft and it stretches as your baby grows. It’s like buying the same piece for 3 sizes.

Baby Gap- My top pick for boy clothes. I’m not into clothes with sayings like “Cool Dude” and “Totally Adorable” (you can tell that by looking at my kids!), and I’m not one to offer my children as walking billboards for cartoons they’ve never seen. I like how BabyGap keeps it classic kid with good design.

Tea Collection- My sister would be disappointed if I didn’t include this shop. Great for comfy bohemian play dresses.

H&M Kids- I love their boys clothes, especially their sweaters and henleys.

Ralph Lauren Baby- Another good one for infants. Obviously pricey, but great from some special pieces.

BodenCrew Cuts (J.Crew), Crazy 8Old Navy

What else am I forgetting??? Please comment if you have any other favorites..

Culture and Counterculture of Women for the Past 100 Years

I want to share with you this cool project I came across from 16-year old photographer, Annalisa Hartlaub. She examined the looks of popular culture and counterculture, decade by decade, and reveals her findings to us in a series of self portraits.

Annalisa Hartlaub1920s: Mainstream vs. Flapper (photos by Annalisa Hartlaub)

Annalisa-Hartlaub1960s: Mainstream vs. Hippie (photos by Annalisa Hartlaub)

Check the whole series out HERE!!

The Truth About Mom Jeans

Hi Readers!

I’m back from maternity leave (again) and ready to dive back into our style chats… starting with the apropos topic of Mom Jeans. A lot has changed in my world (and in my body) recently… specifically pregnancies, hormones, childbirths, and the doors closing on my youth. As anyone who’s been there can tell you, none of these things are designed to keep you looking hot.

twenties

“Oh we’re so free and light and can wear whatever we want, and are totally ungrateful for our perky boobs and stellar metabolism.”

thirties with kids

Unless you’re Elle McPherson (bottom right), you may be feeling more constrained. You need structure to hide your rolls and you’re not trying to allow anything to reveal itself by a gust of wind or a bending movement.

Thankfully, however, I discovered something amazing on a post-partem shopping excursion for jeans ….{drumroll}….  The reprise of the high-waisted jean.

high-waisted-jeans

……….
(TopShop and Urban Outfitters even have a “Mom Jean” now, but I didn’t include them… They’re too ironic-mom for my taste)
……….

Ahhh, glorious jean that sucks in our bellies right at their fattest point. It lifts and hugs our butts to display them like Vanna White proudly directing our eyes to a new sports car. It shapes us like we are meant to be shaped, for all our curves and womanhood. It tributes our waist at it’s smallest circumference. And we can bend over without showing thongs that makes us look slutty, briefs that make us look frumpy, or that tramp stamp we got 15 years ago, before it became a thing.

High-Waisted Jeans
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High-Waisted Jeans
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High-Waisted Jeans
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High-Waisted Jeans
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What took so long? Why have we been walking around with flat butts and muffin tops, trying to look like ravers? Ok, I may specifically be talking to my own age group right now. At any rate, the low waisted jean needs a break, as all trends do, and they just aren’t as feminine.
low-rise

I’m not talking about your average Mom-Jean, people…

“Give her something that says, ‘I’m not a woman anymore; I’m a mom'”.. Oh no, no, no.. No, we’re not talking pleats, elastic waists, and bland color washes. We’re talking about a Marilyn look.

So bend over to pick up your little people or strut around in heels, knowing that you look like a woman. The Mom Jean doesn’t have to be an out-dated wash, baggy on the butt, and no shape. You can flatter and embrace your new body, and look glamorous doing it.

xoxo

Catherine

Amy Poehler cool mom

…Thoughts? Comments please!

Snowy Days Gettin’ You Down?

I know, its cold and grey in most of the country, and you’re over it. Just go with it, rock it out for work, add a happy pop of color, and know that Downton Abby and your sweatpants await when you get home.Grey Days

Mini stocking
modcloth.com

Grey bootie boots
modcloth.com

Mixed Metal and Turquoise Cuff
$78 catherinenicole.com

Matte Silver Earrings
$40 catherinenicole.com

Fair Trade Skinny Silver Braided Cuff
$32 catherinenicole.com

To Thy Own Self Be True

Hello, readers! Have you missed me? Aside from filling orders, I’ve been busy child-rearing and other related activities. But I’ve missed you. So, let’s get back to it, shall we?

I’ve recently been thinking about a theme that often comes up for me in my line of work, and that’s the distinction between fashion and style. Have you ever looked at images like the ones below, and thought ‘That looks cool, but how does someone like me pull that off?’. The short answer is: In your own way.

Are the looks we like attainable?

Sadly and amazingly Fast Fashion stores have made most trends available to us. You may wonder if you know how to put these looks together and if you can pull it off. BUT what you should really be asking yourself is, should you? For example, I love girlie retro silhouettes, flirty skirts, and red lipstick, but none of those work on me. I feel like a kid itching her way through church clothes and ready to jump back into overalls and play. It’s just not me. I’ve grown to know my body and my boho style, and when I play to that, I feel much more confidant and sexy than when I try to make myself something I’m not.

On a Blog Vs. In Real Life
Fat Face tunic, $72 / Dorothy Perkins black jeans $39/ Steve Madden black boots $190/ Hobo handbag $389 / Ray-Ban sunglasses, $210

When you see a certain look in a magazine, blog, trashy celeb weekly, etc.. what is it that you like about it? What do you see of yourself in that look? In the look above, I like the cozy girl-next-door vibe of the big sweater, but the sexiness of everything else being sleek and revealed. Realistically, though, I’m not going to pick my son up from school in that outfit, and if I didn’t work in the fashion industry, I wouldn’t show up to work like that either. So you use the runways, magazines, and fashionistas as inspiration and translate the looks into something that works for your body, your personal style and your lifestyle.

On a Blog vs In Real Life
Sam&Lavi shirt top $112/ Moschino high waisted skirt $140/ Fogal black pantyhose / Ann Taylor pointy-toe pumps $128/ Zara black bowler bag $129/ iHeart slouch hat, $180

‘Fashion’ is a craze, a fad, and a business industry. ‘Style’ is a manner and an approach to that industry. Your style is how you make your physical look an extension of who you are. In the words of Mark Twain, “naked people have little or no influence on society”. So since you have to get dressed, make yourself feel the most bold, the most confident, and the most YOU that you can.

To Each Her Own

I was truly saddened by Fashionista’s “A Tale of Plastic Surgery, Scandal, and Pageant Prisoners” yesterday. The accompanying email features an image of the Miss Korea Pageant contestants, looking shockingly similar, and the article examines the plastic surgery epidemic that accounts for the clone-like results.

miss korea

They claim that double eyelid surgery has become so commonplace there, that Koreans hardly even consider it a surgery anymore. On further investigation, I came across a devastating picture, which I’ve decided not to post, of a once very beautiful woman who deformed herself by injecting cooking oil into her face.

What has become of our world when we’ve boiled down beauty to a look so specific, that we need to transcend ethnicity in order to achieve it? Don’t you remember those Benetton ads, when for a brief moment we lived in sweatshirts and celebrated the differences that our ethnicities bring to our face and world?

United Colors of Benetton

United Colors of Benetton Women

Personally, I look at the image of the Korean beauty pageant contestants, and I don’t know or care who’s the most beautiful. They’ve intentionally covered up all the character that I find most beautiful in a face. To me, there’s nothing sexier than a woman confidently laughing, or owning an unusual feature. Yes, the contestant are all exceedingly beautiful by modern standards, but what do they tell us about themselves?

Average Women Faces

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that I’m opposed to plastic surgery. In fact, I was in an accident when I when 19, and I gladly had a bump on my nose removed when the doctor fixed the adjacent bump from the accident. I asked the doctor if he could just give me a button nose while he was at it. He actually said no. He said that, while it would look pretty, I would no longer look like me.  I’ve never loved my nose, but he sure was right about that.

What I’m saying is, perhaps, we should just laugh a little more, rock out our gap teeth (in Lauren’s case) or a Jewish nose (in my own), and be thankful for the faces God/Nature/Ethnicity/Genetics/Life has given us.

Lauren Hutton Circa 1975
“I‘m not part of the cultural elite. I’m a down-home girl. Always have been, always will be.” – Lauren Hutton

($5 from every CatherineNicole.com sale helps turn impoverished girls into
entrepreneurs. Shop now and a donation will be made from your purchase!)

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