Designed Just for You

My biggest failure as a designer was the season I most closely followed the trends and most accurately created the IN jewelry of that moment. The problem was that the “Market” was not actually the consumer, as the term might suggest. Rather, it was the fashion industry (buyers, stylists, editors, PR companies, etc..). I created what they dictated and diverged from my bright, bohemian, and worldly aesthetic to compete in a marketplace that was oversaturated with the dainty chains of my significantly more established competitors.

Catherine Nicole 2008

The jewelry was fine, but I didn’t create it for the right reason. How can you be inspired when you’re creating for a marketplace rather than for real people? How can you create interesting work when you’re following a formula that everyone else is also following, but with more money and better connections?


Last week was New York Fashion Week and the fashion world was all aflutter. Were you? Did you even know it was going on? If not, here’s what you missed: lots of fur, front-row celeb toddlers, cartoonish accessories, and impractically-dressed girls lurking outside Lincoln Center hoping to be photographed. The images remind me of a time years ago when I was a fashion student in New York, and I was walking to lunch with my dad on the posh part of 5th Avenue. He looked at the avant-guard pieces in the windows of some high-end stores and guffed “Who wears that?!”. In a “geeze, Dad!” kind of way, I explained that it’s art and expression, blah blah blah. I don’t disagree with that notion, but I don’t feel the need to design for it either, because the fact is— I’m not designing for a window. I’m designing for you.


My customer usually isn’t a model, tv personality, or style blogger. She chooses pieces that feel like they’re meant for her; not for someone more fabulous, but for her. My customers are all fabulous… and sometimes short, busty, casual, glamorous, pregnant, or still trying to figure out their style. So why would I design for anyone else and, more importantly, why would I design the same thing that everyone else is putting out there? With that in mind, I am about to launch my newest line, debuting each piece as it’s ready and not waiting until the Fashion industry tells me it’s time for Pre-Fall or Resort or whatever season that has no bearing on jewelry. So stay tuned, and look out for the first piece next week.

In the meantime, here are some real Catherine Nicole customers…

Work-Life Balance and Crazy Ambition

The blessing-curse conundrum of  “entrepreneurship” (that word is so tired it needs quotational support) is that your schedule is often at the mercy of your capricious fingertips. When, additionally, you have children, property, pets and marriage in your loving care, the business must nudge it’s way through a pile of housework, activities, appointments and errands. Your pesky home and life duties don’t give a crap whether your primary vocation is Stay-at-Home, occupational, or in any gray cloud that hovers these two worlds. It just needs to get done.

Work-Life Balance“Maternity Leave”

Lisa Wareham created the podcast “Crazy Ambition” to help the Entrepreneur-Mother organize her overwhelming, exhausting, and messy life. Amongst her first interviewees, I spoke with her about how I keep my company organized and how I intentionally directed the business years ago to accommodate the lifestyle I now have. I also give some marketing and money-saving tips.

Click here to listen on iTunes or here for a direct link.

(Keep in mind, these opinions reflect my own values and priorities and are not meant to suggest judgement on those who don’t share them. In other words, I sound a little bitchy and pompous about not wanting my kids in childcare while I do trivial work.

Work-Life Balancephotoshoot during my first “maternity leave”

Check out all her episodes and stay tuned for an interview with my stylist friend, Brooke Michie from Lyric Salon.

Many thanks to Lisa for helping me spread the word about the work I do.

Work-Life Balance

Is Small Business the New Big Business?

Is it just me, or do you feel like we’ve passed the moment where companies can get away with crap customer service and shoddy product? Thanks to technology created for faceless complaining, a retailer who once swallowed his competitors whole can no more enjoy a seat on top his mound of disinterested employees and terrible customer service than Lena Dunham can avoid our thoughts on her Golden Globes dress. People are jerks, Lena.

Shopping Big Box
We may pride ourselves on a claim to boycott Walmart (unless the item is way cheaper, or “I just happened to be next-door”), but do we really put our money where our mouths are, or simply turn to the Amazon app every time we need something? If you’re like me, it’s a little bit of both. I’m busy- I have kids and run a business— If my children need socks, I’m totally ok with buying them on my phone in 30 seconds and not driving to a cute local boutique. On the other hand, I recently popped into a local children’s store and picked up few things (a shark plate for my son, a kitten bowl for my daughter, and a book), which all could have been purchased alongside Fig Newtons and diapers at my grocery store. But when I presented these items to my children, they felt so much more like gifts. I had purchased them with love and intention, and there was conversation, tissue paper, and keeping a small business successful underlying it all.


I recently had an eye-opening realization about my own business, which I think will change my candor about the smallness of my company. I was looking to buy a daily calendar, where I could hand-write my schedule for each day; an Agenda, if you will. I knew more or less what I wanted and searched online, beginning with rather big stationary shops that I thought would have them. In the end, I found it on a site called Jenni Bick Bookbinding, which I assumed to be just as big as Kate’s Paperie or The Paper Source, but simply a store I was unfamiliar with. When the item arrived, though, I realized that the store was just like mine. It’s a small business, and my item arrived in lovely packaging with a handwritten note from the owner. It felt like I was getting a present, and in no way would I have been more impressed had she led me to believe that it shipped from a giant warehouse.

It’s just a daily calendar, but the interaction with her company truly changed everything about my perception of the purchase. Had I picked up this notebook at Target, it would have been just a utilitarian daily calendar, but the way it arrived somehow added to my perceived value of the physical object.

We are living in a world where we are so much more able to connect with one another, but when it comes to business, the last decade has been a lesson in huge business pushing out or consuming big business. Small business was just totally screwed.


Now that consumers can tweet, yelp and otherwise hold power over the companies we do business with, we demand respect and perhaps a little TLC. Are we yearning for a lost connectedness, or are we just sick of being undervalued by companies whose profits we sponsor?

USA Today’s Modern Woman

Look what the postman brought me, and see if you can guess why I’m excited…

2014 USA Today's Modern WomanIt’s not because Erin Andrews is on top of her game, nor that I have plans to sled down a volcano. It’s because this particular USA Today’s Modern Woman has a 2-page spread on myself and my brand. The story focuses on 4 fashion houses who run their businesses outside of fashion capitals and break the standard fashion-company model.

2014 USA Today's Modern Woman

2014 USA Today's Modern WomanYet again, they used the photo with half my rear showing, but I’m not one to complain about a 2-page spread immediately following Erin Andrews’ 2-page spread. THANKS SO MUCH, USA Today and Modern Woman for helping me spread the word about doing what I love in that way I deem most authentic and useful. I’m very grateful that you value companies like mine.

Austin Fair-Trade Fashion Unites

This month an incredible Austin fashion company, Thought Collective, generously organized a photoshoot of not only their products, but also those of 8 other Austin-based ethical fashion companies. They wanted to highlight and encourage sustainability and empowerment in the fashion supply chain by creating a collaboration amongst Austin-based ethical fashion companies.

We all believe it’s important to know how your products are made and to ensure that the people making them are in encouraging and safe environments with sustainable wages. The eight businesses involved in this photo shoot represent over ten countries with sustainable missions.

Leave it to fashion companies to go our own way and change the typical model.  Links are below the images so you can get your shopping on and put your money to good use.

“We understand that it is a challenge to go against normalcy, but we believe in what we are doing and we have a lot of hope in the future of fashion. There are eight different brands in Austin alone striving to achieve this goal in creative and diverse ways, creating everything from bags to bracelets, so the future of fashion is bright. Ultimately, we want this to be a way for fair trade and ethical companies in Austin to come together and do what we love.” -Thought Collective



sending children to school for a year with each bag sold //


employing artisans in Guatemala to create a more vibrant world by 

connecting people and culture // 


fair waged, handmade Peruvian shoes that encourage a freee-spirited lifestyle //


empowering women through design in countries around the world by fair wages, quality work, and encouragement //


empowering Ugandan girls through donating a portion of sales to micro-loans and education as well as selling select fair trade items //


giving a pair of socks away for each one sold and employing those less fortunate to package all socks here in Austin //


selling fair trade handbags made from artisans around the world who create their products with an emphasis on craft & quality //


employing Tanzanian artisan women to create artistic, handmade apparel while paying fair wages and supporting future career development //


Many Thanks to….



Cyber Monday 2014

Cyber Monday Deal

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

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You guessed it! There’s a Black Friday Deal Inside

Some call it Black Friday. I call it Small Business Saturday. Either way, it’s deal time until Sunday. Go ahead- check some folks off your gift list today and support smaller businesses!

Gemstone RingsBlack Friday at

Remember, $5 from every sale empowers a young Ugandan woman with an education and a micro-loan to start her own business.Use the code “SMALLBIZ-25″ for 25% off your next order.

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

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$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

Rectangle tray

Wooden bowl

Kitchen gadgets tool

Metal vase

Tassels home decor

Star ornament

Leather bag

Leather bag

Evening bag


Serpent Ring

Kara Earrings in Oxblood

Gold Square Studs

Krochet Kids Intl.

Assorted Blue Petal Bowls


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

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..