In our latest installment of Behind the Seams, we explore the career and creativity of Austin-based jewelry designer, Catherine Nicole. I had the pleasure of meeting Catherine during Austin Fashion Week 2011 and I’ve been an admirer of her work ever since. What makes Catherine’s company and jewelry so special is that $5 from every purchase supports her philanthropic efforts to prevent young girls from becoming child brides. Catherine’s earthy, organic and feminine jewelry has been featured in major publications such as Entertainment Weekly, Good Housekeeping and Life & Style.
(All photos courtesy of CatherineNicole.com)
1. Tell us a little about your experience at the Parsons School of Design; when did you realize you were interested in design and why did you choose that particular school/career path?
I originally went to Parsons because I wanted to be a costume designer. I liked the idea that you can tell a story about someone by the clothes you put her/him in. I was born in New York and was spending my post-graduate years teaching in Spain when 9/11 happened. I was ready to pursue my design work close to home, and Parsons turned out to be exactly the designer’s heaven that I hoped it would be.
2. You’re very well traveled; Spain, Africa, India…have you traveled since childhood or did your travels start during school?
I’ve traveled since childhood. My mother grew up in Rome, and I have family all over the world. I’ve had wanderlust my whole life and as I got older, I found ways to travel to more exotic places. I’m so grateful for the opportunities I’ve had to see the world and learn about different people and cultures. It’s a huge influence on my work.
3. What inspired you most about your travels?
In a lot of societies, the ornamentation of the people is more telling than the garments they wear. The jewelry is obviously less utilitarian and often more expressive than the apparel. That’s what inspired me to do statement jewelry. I also love the textiles, colors, tiles and architecture that I’ve seen in my travels, and often draw inspiration from there.
4. Fashion and philanthropy make a great partnership; with all the risks inherent to starting a business, how can a business owner successfully manage a new business while supporting a worthy cause at the same time?
Well, I have the non-profit aspect built into the for-profit aspect. In other words, I only donate from money that I make. I used to support other projects, but was giving out more than a company of my size really could afford. Now, I only give from what we earn. $5 from every purchase is no small amount to us, but I didn’t want to collect such a small amount that I was barely helping anyone.
5. How did you come up with the concept for Chicks Against Child Brides? Tell us a little about BRAC and how your initiative supports their mission.
I was moved to chills the first time I saw the original Girl Effect video and knew I wanted to get involved. Since many of my customers are brides, it seemed a natural connection to take on the plight of the child bride. BRAC is a UN-funded non-profit that focuses on micro-loans, and their Girl Centers really educate these kids about entrepreneurship, independence, and provide them a safe place to learn and get their businesses started.
Because I don’t have the kind of job that inherently gives back (like a doctor, counselor, teacher, etc..), it’s important to me that my company creates a way to benefit the world. So this is not a temporary project for me, but rather a core component of the business that the company will always run on.
6. What is your most rewarding and most challenging experience as an entrepreneur and why?
Oftentimes being an entrepreneur is just as creative as being a designer. This isn’t something I thought about when I started my business, and it’s one of my favorite aspects of it now. As a small business, I rely on innovative ideas for my branding and marketing. It’s a fun challenge that brings me closer to my customers and able to provide a more genuine product and service.
7. Looking back on your experiences in the fashion industry, what do you know now that you wish you’d known at the beginning of your journey?
I could have saved a lot of money if I knew then to think outside the box more, but I don’t know that I would have done anything differently. By working the markets, runways, wholesale and PR circuit, I learned all the ins and outs of my industry. I certainly do things differently now, but it’s only because I know from experience what doesn’t work for me about the mainstream route.
8. For anyone interested in pursuing a career in fashion design, what is the most important piece of advice you would give him or her?
Take an internship or internships. I had to go through a lot of trial-and-error that I could have skipped over had I worked in other houses first. And if you plan on starting your own line or store, be super frugal. It’s easy to spend a lot of money at the beginning with the expectation that great things will happen from it. But your business may have something else in store for you, and you have to gradually allow it to shape itself.
Catherine Nicole is a great example of a company with a heart and a conscience, not only focused on creating one-of-a-kind statement jewelry, but also focused on empowering women. Whether you’re a bride, shopping for gifts or love the idea of giving back, Catherine Nicole has something uniquely beautiful for you.