I'm Amanda, founder of Nicole + Rose, a fashion brand that is size inclusive, focused on empowering women to be their most beautiful, authentic and worthy selves. We make timeless and effortless pieces, made here in Calgary, using eco friendly fabrics.
My last collection of necklaces, were based on affirmations, as are all of your clothes. So immediately, I loved that, and the core values of my brand are also sustainability and inclusivity. So it was seemed to be like a natural fit to have you on the podcast. So let's start from the beginning, what led you to start designing clothes?
I have loved fashion since I was a young girl. I really loved playing dress up and loved dressing up my younger sister. As I approached the end of high school and thought about what I wanted to do with my life, I really wanted to go to fashion school. My parents weren't so convinced so I went to university and changed my major a few times, I didn't really know what I wanted to do. I ended up getting a degree in marketing, which now has come in handy. I worked in marketing in Saskatoon where I'm from for about a year. Then I moved to London, England, where I got to also use my marketing experience with a major fashion brand. I loved it but moved back to Canada after my two year working visa expired. I ended up working at a marketing agency but I was really questioning my values and my purpose in life and what I was meant to be doing. I had always wanted to start a clothing brand but I felt it was not realistic at all. I didn't go to fashion school, I had no idea where to start.
Fast forward to the pandemic, I started sewing, something I was always interested in. I just bought a sewing machine and then watched a ton of YouTube videos, and became really obsessed with it and loved it. Within the first year, I sewed 30 different garments. That's where I started to gain a greater appreciation for clothes and how they're made. It led me to start questioning the fast fashion industry and how clothes are being made at such a quick and cheap rate. So I started to dive more into sustainability and came across some slow fashion brands. Then I realized I wanted to start a clothing brand that aligns with my values of sustainability.
Photo by Sheena Zilinski
I find it interesting you have come full circle from being a young girl dressing up your little sister to doing marketing in fashion and business and then starting your your company. Do you feel like this was the path that you're supposed to take, like you were set up to have the marketing background?
Yeah, I think so. It is kind of funny looking back now, at the time, I didn't feel like anything made sense. But I'm super glad I have that marketing experience, because it comes in handy now that I have my own brand. The whole path makes sense now, but at the time, it definitely did not.
I don't know how many people know this about me, but I was a junior high teacher for almost a decade. And I feel like the skills that I learned as a teacher really do help me in my small business. Just the way that I communicate with people, the professionalism I bring into my work, it just really helps. I think if I didn't have those experiences, maybe I wouldn't have that dedication to commit to the work of being a small business owner, how to find resources, and how to communicate with people.
Why did you want to name your pieces after after affirmations and why is that important to your brand?
When I was creating the brand, I really wanted it to be a brand that was accepting and people really felt like they belonged. When I was younger, in elementary school, I was made fun of by kids in my class, because my skin was a bit darker, my eyes a bit smaller. I was a very sensitive child too. I realized looking back, that really made me dim my light. It made me not want to be different, not want to be unique and I just wanted to fit in. I became very quiet and didn't feel enough, didn't feel worthy, being exactly who I was. Years later now, I've had an amazing therapist, and I think everyone should go to therapy because it's awesome. But yes, affirmations are a really big part of me reclaiming my self worth. I still use them to this day and I just knew they had to be a part of the brand somehow. It just made sense to name the products after affirmations and to include the affirmation on the tag, just as an extra little reminder, when you go to put on the pants, you see that I am enough. It's like that daily reminder.
Amanda and her sister
Our previous life experiences can really shape the way we express ourselves and how we conduct business, especially small business. As founders, we want to run businesses that are based on our values and what we see as important. Do you have a list of affirmations that you go through in the morning? Is there one that really has helped you or you constantly go back to?
It depends like what I'm going through at that time or that period of my life. For me, I am seen, or I am heard. Those are two big ones for me again, because I really did kind of pull back and dim my light.
So this is the story behind that the I Am Heard Coat. I went to a breath work workshop, five years ago and I thought it was just going to be an introduction to breathwork. But it was actually very intense and brought up a lot of emotions for people. They had healers going around and say stuff to you, whatever was coming to them. For me, she said to me, "You are heard, your voice is heard". I was just bawling, it really resonated. When I got home, I told my boyfriend, and then later, for my birthday, he actually got me a wallet engraved with "I hear you". Which was so sweet and very special to me.
That is so sweet. Let's go back into sort of the design process. How do you design? What is your process and where do you draw your inspiration?
I wanted to create pieces that were effortless and easy to throw together. So when I go to design additional pieces for the collections, I'm looking at gaps and what pieces would work well with what we already have. Pinterest is a place I go for inspiration. I'll have something in my mind of what I want to design and I'll scroll through be like, "I really like the sleeve on that one but I want it a bit longer or shorter" or "I really like the color on that". And I'm always looking at what people are wearing when I'm walking down the street or wherever I am. I think inspiration just kind of comes from everywhere, even when I'm watching TV, movies or going to thrift stores.
Once I have an idea in mind, I'll usually sketch it out. I might pull some inspiration photos as well. I work with an amazing studio in northeast Calgary. It's a women own studio called Color Alchemist. I'll send them my sketches and chat with them about what I'm trying to create. Then they take those sketches on paper and translate it into creating a pattern. We go through different iterations, create the first design and do a lot of fit testing. We just keep doing that until we feel like it's in a good spot.
Photo by Sheena Zilinski
Your fabrics look so effortless, comfortable and so easy to wear.
I started off mainly with the linen. It's really breathable and also sustainable. It actually gets better the more you wash and wear it. You can't really say that about other fabrics, usually the more you wash it, the more it falls apart almost. So with any natural fabric, it softens up the fibers, but it's not destroying them because linen is such a strong durable material. So even when you're washing it, it's not breaking it down, like say polyester or fabric made from plastic. They're meant to hold up for many, many years to come.
We are using a new fabric for our latest collection called Tencel Lyocell. How it's made is it's an environmentally friendly process that turns wood pulp into fibers. It still has a lot of the same great qualities of linen. It's really breathable, thermal regulating, sustainable as well as biodegrades. But it has a little bit more of a sheen to it as I wanted to create pieces that just looked a little bit more elevated. So you could wear them to the office, or for a night out, or even if you're just lounging at home.
Photo by Jo Concetta
What is your design aesthetic or style? Are the pieces what you've always wanted or did that eventually come out of a lot of thought?
When I very start first started the brand. I didn't actually really know what types of clothes I wanted to create. Just thinking about it more I knew I wanted the pieces to be effortless. For myself, I've never really been someone who's great at styling a whole bunch of pieces together. Even pre-pandemic, going into the office, I always had to have my outfit picked out the night before because if I didn't, it was a disaster of trying on all of these different outfits, clothes all over the place. I just wanted pieces that would be easy to throw together and then pieces that would go well together but also go well with other items you already own in your wardrobe. That's the thing with sustainability, it's not just about purchasing from sustainable brands, but it's actually wearing the clothes that you already have.
Is there a foundational piece that you started and everything else is kind of built around it?
The first piece was the I Am Enough pants. So they're a high waisted elastic waist, wide leg pant. Before I started sewing, I didn't really own anything like this. But that was a piece I sewed multiple times and then ended up living in because they are very comfortable. A friend had bought a pair and was like, “these are pants that you don't know you need until you get them”.
Just looking at them, they look so comfortable, but yet pulled together. Did you want to speak to the sizes because going all the way up to 4X, is amazing.
I knew right away from the beginning I wanted it to be size inclusive. When I was sewing, I just found this amazing community on Instagram, and something that came up a lot was not all of the patterns would make plus size. This opened my eyes to size inclusivity. I wanted to make clothes that no matter what size your body is like you can wear them you can feel beautiful.
We fit test on models that are XS all the way up to 4X, just to ensure that it's fitting their body really well. I feel like when you are comfortable that adds to you feeling beautiful. Usually, I'm my own fit model, because it's easier and convenient. So I'll try them on, we'll make anywhere from three to six iterations. Once we get my size at a good point we start to grade out to the other sizes. I'll have more fit models come in, in each of the different sizes just to make sure that each size is fitting. My design lead, Martina has a lot of experience working with plus sizes and knows all of the different changes that might need to be made to really compliment their curvy bodies. It's a big process.
I used to go to the mall and try on like 20 different things and sometimes I'd leave with nothing because nothing's fitting my body. Then usually by the end, I feel like my body's not good. I never really thought it's the clothes that don't fit. So I think that's why it's so important to do fit testing, because we're really making clothes that fit your body. That's how clothes should be made. Not that you should be changing your body to fit clothes. We're sold a lot in the media that your body needs to look a certain way for you to be worthy or for you to be enough. But with our clothes, I really want you to try them on and be like, "wow, these fit amazing, my body is amazing". You are enough exactly as you are.
Even though fashion has come a long way with sizing, I still think that social media is pushing a certain body type, especially on women. It's almost like the industry is saying one thing, but still doing the same thing. I know that there are some specialty plus sized stores that are new in the last few years but I can think of only one.
Yeah, there's still this whole population that is plus size who deserve to be represented and have beautiful clothes that fit them really well. I've been noticing some brands offer plus size clothing, but in all of their marketing and images they only use "regular" sized models. They're not really representing that in any of their marketing and not showing how it looks on their bodies. I've tried to get a range of sizes in our photoshoots and we have a model size guide on the site to display their measurements. So people can see how the clothes will fit or look on them. This is important especially when you're selling online.
Photo by Jo Concetta
Are there any challenges or obstacles that you face when you're running your small business or to your creative process?
I think one of the biggest ones is balancing it with a full time job and just time. I usually work on Nicole + Rose in the evenings or on weekends. I feel like there's so much that I want to do and my list is never ending, which I'm sure you can relate to. I think that's been the hardest- just finding the time and trying to prioritize what things I want to get done when there's so many on the list.
Yes, we're always short on time because you wear all the hats of your small business. Also when you're running your small business, your values are at the forefront of your business and it has a lot to do with you as a person. It feels like you're baring your soul to the world and your work is a piece of art and you're asking everyone, “hey, do you like this?” That, for me, has been a bit of a struggle. I feel that being a small business owner in the creative space, requires a lot of bravery and requires you to really show up and be vulnerable. It’s not for the faint of heart, because you really need to show up as yourself.
Yes, I think it can be scary sharing your heart with the world, because for me, I really wanted this to be something that does come from the heart. This is a part of me and I think that can be scary putting yourself out there. You never know if people are going to agree or not with your values. But I think what you learn is the people that aren't aligned are not meant to be a part of your community, which is fine, they're meant to be a part of a different community. It’s really just finding those people that really do resonate. Not necessarily going after everyone, but finding those people that really align with your values.
It's a constant thing. As I grow as a person, my business grows. Looking back at when I first started my business, I'm like, wow, I was a totally different person back then. It reflects on my business as well- in a good way.
I'm naturally more of a shy person, but I feel like you do need to reach out to people. I remember even being nervous to send a supplier an email, I didn't know if they were going to get back to me. But now, it doesn't matter if they do or not. It's those little things, you just push yourself to do it. And you grow from every one of those experiences. They compile and exactly like you said, it's your business that's growing, but you as a person are also growing.
When I first started, I didn't want any attention. I wanted to do this in my own little vacuum because I didn't want to be vulnerable. As the business grew, I knew I needed to push myself and be out there. Prior to my business I had deleted my personal social media accounts and then when I started this business, I was like, "oh, shoot, I need to be on Instagram and whatever social platform". It's really pushed me as a sensitive person to shut out those negative voices that pop up in my head that say "Why are you posting this? This is cringy!" but I have to think some people are going to like it and they're going to be part of my community. So looking back at starting your business, do you have any advice for someone who might be interested in starting a clothing brand?
I think if there's a brand that you really admire, or you want to create something similar, just reach out to them. I would have never thought to do this, I'd think, why would they want to talk to me? But people are way more willing to share their knowledge than you would think. If anyone's looking to start a clothing brand, I'm more than happy to sit down if you're in Calgary, we can go for a coffee, or even a zoom call if you're somewhere else. I'm happy to share my whole process and everything I've learned up to this point, and also help guide you. I am happy to share the fabric suppliers I use, the studio and the steps I took from the very beginning. There's just so many free resources, as well out there too, like YouTube and Google. To launch my brand, I took a program to start a sustainable fashion brand. That was extremely helpful and was a step by step guide.
I would recommend having a bit of savings or money to go about it starting the sampling and design process. You can always start slow with one product, something very simple. One thing that the program I took really advocated for was the preorder method because you don't know if people want your product or not. With the preorder method, you launch and then you see how many people actually order your product. But there is a longer lead time, it takes three to four weeks to get that product. This way you know you exactly what you need and you're not tying up your money in inventory with minimum order quantities.
It's also been so helpful to have the design studio in town. I can actually go there, feel the product in person and just examine it close up and things get done a lot quicker. I get to see the garment in person on the fit models and we can make the right changes then and there.
Amanda with her designers at Colour Alchemist
How does the whole process feel as you go from design to finally seeing it on a model?
The journey itself can have its ups and downs. I think I sometimes need to take a step back and realize how far I've come. Just the other day, I had the realization I'm doing the things I used to wish I could do when I would watch other people start their own brands. It's just taking those moments to be like, okay, wow, this was just an idea in my head and now it's a real product. It's so easy to get caught up in the day to day, but really taking that time to be grateful and proud of yourself and see how far you've come because it is pretty amazing.
I agree, a lot of small business owners are always thinking of how do we improve, what's next but like those inspirational quotes, they always say, "look how far you've come" or "remember when you used to dream of everything you have now". Are there creators or people that inspire your work?
Yes, I have to shout out Laila from Harly Jae. She was my mentor when I first started the brand and also has a slow fashion clothing brand based out of Vancouver. She's super inspirational to me. She's had her brand for about six years now and she's just shared so much knowledge. That's where I would love to see myself in the next five years.
!RAPID FIRE QUESTIONS!
What fashion trend do you dislike/hate?
Honestly, I don't follow the trends too much, but probably low waist bottoms. High rises is just so comfortable to me, especially elastic high rise.
Which fashion designer or brand do you admire?
There's Harly Jae and another is Elizabeth Suzann. She's another slow fashion brand out of the states. I found her when I was sewing. She has her garments, but she also releases patterns to sew her garments. Again, she's someone who's farther along in her business and everything that she's done, she's stayed true to her values and created this amazing community. She's also size inclusive and very selective of the fabric she uses, ensuring they are natural and high quality.
What's the most enjoyable part of running a small business?
I think it's been meeting other creators, other small business owners. It's crazy to think before I had the brand and now after, how many more people I have in my circle. People are so lovely, talented and creative. I think that's been the best part is the people I've met and the community that I'm creating. All of my customers are just so wonderful.
If you were to run a campaign with a famous person, or a celebrity, is there somebody that you'd love to have represent you and your brand?
I'm not big into celebrities but it would be someone from Instagram- Sarah Landry @thebirdspapaya. I have followed her for a long time and I feel like our values are really aligned. If she were to wear my clothing, it would be amazing, that's who I would choose.
You can find Amanda @shopnicoleandrose and shop her pieces on www.shopnicoleandrose.com