Towards the end of lockdown, I met Nikki from Creative DeZigns for the first time, she had got in touch with me to ask if I would be interested in working with her, trying some of the styles from her lovely range of cotton and sustainable clothing and maybe sharing my thoughts on the blog. I suggested we meet up and chat, I wanted to find out more about her and her small ethical fashion business. We hit it off immediately and I loved her story. I loved the clothes too! So I asked if Nikki would be happy to share her story in more detail on my blog. So here it is, as part of my (somewhat irregular) Embracing Life (in Midlife) series.
In this interview series, I invite inspirational women, normal women like you and me, who are busy getting on with it all and keeping all the plates spinning, to tell me about their life and their business. I am always amazed at their stories. And I am very impressed with how they manage to do it all.
Nikki is no exception, she has two grown up children, she spent a large part of her childhood growing up in South Africa and she then took over Creative DeZigns form her mother and has enjoyed taking the business in a new direction whilst staying true to its original ethos.
I really loved reading Nikki's responses to my questions, I am sure you will agree, that she is certainly very talented and very inspirational. Do take a few moments to read what she has to say and support her small business! I've been looking forward to sharing this post!
Tell us a little bit about yourself?
Oh gosh I hate talking about myself – being the focus of attention is not something I am comfortable with. I used to blush terribly if all eyes turned toward me in a group environment. I have a big fear of public speaking and speeches in general.
Okay… me? Well, I guess I am a bit of a mixed bag. I was born in Canada and raised in South Africa until we returned to the UK where I finished my schooling. Not the best time to be moving countries and losing friends - at the age of 16 - before the advent of the internet! Despite being British, I was seen as a foreigner at my new school, and definitely an outsider. I learned to accept that being different to others was okay, and to embrace this. I love people and their individualities or even quirks, I love to listen; especially to older people’s life experiences and I love to connect.
I have just turned 50 (although I don’t think it really counts as It was during the lockdown) and am feeling full of vigour to make the most of my second century. I am a stubborn, strong willed and practical (Taurean), I love food (especially chocolate) a full fridge, fresh flowers on the table and a warm cosy house. I can’t bear greed and wastefulness.
And tell us a little bit about your business and what inspired you?
My business was started by my insightful mum who back in 1985 recognised an opportunity to support impoverished South African communities by bringing their beautiful crafts to the UK. I worked with her for many years, watching as she grew the business from selling at little craft shows in the local town hall into a thriving concern, employing people and sales agents and selling to shops throughout the UK. Back then we just focussed on handmade ethnic statement jewellery.
I took over the business just over 10 years ago and began to shift some of our focus to the beautiful cotton clothing. We moved away from selling wholesale and instead of opening up a shop, I decided to keep our catchment area fluid by selling at retail events throughout the Country. I also began to look toward developing an e-commerce side of the business.
So, whilst my mum was a huge inspiration to me, what has actually always inspired me is making people happy.
Being able to support the South African artisans brings immense happiness to their communities by providing employment, but also if I could bottle the faces of ladies who look at themselves in the mirror when we have put an outfit together – it is priceless. I will never forget a lady in Kent who brought us all to tears on seeing her reflection – her words were “this is the first time in many, many years that I see the real me looking back”. True moment and one I will always remember. I am grateful to have the chance to make women feel better about themselves. We are all beautiful and deserve to feel that way.
What are you doing to make your business more ethical and sustainable?
Creative DeZigns has always operated ethically, long before fair trade became a household trend. It was, and is, the fundamental essence of our business – we have always insisted on seeing first hand where our designs are made and we have always cared deeply about those who craft for us.
I think Creative DeZigns is now best described as a business that embraces Slow Fashion. Slow Fashion I believe really incorporates both ethical and sustainable approaches to fashion purchasing.
We choose to work with small communities and suppliers in South Africa, and more recently Kathmandu. We are able to form very close relationships with them and become, well, really an extended family. We focus on small batch production only, never mass produce designs and the number of collections we release in any season is very limited.
We consciously combine shipments, choosing sea freight over air freight, to reduce our carbon footprint as much as we can. We don’t use materials from endangered species or those farmed unethically.
We are passionate about making sure that great design is combined with timelessness, quality, and affordability as well as supporting and recognising the importance of artisan craft. Our products must be durable and have longevity. We add value to them this way, and offer a story behind each piece. This, I believe, motivates our customers to cherish them and keep them longer, not to tire of them.
What does an average day look like for you?
Most days start with a hot water and lemon, and a yoga practice. I am a fairly spiritual person (sometimes rather spirited after a glass of wine!) and I love keeping fit. My early morning routine feeds my soul just a little. It is my “me” time.
Running a small business essentially on your own means having to roll your sleeves up every day to do most things yourself, so as varied as my day can be – it always starts with emails, paperwork and of course, social media! Oh, and a cup of Nespresso coffee (purple capsules are my favourite). Communication is key to any business especially mine ... keeping in touch with my customers and my suppliers overseas. I especially love the dialogue I have with clients and building relationships with them all. I absolutely cherish what I do and would work 24 hours a day if I could and often despair that there are just not enough hours in a day.
Of course, when we are off site selling at events – the days are very different. We travel all over the Country, stay in picturesque places and attend gorgeous events from Ripley Castle near Harrogate to huge Christmas shows at Olympia London. The hustle and bustle and crazy fun we have on our vibrant stand is just wonderful.
What has been your biggest challenge?
Oh, without a doubt my biggest challenge has been the one I am facing now, as are many, many others. The early days of the Covid-19 pandemic were some of the darkest days I have experienced. Losing the ability to sell at events to the hugely loyal following of ladies (and some gents) we have amassed over the years was a crippling blow to the business financially. Mentally, the lack of contact with these customers, many of whom are dear friends now, was unthinkable. I was also forced to separate from my partner who had to shield due to health conditions.
Courage, strength and even growth comes from surviving difficult times and challenging adversity. When you can’t control what is happening, challenge yourself to control the way you respond to what’s happening.
Do you have a signature style, an everyday look that you love?
Relaxed boho chic I think best describes my style. Being 5’10” and a South African sunshine girl at heart, I am most at home in my flip flops or even barefoot!
How do you balance your business with family life?
Like most mums, balancing work and family life is a constant juggling act and we spend too much time feeling guilty about not doing or giving enough. Love is the most precious thing we can give our family and second to that is giving time to them. Wrapping them in the security of the knowledge that you will always be there for them is vital.
My children are both in their 20s, one living in Australia and the other fortunately (for me) still at home. I also have a very large family mostly in the South of England with 13 nephews and nieces at the last count. Remembering their birthdays has long since gone out of the window, so I am afraid I fail terribly there!
What is your biggest achievement to date?
Without question my greatest achievement in life is having my son and daughter - James and Kirstie. However, a close second was climbing Kilimanjaro in memory of my late step father.
Where do you see yourself in 5 years' time?
Well, let’s face it – as the last few month’s have shown us… we certainly can’t predict the future but we can aspire. I believe having a plan is important or we never move forward effectively, and we can stagnate. Plans need to be fluid and change from time to time, but so long as there is forward motion I am happy. Treading water for too long does not suit me.
So, in five years’ time I hope I am still fortunate enough to be out there selling and connecting with amazing people. The online side of the business is growing well thankfully, and it would be amazing if this too had gathered more strength. Oh, and hopefully being in a new house with more space for my business would be perfect too.
How can we get in touch with you and find out more about you or your product?
We have wonderful website that is about to be updated, which shows ordinary people, including myself, wearing the beautiful cotton garments and accessories. It is also great fun to connect with people via social media so I would love to hear from anyone on Instagram and Facebook.
I hope you agree with me, Nikki is a really lovely lady and businesswoman and I think that comes across as she chats in this interview. Do take a few moments to explore her website and follow her on social media.
I shared lots of the gorgeous outfits I tried from Creative DeZigns on my blog post here - Stunning and sustainable cotton clothing from Creative DeZigns. And i was very lucky to be gifted a few items from the range so I have been sharing some outfits on my Instagram too and I have certainly enjoyed wearing them. You do have to look at the trousers, they have a knitted jersey waistband but soft cotton legs and so are smarter and more flattering than leggings but just as, if not more, comfortable! They make perfect trousers for yoga! Or for travelling in. And I have been featuring the Gilly hat a lot which has been popular because not only does it look amazing, it also have a UPF rating of 50+ and is crushable so packable! I am hoping to be back in a few weeks with a review of the autumn knitwear currently arriving.
Do let me know if you purchase something and love it! And do leave any questions for me or Nikki in comments below, we'd love to hear from you.
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Welcome to Fifty & Fab, a lifestyle blog to inspire you. I am a blogger with a passion for writing about style, beauty, health and fitness with a focus on the over 50's. I am based in Marlow but work across London and the South East.
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Hi, I’m Michelle and my blog Fifty & Fab is all about my journey into and through my fifties. I share style tips, health and fitness inspiration, I talk about my holidays and days out and I tell you about my beauty regime and my lifestyle. I hope you might pick up a tip or two and get some inspiration!
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