October 23, 2013
At CoreCommerce, we’re dedicated to helping entrepreneurs get started with e-commerce and grow a successful business. One of our favorite stories of entrepreneurship is Kelly Nishimoto, who took her love of fashion and developed it into a well-known brand. Like many entrepreneurs, her success wasn’t overnight but was built upon years of perseverance and hard work. We recently caught up with the busy fashion designer for an interview, which we’re sure will inspire you!
1. Kelly, you’ve had an impressive career–from growing up in Georgia, conquering Miami’s fashion scene and debuting a collection at Fashion Week to moving to L.A. and developing a successful fashion line. What are your greatest influences in both fashion and business?
My influence in fashion was really having the freedom to express myself. I did that through clothes and the way I dressed. I always took that very seriously. Of course I was also influenced by some amazing designers–my favorites are Balenciaga, Yves St. Laurent and Alexander McQueen! Another influence was the desire to break out of the small town I grew up in and be successful. I grew up in Roberta, Georgia, with a population of 800. I loved it but fashion and small towns don’t really exist together.
As for business, I always wanted to model my business after Juicy Couture. Seeing how they started and where they are today has really influenced my decisions and business direction. Another influence is my surroundings and what I want them to be. I like to create an environment that makes people feel something, and I enjoy people’s reactions to the environment I’ve created. So I guess what I’m trying to say is I’m influenced and inspired by what I can create both in fashion and in feeling.
2. What were some challenges you faced as you were starting your career?
For me, it was money and lack of industry knowledge. My parents couldn’t afford to send me to design school but offered to pay for community college. I wanted to do something creative and, in my mind, there was nothing creative about community college. I packed up my sewing machine and moved to South Beach. I created a mini collection from colored Reynolds plastic wrap(yes, from the grocery store!). I threw my own fashion shows around town but I never really tried to sell anything. It wasn’t until I moved to Los Angeles five years later that I started thinking of turning my creativity and designs into a business.
I began my business by making corsets that were reversible. My first big sale was a custom corset for the singer, Anastasia. She was battling breast cancer and a friend ordered it for her. It was pink silk on one side and a crazy paisley on the other. After that, I ended up making corsets for a number of celebrities including Gwen Stefani, Demi Moore, Brooke Burke, Madonna and more. My business grew and I launched my first full collection at Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week in 2005. Since then I’ve shown many collections on many runways, dressed a ton of celebrities, started an online store and opened my own boutique in Downtown Los Angeles.
Thirteen years into my business, I still face challenges. Coming from a small town in Georgia, I just expected people in the fashion business to be honest and hard working like the people in my hometown. That mentality is still haunting me. I like to see the good in people and give too many people in this business the benefit of the doubt. It’s difficult because there are so many copycats and no laws to protect designers. People say imitation is the highest form of flattery but stealing ideas is not flattering unless you “PAY THE LADY!”. I’ve also found that it’s always more expensive to run your business than you think…and everything takes twice as long.
3. Your products have been featured in top magazines such as InStyle and People Weekly. Do you have any tips or advice for other entrepreneurs who want to be showcased in major fashion magazines or on a national level?
It’s all about PR and marketing! Most new designers take that for granted and don’t budget for proper marketing. With the popularity of social media these days, I think it’s a little easier. But if you want to take your brand to another level, you need a PR company. They have the contacts and relationships you need to get your product and brand out there. Also, never stop creating! Stylists, celebrities and magazine editors like new things. They are constantly on the hunt for what’s next so keep the ideas coming and keep your brand fresh!
4. Within the past year, you’ve started co-hosting your own tv show on TLC, “Something Borrowed, Something New”, with celebrity stylist Sam Saboura. What has been your favorite experience as you’ve worked on the tv show?
First of all, I’m in love with Sam! He’s my TV boyfriend–ha! I’ve never had such chemistry with a co-host. He’s everything you see on TV and more. We’ve really bonded and it’s made my journey on TV so much more amazing.
I love getting to play dress up and getting paid for it–you can’t beat that! The whole experience has been so positive. The dresses and the families have been so animated and it’s an honor to help these brides along their wedding dress journey. At the end of the day, it’s always more than a dress. It’s a family coming together for a special moment and there are always tears! I filmed the upcoming season pregnant so this time around it was a completely new journey and just as amazing as the last. I really love TLC! They truly support me and for that I am extremely grateful.
5. As a successful fashion designer and entrepreneur, how do you stay inspired?
I have found that my inspiration is constantly changing. In the beginning, it was wanting people to know my brand and who I was. I just wanted to create beautiful clothes that inspired women and helped them appreciate their bodies and curves. I wanted those clothes to be seen by everyone! When times were tough, making money and being successful inspired me. These days, I find my inspiration is providing for my family and creating a business with longevity. I’m sure it sounds cliché, but I just had my first child so my perspective on life and what’s really important to me has changed. At this very moment, I’m inspired by the life I created! I want to work hard and smart for him. I also want him to be well dressed!
My brand is still all about women being comfortable with their curves. That will never change. That’s just what I do…make clothes that help people to look their best. And now I’ve expanded into making maternity and baby clothes!
6. Do you have any advice you would offer to other entrepreneurs that want to follow in your footsteps?
Don’t give up. Success is rarely an overnight thing. It takes time to build a business! Find what you like, what you do best and stick to it. How can you fail forever? Impossible. When you fall down, pick yourself up and keep going. Success doesn’t have an age or an expiration date. People can’t say no forever. And you should never say no to yourself! If you believe in yourself, others will too. Also, always have a contract! Don’t take on any work without a contract. That was a hard lesson for me, and if you ignore all other advice, don’t ignore this one.