Learn to Build Relationships — The fashion industry is tough. You will deal with a lot more No’s before you get a yes. Relationship building will be a big part of that.
As part of our series about the 5 things you need to succeed in the fashion industry, I had the pleasure of interviewing Nicole Banks. She owns Shop Pretty Pieces. As a third-generation fashionista and seamstress, fashion was always innate for her. Currently, Nicole cultivates powerful statement pieces that allow women to define their own personal look. She encourages women to love what they wear and forget the rules!
Nicole’s corporate background in IT, marketing, and design allows her to stay up-to-date with managerial matters and track the latest trends. She previously worked in IT and management for corporate insurance. There she was able to develop a keen understanding of customer support through web and mobile technologies. Pretty Pieces was born out of a need she had for a creative outlet during a tough time. Nicole is an ovarian cancer survivor and at the time was dealing with the diagnosis of an abdominal obstruction. Determined to turn her setbacks into success, she used her testimony as a springboard to launch her fashion empire. She knew that her journey in fashion wasn’t going to be given so she paved her way by launching Pretty Pieces. Hoping to be an example and encourage women to open their own businesses, she now continues to build her tribe of supportive, bright women. Nicole’s transparency and resilience are an equal match to her style, beauty, and intellect. Pretty Pieces is her dream realized but empowering and motivating women is her life’s work.
Thank you so much for joining us! Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?
I am a recent corporate dropout where I had a 25-year career in Health Insurance holding roles in leadership, sales and marketing, and Info Technology! My corporate trajectory was super tough because I just knew I was going to be a C Suite Leader. Smart Black Pretty Well Dressed and Educated! But that was more of a threat than a positive! I found myself in a stressful place and it manifested through my health. I’d suffered from early-stage ovarian cancer in my late 20’s and it left me with adhesions and scar tissue which ultimately lead to me suffering from a life-threatening full abdominal obstruction. I had to have emergency surgery and it was in the recovery that I found the vision for Pretty Pieces. The recovery was rough, and I just knew I couldn’t go back to my corporate job without an exit plan. In my prayer, God said for me so go back to my first love. As a third-generation seamstress, I knew it had to be fashion. As I prayed God revealed to me the entire vision and that is how I ended up here.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started?
It is not really one story in particular but what’s always the funniest thing to me is people recognizing me. Especially since I’m usually very much underdressed. When I run out to the grocery store people come up to me and they actually know who I am. They tell me how much I’ve inspired them, and it is really mind-blowing. There was this time when I was recognized at an event and someone came to me and literally burst into tears. So here we both are crying and hugging in the lobby of this event. But that just goes to show how your life can bless people even in your brokenness.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
There used to be this huge Instagram account called shoestagram that would do paid promo for boutiques. I decided to use an image from my vendor in my promotion. While it got a lot of traction, it also got very ugly extremely fast. I got the picture from the vendor/ But the image had not been approved for use by the influencer they got it from. And at that time, I had no clue who she was. My IG was flagged and reported and so was the shoestagram account. It was an unintended mistake which ended up being my first lesson in intellectual property 101.
It was at that moment that I knew I had to step up and start taking my own product shots, instead of relying on images from vendors. Now in a funny full-circle moment, my pictures are often stolen and used by other brands.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
For my brand, I’d say that I’m the secret sauce. People buy people not products. I authentically run a brand that is based on a customer-centric philosophy while providing a valuable product and intangible service. I recently received a review from a customer that echoed these sentiments. She thanked me for being bold enough to tell my true story. She said that fashion might have been my passion but my heart for people keeps her coming back each time. She said that she could shop anywhere but she’s loyal to Pretty Pieces because of the good energy that I put out and my transparency! That truly sets me apart from the rest. While that won’t work for everyone I think being authentic can give your brand or company that like, know, trust factor.
Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?
Self-care. Self-care. Self-care
I can’t express that enough. I’ve had a really rough year, partly because I didn’t take the time out I needed to recuperate. I’ve truly experienced burn out. However, the time I’ve taken to just be still has helped me a lot. It is impossible to pour from an empty glass. I now build out time in my schedule to just be still without any distractions. This gives me time to gather my thoughts and recharge. I try to make this a daily practice.
How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?
I show up every day as my authentic self. Rather it’s a good day or a bad day and I remain authentic and true to my journey. I’m a firm believer that there is a feel-good psychology in fashion. If you look good, you feel good. So I try to incorporate that in my messaging. I try to give women of color that look like me motivation that we can do anything by chasing my own dreams boldly and without hesitation. If I can empower women to say, “if she can do it so can I”, I have succeeded.
Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story of how that was relevant to you in your life?
Tough times never last but tough people do.
My life from the very beginning was tough. The doctors told my mom I would not make it to see my first birthday. And if I did, I would need daily assistance. In a month, I will be 43 years old. Throughout life and especially in my journey as an entrepreneur, I have always dealt with tough moments and tough calls. But I have overcome every obstacle because I never give up. No matter what happens I always remember that I am tougher than this situation and I will see it through.
Do you see any fascinating developments emerging over the next few years in the fashion industry that you are excited about? Can you tell us about that?
I’m excited to see how the industry uses technology to reach the consumer! With Covid 19 completely derailing the retail industry, Artificial Intelligence and Augmented Reality apps will be helpful in assisting online shoppers with making informed decision-based purchases. Live streaming will likely replace in personal Fashion events which will broaden the audience that will be able to engage. I also think technology will help level the playing field for smaller brands looking to compete with larger brands.
What are your “Top 5 Things Needed to Succeed in the Fashion Industry”?
1. Learn to Build Relationships — The fashion industry is tough. You will deal with a lot more No’s before you get a yes. Relationship building will be a big part of that.
2. Purpose — You have got to be certain you are operating in your purpose in order for the authenticity to be your guide. Otherwise, it is just fluff. Fluff does not cut it in this industry for the long haul.
3. Passion — I have seen folks that don’t really have the talent to make it because of their passion. Being passionate sets you apart. It must be bigger than just making money. People should your energy and know exactly what your brand is about through the messaging you serve.
4. Persistence — The ability to stay the course is particularly important! For me personally, I have had some challenges over the years, however, being persistent and showing up has been what has made the difference for me and my brand.
5. Positivity — There will be days when you want to give up. It is the positive posture that will keep you going on your hardest days. Always remind yourself that if you consistently do the work, things will work out. Tough times pop up but are only there to teach you something that will aid you in your journey. So just remember it is all to prepare you for the success you are working towards.
Every industry constantly evolves and seeks improvement. How do you think the fashion industry can improve itself? Can you give an example?
I’d like to see big box brands being more authentic in their support of urban fashion instead of just appearing supportive because it might feel like that’s the right thing to do right now. Authentic inclusion would be ideal; however, it just doesn’t feel like it’s genuine in some respects. I think having African American creatives as contributing members of the team and authenticating with the support and not appropriating our culture would be a good start. People will only do what we let them and that couldn’t be more true with respect to cultural appropriation! Let’s take the Dapper Dan and Gucci collaboration as an example. It took many years and a falling out of sorts for Gucci to truly understand the value and power that Dapper Dan brought to the culture and to the Gucci brand.
I’d also like to see brands pay black influencers at the same rate they do other influencers. There’s a huge gap in how black influencers are compensated and the opportunities they receive. I’d like to see more inclusion from larger brands.
You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
One big focus I’ve had recently is making sure we cater to every body shape and size. My goal is that women everywhere can feel beautiful in Pretty Pieces no matter what size they are or what shape their body is. The media is hard on women and in turn, we become hard on ourselves. It’s important to me to inspire women to love their bodies in their true and original state. We did this in our denim campaign called “I love My Body”. We showcased women of all sizes in different pieces of denim celebrating their natural curves.
How can our readers follow you on social media?
I’m on IG and FB as Chief Pretty Chick or you can catch me on my Brands social @shopprettypieces on IG and Pretty Pieces on FB! I also have a really dope private Facebook community called the Pretty Posse!
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!