Nichole Lynel has had a connection to Nordstrom all her life. She remembers her grandmother taking her back-to-school shopping at Nordstrom when she was five. At eighteen, Lynel got her second job with the retail giant. When she decided to pursue her goal of becoming a fashion designer, Lynel always dreamed of seeing her clothing on the racks of Nordstrom one day.
In 2021, Lynel’s dream has come true. Six years after launching her brand, Shop Nichole Lynel, the Cerritos-born designer and entrepreneur has become an official supplier for Nordstrom. Lynel has created, designed, and produced a twenty-piece Holiday Glam Collection for the retailer. It’s set to be the first of many Nichole Lynel The Label collections offered at Nordstrom stores nationwide and online. Though Lynel had been approached by other retailers in the past—especially after the growing movement to support entrepreneurs of color—she signed the deal with Nordstrom because she felt they really valued what she brought to the table.
“Nordstrom’s really approached me intentionally…I wanted someone to approach me because I was great, not because I was Black. While I love being a Black woman, I don’t want to be a checkbox. I wanted [them] to want me because I was great. And that’s exactly how [Nordstrom] approached me. They researched me, and they’ve been holding my hand through this process,” Lynel said.
Nordstrom isn’t Lynel’s first noteworthy partnership. Lynel was one of three designers to create clothing for the American Girl 35th anniversary fashion show. It was the first time she had ever created designs small enough to fit on an 18-inch-tall doll, and the whole process took more than year, but Lynel enjoyed the challenge.
“[American Girl] are very detailed and they are very on it and every little single stitch to the butterflies, to every little piece of it. The shoes, the socks, everything has to be approved and go through a process. But it was beautiful, and I can’t believe something that started with sketches and a mood board turned into a real-life runway show with models and doll clothes,” Lynel shared.
As Lynel’s brand expands and her list of partnerships grown, Lynel has learned to discern good partners from bad ones. She warns entrepreneurs who are exploring collaborations to know their books and numbers well, prepare for the expense, review their contracts carefully, and negotiate for what they want. She also cautions businessowners to chose partners who have a common goal beyond money.
“If somebody is all about the money, it’s not going to be about you. It’s not going to be about morals. It’s not going to be about anything else. At the bottom line, they’re going to choose that money over you,” Lynel said.
As a Black woman entrepreneur, Lynel understands how difficult it can be for businessowners of color to come across growth opportunities like collaborations. When she started her first online fashion boutique in 2014, she experienced first-hand the lack of support, funding, respect, and access to resources like manufacturing for Black fashion designers.
“One of the biggest barriers is finding the right resources. We don’t come from families that we can just tap into to produce these items of our dreams. Another is being taken seriously and getting funding and just overall respect to produce and sell [our] items,” Lynel said.
Lynel recalled the humble beginnings of her brand. Her first design was a silky set that she described as “the crunchiest satin two-piece.” Once she refined her design skills, she hit another roadblock—finding manufacturers. She had to knock on dozens of doors in LA just find a manufacturer she could work with. Lynel soon launched her first collection at a fashion show for an LA-based designer, but expenses became an issue.
“I couldn’t afford to produce that collection because it just didn’t make sense for my target market. While it was beautiful, it wasn’t going to work,” Lynel shared.
For Lynel, having the right relationships was key to getting over those early obstacles. She deepened her knowledge of the fashion business through the mentorship of her manufacturer who taught her patternmaking, sewing, manufacturing, and merchandising. Lynel also credits Harlem Fashion Row (HFR), an agency that provides resources and opportunities for designers of color. It was through HFR that Lynel secured the partnership with American Girl.
“They have been a life changing company for me, not only providing resources and opportunities but guidance. And they have really helped me with not only the resources but changing my mind about what is available and really making some of my biggest dreams come true.”
Lynel has continued to foster the right relationships as her business grows. She’s invested in building a team that can support her vision as her brand scales. She noted that some of the most important roles were a production manager, a marketing pro, and an accountant who have helped her navigate her Nordstrom partnership; the launch of her high-end brand, NL, The Label; and manage the tripled revenue Lynel earned over the pandemic. Her advice for hiring? Hire character and pay for quality.
“Every time I’ve been cheap, I’ve paid twice. When it comes to work, the greats require great pay and a great environment, and I had to provide that,” Lynel noted.
But while Lynel has been smart about the people who help her build her business, she’s really mastered connecting with the people she builds her business for. Lynel has amassed a loyal online following through her authentic storytelling, thoughtful marketing, and community engagement. She uses her rapport with her customers to build a brand they’re invested in.
“I design for the glamorous girl on the go. What does she need from the time that she wakes up in the morning to her wedding dress? I am always thinking about what she needs, and then I ask questions, and I have my customers heavily involved with the process and the journey. I always get the question: ‘How do you grow and how have things changed so fast?’ And it’s because I only do what people respond to.”
Lynel is determined to continue that momentum she’s built with Shop Nichole Lynel and NL, The Label. She’s set her sights on forging more brand partnerships, hosting her own runway show, launching a high-quality plus line by 2022, and entering into the fashion entrepreneur education space with e-books and courses.
And while Lynel knows the fashion industry is a competitive space, the forward-thinking designer is not at all deterred or distracted by that.
“If I didn’t do it first, I’m going to do it better and I’m going to innovate. All that ‘worrying about who’s doing what, and if it looks like mine’ energy doesn’t matter. I’m an architect. I’m full of blueprints. So, while they’re looking at my blueprint, I can just create another one. It’s endless.”