October 20, 2021

Between motherhood, a hectic 9 to 5 and a life-altering pandemic, Kimberly struggled to find a new normal and time to launch Nicole Ray Kids. But the ever-changing roller coaster life has to offer has made her a better person, mother, wife, and business owner. In this interview, Kimberly expresses her love for fashion and her journey to achieve absolute happiness.

When did you first fall in love with fashion? I fell in love with fashion the day I saw the movie The Fifth Element. I was in awe of the costume designs in that film created by Jean Paul Gaultier. Especially, the flight attendant costumes.  It was exciting, futuristic, sexy and nothing I had ever seen before. The exhilaration I felt in that moment, let me know, this is what I want to do. I have to be a part of this world.

So, you fell in love with fashion back in 1997, when you were 11 years old. When did you decide that you wanted to be a Fashion Designer? I decided I wanted to be a Fashion Designer my sophomore year in college. I've always been creative since I was little. I loved to paint, draw, make my own doll clothes and dress up in my mother's clothes, but I had traditional parents and they didn't believe you could make a good living working in the fashion industry.  For them it was a fun hobby for me to keep busy. When I initially went to college at North Carolina State University, I was pushed towards a more traditional major, Business Management. However, during my sophomore year, I decided I couldn't neglect my passions anymore and I changed majors to Fashion, Textiles & Apparel Management and that was the first bold decision I made in my life because I always do what my parents expect of me. The first key to happiness is to be yourself. Allowing someone else to control your narrative will cage your creativity and greatness.

How long have you worked in the Fashion Industry? Zero. Nicole Ray Kids is the start of my career in Fashion. When I graduated college, my mom gave me a couple of weeks to find a descent paying job within the Fashion Industry and if not, I would start a temp job she found for me. Obviously, I didn't find a job, because I had no work experience or network to get into the Fashion Industry. Therefore, I honored my mom's wishes and started the temp job which turned into full-time employment in Marketing for government contracting and then I transitioned to Lease Administration & Accounting in the Real Estate Industry which I've been doing for the past 8 to 10 years. I established the company Nicole Ray, LLC in 2010 and launched a website for womenswear, but I didn't follow through on selling any products. The same year I launched my collection, my husband proposed to me, so my priorities changed from starting a business to buying a house and planning a wedding. While I was working, I continued to apply for jobs within the Fashion Industry, but I never received a call back, which was depressing because I really wasn’t happy with my career.  Your career is such a big part of your life. You spend majority of your week at work instead of with family, so if you don’t enjoy what you do, in my eyes that’s a huge part of your life that you are unhappy, and that unhappiness can spill over into your relationship with your friends, family and partner.  When I had my daughter Sidney in 2015, motherhood enlightened me and I decided I have to make changes in my life, because I can't raise a child and be unhappy.  Also I realized that I would not be okay with myself if I left this earth knowing that I didn't try to do what I love and use these gifts that God gave me.  So, in 2018, I decided to create my own company.  I established my target market, designed a swimwear collection, did the research & strategic planning, I joined Maker’s Row to find a manufacturer, put together a business plan and presented it to my father and sister and here we are! I'm very thankful for my sister and father for believing in me and investing in my dreams because without their support and the support of family and friends, I would not have this company.

“I believe God has a plan for all of us and he knows when it’s the right time to receive your blessings. I wasn’t ready to start a business 5 to 10 years ago. I had the talent, but I didn’t have the skills or confidence to execute it. I needed the work experience with other professionals to learn how to run a business and build confidence in myself. From my work experience I have acquired accounting, legal, marketing, administrative and managing skills, which is everything I need to run a successful business. I wish I had more work experience directly in the Fashion Industry but the knowledge I have from school has helped me through this process.”

So, you had a womenswear collection back in 2012. Why childrenswear for the initial launch of your brand to the world? My daughter is my motivation for childrenswear.  When she was born I started making clothes for her and became interested in the children's market. I don’t think there are a lot of companies that make modern & trendy designs for children besides ZARA, so I think there is room for growth in that sector especially for minority business owners.  The retail market is very saturated in general, especially on Instagram, so it's going to be very difficult to cut through the noise and make my mark in this industry, but I have a different point of view for childrenswear that I think will catch consumers attention.  Also, it’s been a blessing to share this journey with my daughter.  She is my muse and has helped me throughout the process of launching my business.  She tries on samples, helps me select fabrics and colors for the designs and she is one of the models for my first collection on the website. But keep an eye on this brand because I have more ideas up my sleeve.  As the brand continues to grow, childrenswear will not be the only product this company has to offer in the future.

What inspires your designs? Color. Color is the main inspiration of all my collections. When I’m watching a movie, looking at art, fashion, or nature, color is what catches my attention first, then I choose a theme to pull everything together. 

What challenges did you face launching your collection during a global pandemic? Whew!  What challenges didn’t I face with this collection.  Before the pandemic started, I had been working on the collection for 2 years and I had just flown out to LA to meet with the manufacture to discuss changes to the designs I received during the development process, and I was planning to launch the collection in the Summer of 2020.  The meeting went great, and I was super excited because I was like “this is actually happening”.  When I returned home, 1 week later we were on complete lockdown in Maryland and the manufacturer shut down operations as well until further notice.  On May 14, 2020, I woke up in the middle of the night at like 2:00 am, and I logged onto IG because I couldn't sleep and the first post I saw was from my manufacturer about rebranding with a new company name.  I immediately panicked and emailed them first thing in the morning to figure out what was going on.  Keep in mind that I hadn't heard from them in 2 months, so I was freaking out because I had already paid for changes to my designs.  The next day I received a business dissolution notification from the manufacturer. I didn't cry, but I certainly wanted to cry because I knew there was a bumpy road of obstacles ahead of me. I was this close to launching my collection and then it was just wiped away just like that and I had to basically start over.

After the dissolution I had to choose between business partners who I wanted to continue to work with. The partner I chose to work with dragged her feet on the patterns and manufacturing the products and long story short she cost me a lot of money for orders she did not fulfill and wasted about 5 to 6 months of my time. Eventually, I transitioned to a new manufacturer which has been a blessing but still a roller coaster ride.  My next goal was to launch in spring/summer of 2021, but due to the ongoing pandemic we continued to have delays in receiving fabric at the ports, some of the fabrics I selected were discontinued during production and we had an issue with the sublimation printing machine, so I had to move the launch date back another year.  In hindsight, I think delaying the launch 2 years was the best thing to do because not only did it allow me more time to work on the website and get organized, but it also would have affected my sales to launch during the height of the pandemic because people were on lockdown, so it was for the best.

The hardest obstacle for me to overcome with this entire experience is perfection. I wanted everything to be perfect. The clothes, the website, production, photos, and I had to realize that everything will not be perfect when you are running a new business. You have to give yourself time to learn and grow from your mistakes and find the right vendors for your business. I realized you have to just go for it. It's now or never!

How does it feel to finally have your own brand?  It’s exciting and equally terrifying at the same time. I’m excited to do what I love and see all these beautiful children wearing my designs, but we also live in this new world of “Social Media” which can be brutal or empowering for businesses. Everyone has an opinion, and everyone can see those opinions online which can sway people’s perception of your brand in a positive or negative way. There are going to be a lot people who love my work and dislike my work and I have to be ok with that.  I hope to receive a lot of positive feedback from consumers because that's the energy I need to keep going, but I welcome constructive criticism as well to help my brand grow and get better.

I’m glad you brought up your fear of social media.  So many people are suffering from depression due to social media from cancel culture to this idea of perfection and "living your best life".  How do you manage social media and protect your mental health as a user? LatelyI don't have a lot of time to get on social media because I'm busy with my 9 to 5 job, family, household duties and launching my business. I find that if you keep busy with things to do in the "real world", you will realize that you don't need it 24/7.  I usually log onto social media when I have down time, during a hot bath or when I need inspiration.  Obviously, I will be using social media a lot more for my business, but it's a passion of mine so hopefully it won't be toxic.

To protect my mental on social media, I manage the people I follow.  I follow people that inspire and challenge me creatively, mentally and physically. I follow people I can relate to, make me laugh and family & friends I want to keep in touch with. I typically stay away from negative news and the comments section because that's where the devil lives and I don't want to dance with the devil.  Also, I try not to compare my life to anyone else on social media because it's all for show. Most people including myself are not going to post negative things about our life, like financial struggles, or a bad picture, or relationship issues, etc.  People are creating an idea of a perfect life on Instagram, so I always keep that in mind when I'm scrolling.  Nobody is perfect and nobody has a perfect life. 

With that being said, overall I think social media has been great for connecting with friends & family, spreading awareness and starting new businesses.  Social media has opened a lot of opportunities for people to do what they love and that's fantastic!  Now that you don't have to pay for a physical store or spend hundreds of thousands of dollars for a commercial to market your company, social media has given entrepreneurs the opportunity to start new businesses with less resources and funding, which is amazing! 

Let’s change up the discussion a little bit.  We are going to ask you 40 rapid fire questions to get to know you a little more.

What’s the first thing you think about in the morning? I have to pee. [giggles] Moms will understand.

Socks or barefoot? Barefoot.

Introvert or extrovert?  Introvert.

How do you unwind?  Music, hot bath and red wine.

What is your favorite thing to do on Sundays? Paint with my daughter.

Favorite fashion era? The 70’s.

Which celebrity's style reminds you of yourself? Victoria Pedretti from the show "You".  

Which fashion style do you wish will never come back? Shoulder pads.

Who is your favorite rapper? Jay-Z

If you were a rapper, what would your stage name be?  Middle Class or Kimmie Paycheck.

What is a new song on your playlist? Free Mind by Tems

Who is an artist you would like to see live in concert? Sam Smith

What is your guilty pleasure?  Watching movie trailer reactions on YouTube.

Favorite show growing up? Martin 

What is your favorite restaurant to go to for date night? Del Frisco's, Zatinya or Khaz, whichever has a reservation available.

What is your favorite cocktail? 3pm in Instanbul from Zatinya.

If you could buy another house any where in the world, where would it be?  I haven't traveled the world yet, so right now I would say, Savannah, Georgia, which is my mother's hometown.

One thing you will never do again? Axe throwing. I suck at it and I'm afraid I'm going to hurt someone. Whoever thought axe throwing and alcohol was a great idea, was sadly mistaken.

One thing you would love to try again.  Curling.

Hardest thing about being a mom? Patience.

Best thing about being a mom?  The love you receive even when you make mistakes.

First advice you would give to other mothers. Don’t be so hard on yourself and split the responsibilities 50/50 with your partner.

Do you still have something from childhood?  Yes.  My twin size bed blanket.

What is a fond memory from your childhood?  Watching old Westerns, snuggled up with my grandmother.

Do you have a nickname?  Yes. Beanie.

Why Beanie? I don't know, you'll have to ask my father. He has never called me by my real name. Always Beanie.

What is your favorite dish to cook for dinner? Chicken Alfredo Pasta with asparagus.

What is your favorite vegetable?  Brussel sprouts.

What is a desert you can’t say no to?  Chocolate cake with vanilla ice cream.

Favorite breakfast dish? Shrimp & Grits.

If you could be anything else besides a fashion designer, what would you be?  Interior decorator or screenwriter/director.

What is the last movie you watched that made you cry from laughter? It wasn't a movie, it was a Mike Epps comedy special on Netflix. I was on the floor crying and laughing so hard that my cheeks started hurting.

If you could be on any television show, which show would it be? Peacemaker, and vigilante would be my best friend.

Which television show do you and your husband enjoy watching together?  Curb Your Enthusiasm.

Which television show can you watch over and over again? Emily in Paris on Netflix and Girls on HBO.

What is the best gift to give a woman on valentines day? Spa Day/Massage

What is something people would be surprised to learn about you? I love puzzles. I did a 1,000-piece puzzle during Christmas and it brought me so much joy.  My husband thought it was hilarious because he had no idea I liked puzzles. 

What scares you the most?  Losing someone I love.

What is something you hope to get better at in the next year? Meeting new people.

What advice would you give to other designers trying to make it in this industry? Start small and work your way up. 

Great answers. The pandemic was and still is difficult for a lot of people due to loss of jobs, economic changes, virtual learning, lack of travel and social interactions. What can you say was something positive you experienced during the pandemic? Self-care. Prior to quarantine, I didn't have time to take care of my health properly. I would spend 9 to 10 hours of my day at work, glued to my desk and then I would leave work to pick up my daughter from school, cook, clean and prepare for the next day. Now that I work from home, I'm able to step away from my desk to workout. I have more control over my diet because I can prepare lunch in my house.  Instead of commuting to work in the mornings,  I can use that time for prayer and meditation and give proper attention to my child because I'm not rushing out the door to get to work on time. Having time to exercise, eat healthier and pray has increased my physical and mental health and helps fight anxiety, stress and depression.

The pandemic was an enlightening experience. I realized life is too short and I need to enjoy life before it's over. Happiness for me is doing what I love on a daily basis, having a fulfilling marriage, making enough money to support my family and my daughter's dreams, giving back to the community, exploring this beautiful world and spending time with the people I love.  Now that I know exactly who I want to be as a person, what I want for my career and I'm in the best physical and mental state I have ever been, I feel like it's the best time for me to start my business journey and I'm very excited for the next chapter in my life.