Meet one of our sassiest MASHers and Big Apple export Lindsay – Founder and Creative Director of women’s ready to wear label Lindsay Nicholas New York and a luxury retail marketing extraordinaire. With a CV that spans three continents and previous experience that include being Head of Global Branding for Paspaley, Executive Director of Retail Branding at the iconic Marina Bay Sands as well as having held global marketing positions at DDB – Linds comes with a wealth of experience – and a bloody brilliant story or two. Straight talking with no BS, Lind’s told us how professional freedom and fulfillment didn’t happen overnight… or in her 30’s… or even on the first attempt… but in the words of the Nike poster that hung on her wall growing up – the more you push, the more you’re pulled – and it’s been a hell of a ride.
How would you summarise your career journey to now?
I’ve certainly not taken a linear path to get where I am. I studied broadcast journalism at university, but when I graduated the economy was so bad that instead of going in to my chosen field, I decided to stay in my retail management role (where I worked while studying) and ended up staying there another seven years because it was a great job. I then felt the pull to move in to advertising and moved to NYC to pursue my Madison Avenue dreams, and actually wound up working on Madison Avenue for more than a decade, working with very creative people on very exciting projects. Over the years, my role became more and more global and that breadth of experience allowed me to transition to leading marketing client-side for some great brands and eventually moving me to Sydney, then Singapore, and now Melbourne.
The first time you tried to start your own business didn’t exactly go to plan. Can you tell us about it?
While I was in NYC, I knew I always wanted to get in to fashion design, but I didn’t think that was something someone could “break in to” in their 30’s. Living in NYC during 9/11, so many of us looked at our lives and re-assessed what we were doing…were we living our passions…and I decided to get a certificate degree from Parsons School of Design at night, while I continued working in advertising during the day. That took two years and then I decided to continue on at the Fashion Institute of Technology. That took another two years. I then walked into my bosses office and said “I quit; I’m going to be a fashion designer!”…to which he basically said “shut up and go back to your desk”, which I did for the better part of a decade.
What was the catalyst that drove you to finally take the leap, and when did this happen?
About five years ago I realized it’s now or never (I was rounding 50…so much for thinking 30 was too old), so I started my fashion business while I was living (and working full time in luxury marketing) in Singapore. I knew what I wanted my business to look like, and I knew it would take years for that to happen, so if I wanted to grow it in to a successful business that would be a go-to for the well-dressed woman, I simply couldn’t wait. This business is a long game and industry people will tell you that it will be ten years before you can actually pay yourself a decent salary, and I want to see this business through for the next 30 or 40 years (retirement is not for me…if I was retired, this what I’d want to do). I can’t say it wasn’t scary leaving a good corporate salary, and I do have days where I think “what the Hell have I done”, but most days its very rewarding.
How did you take the first steps?
My first step was actually hiring a coach to flesh out my ideas (and to give me courage, as I am definitely not a born entrepreneur; I am a great #2 and that’s where I am most comfortable). The next thing was finding the “experts” as I was years out of my design degree. I knew I had the ideas, but not the technical skills. I found a great “one stop shop” in a woman who owned a business that would manage the pattern makers, factories, packaging and so forth. We had regular 4am calls from Singapore, which was her late afternoon and we just got things done. I would travel back to NYC for fittings with our fit model a few times a year, and even occasionally had to do fittings via Skype, which is not optimal. In this new world we’re heading into, so much of the fashion design process really needs to be face to face, partially because it’s such a tactile creation. Because I now spend more time in Melbourne, I have moved my production here so that I can visit the factories regularly, see my pattern maker often, and things like that.
Do you think making this move later in your life was of benefit or proved more challenging?
I think I am a better designer because I have lived my life in my client’s shoes. I know what she needs from her wardrobe and I understand what a good travel wardrobe looks like (and she will travel again…she’ll be the first one back on the planes). I think it’s very ambitious to become a founder in your 20’s because you miss all of the years of learning from mentors, and learning from people you don’t want to be like, which is equally as useful. I do wish I had been an apprentice for a designer at some stage because I have really had to learn everything on the job. I now know that there are resources that could have kept me from making some early mistakes (like making far too much product for my first collection), but in some ways, I understand my mistakes so well, I am sure to never repeat them. I am sure some new ones will come up, because I firmly believe if you’re not making mistakes, you’re not taking any risk and if you don’t take risk, you can’t grow. Failure isn’t the opposite of success; failure is a stepping stone to success.
What is one career/life lesson that has really stayed with you?
I had a Nike ad on my wall growing up that said “the more you push, the more you are pulled”. I don’t know if I really knew what it even meant then, but now I know it means if you work really hard, good things will come to you.