Article from Boulevard Magazine – Fall 2016
Title – A Cut Above – Designing an Eco-Friendly Future, One Stitch at a Time
by Tess Van Straaten, photos by Don Denton.
For Ladysmith’s Nikki MacCallum, sewing is her passion. “I love sewing. I love fabrics and I love working with beautiful fabrics and creating things”, says MacCallum, the visionary behind NikkiDesigns. “My mother taught me how to sew when I was a little girl and I’ve been designing and sewing ever since.”
Yet surprisingly, this mother of three never intended to start her own custom-crafted home decor business. She was working as a seamstress and a clothing designer when she tried to buy a new duvet cover more than a decade ago. The first time MacCallum washed it, it shrunk and twisted and was no longer usable.
“Being a seamstress, I knew exactly what had happened – the fabric hadn’t been cut on the grain”, MacCallum explains, “When items are mass-produced, this type of care and detail are often overlooked. It’s gotten so bad, people aren’t surprised any more when stuff falls apart.”
MacCallum decided to take matters into her own hands – literally – designing and sewing her own duvet cover. But first, she extensively researched fabrics to find one that would be comfortable to sleep in but strong enough to last through numerous washings.
“The more I read about all the chemicals and pesticides used to grow cotton, the more determined I became to use organic fabrics,” she says. “I discovered that hemp, the strongest fabric known to man – it’s 10 times stronger than cotton – is environmentally friendly and doesn’t need chemical fertilizers or pesticides to grow. It’s also naturally mold and mildew resistant, gets softer with every wash and can be dyed naturally in beautiful colours.”
The duvet cover was such a success, MacCallum decided to open her own store on Etsy and soon discovered there was a big demand for quality, hand-crafted goods.
“The first year I sold six things, the next year 40 and by the third year it really started to take off,” says MacCallum, who launched her own website (nikkidesigns,ca) and now sells hand-made curtains, blinds, bedding and decor items all over the world.
With her business booming, the 52-year-old employs five people and is opening her first studio, which will have open-houses and by by-appointment in Ladysmith.
“I think the timing is really good for me to have this space so people can drop in”, MacCallum says, “A big challenge in growing the business has been finding good sewers. I’m lucky I have skilled sewers working for me but it’s a lost art.”
Another challenge was learning how to do online sales when it was still a relatively new phenomenon.
“There was no course to take and one teaching that 10 years ago,” MacCallum jokes.
But one of the biggest learning curves for this entrepreneur was one that everyone faces – work/life balance – which is particularly challenging for people running their own business.
“Having your own business is always a roller coaster and work/life balance is a big challenge. You have to know when to quit and not reply to another email because it’s important to have a life,” MacCallum says.
“Sometimes I wish I had done this when I was younger, but the timing was really good because it took off when my youngest daughter left the house so I could really focus on the business.”
For MacCallum, who still does all her own fabric cutting because it’s so crucial to a good outcome, the biggest business lesson has been not to get discouraged.
“As a business owner, you always have days where everything goes wrong and people complain and it’s all up to you – the buck stops with you – but you can’t take things personally,” MacCallum advises. “You have to let it go and you can’t let it get to you.”
Initially, MacCallum admits she tried to do everything herself, which was a big mistake.
“I learned to hire people to do the jobs I wasn’t an expert in so that I could concentrate on doing what I do best and on growing the business.”
MacCallum’s two biggest markets are New York and California and the most popular product at NikkiDesigns is roman shades – the company tells people how to measure and sends fabric swatches – followed by curtains and bedding.
All of the fabrics used – most often a hemp blend with organic cotton or silk – are natural and eco-friendly, and MacCallum says she’d like to see hemp become more widely used in society given all of its benefits.
“We know that eating organic food is the right thing to do so doesn’t it make sense that using organic fabrics is also better for our environment and better for our health?” asks MacCallum, who welcomed her first grandchild a year ago. “You don’t want sheets and bedding and window coverings that could off-gas potentially harmful chemicals and hurt your family.”
But MacCallum is most careful of the fact that everything at NikkiDesigns is hand-cut one at a time and fabrics are pre-shrunk to make sure there are no duvet disasters like the one that inspired her to start the business.
“It’s the little things people don’t know about that make all the difference.”
Boulevard Magazine is published by Black Press. It is Vancouver Island’s leading lifestyle magazine, celebrating 26 years of publishing on the Island. They can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org