The hard road

The Hard Road

I decided to name my brand Nikke Horrigan because it represents everything I stand for.  First, my mother has called me Nikke my entire life. Second, without a business partner, all of the effort to bring the label to life was my own. And third, there’s a special feeling you get when you see someone walking down the street wearing your clothes. It's a small victory in a long battle ahead. But landing on a name was the easiest part of the journey. 

When I first launched Nikke Horrigan, I had an intense passion for the fashion industry, but I didn’t have the basic skills I needed to get started. I used to read everything about the business and the people that ruled it. I looked up to people like Ralph Lauren, Tommy Hilfiger, and Tory Burch. They were designers who didn’t have fashion degrees and learned everything as they went along. Knowing that people could succeed in the business without an advanced foundation gave me hope.

One of my first objectives was to learn how to sew. I had a difficult time securing a factory to complete small orders. I figured I wouldn’t have to depend on anyone if I learned how to sew.  I was able to pick up lessons from a retired elderly woman in my local town. Looking back on the experience, the image of me showing up to my lessons with no materials and sitting alongside several elderly women was quite funny. My friends couldn’t take me seriously. My dad had no idea what I was doing. But it was this class that helped me get started the right way. The sewing instructor helped me purchase a Pfaff sewing machine. I started purchasing fabric from stores in my area and testing out my newfound knowledge on several creations.  Though I was happy to learn the skill, I was far from a master. 

Luckily, I met another elderly woman in the sewing class that was looking for part-time work. I decided to work with her to create a first run of boutique shorts cut from fabrics found at the local markets. The shorts quickly gained popularity, but the production demand was too much for her, and I had to discontinue the product.

After some limited success, I was back to square one. At this point, I wasn’t a full-fledged designer. I just had my ideas. As I called around to different factories, it was difficult to gain people’s trust without a pre-established reputation or even a website. The more calls I made, the more productive leads I generated. I ended up partnering with an old Vietnamese man who operated a factory in the back of his garage. Though it wasn’t the most professional set up, he had the experience and the amount of workers needed to get the job done. I left my samples and fabrics with him, hopeful that I was on my way to a finished product.

With what little spare time I had whilst I was at work, I would spend talking on the phone to pattern makers or drawing sketches on my lunch breaks. After a couple weeks passed with no news from the factory owner, I gave him a call on a Sunday. I was eager to push the sampling along.

For me, I’d been working 21 days straight and I wanted answers to why nothing had been done. Sunday was just another work day for me, but for this factory owner, conducting business on a Sunday was a deal breaker. The phone call was not met with pleasantness but rather short and blunt refusal to work with me. I pleaded and apologized as I didn't know any better. He accepted my apology and promised to help me. His English wasn't very good, but fortunately I happened to work with a Vietnamese guy who could interpret for me. So quite often, my friend would be doing all the talking on the phone for me. Unfortunately, it was short lived and the factory owner fell short of his promise without completing any of my work. He declined to continue the job and referred me to another factory owner with a similar setup. He transferred my fabrics and samples over to him. The idea of my patterns and fabrics being moved to someone I had never met made me feel like a lost cause. I felt like the kid that nobody wanted. And with another disappointing outcome, that factory was too busy to help me and passed my materials on to yet a third factory owner. At this point, I’d been away from home working contract jobs for a few months. Upon my return, none of the samples had been completed satisfactory, and the third owner was preoccupied with his more established clients.

The frustration started to sink in. I've been passed around 3 different factories who were reluctant to take me on. The reality of big dreams are that "it's hard and unforgiving ". I think everyone posses a fighter inside them, you just need something worth fighting for. For me it was to keep my dream alive. This determination led me to fly to China to search for manufacturers with no road map and armed only with the hope that my instincts would prevail. The sad truth, or the moral of this episode in my life is that talk is cheap, and promises will be broken but it's your ability to be resilient that determines the outcome from a difficult situation.

But before making that landmark journey, I attempted to hire either a fashion consultant or a production manager. After some searching, I got in contact with a consultant who was based in Sydney.  We set a meeting date, and with a friend, I embarked on the 14-hour drive from Queensland to Sydney to meet with her. Along the drive, my friend nearly lost his license for excessive speeding after being pulled over for doing 110 km/h in a 60 km/h zone. Despite the brush with the law and the lengthy drive, we arrived in Sydney. But we were 30 minutes late.  The consultant canceled the meeting because she had other obligations. I pleaded with her and explained how far I’d traveled to take the meeting, but she wouldn’t budge. She also didn’t have availability the next day. This left a bad taste in my mouth but I could only blame myself for error in judgment.

The one thing I know for sure: there is so much prior planning involved in building a fashion label. The road is long and there are many upsets along the way that can hold you up. Sure I could have launched this brand a lot earlier, bought a run of wholesale shirts, slapped a cool slogan on, and asked all my cool friends to wear it. But that's not what I'm about. I'm not trying to keep up with industry trends and become a momentary success only to be forgotten in the long run. I'm in it for the long haul. I want the roots of the label to be deep and everlasting like fashion houses I have come to admire growing up.

The name of my brand, Nikke Horrigan, represents everything I’ve been through to chase my dreams.  From learning to sew alongside the elderly women of my community to the failed efforts of local manufacturers to driving 14 hours for a missed meeting, the road has been hard.  But it’s all been worth it.

"Fashion imitates life." - Nikke Horrigan


Nikke Horrigan