402: She Took Her Upholstery Career From Side Hustle To World Market and HBO’s Insecure (w/Nicole Crowder)

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402: She Took Her Upholstery Career From Side Hustle To World Market and HBO’s Insecure (w/Nicole Crowder)

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This multi-hyphenate artist is the best example as to how pursuing that side hustle you’ve always dreamed about can pay off.

In the guest chair this week we have Nicole Crowder, an acclaimed designer, upholsterer, editor/writer, and curator. After her first custom furniture collection launched in 200 World Market US retail stores, Nicole continues to expand and now collaborates with brands that span across advertising, hospitality, fashion and television to create modern heirlooms and redefine space making.

In this episode she shares:

  • How she balances the titles of editor, designer, curator and artist 
  • Where her work has been featured, from the HBO television series Insecure, to being  acquired by historical museums
  • The number one way she ensured high profits while working with brands  
  • How she lands huge publications like Architectural Digest, Elle Decor, and Better Homes & Gardens

Highlights include:

  • 00:00 Intro
  • 02:30 Building a photography portfolio 
  • 08:49 Discovering the world of upholstery 
  • 11:43 Researching and fine-tuning the craft
  • 13:14 Landing contracts with huge brands
  • 19:48 Navigating negotiations for maximum profit
  • 25:34 Building a pay structure 
  • 31:07 Being featured on HBO’s Insecure 
  • 41:58 Tips for entrepreneurs 

Check out episode 402 of Side Hustle Pro podcast out now on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, and YouTube

Links mentioned in this episode

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Guest Social Media Info

Nicole’s Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/nicolemcrowder 

Nicaila Matthews Okome 0:02

You're listening to side hustle Pro, the podcast that teaches you to build and grow your side hustle from passion project to profitable business. And I'm your host Nicaila Matthews Okome. So let's get started

Hey, friends, hey. Today in the guest chair, we have Nicole Crowder. Nicole is an acclaimed designer, upholsterer, editor, writer and curator. Her work has been featured on acclaimed HBO television series insecure, and has been acquired by historical museums. In 2022, Nicole released her first custom furniture collection with world market that was featured at all 200 of their US retail stores and online. She collaborates with brands that span across advertising, hospitality, fashion and television, to redefine space making a consummate print lover and consumer. The cold started her career in editorial and lifestyle print magazines, like essence, InStyle, AARP, and more. And in today's episode, she shares how she got started, how she got the courage to take her side hustle full time, and how she navigates visibility and identity as an artist. Let's get right into it.

So welcome. Welcome to the guest here officially Nicole, how are you?

Nicole Crowder 1:35

I am wonderful. I'm so excited to be here. I've been a huge admirer of you and your podcasts. So thank you so much. I

Nicaila Matthews Okome 1:43

appreciate that so much. I have been a huge admirer of your work as well. And it is so nice to have you here to kind of hear about your background, because I think it's just so incredible. I'm curious, how do you introduce yourself these days?

Nicole Crowder 1:59

Oh, that's a great question. I introduced myself as an artist, as a designer, as a curator. And as an editor. These days, I've leaned a lot more into my editor, writer phase, which has been amazing. And so those are the words that are coming up in terms of how I Yeah, introduce myself to people who aren't familiar with my work previously, but also people who are getting to know me at this iteration iteration.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 2:23

I love that worth so much. This iteration. So what was Nicole's original career path before this iteration? Whoo.

Nicole Crowder 2:33

So I was a photo editor in the publishing industry for over 10 years, I think, almost 1213 years. And I absolutely love that time, I started out as a photo intern at Essence magazine. And that opened up so many opportunities for me to move further into the publishing industry. And I was just like, watch, this is a world I can like, you know, work with photographers and art directors and put together packages and you know, incredible stories. And so I did that work for 10 years starting with from New York to DC. And I was working with AARP, the magazine, their senior plus, like 50 Plus,

Nicaila Matthews Okome 3:15

love to hear that my mom is on her. ARP is

Nicole Crowder 3:24

it's a great publication and I you know, was overseeing, like, the arts and the culture and a lot of like, photoshoots with them, which was amazing. And moved from that to working with the Washington Post and working in newspapers and with photographers in a different capacity. But it was, how did you get into photography did you spend I didn't study officially, but I always love photography always was a very creative kid, very artistic. And I was in college studying history. And one of my professors like, basically put me on to photography, he was like, you know, I'm always saying you like taking photos, and you're posting things, there was a internal website on the school where you could share photos and things like that. And I ended up experimenting in the dark room just with developing negatives and everything and different photo techniques. And I really, really fell in love with that. And I was like, Oh my gosh, is this something that I could, you know, just do for fun. And then he opened up my world to it's not just like a hobby, but this could really be a niche. And I got introduced to magazine photography that way. I've always collected magazines, and, you know, big print fan. We had a lot of magazines on the house. And it started just clicking for me of like, okay, these are photo credits. These are the art director credits and you know, these are the different ways that you can design a visual package. There's a title for that. And so I started to pursue that career after college and really after my internship with essence, which I was

Nicaila Matthews Okome 4:50

how did you go about getting a job without that formal study where they just interested in your work and said, Hey, she's good, so let's, you know,

Nicole Crowder 4:58

and it was a mix of things like after say, Right place, right time connections, were really willing to help me, you know, get my name in the room, I had been building up a portfolio, but truly still didn't even know how to build a portfolio. This is when people were taking like hardcopy, you know, binders to offices to show their work. So

Nicaila Matthews Okome 5:20

that was a portfolio literal.

Nicole Crowder 5:24

Because larger images, you know, at the time, it was very expensive to do, it's still expensive to do. But after my internship with essence, I had just been building up a portfolio steadily of different types of work portraiture, food, interiors, and the editors there were so gracious in sharing my name, you know, putting in rooms, talking with other editors who were hiring at the time, and I had applied for a job, or get how I came across it. But at the end of my internship, they were asking, you know, what's your next pursuit? And I was like, Well, I think I'm gonna keep on in this field and do photo editing. And so they had put me in touch with the editors, AARP, from New York to DC I went. So it was so much like word of mouth, but a little bit, you know, also contributing my work and being able to speak to what I wanted to do in the industry.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 6:23

There is a common thread that I am hearing from you, Nicole, and that is, you've always had an eye, whether it's photography, or now with interior design, you have this vision for beautiful things. What do you think influenced that?

Nicole Crowder 6:41

Um, I think a lot of it really is, well, in part, I grew up as a military kid. And I was really introverted and shy as well. But I was super curious about everything around me. And there was so much of it, it was you know, a lot of different textures and colors and accents and tapestries. And a lot of that growing up in, you know, South Korea, Japan, Germany, influenced how I really engaged with art, and my curiosity about art. And I think I just draw a lot of that with me through what I read what I consumed. And then also, you know, getting into school, just what I was kind of curious about, and I love being able to envision a space. And I'm the kind of person who likes a lot of kind of like when you walk into a bazaar, just everything hitting you at one time, all the smells and the colors and the mixture of everything. And so with each of the mediums, I think that I'm getting into I'm trying to bring that same approach of like maximalism, and I was just thinking of that word. Like striking visuals I just more and more with me.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 7:44

i When did you start dipping your toe into interior design?

Nicole Crowder 7:47

Well, I would say this was Well, initially, I was working as a photo editor with AARP. But during that was freelancing as a photographer with apartment therapy, this is when they were hiring people to do House tours. And so I would go to a bunch of different homes, photograph, you know everything about the home, and then I would get a whole resource list of where they bought stuff. And I was building a log of like, okay, this is from Clayton Barrow was down. This is from, you know, room and board or wherever it was. And I just really, really fascinated with spaces and sort of styling them imagining them as extensions of your personality. Also, around the same time, I was discovering upholstery, kind of I was seeing chairs for the first time, as if I had never seen them before. But there was something about the ability to transform them and make them almost feel dressed. That really resonated with me. And I just got bitten by this book. And it became this affinity to reimagine space. And I've been doing that since 2012. I would say yeah, 2012 reimagine, oh, my gosh,

Nicaila Matthews Okome 8:49

and that's how I came across your work with you reimagining things. And I thought, wow, I never imagined that you could do that to an older chair that had a completely different fabric. What do you think inspired you to do it the very first time like, did you just you wanted to look at it, you couldn't afford it? Or what was that? It

Nicole Crowder 9:07

was like this, something I clicked in my brain of like the skill I had never attempted before. Now listen, I can make this chair look like anything I want. And I was like, oh, so we can really like you know, make this thing pop and give it a whole new personality. And so I developed this obsession almost I was on Craigslist at the time, every day from like, one to three o'clock in the morning knowing I had to get up and go to work in a few hours. But I was like, searching for chairs. It was a lot of trial and error just in my apartment, experimenting with fabrics and I always loved fabrics and textures. This again, stemming from you know, my childhood. My grandmother was a really big collector. My mom also was just textiles everywhere. And I was just like, you can do anything you want with these. If the wood is intact basically. Everything else was cosmetic And I was really keen on challenging myself also in this new medium, but I had never, you know, sort of experimented in before. And I wanted to just create furniture that I had never seen before. And when did you start doing it for other people? I would say within the year, so I had set up, there was a woman, she was an architect, and she bought the very first pieces of furniture that I had ever created. And she came to my apartment, it was like, Oh, do you have a showroom? Is there more? And I was? Like, I have nothing else, you know?

Nicaila Matthews Okome 10:32

Okay, back it up back. Why did she come to your apartment where you advertising your work? On the

Nicole Crowder 10:37

first couple of pieces that I sold, or that I had listed, I put them on Craigslist, not even sure, I think I was putting them or something. And the woman who came by happened to be an architect in the area. And she was like, Well, you know, this isn't just a hobby, like upholstery is a niche. And I have a lot of clients who are looking for an upholsterer here. And so that set off this light bulb for me. And she introduced me to a couple of markets around DC. And I started selling out of like, parking lots next to Whole Foods, you know, where there was marketplaces that were happening in the summer. And the, the response was so incredible, like, people had not seen as vibrant, dynamic, really textured, layered pieces as the ones that I was bringing in. And DC at the time, I wasn't sure. It was more conservative, and people wanted really colorful things. And so once those I sold out completely of those pieces, that's when I was like, Okay, there's a mare there, I need to get more of these.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 11:43

How do you do it? If someone likes a chair, and you have gotten this unique print from somewhere? How do you replicate things, if you're getting unique fabrics each time,

Nicole Crowder 11:52

that's the thing I like the spoke, I like one of one pieces, and I try to stay in that vein. Because there's, there's so many ways to create furniture that replicating the same design twice, almost feels limiting. So you know, if it's short of like I said, I'm more than happy, you know, of course, to recreate the same piece. But I have tried to home the language of presenting clients with options for a different, you know, world to sort of exist in their homes, and to look at their personalities to look at how they want to use a space and then present them with some options of where we can go with these kind of patterns. And these colors of these textures to add even more warmth, add even more kind of intrigue to what you already have here. If you'd be willing to walk with me a little bit to just sort of push, push the imagination. Yeah, it's just a visual that, you know, over time, people have been able to do just that, to the point now where it's like, I want you to just put your stamp on this piece, and I'm gonna reimagine my room around this piece of furniture. And that is, you know, such a blessing to hear from clients. Yes.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 13:00

What was the process from one on one client work to working with brands,

Nicole Crowder 13:05

I would say for the first three years of my business, I was doing largely like residential work hospitality, some commercial projects, like hotels and restaurants around DC. And then it was 2020. Honestly, it was in the midst of, you know, the upheaval in the uproar, the George Floyd murder happened. And this is when brands were really wanting to work with black designers and amplify black makers. And I remember getting it was within like a two month span, back to back emails and opportunities from so many different brands. Once I had wanted to work with publications, I had, you know, been following for years. And they were all kind of like, providing these emails that said, they recognize the dearth of, you know, using black designers world market, they had reached out to me, I was in my studio, working on a piece. And that's when I got an email from them to see if I had ever had an interest in designing my own furniture and fabric collections. And if I wanted to collaborate with them to produce my own, and I was like, I think I dropped. You know, it's such a surreal moment. And that was such a turning point right there that brands were finally sort of seeing the work that I had been doing, you know, I felt very openly invisibly for years. Yeah.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 14:25

And at that point, were you still side hustling or were you just full time doing your own studio client work?

Nicole Crowder 14:31

Yeah, at this point, I had gone full time I had been working, doing from side like writing or freelancing for publication still, for about two years, I was still working as a freelance photo editor for publications like NatGeo traveler, The Washington Post some publications on the west coast, but it was really when my commercial work and my hospitality work had picked up to the point where I was I had definitely outgrown my apartment space that I was working in. I was bumping into a studio. And that's when I was like, I want to lean more into my business acumen, making sure that I'm stepping into this with my own name, you know, Nicole, Crowder upholstery, which means I have to really stand on craftsmanship, quality professionalism, to ensure that I'm sustaining my business and taking this as seriously as I could. And so that sort of mental switch allowed me to step more into like, this is what I do full time. It's no more. Well, I work as a filmmaker, but also as a furniture designer. It's like I do furniture design. And that's what I do. Yeah, it

Nicaila Matthews Okome 15:36

is an important shift, like owning what you do and showing up in the world with that confidence. And it's not like, oh, I have a little side hustle. Oh, you know, I, I dabble in devil. No, this is, you know, this is what I do. And on the financial side, was it hard for you to walk away from having that security blanket of the photo editing job, and you know, what you were doing? It was

Nicole Crowder 16:03

for a couple of reasons. This would actually be my second time doing that I had initially jumped into upholstery full time in 2000. And I want to say it was eight or nine? No, it was, maybe it was like 2010. But yeah, I didn't have any sense of like, entrepreneurship, you know, I didn't think I had that spirit. And I also didn't have a sense of time management. And I was operating under a whole different name. And I had quit my job kind of going off with hope and prayer, that things work out.

I ended up having to go back to work. And at the time, I felt like, quote, unquote, you know, failure, I felt like I had myself in the position. Never, ever failure always radically. And my mindset, it took about a year after that experience for me to sort of recover from this sort of breakup that I felt I had gone through with the whole street, and I knew that it was my calling, I knew that it was a purpose that I had been given. And so when I came back, I had a whole different mindset around, you know, it's less fear based. It's not about we're not going to be able to take care of ourselves. I had things in place, I had structure, I had some savings as well, yes.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 17:23

What did you do differently as far as structure and making sure you could pay the bills, a few things

Nicole Crowder 17:29

that I did, I had already had my website set up, I had a Yelp business page set up because I was like, I need more ways to be visible in this very expensive market, you know, that DC was, and I didn't have a publicist, Agent management, any of those things did not have sort of the budget for that. And I created a Yelp business page before I fully even jumped into the work because I wanted to be sure that I had enough interest on clients coming in. And I also set up rates for myself based on what I knew I wanted to make in a particular month. So it wasn't just like, you know, arbitrary prices that I was giving to people, but it was like a breakdown. Yeah, I mean, we're $40 chairs, right, ever again, it was, it was wild to think about that. But I also was, I think I had limited myself to because of the bandwidth that I could take, I had a lot of projects, but because it was just me working, I wasn't able to take them on. And that was cutting into how much money I was able to make as well. And so I started to tap into upholsterers in the area, and was building a network of people who I could sort of contract and help or hire out. So you know, also take on some of this work. And that was like a game changer. Because one they were also looking for work, they really loved the work that I did. And they at the time, were not getting as much you know, sort of client response. So it was really good to be able to also provide work for Okay, as I was getting, you know, so many inquiries and everything like that. But I also had to have a structure in terms of my business hours, I had to establish business hours and previously I was just like, whenever I got up, I was working until one o'clock in the morning responding to emails on the weekends. And this time around it was like Monday through Friday or the workdays and we're going to operate as a business in terms of emails eight o'clock till about I think it was five or six but past that I try not to get so embedded to where it was consuming my life in my time. Yeah, yeah.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 19:36

Because that can make you start to hate this thing that you love to do right?

Unknown Speaker 19:42


Nicaila Matthews Okome 19:48

I love a few things that you said you know, you talked about raising your prices, which to me when you're doing something so custom, like this with your hands and it required charge all the points, all the dollars not even any coins. Like, I think it's one of those spaces to where it's almost like how can anyone argue like, are you gonna do this fabric customization on this chair 1000s of dollars, thank you very much. Number two, giving yourself permission to clock out, right? Like sometimes when we have a job, and when we create this entrepreneur, life in this business, it's so easy, like, Oh, I'm just in bed, I could pull up my laptop, it's so easy to keep on working. But that takes the incremental toll on you, even when it doesn't feel like it is yeah, you have to set that boundary for yourself as an entrepreneur. And that can be difficult to do. Yeah, so I'm so glad you mentioned that.

Nicole Crowder 20:46

Yeah, part of my, you know, job, also, I think, as are our jobs as creative people, is to make that spaciousness for imagination, you know, to just yet be inspired by to just sort of look around and observe and let our brains I like to say, Let my brain just doddle you know, just wander and the family and we're not always problem solving mode or thinking about the next project that's become like a daily thing for me, I will let this mind just sort of like, we will take the breaks as needed. And I realized how much more inspired I feel how much lighter I am how much more open I am as a person. So it's necessary.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 21:24

Absolutely. I can relate to that. And I'm sure so many of you guys listening can relate to that as well. I don't know how it is for every profession. But I know as a creative, you're absolutely right, we need that space. And we need the energy, right? Our energy has to be in a place such that we can be creative, we can make beautiful things we can make art in this world, whatever your art is, otherwise, it's just going to be wound up tight and

Nicole Crowder 21:52

costly as well, because I've definitely been in the position where I've tried to rush through projects, or I just wasn't very present. And I was moving very quickly. And it's the kiss of death, you know, hearing from a client that like, I'm disappointed in something. And that's like, you know, learning early on in my career, have, they stayed with me, and it's helped me to slow my hand down, because I'm a very fast moving fast talking person. But upholstery had been the craft that's really taught me to slow down, be more present. And be Yeah, be in the moment to notice those attention, you know, the attention to detail and that quality control. Yeah,

Nicaila Matthews Okome 22:33

that makes a lot of sense. Like you literally have to slow down to create.

Now back to the brand started to reach out. So how did you go about entering that space of working with brands like world market, stepping up into that next level?

Nicole Crowder 22:53

It was such a surreal time, because I feel like a lot of things are moving quickly. But I'm very grateful that I'm so grateful that I had the split second pause to be like, let me talk to somebody who's been in this space for a while and who knows how to negotiate like, licensing royalties, skews. I didn't have any experience in this at all. And so I reached out to Justina Blakeney, actually, and she was so so generous and quick to respond. It was like, Girl, let's have a conversation happening.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 23:28

You guys didn't know each other at all? No, not like,

Nicole Crowder 23:33

that just sort of communicated via Instagram, you know, and ensuring one another each other on in our respective fields. But I was just I loved her work. And I loved how she showed up in her work. And she was so gracious and her advice and feedback about here's the language to put in your contract. Here's what's a mention. Also, make sure royalties, you know, you're negotiating and advocating for yourself. Because, you know, first time, you know, being approached by a big brand, your thought is, they have sort of the control. I'm sort of happy to be here. But the end of the day, my name is on the products. And I wanted to make sure that I was coming into this experience with as much information as I could, so that I could be able to be a great partner and also advocate for myself when I needed to. And then the next thing was getting an attorney to help me, you know, comb through the language and the contracts. And that was that was so so life changing and helpful. And being able to

Nicaila Matthews Okome 24:31

not to just deny that experience that you share. Being able to reach out to a fellow creator don't necessarily even know each other. You guys send the DM send the email message. If you have a question and someone else has done it before you it doesn't hurt you. It

Nicole Crowder 24:49

doesn't. It doesn't like that ecosystem is so incredible, even like you were saying virtually and you don't know them personally,

Nicaila Matthews Okome 24:58

I love about social media. I always call it social media networking into me as the same as a fellow as an introvert. But I love me some social media networking.

Nicole Crowder 25:11

So many of my friends to this day are people who have just DM and I was like, You seem very cool. Would you like to get a coffee? And you know, just having that vibe and that connection, building that organically has been really, really amazing. And so she helped, you know, really foster me through that process?

Nicaila Matthews Okome 25:35

And how does it work as far as pay structure, right? So you develop something? Is it a one time fee? Is it cut every time someone buys something from the collection? How does that work?

Nicole Crowder 25:45

Yeah, and it can be different for different brands for this particular contract with them, I had a one time upfront fee, basically, for my sketches. So initially, we had presented or they wanted to look at three sketches. And I had that all prepared, because just as a creative, who even wanted to have her own collection, I already had work that I envisioned for myself. And so with this opportunity, I was like, I presented them with a six, I think it was six total sketches, and which ended up they wanted to buy and make into skews. So that was incredible. Always, if you can advocate for more skews, please do because that means more money for yourself,

Nicaila Matthews Okome 26:21

what is the SKU look like when it comes to them. So they're putting these designs on a whole bunch of different parts. So

Nicole Crowder 26:27

a SKU is basically like the product. Yeah, so there's a chain lounge, the dining room and all that stuff, or pillow or whatever it is. And the different designs based on the different textile combinations equate, like the different sort of SKU number for meditation pillow, things like that. So I was paid for the sketches up front. And then we negotiated the royalties, and the royalties are on wholesale price, not a retail price. So I worked with my attorney to also negotiate and advocate for a larger royalty, because that's really where the money reside. You know, what?

Nicaila Matthews Okome 27:04

Yeah. And who's buying like wholesale from world market, this is a whole new sell from

Nicole Crowder 27:11

a couple of stuff on the back. And I'm not even quite fully sure who was buying the wholesale from them, they have on at least three different partners based in the UK, there was one in India as well. But I can't remember whether the other partner was. And so we had, oh, my gosh, meetings over the course of a year, essentially, where it was deciding everything from the wood that we were going to use to the patterns, we've worked with different fabric fabricators who took the designs and the color palettes that I had presented. And then they came up with all these different fabrics. And we narrowed those down to create ultimately, the collection that resulted. And then I went to their headquarters, draped all the fabrics over the pieces of furniture just to see does this combo work? Does that combo work? And then, when everything was said and done, had stuff solidified in terms of what world market wanted to order for the initial drop, then I received an email that said, I was sitting at dinner with some friends, and I checked my email and was like, you know, Hi, Nicole, we're excited to you know, sort of share with you that the your royalty check for X is being processed and the largest amount of money I've ever seen in my life. And I was like, my mouth was on the floor. Just a casual email, like I would imagine, this was a zoom call. And you know, like, I used to be the person. I was

Nicaila Matthews Okome 28:36

like, I feel like it's me. It was I felt like it was me.

Nicole Crowder 28:40

A structure like this existed and that people could just write checks.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 28:44

And this is why I ask right? Because I had no idea. I'm sure some of you guys don't have it. Yeah, it's like, tell me more about this. Who's buying this? What kind of royalty check? Can I get? Maybe I need to start sketching.

Nicole Crowder 28:54

You can. And this is just me with my one, you know, partnership. But I imagine with more skews, that's having negotiated a higher royalty rate for myself, which is very, very key. I've went into it with a particular number. And yeah, it was truly life changing it very

Nicaila Matthews Okome 29:11

much was awesome. Shout outs here, Attorney shout out. Everyone shout out. So have you done more collaborations like this? And how proactive Are you versus react?

Nicole Crowder 29:21

I haven't done more collaborations in this capacity. But I really, really would love to

Nicaila Matthews Okome 29:25

see you pitch these or are you waiting I guess for for to hear more brands to reach out market they

Nicole Crowder 29:31

had reached out which was great. It was really affirming, you know, for brands to sort of see you and be like, hey, we want to be in touch and be in your world, or the other one only reached out to one other brands to pitch to them. And I had a fantastic friend who was a consultant helped me put together a whole deck in terms of you know, what to present and language to use and all of that. But it was only the one that I had sort of pitched actively, and I'm still you know in my mind But I'm hopeful it'd be wonderful to collaborate with someone. But I do very much feel like artists should pitch because there's some brands you feel like, because you're visible. And maybe you you know, you've been out here for a few years. It's like, you might think people see you. But there have been so many occasions where I have emailed places. And folks were like, well, where have you been? Like, why haven't I heard you before? Yes, let's do. Yes.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 30:31

I always operate under that, like, not enough people know about me, and I have to go harder, like, every single day, I wake up like that, because, yeah, everyone is just kind of in their own world, especially if you know, like, we're the decision makers at these companies, right? Are they in their feed, and they might not look like us. So you have to keep that in mind as well. So keep pitching and artists keep pitching yourself. Now, I want to know a little bit more before we jump into the lightning round, insecure, insecure opportunity. How did it let's, let's map our fingers for that. So Nicole, your work has been featured on the acclaimed ATL television series on Netflix, I believe, insecure

Nicole Crowder 31:14

that was out of that call my gosh, just even thinking about that memory gives me some tingles. I had moved back to Minnesota, I was in DC for 15 years. And I had just sort of this inner prompting to move back home basically, and create my business here. And I was home maybe for two months, yes. And I had done these meditation pillows, which I had started at the beginning of the pandemic, just to allow people some some breathing space, you know, create a new product that might help people sort of get through this time. And this was maybe my fourth iteration of the pillows that I had put on my website, and I got an email from one of the production designers for insecure out of the blue. And they were like, Hi, Nicole, you know, we're getting in the final season of insecure, and I want to see if we can purchase some pillows from you. And I was like, excuse, you know, it's easier for me to that email, because I was. And I said, Yes, absolutely. I have, you know, pillows already made, but I'm more than happy to design, you know, new pillows, if it's a particular color scheme with a set or the scene, you know, let me know what you need. And they were so generous and amazing. And they were like, We can buy stuff offline. But if you want to create something we would just need about you know, two pillows. And I said okay, but so what did I do? I sent three pillows, because I was like, you never know this might end up seen and they were all different all custom and I even provided like a little note in the box as well. Crossing my fingers because you get a you know the address and you're like there's no way this is to you know, for insecure. And I hadn't heard anything months and months had gone by and I had not heard back and the season was already starting. So I was like, All right, maybe, you know, maybe they didn't like the pillows or they didn't arrive all these things are going through my head. It was the night of the I think was episode five of the last season and I'm getting ready to go to bed shower TV is off like I'm going to Zach and one of my girlfriends texts me and then another girlfriend text me and then my Instagram like my DMs I'm getting pings from people like Girl Are these your pillows on insecure and I run to the TV and I turn it on is the C eautiful overhand shot of them lounging on Easter raised like patio I guess her character patio, just like black women luxuriating all this color. And my pillows are just like they're taking pictures of you know the TV and hollering crime. It was so incredible.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 34:01

Oh my god. I love this story for so many reasons. It's one of those moments where it's like could I have ever imagined this the very first time I got some fabric and some chairs off Craigslist could you have ever imagined this? This moment of seeing your work on television? You

Nicole Crowder 34:23

contextualize it in that way. I could not I could not I had I don't even know if it was like an aspiration at the time. If I even allowed myself to aspire so much. I was just like, Yeah, I just want to make beautiful things and hopefully I get to work with people who appreciate them and you know want to pay me for those things, but I never imagined that it would be on TV sets and then later actually a piece of my world market collection in the home now of Ava DuVernay like just she messaged me actually she had commented when I share eared, the sort of preview for the collection. And I messaged her and I was like, I love your work so much. And I would be grateful to, you know, send you a piece. And we ended up sending her my signature piece, which is the biggest one is the chaise lounge. And recently because that was 2022. But this year one of my girlfriends, who is also she works in publishing and she's on photoshoots all the time. She saw Ava DuVernay event while she was promoting her film origin and she sends me a text, but she doesn't have a selfie. And she was like he says she loves her chase still. And I was like it was you know, like extra fuel, and they just didn't so much joy.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 35:43

pursue those side? hustles Yes, pursue those side hustle too. It's, it's an interest for a reason. It doesn't make sense to you. Now you don't know why you're interested in it. Just do it. Do it. Just do it.

Know what else I like about this story? I liked that people recognized your work. I liked that. People say, hey, those are Nicole's pillows. Right, their signature is developer signature is so so it only makes sense that we touch on this right? I always ask my guests these days, you know, what is your area of expertise? Or what would you like to discuss on the podcast? Just to see what they say, right? I know what I want to discuss. But I'm curious if there's anything they want to call out. And Nicole, you shared, navigating multiple disciplines as a multi hyphenated creative person who is also trying to distinguish my identity through the work I produce, from my value as a person who is still navigating visibility. Oh, listen, I said, Wow. Talk to us about that. Yeah. What do you mean by that?

Nicole Crowder 37:03

I feel like there's been these points where I feel like I have to define myself as I'm a furniture designer, I'm on a poster. And largely that is because you know, when you are on platforms, and you have the space for your bio, there's only so many characters that you can put there. And so you're trying to wrestle with, okay, but what do I do and who I who am I and I had kind of conflated this idea that I am the work that I do. And you know, you're known for a particular identity for so long that that's what you do. You know, you are an upholsterer. I went from being a photo editor to now you're on a poster. And I feel very much and I've recognized very much that I am someone who is a manifest generator, a creative, multitalented person who is able to tap into lots of different mediums, not all of them for the prospect of making money, but for the prospect of expression. So I realized that I could give myself the umbrella title of artists, which is I don't know why, but it's something that I had struggled with for a while I was like, huh, that seems very, like I have to work to get there. Like, that just seems like years down the road, you know, when you've gotten your video Vanguard Award type of thing, you know, and I was thinking I was becoming too enmeshed with the work that I was creating, being tied to, if people saw me, if they liked me, if I put something out that resonated with people, okay, then, you know, you get that like, bit of adrenaline, that sort of like, okay, this is a value for kind of completing I'm without you, or then if you put something out that doesn't sell, and you're like, oh, gosh, you know, am I yeah, this anymore. Yeah, no longer reaching out, by, you know, my not doing good work, or whatever it is. And a lot of that work I've had to do and move through to realize that this is who I am naturally, showing up as this is just I could, you know, it's how I that's how I operate is to create is to Ida and then put, you know, beautiful works out into the world. And then I can do that in many different mediums. And I can decide, one day, you know, I'm moving past upholstery, and I want to get into quilting, or I want to get into jewelry making or go a completely different direction, you know, and pursue a different field. But it's all tied to my identity, but it's not tied to my value. And so, you know, those have been things that I've just been working through, as I even think about my career and upholstery evolving, and whether, you know, this way of working is what I want to do long term and I know that it is not, but it went through a period of transition that was a little uncomfortable, trying to allow myself that permission to evolve into a different, you know, way when I work so hard to be here. And so I'm deeply interested in fascinated in stories of women Which is why I'm so grateful for your podcasts because you talk to women who are in so many different points in their careers at the start the middle, but also some who are sunset. And I really love those stories where it's done with intention and purpose. And it's like I'm doing this because I'm trying to aspire or evolved into a different version of myself. And we talked about iterations at the beginning of this, and I've given myself that permission. Yeah,

Nicaila Matthews Okome 40:25

in a rage is that I love when people talk about that as well. Because, like you said, anything, whether it's you working for someone else, or you're working for yourself, that identity value piece is so dicey. And so sometimes we hold on to things for too long, and are scared to go into that next iteration. Because it's like, who am I? I'm no longer doing this Exactly. Right. How do I talk about myself permission? Yeah. How do I talk about myself? If I no longer work for x, if I no longer do this business? Exactly. And the truth is that we that what we do is not who we are exactly that part. And I think it's also and now we get a little deep too. But you know, I was actually listening to a sermon just this weekend that made me think about this, because it's like, sometimes it even applies to mistakes in life and missteps. So if you've started a business, and it didn't work out, something that I had an epiphany about was a mistake is something you've done. It's not who you are. So if you're committed to change and shifting, you have to make sure you don't stay down in your failure or stay down in your misstep like, Oh, this is who I am. I'm a failure at business now, know that you were just learning or you have you made a mistake. And now let's move forward.

Nicole Crowder 41:42

I love that steak is something you've made and not who you are. It's something you've done. That is really powerful. Yeah.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 41:52

So with that, I would love to transition into the lightning round. We could talk for a long time,

Nicole Crowder 41:56

all day.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 42:01

Let's go on ahead. And you know the deal you answer the first thing that comes to mind, are you ready? I'm ready. I'm ready. All right. So number one, what is a resource that has helped you in your business that you can share with a side hustle pro audience who

Nicole Crowder 42:14

the VIX or app for video editing? Oh, I love it. I really changed the game in terms of my videos and how I share market my products. It's an accessible video editing experience. I love it. Yes,

Nicaila Matthews Okome 42:28

we'll link to that. That's VIX, er. Number two, who is a black woman entrepreneur who you admire and would want to trade places with for a day non celebrity.

Nicole Crowder 42:38

Oh my gosh. Oh, there's two that come to mind. Skylar marchais I believe it's Hi pronounce her last name. I love her content. And I love how just freely she shows up in it where it doesn't look like you know, she's directly selling product, but she's just living her life. And she's so centered in ease, and she's just incredibly dope. And then also Chris capillary. The brand icon, I just love her vibe. I love how she also shows up online. She's just so open. So free. And she has a clothing company and she does her photo studio. I just admire both of them. I love how they show up in their work.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 43:19

Nice. Number three, what's a non negotiable part of your day these days blue?

Nicole Crowder 43:26

Is the rest of the dawdling like I, I allow myself smoke the brakes to relax my body and my mind so that I can continue to contribute and not feel like I just have to be on because this is the work day. I really I take my walks I definitely get outside. Yeah, sure.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 43:47

Yeah. Need it need it? Okay, number four, what is a personal trait that has helped you significantly in this personal trait?

Nicole Crowder 43:59

My gosh, I'm very big into astrology. And I like to. I take that seriously in the sense of it allowing me to be grounded and manifesting things I can't yet see. And so I like to take my morning having my tea which I'm sitting here with a custom tea that I have made to help ground me. And then I use these cards called the remedy. It's a melanated affirmation deck by this incredible woman. I'm Deja Wale, who's based here in Minnesota. And I really have to center myself in the affirmations to which also frees up my imagination to be more present in my business and my clients coming home to myself first before I give to others. Yeah.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 44:39

Oh, well, coming home to myself first. So finally, number five, what is your parting advice for fellow women entrepreneurs who wants to be their own boss, but are scared of losing less I would say

Nicole Crowder 44:57

trust your instincts. If you're working part time or full time while you're pursuing your entrepreneurial dream, this is what's gonna make you comfortable. Do that, like there is no valour in, you know, jumping into something where you're not comfortable where you feel there is the instability that's going to bring up anxieties for you. So I would say, do what you can to boy yourself, make yourself as comfortable as possible and lean into the resources. Your support group asked so many questions from advisors from people who are on the path that you want to be on, even if it's in a different field, that intake and knowledge can only help you to be informed, to make the best decision for yourself but really, really trust your instinct. Trust your gut, you know what it is that you need, you know where you want to be, you know what makes you most comfortable? So always come back to your own home frequency, your own truth.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 45:56

That is the perfect note to end on. So Nicole, where can people connect with you after this episode?

Nicole Crowder 46:02

Yes, you can connect with me on Instagram. I am at Nicole M. Crowder, Emma's and Marie. You can connect with me on my website if Nicole Crowder upholstery.com And I also teach upholstery workshop retreats so you can come and sit with me in person and learn upholstery. The website for that is the upholstery retreat.com So I'm very much into space making so please reach out.

Nicaila Matthews Okome 46:25

All right, guys. And there you have it. I will talk to you next week. Hey guys, thanks for listening to side hustle Pro. If you like the show, be sure to subscribe rate and review on Apple podcasts. It helps other side hustlers just like you to find the show. And if you want to hear more from me, you can follow me on Instagram at side hustle Pro. Plus sign up for my six bullet Saturday newsletter at side hustle Pro, that CO slash newsletter. When you sign up, you will receive weekly nuggets from me, including what I'm up to personal lessons and my business tip of the week. Again, that side hustle pro.co/newsletter to sign up. Talk to you soon

Transcribed by https://otter.ai

Meet the host:

Nicaila Matthews-Okome

Hi! I’m Nicaila, the Creator and Host of the Side Hustle Pro Podcast. I started Side Hustle Pro when I was a side hustler myself. I was a digital marketer at NPR by day, side hustler by night. Through the powerful stories shared on this show and the courage to launch my own initiatives, I was able to quit my own job and go full time with Side Hustle Pro.

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