Nikki Butler is definitely a known name around the Mid-Ohio Valley. Whether it is for the annual Sparkly Ladies Night that is quickly becoming an iconic Marietta event or her eye-popping textile designs, she is a well-respected personality and designer in the area.
I was lucky enough to have the opportunity sit down with Nikki and learn a little more about her background, how she originally got started and what she thinks the future holds for her and her designs.
“I started college my senior year of high school at Marietta College, so I decided I would just stay and do undergrad there. At the time I wanted to be an eye doctor, so I started as biochemistry major. I took calligraphy just because I also wanted to learn it; I’ve always been artistic. Honestly, I didn’t even know what graphic design was at the time. I was looking through the course catalog and thought okay; graphic design is basically a marketable art skill. I made the switch, it was the end of the fall semester my junior year. I still graduated in four years, I had to do a little over the summer but I made it work.”
What did you decide to do after graduation?
“It’s a different path. I don’t consider myself a fashion designer. I still do primarily graphic design work. Out of college, I worked for the Glass Press. It was a publishing company; they published books about antique and collectable glass. That really got things going for me. Then I had two little girls, so I stayed home for a while and did a little freelance. I started part-time work at Stonewall Marketing which eventually turned into full-time and then I stayed there ten years as a senior graphic designer up until two years ago.”
When did you decide to start making your own designs?
“I always loved to sew. I always felt like anyone could sew what I was sewing; I didn’t feel that it was very unique. I came across this company where you can upload your own designs and have fabrics printed. Anything I could design on the computer using the same design programs that I used to a catalog for work, I could use to create a pattern and then print it on almost any type of fabric. So I thought okay, this is a unique product. I developed infinity scarves and some clutch purses, and I’ve done some clothing as well. And then I was juried into Tamarack. There, the Tamarack Foundation approached me. The foundation exists to help the artists and help them break into new markets. And all this time I was still working at Stonewall. The Tamarack Foundation had a program in West Virginia, the Urban Markets Program, and they wanted me to go to Philadelphia for a trade show to market my products. I made some relationships at that first show. February 2014, I went to the Atlanta Apparel show in Georgia and had a booth there. There were seven or eight stories in the space some of the brands there had permanent showrooms. It was difficult for me to compete; I didn’t have the same resources. But what I heard over and over again was ‘oh, I love your prints.’ Whole sale works for me because it allows me a four to six week lead time.
“Ultimately where I’m headed, and I’m not there yet, I want to get out of the product line. How that works is basically I create a library of these prints and they can be used on a multitude of products like gift wrap, wallpaper, stationary and more giving everything a wider variety and that is done through art licensing. I’ve attended a show in New York called Surtex. To be there as a seller, I would have to have hundreds if not thousands of prints. I guess I would say I’m in the building stage right now. I have excellent contacts in graphic design and the local travel industry, so then to branch off into an entirely new industry has been an interesting experience.
The most exciting thing is that this summer I am going to France. One of my idol fabric designers, Amy Butler, lives in Granville, Oh. and she’s hosting this week in France. The France trip is actually hosted by a fabric retailer out of Los Angeles called French General. Their owner is a fabric designer as well. It’s not focused on print or fabric design; it’s really about learning French culture. I’m hopeful that just the time spent with people in the industry will be really valuable.”
How many prints do you have currently?
“Honestly not many, 20-25? It’s difficult to carve out time for designing. Probably 95 percent of my income is still from graphic design so it’s all about finding creative time to set aside to create the prints. It has always been my goal to get to the Surtex Show at some point. I actually would like to come up with 2-3 collections to present to the quilting industry. Fabric is kind of my first go-to. The fashion industry moves really quickly. They don’t like to license prints and I would lose ownership on my designs after a single use. The quilting industry is more apt to allow me to keep ownership over my prints. My first goal is to present 2-3 collections to a handful of quilt manufacturers.”
What’s your inspiration when designing prints?
My husband has called me a contradiction. I’m very old fashioned in some regards, I love to bake and sew and like to use cloth napkins when we eat. But I also love to design on the computer. To me the ultimate is combining the old with the new and that’s my goal when designing. The products I took to Atlanta reminded me of garden gates and cracking paint but it is all presented in very modern, bright color way.
What are you up to right now?
I’m kind of in transition. I don’t have a lot to promote right now, so I’m kind of quiet on Facebook. I still have some products up for sale on my website but I’m getting away from promoting my products. I am going to be at the Merchants Artist Walk on Friday, May 8, I’ll be at Terri Ann’s.
On a final note, do you mind talking a little bit about Sparkly Ladies Night?
It all kind of started with I wanted to do the downtown loft tour and I keep seeing all these fun sparkly, fun things in store and wanted an excuse to wear them. So we created this ladies’ night with six or eight of us where we went out to dinner, did the tour and got dressed up; it had more purpose that way. It has really evolved. We’re a bit a spectacle I think when we do the loft tour, people have started recognizing us as the sparkly ladies. After the third year, we had people express interest in attending so then it becomes more than just a small group eating dinner. So how do you take on the expense of suddenly having 60 people when everyone invites a friend? So I said, let’s do it. I love Austyns so I worked out the menu with them, I hired a DJ, a friend worked on the décor and I appointed the original core group as my Sparkly Board of directors and they took on a variety of tasks. It became a way to show off the talents of the individual entrepreneurial ladies around the area. It’s been compared to Mom Prom, but Sparkly Ladies Night is a little different. It’s a night to celebrate the ladies and their talents every year.”