Purpose by Design with Nina Means
The first in my series interviewing creators of color I find inspiring and who are challenging the status quo.
I couldn’t think of a better person to launch the series than my dear friend Nina Means of the contemporary women’s fashion brand under the same namesake Nina Means .
AiLoveThat: Hi Nina! Thank you so much for spending some time with us today to discuss your eponymous fashion brand. I would love for you to share your wonderful story. You had somewhat of an unconventional path to fashion.
Nina Means: Well, I was born and raised in North Carolina. Upon completing my undergrad and then my masters, I moved to Washington DC to work in public health, specifically international health issues as well as women’s breast cancer which was quite personal to me. I was very passionate about finding a way to influence the lives of women so this work was very real and absolutely rewarding for me. I did it for 7 years before taking the leap into fashion.
Fashion was always a passion for me but was not a practical career choice or way of living for a North Carolina girl with no direct connections to the industry. But I was determined to pursue it so I quit my job in DC and decided to move to NYC and attend FIT. At FIT, I studied international fashion design. I spent one year of my program in Italy at Polimoda and finished my final year at FIT. I was really intentional in choosing FIT for my studies as it had stellar programs as well a vast network within the fashion industry.
As a student, I really utilized every job fair and every networking opportunity to connect with industry influencers and design houses. That tenacity and conviction helped me land my first internship which would launch my fashion career.
AiLoveThat: I love it! Now let’s chat about your career. Where did you intern and what brands did you work for prior to launching Nina Means?
Nina Means: While at FIT, I landed my first internship at Rebecca Taylor under the head designer and worked intimately with Rebecca Taylor herself. I learned immensely while there from the business, constructing a collection, working across various fashion categories (accessories, art, print, RTW etc.). It was a truly holistic experience.
Following Rebecca Taylor, I interned at Kohl’s in Milwaukee as a designer. While there, I was approached by American Eagle Outfitters and was recruited as an assistant designer at the brand. During my time at AE, I learned a vast amount in regard to the larger retail business scale.
AE then led to an opportunity to work for H for Halston for QVC which was also another amazing experience learning about the business.
AiLoveThat: What was your biggest inspiration in launching the brand?
Nina Means: My biggest inspiration for launching the brand was women. Women are taking up spaces they weren’t allowed to before. Women are inspiring. Women are powerful. There is something beautiful and magnetic about feminine energy. Women are leading with feminity and exceptional integrity. This speaks to the essence of Nina Means as a fashion brand. We celebrate feminity with an elegant, minimal, and demure approach. I chose and love women’s wear because there are lots of options; more categories and more opportunity to create a moment.
In creating the brand, I knew I wanted to create selective silhouettes and pieces. My pieces are not mass market as I really want to focus on quality, investment, and sustainability. The price point is a reflection of materials as well as creating and investing in American labor and skilled artisans which has been quite rewarding and impactful.
AiLoveThat: Describe Nina Means, the brand and person, in 3 words?
Nina Means: Oh, that’s a great question. I would say that Nina Means, the person, is ambitious, passionate, inclusive…collaborative. Sorry, that’s 4!
Nina Means, the brand, is best described by the following phrases: Elegantly Minimal, Professional Power Dressing, and Demure/Undercover Sexy.
AiLoveThat: Can you share more about the Austin fashion scene and why you chose to make Austin home?
Nina Means: Well to begin, I thought the brand would have launched in 5 years but it came to fruition within a year and a half. My husband received a great opportunity in Austin so we moved here from New Jersey.
Austin is a very entrepreneurial and tech centric city. I find that it is an interesting opportunity for the intersection of fashion and technology to exist. The market is emerging and people are quite interested in fashion. With the influx of people moving from other metropolitan areas, they are in search of places to shop.
There is definitely growth potential with the emergence of brands like Facebook and Amazon in Austin. There is a need for these pieces to be readily available in the marketplace.
I believe there is a great opportunity for collaboration from people in the fashion industry to guide and build the fashion industry in Austin. I welcome it!
AiLoveThat: Fashion aside, what inspires you and how does that reflect in your creative process?
Nina Means: I was very much inspired by architecture when I first started. Now, I really just people watch. I like studying them. What did they reach for? Where do they live? What’s the occasion they are shopping for?
People need things that actually work. When it comes to fitting the body, I think of things that work and that will highlight and elevate. Power in the wardrobe is being able to create the moment.
I love working with proportions that celebrate the curves. Working with the right fabrics that allow curves to shine and accentuate the natural bodies of women.
AiLoveThat: What is one piece from the collection that you would recommend for every woman?
Nina Means: The trench style gilet in winter white. It is one of my most sought after and purchased pieces. It really allows for accessorizing and a moment. It can be dressed up or down. It is quite a versatile piece.
Additionally, the leather panel skinny pants. We have limited quantities now, but we’ll definitely be adding in more. If you don’t see your size, let us know what size you’re looking for and we’ll restock!
AiLoveThat: What can we look forward to with Nina Means, the person and the brand, in 2018?
Nina Means: In 2018, there will be more opportunities to bring Nina Means products directly to consumers. There will be more shopping experiences to try the brand in person. With respect to design, I want to explore more lightweight and breathable fabrics to create pieces that are wearable all year round. I definitely want to experiment with more texture.
For me personally, it’s a very exciting time. Lots of developments so STAY TUNED!
I cannot love her story more. Nina’s career in public health may seem like a detour to the untrained eye but it was vital in setting the framework and philosophy for her namesake brand that celebrates and empowers every woman. There is a purpose to this design.
We will definitely be staying tuned in!
For more on Nina Means:
Shop Nina Means at www.ninameans.com