Women in Business Q&A: Nikki Erwin, Founder, Donatienne and Established

Nikki Erwin

Nikki Erwin has been designing her own custom clothing, jewelry, accessories and curating one-of-a-kind home décor pieces for years. She got her start in 2004 as Jennifer Meyer's first employee at Jennifer Meyer Jewelry. Nikki was inspired to create custom pieces for herself, soon everyone was asking how they could purchase her jewelry. In 2011 Nikki launched her handbag line, Donatienne and once she felt Donatienne was in a good place she was able to focus on developing ESTABLISHED, after years of editing, Nikki was confident to launch the line in 2015. Nikki grew up in Malibu, California, and her designs reflect California style. Every design is sourced, and handmade in LA. Nikki is very hands on, you can find her downtown in the heart of the fashion district, sampling materials and sourcing new techniques. Donatienne expresses Nikki's girly side, while ESTABLISHED represents her more wild edgy side. Nikki prides her designs on taking risks, speaking her mind and not being afraid of her voice.

How has your life experience made you the leader you are today?
Since I was a child I have had the desire to be in design. As a young girl my mother would take me to fabric stores and jewelry shows where I would pick up materials to make my own designs. From a very young age I was supported and encouraged to express myself and follow my creative path. I would credit the endless support of my friends and family in giving me the confidence and opportunity to be a leader.

How has your previous employment experience aided your creation of Donatienne & Established Jewelry?
Although I had a few important jobs before starting my own businesses, there is one job in particular that sticks. That was working at Jennifer Meyer Jewelry. JMJ was such a pleasant, exciting, and educational work environment. Everyday I did something I knew and learned something I did not. Nothing was off limits while working with Jen. That work environment allowed me to make mistake, ask questions, and take risks. In turn, this sent me out into the creative work force feeling confident. With confindence, you would be surprised how far you can get!

What have the highlights and challenges been during the course of your career?
There have been quite a few challenges and I'm sure many more to come, but the highlights far supersede them. I would say the greatest challenge is the battle with yourself. I have found that I am my own worst critic. The moment you allow doubt to enter your creative rhythm, everything is thrown. The best part about highlights in my business is they come so easily. A simple compliment take you a long way!

What advice can you offer women who are seeking a creative career?
For creative women I would advise to never ignore your creativity. Often my greatest creations have come at the most inopportune moments. Whatever you're doing, put it on hold for just 5 minutes so you at least get you thought on paper. Then continue on with your prior task. You can complete tasks all day but you can not force creativity. So listen to it when it speaks to you!

How do you maintain a work/life balance?
I am a very lucky girl in that I have so much opportunity to incorporate both of these worlds. My work is very much influenced by my personal life and vise versa. I travel often so I am constantly getting inspired and exposed. When I'm away from the office, I have a very special team that I love and trust to keep everything alive.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?
When I first started my business I didn't know much about it. I would get lost in the fashion district and just start asking questions. After about a month into doing so I found that almost all the vendors were male, they weren't taking me seriously, and even worse, saw me as a cash cow. This put me in a vulnerable position when I really didn't know any better. When I went home after a trying days work and complained to my boyfriend, he said to me "When you go downtown next, I will go with you." That following week he went downtown with me four times. I'll never forget that week because that was truly when my business started. It's unfortunate that it took the presence of a male for businessmen to take me seriously, but now they know who's the boss!

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?
Mentorship is truly and invaluable asset, both in life and in business. I can say humbly, I ask questions every single day. Experience is priceless and if you haven't had it, why wouldn't you ask someone who has? Without help and guidance I can assure you I would have lost precious time and a scary amount of money.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?
When I think of a female leader as it pertains to my business, I of course think, Coco Chanel. A woman whom was born in the late 1800's and is still currenlty one of the most coveted designers of our time. Being powerful and influential woman during the time she was alive was very far and few between. She employed women, she empowered women, and of course, made them look and smell great.

What do you want Established + Donatienne to accomplish in the next year?
I'm currently in a very important phase of both of my businesses. I have just launched my jewelry and am completely re-branding my handbags. It's important to me that I stay true to myself as a designer and that includes bringing my brands along with me in my personal evolution. Because my brands are so personal to me, and a reflection of who I am, it means everything to have them be perfect in my eyes. In the next year I hope to feel understood and supported in my freedoms as a designer. I know everything I make won't work for everybody but I'll know in my heart I'm true to myself.