Nicole Dixon is making pyjamas a lifestyle. Her Frankie & Nicole label has just celebrated its first birthday and already it’s changing the way we think about our humble PJs – and the way we buy them.
Nicole launched her label on April 27 2011, with a clear message that’s embodied in the brand’s motto – ‘pyjamas you want to get caught in!’ It’s fun, practical, versatile and eye catching – just like Nicole.
The former Miss World Queensland describes herself as a ‘jack of all trades’. She’s worked in a bakery, a university and a range of primary schools as a PE teacher. She’s also hosted a children’s TV show, modelled, acted and designed jewellery and tee-shirts.
Nicole has always been creative. She loves ‘making things’ – including in the kitchen. Cooking is a passion that offers a quirky twist to the Frankie & Nicole label – all her pyjamas come with one of Nicole’s recipes on the swing tag. It’s a clever ‘extra’ element – a personal touch that adds to the appeal of the brand and reinforces its ‘lifestyle’ ethos.
Nicole is also creative when it comes to marketing her brand – her fledging business has no budget for advertising so she’s spread the word about Frankie & Nicole through social media and clever ideas that grab traditional media attention. Her ideas also embody the fun lifestyle qualities of her brand – one was to hold a Christmas-themed pyjama party and she joined forces with a leading restaurant on Queensland’s Gold Coast to host the event. The pyjama party attracted an A-list crowd glad in sleepwear – and headlines for both the restaurant and Nicole’s pyjamas. It’s a typical example of the way Nicole thinks and does business, always looking for a win-win partnership and that extra element. Nicole also added a philanthropic component to the pyjama party with all proceeds from the evening benefiting the Pyjama Foundation, a not for profit providing a literacy based mentoring program to children in foster care.
The promotional competitions she’s organised also embrace that sense of fun. A launch promotion offered a night at bed and breakfast while a Valentine’s Day competition asked people to send a picture of their partner in his or her pyjamas -the prize was a photo shoot with Nicole’s photographer and some pampering from a hair stylist and make-up artist. Again, the ideas are simple but clever, attracting attention and building a following.
“I was thrilled because a young couple who’d just had their first child won the Valentine’s Day competition,” Nicole says. “They were great people who loved being pampered for a day and who really appreciated the opportunity to have a family picture.”
Her genuine excitement for the winning couple offers another hint to Nicole’s success – she has a passion for people and loves connecting with them through her brand. When she launched Frankie and Nicole she couldn’t afford a ‘bricks and mortar’ retail outlet, so she created an online shop. Again, she looked to add something extra and ensured her ‘shop’ also became a community. Her sales philosophy is based on her observation that ‘people want to buy, not be sold to’.
“I wanted my customers to feel part of a community and a lifestyle, so my idea was not just to open an online shop but to create a community around the product,” she says. “The aim with my pyjamas is to make people feel special and it’s the same when they enter the Frankie & Nicole website and become part of the community.”
Perhaps the most amazing aspect of Nicole’s business is that she is the business – she creates and manages everything from the design of the pyjamas to their sales and marketing. She’d love a mentor and someone to help with marketing – going it alone is her greatest challenge, but she faces it with passion, energy and commitment as well as support from her younger brother.
“He’s the Frankie in the label,” she says. “He’s my silent partner and my sounding board. He helped me with the business plan and he’s where I go for advice.”
She works as a relief teacher to ‘pay the bills’ and when she’s not at school or sleeping, she’s focussed on Frankie & Nicole.
In developing her label and creating her designs Nicole’s key premise is to ‘be aware of what people want’.
“I’m not doing anything extraordinary with my designs – my aim is just to create items that people want to wear and feel comfortable in,” she says. “The test for a Frankie & Nicole design is asking whether you’d answer an unexpected knock at the door in them or, do what most people do - run and hide! If it’s the former, it passed the test. The designs are timeless rather than trend-focussed and while they’re practical, I haven’t taken practicality to the extreme – there are certain elements in every design that give it the Frankie & Nicole stamp – like luxurious fabric, lace and bows, I love bows!”
Nicole may have model looks, but she designs for everyone – every size, every body and every age group.
“I didn’t want age or size to be a barrier so I’ve always been mindful of designing for everyone,” she says. “My mum and my friends are the big tests for my designs – if they feel comfortable wearing them, they get the nod. One of the most satisfying aspects of the business is the feedback from customers - I love it when grandmothers ring me to tell me they love their pyjamas!”
After winning the Miss World Queensland title Nicole looked to pursue a career in acting or modelling, but received one too many knockbacks.
“I love modelling, but I remember walking out of one audition and thinking ‘that's it’, I can’t take another rejection!” she says. “I’d always wanted to run my own business so I started researching the market. I looked at lingerie and swimwear first, but discovered a gap in the sleepwear market – there were either cutesy graphic prints or saucy lingerie style pieces. I couldn’t find anything in between so I started sketching pyjamas on my kitchen table and Frankie & Nicole was born.”
Nicole launched her label at a time when both the retail and fashion industries are struggling, but she listened to herself rather than the warnings.
“A lot of people told me I was crazy, but you have to take a risk and back yourself – I thought I had a great product,” she says. “It’s had an unbelievable response in its first year but my biggest challenge is still getting the word out!”
Nicole’s passion for her PJs and her online community is infectious – so is her laugh. She embodies all the qualities of her brand creating a desire to embrace the Frankie & Nicole lifestyle by trying her recipes – in pyjamas you want to get caught in!
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