We had the good fortune of connecting with Nicole Spaulding and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Nicole, we’d love to hear more about how you thought about starting your own business?
I’ve been a creative maker my whole life. Since I can remember someone in my life usually suggests “you should make more of those and sell them” whenever I undertake a new creative endeavor. From the very first business I made when I was eight I agreed that it seemed like a good idea. From then on each time I decided to sell what I made, I always had a goal for the extra money I would make, plans and lists, and a vision. That first time – essentially taking my dad’s white t-shirts, using puff paint to create landscapes on them, and then walking around the neighborhood to sell them – the goal was to make enough money to buy extra candy at the local general store. Throughout the years there have been many such endeavors and each time, despite the intrinsic organization, the goals, the plan, the ability and willingness to activate those structures and also create stuff for folks to buy, everything lost its sparkle for me. I felt deflated and suddenly not very excited to keep making these things that before had held so much allure.
What I realized much later in life about this process is two-fold. The first thing is that not every single creative expression should be monetized, copied a thousand times, or even made for someone else. Sometimes you just need to create beauty because the world needs that beauty. Even if you’re the only person to see or experience it. If it helps you expand your heart, your peace, your joy, then the world will benefit in something like a ripple effect. Secondly, a lot of my creative expression is the way I fulfill my need for play. As adults it is not the norm to have space or make time for play.
Hot For Color was born during the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic in the summer of 2020. In a time that was uncertain and quite frankly scary, I found myself craving more play as a desperate need to stay grounded and maintain hope. I needed to get my hands in something that made me feel lighter, made me smile, if only for a few sacred moments in a day. At first it was something just for me. Not for a second was I thinking about monetizing it or cranking out pieces to sell. I started to share on my Instagram feed and friends (and then their friends) started asking me about what I was making. It began to really take off when I decided to get a bunch of t-shirts (I did not steal my dads this time, I promise) and set up a table at a little makers market that a friend and I did one weekend in her yard. After that it just began to expand.
Each step in the growth of this new business has been organic. I had a sit-down with myself very early on to ‘discuss’ my goals and intentions. I wrote out lists and values. I created goals and consulted with the many creative business folks I know. What I decided to do is unconventional. I am not in a hurry to learn how to harness social media as a marketing tool (and I definitely do not follow the rules of consistency or appeasing the algorithm) because I am not interested in becoming a ‘content creator.’ I want to remain true to my sense of play while leaning on my 20+ years of business management. I don’t want to let this wondrous thing get taken over by highly scripted business protocols.
Every single piece I create is unique and cannot be replicated. There are certainly variables that I control and there are those that I simply cannot. This is the thing I love the most about the work I’m doing. Every piece requires a certain amount of surrender and feeds my need for play and fun. My approach is about balance – the fun of creating with the more serious aspects of business that I find less appealing (ahem, bookkeeping I’m looking at you). So far it’s working out fantastically well and I’m excited to experience the journey as I go along.
Can you open up a bit about your work and career? We’re big fans and we’d love for our community to learn more about your work.
I use several techniques in my work: Ice dyeing, Indigo, and dip dyeing. They all have their own unique stories and lend themselves to dreamy watercolor floral effects, subtle ombres, and interesting experiments with color. The technique I use the most is ice dye and it is how I achieve the vibrant interesting patterns and color combinations in my pieces. When I first started my business I was dyeing clothing I could find on clearance or upcycling thrift store finds with some wholesale tees mixed in. While I will continue to repurpose thrift finds for extra unique pieces and some staples in the mix, I recently began working with a pattern maker to create a few pieces of clothing that really speak to me. I’m excited to find sustainable fabrics to work with and a local factory that pays their workers a living wage.
My professional journey has been largely behind the scenes. For decades, I’m usually the person who sets up systems, problem solves, runs departments, hires and trains staff, and handles contracts, permits, etc. My experience has been in many different industries, picking up the language, attitudes, and knowledge in each one and bringing it with me to the next job or project. I am a lifelong learner, so this ad hoc sort of career path suits my insatiable curiosity to learn a little bit about a lot of things. I feel like I can incorporate so much from so many different areas of my life into this one new venture and it’s exciting.
One of the biggest lessons I’ve ever learned is that if I’m in a job that’s not my favorite but I have to ya know, survive and pay bills (and let’s be honest, there have been many), I work hard to reframe my perspective to see that job as an opportunity – to be able to have a roof over my head, have the things my bills pay for, focus on what I can still give to someone struggling more than I am, and practice gratitude and humility. This lesson has made me a kinder more compassionate human. It has also given me the deeper awareness of the incredible opportunity I have with Hot for Color – to both be able to survive and do work that I’m ecstatic about. Plus, I get to bring color magic to other people and see them light up with wonder, too.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
One of my favorite things to do is curate itineraries for visiting friends so each one is really catered to them specifically. I think I’ll write instead about the staycation I’m planning in LA for myself once all Covid related restrictions are lifted and we can go back to in person events! The very first (and I would argue most important) element of any visit/trip/staycation is the snacks. I’d head to Bestie’s Vegan Paradise and Sasoun Produce to stock up on yummy treats, tons of fresh fruit and veg, and vegan chocolate and cheese! Days would be spent browsing the books at The Salt Eaters Bookshop followed by a picnic at Kenneth Hahn State Park or a long hike in the San Gabriel Mountains followed by a late lunch at Monty’s Good Burger or Jewel. Museum visits to Craft Contemporary and LACMA or visiting Olvera Street. Nights will include a visit to the Griffith Observatory where I can nerd out about space and science, a fantastical experience at the Edison, seeing some spoken word performances, and probably a game night at home with friends. Throughout the week there will be stops for coffee at Go Get Em Tiger, bubble tea at Little Fluffy Head Cafe and re-ups on snacks and fruit at local farmers markets. Also, perhaps a fun photo shoot by Yulissa Mendoza (they are the genius behind the photos of me for this interview).
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
Oh my goodness, so many folks along the way deserve shout outs! Here are some that I especially want to highlight. Friends:
Nicole Stevenson, the owner and CEO of Dear Handmade Life, has made it her life’s work to support and educate creatives in business. She has been so generous with her resources, personal input, and really is the most incredible supporter.
Stephanie Mittelbuscher, the owner of Stuck on Vintage, who decided to start Redlands Makers Market where I first began selling my creations, has been my friend for over 20 years and will forever be my number one Ride or Die.
L’lia Thomas, part owner of Bestie’s Vegan Paradise, is one of those friends that just gets who I am and what I do in such an incredible way that she supports my work deeply. She is always thinking of people to connect me up with for awesome collaborations. We’re working on some surprise projects this year that I can’t wait to talk about.
The two books that stand out the most in thinking about their influence on building Hot for Color are Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic and bell hooks’ All About Love. Big Magic is all about defining yourself, tapping into Creativity despite the fear that inevitably comes with it, taking risks, the importance of curiosity, and “Do[ing] what you love to do, and do[ing] it with both seriousness and lightness.” While All About Love is far from a book about creativity or business, it is about the quintessential need we all share as humans, to love and be loved. Hooks pulls and yanks, folds and massages out the ways we access, use, receive, define, or manipulate love and then reassembles it all into a mantra for deeper connection with ourselves and with each other. It has had an incredible effect on how I understand creating balance with my business, volunteering time to my community, and how I want to interact with the world in both big and small ways. It will forever inform the ways in which I approach and connect to other folks in every capacity, professionally and personally.
Photos of me: Yulissa Mendoza Photo of bed: Devon Guthrie All other photos by me: Nicole Spaulding