It probably wouldn’t surprise you to learn that one of the most talented fashion designers on the Emerald Coast lives and works on Santa Rosa Beach’s 30A. The seemingly innocuous 22-mile stretch of road is home to many respected artists, urban planners, and creative souls. Exploring a talent for innovative clothing design is one thing. Focusing your skills as a teacher and mentor to women in recovery, however, is an entirely different business model. Encouraging those in the middle of a lifelong journey out of the depths of addiction would not seem like a prudent business plan. Nicole Paloma believes otherwise.
Skilled seamstresses are about as easy to find in South Walton as a parking spot in Seaside. If you’ve ever tried to sew a button on a shirt, or heck, thread a needle, you understand the dexterity and hand eye coordination required to put conception to completion. Ms. Paloma accidentally discovered her hidden talent for all things fashion while making a pair of pants for her 3-year-old daughter, over eight years ago.
“I guess I’m a very passionate person,” Ms. Paloma says. “When I do something, I do it with every ounce of my being. In Birmingham, I sold kids clothes direct to boutiques, learning how to make multiple sizes, with no formal training. Boutiques were picking up my line, and like a puzzle, it all came together.”
Little by little, the corner pieces fell into place. When she moved to Santa Rosa Beach, the center began to take shape. In a stitch in time, Nicole Paloma, the brand and the person, were enjoying success on a level unimaginable just a few years earlier. A couple of large orders enabled her to move into the Shops of Grayton in 2011, where she started making women’s clothes.
“Within a matter of two years, I had a booming business. In October 2013, we did our first runway show here in South Walton and it was a huge success. However, we were only growing as the profit would allow. No bank loans, all cash, which was great. Creating a business out of nothing was cool,” she says.
With no bank loans, she focused on the wholesale end of women’s fashion.
“Making half the money on a large order was a learning process. I taught myself how to maximize earnings using the same amount of fabric. Also, knowing that this one thing had a great profit margin but didn’t sell as fast as the t-shirts made me conscious that women in any demographic can find something to wear in my store.”
Reading Ms. Paloma’s journey up to this point, you would not be faulted for assuming she 1) Has talent, and 2) Is lucky to also have business savvy to nurture steady growth. Looking at her current upward trend now, it’s so easy to think that. But life is not a McCall summer dress pattern.
“I thought my creativity came out of a wine bottle,” she says. “In 2013, I was so sick before I checked myself into rehab, it didn’t even matter if I made another piece of clothing again. My marriage of 11 years was absolutely in shambles, and I used alcohol as a reward for working 80-90 hours a week.”
Clarity is a recovering alcoholic’s emotional attachment with reality. The less she drank, the more it became evident that she wasn’t solely responsible for her unhappiness. Ms. Paloma’s hurt and shame, channeled through her drinking, was not okay. With this realization, she sought other women in similar situations. This led her to a business idea that is destined to be a model for startups in the fashion industry.
“It’s so funny because I used to think fashion was so shallow!” She laughs. “But then I connected the pieces and thought, what if I teach other women how to sew, and open a ¾ house where’s there’s healing, yoga and meditation. Selling my clothes would support the healing process for these women. It started out for my own safety, but I found that when I shared my struggles, it gave other people space, and pulled shame out of the room. Each time I shared ‘me,’ I was presenting others with a gift.”
In October 2014, 30A.com posted an article detailing Ms. Paloma’s story. Her show at South Walton Fashion Week that same month featured clothing focusing on the different steps in her recovery. Each one of the dresses was named after a segment in her addiction, leading up to recovery. Despite these upward swings, in December 2014 her store in Grayton closed.
“That about killed me, but it was really good to fully realize who I am is not a designer. Or an alcoholic.” She adds. “I’m a sum of those things.”
In March 2015, she started sewing again, and shortly thereafter received a call from a sober living house called Graceway in Albany, GA. Her plans are to help move that business to this area, employ them in a safe environment, and help women transition into apartment living.
“I have not shut up about being an alcoholic,” she laughs. “If we can pull the shame out of it, so many more people would ask for help.”