By Andrea Pineda-Salgado
Nicole Zïzi, 24, began her career as a fashion designer in 2015 when she was attending Parsons School of Design in New York City. She spent three years learning and practicing her craft and also gained hands-on experience in various aspects of design. She wanted to design furniture at the time, with the goal of having her own line of sustainably made furniture. However, school was expensive and it was becoming difficult to continue her education. In 2018, she decided to pause her studies and explore her creativity by launching the furniture line. The venture was proved unsuccessful due to high overhead costs. So she tried something new.
As a young person living in New York City, Zïzi was at the center of fashion and realized how popular streetwear was becoming. Despite the high prices of some in-demand brands like Supreme, the materials used for the goods were not good for the earth.
“I was having so many thoughts about what I could do as a designer. Something that stood out to me was studying environmental issues and how it affects people, communities and the people that inhabit it,” she says. “I’ve always been passionate about science and research since I was a kid, so it was natural to do something [in sustainability].”
Zïzi launched a streetwear collection, Nicole Zïzi Studio, made out of recycled, alternative and natural materials that are not only good for the earth, but stylish. Based out of Brooklyn, she created her first piece: a jean jacket made out of recycled denim and plastic from Haiti and Honduras. She posted it on Instagram and had many takers. Her jackets were selling as fast as she could make them, so she added more items to the collection. Zïzi hosted a pop-up in Miami in 2019 where her business really took off. Like many, she took a hit in 2020 due to the pandemic.
“It was super slow in the beginning of the pandemic, but I think people were just scared to even use their money,” she says. “The first couple of months, I didn’t know what I was going to do. In my mind, the possibility of the business failing was there and I was sad about it.”
It wasn’t until June 2020, at the height of the Black Lives Matter Movement and Pride month that her business really picked up again. Zïzi is both Black and a member of the LGBTQ community, and as the spotlight shifted to those communities her sales began to increase.
“Toward the middle of the year, I received a feature in Paper Magazine and my sales skyrocketed and my business didn’t fail,” she says. “That was amazing, since then my business has been growing. I’m so blessed and grateful for that first feature.”
The denim jackets like the original one she made are included in a capsule collection that includes jeans, pants, shirts and bags. A lot of the brand’s inspiration comes from Zïzi’s identity as a Hatian-American and being LGBTQ. Intentionally, Nicole Zïzi Studio is a gender free brand. There is no separate section for women or men.
“I’m always thinking about inclusivity in general, I don’t design just for women or men, I just design it for people to wear it,” she says. “[The brand] is inspired by my community, the LGBT community and wanting to create things that are affirming for all bodies. Which is why I went into the gender-free world, I just started designing and it just became like second nature. I stopped consciously thinking ‘this is for men or this is for women.’ I want people to be comfortable in the clothing I make regardless of what they present as.”
The clothing is also inclusive to people of all sizes. Through small adjustments like adding a longer belt and holes on her leather crossbody belt bag, Zïzi’s designs can be worn in a variety of ways. A lot of her designs are also inspired by the Caribbean and the materials she uses connect her back to her roots. The first jacket she made is an example of this. It was made with plastic found on the shores of Haiti, her family’s country of origin.
Parts of Zïzi can be found in the clothing she designs and sells. However, while this identity has brought a lot of success it hasn’t come without challenges.
“As a Black woman and queer person. It can be a bit harder to get recognition outside of just being those things. I think about it all the time, how Black people are recognized during [the height of the BLM Movement] when it was just like ‘Support Black designers’ by major companies or major publications” she says. “Being seen outside of just those 30 days. We’re not just Black for just one month, just LGBTQ for just one month.That is the biggest challenge.”
Zïzi hopes to launch a new collection in the near future and open up a showroom. For now, your can purchase items from her website, which range from $65 to $310.
“When you’re purchasing from my studio you’re supporting a company that is aiming to uplift our communities and minimize the negative impact [clothes have] on the environment,” she says. “I want New Yorkers to know that we are about progressive design. When you shop from Nicole Zïzi Studio, you’re giving back to the community and you’re also receiving a handmade garment that was made in New York. You’re also essentially funding a Black woman-Queer owned business.”