This time, Ms. Jeannie’s interview series takes us to the very big city of Chicago, to a very big closet, powered by a lovely lady with a very BIG heart. Meet Nicole of Dotto, vintage fashionista and volunteer extraordinaire.
Nicole runs the sunny vintage clothing shop Dotto, on Etsy. It’s so full of personality, Ms. Jeannie can’t help but think that Nicole is bringing a much needed breath of fresh air to dusty cellars and attics all over the city. She’s the shop model, the copy writer, the clothing scout, the photographer and the coordinator behind her brand. And as if running a successful Etsy shop isn’t accomplishment enough, she also donates proceeds from her shop sales to not one but seven local charities that she’s affiliated with. How does she do it, you ask? Let’s find out…
Ms. Jeannie: Oh Nicole – you sound like such a fun person and incredibly nice to be donating shop proceeds to charity. Please explain a bit about how you came to make charities a theme for your shop.
Nicole: AW. I’ve been a pretty serious volunteer for years that probably started with the peace corps, but no wait. I volunteered a little in college too. When I moved to Chicago I spent the first few months going to as many volunteer orientations as I could and was blown away by how many really good- like really good- organizations there were here and at one point had to start cutting back because I was volunteering more than I was working. Anyway, I went to a small business expo about a year ago and was asked what makes my business different and I remember thinking ‘oh my god NOTHING. it’s just clothes’. I decided to show in my shop what I am able to do by making my own hours and working for myself. Whew!
MJ: Tell us a little about each of the charities you are involved with and why you chose them.
Nicole: PAWS Chicago is a no kill animal shelter. I volunteer on the dog side and lately have been fostering cats!
Sit Stay Read is a literacy program that enlists dogs as volunteers TOO. kids get super jazzed about reading to the dogs during classroom visits, it is pretty adorable and their reading scores show a vast improvement.
826 Chicago is a creative writing and tutoring center. They offer field trips to elementary school kids during the day and tutoring to older kids afternoons and evenings. Right now I am working online with four AP history students to help them pass the exam at the end of the year.
Side Note: 826 Chicago was recently part of a TED talk. For a quick, interesting little video about how the 826 concept started click here.
KEEN is an exercise program for kids and teens with disabilities- IT IS AWESOME.
Little Brothers Friends of the Elderly reaches out to isolated seniors all over the city by getting them to senior parties and/or visiting them at home.
Adaptive Sailing helps people with disabilities learn how to sail. It is even more interesting than it sounds.
Side Note: If you are interested in learning more about this program, you can watch this 7 minute video. It is inspiring to see how challenges are turned into rewarding opportunities for both participants and program coordinators. And spending time on the water?! Who couldn’t benefit from that!
Working Bikes fixes donated bicycles and ships them to countries in need or sells them to the community at a low cost.
MJ: What is your process of determining how much donation goes to which charity?
Nicole: If I’ve missed volunteering with an organization that I usually volunteer with, I’ll donate to them first when extra money comes in. but I try to volunteer with each group at least a few times a month, some of them weekly. When a ‘disaster relief’ item sells, that money goes toward something that is currently going on in the world through www.globalgiving.org
MJ: Your photographs are full of personality – do you work with a photographer or do you arrange all the sets yourself?
Nicole: I use a timed camera in all of the photos with a white background. The professional outdoor photography is done by my verrrry talented friend Rodion Galperin.
For one year, Rodion traveled across the US with a red paper heart. Watch the beauty of this amazing project unfold here…
MJ: What’s your most favorite decade of vintage clothing?
Nicole: ooooh. It changes all the time. Currently the 1940s. I love the fitted waists and powerful shoulders that evolved with women entering the workplace.
MJ: What’s your most favorite item in your shop right now?
Nicole: The white sequin dress with pink flowers. People always ask if I wear things that are in my shop and I feel kind of weird that I don’t (except wouldn’t it be kind of weird if I did?) but it’s true. I do, however, put things in my shop that I’ve worn before… this dress is the ultimate. I wore it to a dive bar for New Years a few years ago (true story) and for my birthday one year. I am going to cry a river once it sells but I always feel a little bit like I am getting married when I wear it, so. . .
MJ: Every once in awhile we see a cat or a dog or another person pop-up in your listing photographs. Tell us about your fellow models.
Nicole: Oh the muffin butts? They make the best models. the dogs are from my hometown in California, they’re in the backyard photos… right now I am fostering a tabby cat from an animal shelter- he only enters the picture if treats are involved. A few months ago I fostered brother cats who looooved posing. Or sleeping along the wall by my feet while I took photos for hours, the lovers.
MJ: What is the strangest thing you have come across in your vintage adventures?
Nicole: A friend found a guy on craigslist in upstate New York who ‘had a lot of inventory’ that turned out to be a huge barn FILLED with vintage clothing. I tell you what. We thought we’d walked into heaven when we entered that barn. A dark musty old clothing filled heaven.
Side note: This story reminded Ms. Jeannie of Julie’s interview from Fishs Eddy – she discovered a treasure trove of vintage china in an old barn in upstate New York too. Maybe these two barns knew each other:)
MJ: Ms. Jeannie loves Chicago! She has many ancestors from there and her father grew up in Oak Park. Are you from there? What are some of your favorite things about living there?
Nicole: I am with you, girl! I love this city, I moved here on a whim two and a half years ago. The architecture and snow and the Colombian Exposition of 1893 are what initially drew me here. But the FOOD! What a pleasant surprise, I had no idea it was such a dream food city before I moved here.
MJ: When you are not Etsy-ing or volunteering, what else do you like to do with your time?
Nicole: I love to ride around on my bicycle, which I initially got into to impress a guy. Ugh, good thing bikes are so awesome. Every once in a while I design and sew clothing- it’s actually why I originally signed up on Etsy. And then vintage clothing ended up taking over.
MJ: It looks like, from your previous shop move, that you have been affiliated with Etsy since almost the beginning, back in 2007. How did you discover Etsy? How has it evolved since 2007 and why did you decide for a change from gimmeNicole to Dotto?
Nicole: I get asked about Etsy a lot and it’s kind of fuzzy. I think I heard about it through someone on Ebay. Weird, right? Remember when listing an item on Etsy used to take several pages? And you had to add photos one at a time? I remember the day they rolled out the one page listing template and everything was like MAGIC.
MJ: What is your favorite type of vintage clothing to scout?
Nicole: I don’t have too much of a filter, I will go for anything. I physically cannot stop myself from grabbing anything neon or glittery, sheer or with matching belt. I used to get anxious when I shopped, like if I didn’t do it fast enough people would find things that I was meant to find but that has changed completely over the years. I’ll totally give someone something from my cart if they are eyeing it (okay. within REASON)
MJ: Do you wear a lot of vintage clothing yourself?
Nicole: Ugh, I don’t. And I have kept some really beautiful things since I started my shop! I’ll wear vintage for special occasions or anything where I have to think about what to wear beforehand, definitely. I love over dressing for an event. But daily, I almost always wear a t shirt and jeans or skirt.
MJ: It seems that your shop clothes are full of American nostalgia from camp t-shirts all the way down the line to prom dresses and ballet costumes. Do you look for items that are reminiscent of a traditional American past or does it just happen to work out like that?
Nicole: Oh it just happens to work out like that.
MJ: Do you sell most of your items to customers in the US or overseas?
Nicole: I think it’s split pretty evenly. I sell a lot to England and Australia, I always wonder if those places are especially void of vintage clothing or if they’re just more inclined to shop online. Stateside, more orders than I ever would have bet on are from Texas. but really, it’s just so spread out.
Side note: Ms. Jeannie also sells a lot of vintage to Australia. She recently spoke with a customer who shed some light on the subject. It seems there is just not a lot of vintage or antique items in Australia. And what they do have is really really expensive, so for collectors it is much more cost effective to purchase vintage from the States. Even with our high shipping prices to their neck of the woods, it still works out in their favor.
MJ: Buying from your shop is almost like receiving two gifts! You give something back to the community and you receive a fabulous vintage item at the same time, do you think people respond to that and do you think that affects their purchasing decisions?
Nicole: AW. I feel like that’s split too. but always if someone didn’t notice that their purchase helps organizations around the city, they’re pretty jazzed when they find out afterward.
MJ: Have you seen the impact that your charitable contributions have made? Is there a Nicole Cat Hospital somewhere in Chicago or a statue of your loveliness downtown?! Did the mayor give you a key to the city?!
Nicole: whaaaaaaaaaat an enormous key to the city? Who wouldn’t want that. It would have to be enormous, otherwise the deal would be off.
MJ: If we were to come spend a day with you in Chicago, and you were to act as tour guide, where would you take us?
Nicole: WELL. every old theater we could get into, most of them in Uptown. I am just slightly obsessed with atriums and glass ceilings- Harold Washington Library, the Cultural Center, the Rookery. You would have too ooh and ahh at architecture along the river with me, naturally.
MJ: And last but not least…the universal questions: What book(s) are you currently reading? And what music are you listening to?
Nicole: I’ve been listening to a lot of Lissie and old Ratatat lately and reading a book that my sister recommended called The Secret History. It’s by Donna Tartt and is pretty excellent.
With over 190 items in her shop you most certainly might find a new treasure for your wardrobe. Ms. Jeannie encourages you to help the helper, by visiting Nicole’s shop on Etsy or by passing along this post to someone else who would enjoy it. Best case scenario, you might aid in helping a shelter dog find a new home or a withdrawn senior find a smile. Worst case scenario, you keep Nicole afloat so that she can continue to be a working wonder in the windy city.
Happy adventuring, dear readers!