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Article: Nicky Reflects on 12 Years of Calexico

Nicky Reflects on 12 Years of Calexico

Nicky Reflects on 12 Years of Calexico

On a sunny spring day 12 years ago, Calexico opened its doors for the first time on James Street. The location may be the same, but Brisbane in 2010 was a very different time and place.
So much has happened since then (hello ecomm, social media and Calexico Man), and our brand has grown and evolved in ways our Founder and Director Nicky Charman could never have envisioned.
Curious to find out the whole story, we chatted to Nicky on the eve of Calexico’s 12th birthday about the early days, her highlights, what’s changed and what will always remain the same.

What led you to open Calexico all those years ago, and why did you choose James Street?

“From a young age, I’d always wanted to open my own boutique. Providing a safe space with no judgment and unlimited service was and still is my passion.

“In 2010, the timing was perfect – Australia was recovering from a recession [the Global Financial Crisis] and I could see a gap in the market to import timeless international style to Brisbane.  

“The city was in much need of a one-stop shop that offered special pieces you can wear over and over again. At that stage, there were only one or two fashion boutiques on James Street. I could feel the street changing and thought it would be a great challenge to turn it into a fashion destination.” 


How has fashion changed since 2010?

“I honestly don’t think it has changed too much for us – not the DNA of Calexico anyway. Twelve years on, we’re still offering a sharp-fitting blazer and sexy pair of jeans. I love when clients come in wearing vintage Calexico.

“Styling our clients with special pieces that can be worn for a lifetime is very rewarding. I suppose back we opened we never really sold dresses, but now it’s a big part of our business!

“Obviously during Covid, our style changed and people dressed more for comfort than ever. Now that’s over, the dress is back baby! There are so many events and we have SO many dresses. We have become quite a destination for school formal event wear. Girls aged from 15 to 80 years young shop in our women’s boutique – sometimes we see three generations shopping together. I love this so much!” 


How do you choose items for the boutiques?

“My style is quite chameleon-like. I suppose that’s why we have so many different designers in the boutiques. I’m super tactile and love great-feeling fabrics.

“Everything we sell has a ‘why’. There’s a specific reason why we stock it, and not just to make profit. Whether it’s the story behind the designer or the memories it brings back to me from childhood. This is what makes the whole shopping process less transactional for us and more meaningful. The client is purchasing a special item I know is going to bring joy to their day-to-day life for a very long time – that to me is pretty bloody special!”





What are you excited for right now?

That life is back to normal. I can travel internationally and see my suppliers and touch and feel the fabrics again. As much as I loved that the pandemic was a forced reckoning for all of us to slow down, shoppers have come back with full force and love experimenting with fashion more than ever.  

“Calexico imports current seasons from the northern hemisphere so we are always in reverse seasons. When Covid hit, no one had a need for our coats or ski boots. Now after two years, our annual Winter Packing Workshops in November are back in full force – it makes me very happy that our collections are being taken back to the other side of the world to be worn in fabulous locations on family vacations.  

“Personally, my husband and family are excited for Baby Number Three arriving in mid-December!  The boutiques are in a different space to where they were six years ago when our Joe was born, so I’m excited to really enjoy the beginning times with Bub. With my well-established team, I feel I’ll be able to embrace this time more than ever. It’s such a blessing.”



How many designers did you open with? What were they?

“It was only a handful. Probably around seven to start with. Brands such as Helmut Lang, Rag & Bone and AG became my anchor designers. When we opened Calexico, the style was very rock ’n’ roll and tomboy sporty chic. We’ve evolved so much since then. Denim has and always will be our core offering. Nothing feels better than a great-fitting new pair of jeans!” 


How big was the team back then? Did you always employ stylists?

“In the early months of opening, it was just myself, a tourist from Ireland who helped me with steaming and a very supportive girlfriend. I think I worked seven days for at least the first few years. But I loved it and still do, so it’s never felt like work. We’ve grown so much since then.

“I don’t think I’ve ever employed ‘stylists’ as such. I try to find people who are the right fit – who obviously have a passion for fashion and people – and then I train them to become stylists. These days it’s hard to find people who love giving great service. That’s what we do and that’s a big reason why we’re still in business.”





Wildest Calexico party/event?

“I can’t kiss and tell too much – our parties can get a little wild! Probably the opening of Calexico Man in 2017 was one of the most memorable soirees. The most fun bunch of friends, clients and family coming together to help celebrate new beginnings. Stilt-walkers serving champagne and unexpected drag queens dropping in. Great tunes and lots of champagne… we’ve always known how to throw a good party!” 


Talk us through how ecomm and social media have changed the retail game?

 “Our ecommerce website opened nine months before the pandemic. We had countless attempts over the last 12 years, but this launch really put us on the map. It was perfect timing really as we had a captive audience through social media.  

“I was reluctant at first to open our online platform as it can be soulless and nowhere near as much fun to shop online. Now we employ virtual stylists who can help navigate both our websites and enrich the online experience even more. It works so well for our out-of-town clients who find it hard to come in.

“We love connecting with our audience through social media. Back when I started in fashion as a teenager in Perth, we were so limited in how we could educate our clientele about what we loved selling. Now the possibilities are endless. It’s great to be able to tell our story in more detail in a short amount of time on social media.”



How has the James Street precinct changed since the early days?

“It was a lot quieter back then! I had three allocated Calexico carparks – those were the days [laughing]! No, but seriously it’s been a fun ride – the highs and the lows opening my first business on James Street. All the mistakes and the celebrations. It’s been such a learning curve.

“It’s been fascinating to watch James Street grow all around us over the years. Great ‘high-street’ precincts like ours can’t be made overnight. We see visiting developers come to the precinct and want to create this elsewhere, but what we have here is very unique. James Street has evolved organically over time, and it’s also grown strategically with great landlords who hand-select stores with purpose and flow.

“A lot of owner-occupiers make the precinct so special as they are here every day nurturing their business and their clientele – the heart and soul of James Street.

“Our clientele has remained the same and also keeps growing – especially now with The Calile Hotel opening we meet many more interstate shoppers who really are amazed that little old Brisbane has so much to offer!” 





Most famous person who’s ever come in? 

“Well, my daughter would have to say it was Katy Perry! But for me, even though we’ve had so many famous people come in over the years, it’s more the everyday people who fly under the radar who are famous in my eyes. It’s the awesome human beings who do so much for others, and the stories of integrity we hear day in day out that really make me happy.”


Proudest Calexico achievement?

“Growing into a leader and a mentor to my team is one of my proudest achievements. My team are like extended family. They start at Calexico as ‘babies’ as I call them and then they leave with a whole lot of confidence with a purpose. To watch them all individually grow and challenge themselves is a highlight to watch every day.

“Bringing great people together to conquer amazing things makes my heart sing. To see lifelong friendships formed within the team (even among the clientele) is something that I’m very proud to be responsible for.

“On a recent buying trip to Paris, I met up with a bunch of ex-team members who now live overseas for drinks. They’ve since spread their wings and are absolutely killing it in the creative space all around the world.” 

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