Where are you from?
I grew up poor and lived on the southside on Badger Road in Madison with my mom and brother. We moved around a lot, but wherever we lived it also felt like home. My mom did a good job of teaching me that you don’t need a lot to be happy and how important it is to be resourceful and learn how to do many things for yourself.
What was life like growing up?
When I was growing up, I was extremely shy, which made it hard for me to tell people I needed help. Paired with undiagnosed dyslexia, I had a tough time in school and didn’t want to go, ever. I believe one big reason I was shy was because of what was going on at home. I love my mom and my dad very much, but they both suffered from drug addiction. It was extremely hard on me and my older brother when my mom went to prison for three years, and my brother and I were split apart. I did grow out of my shyness once my mom came home, and school got a little easier, but the addiction and my dad’s death of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease when I was 14 made childhood feel like a roller-coaster. I did learn so much from my mom and dad before they passed. They taught me how to be strong, kind, and caring. One of the biggest lessons I learned from them was to treat people how you want to be treated. I really do live my life by that.
How did coming out impact your self confidence and self expression?
After I came out to my mom when I was 14, I was over the moon. I was so excited to finally not have to hide. I always felt like the odd one out in my family, and at times in life, but being able to express myself through fashion has allowed me to thrive. I always struggled to feel comfortable in my own body, and until recently I couldn’t understand why, but when I came out for the second time as non-binary and looked into hormone replacement therapy, things started to look up. I wanted to change all this negativity to something positive. I knew by digging deep within myself, I could get over the fears I had about coming out again, going back to fashion school, and teaching myself how to sew from scratch. I’ve made big jumps this year, and I’m very grateful for everything.
How have you struggled with clothing?
My biggest struggle has been finding clothing that fits. I really didn’t like shopping for clothing in a typical store. It really made me feel uncomfortable being told I was in the “men’s” section and therefore was in the “wrong” section. The looks, the stares, the glares—it really sucked, since all I wanted was to find some way to express myself finally after coming out.
I had to go to a tailor to get some clothing re-sized for a job and it made me feel really uncomfortable from the jump. The person running it right away told me I had men’s clothing and I must have grabbed them by mistake. When I said “no” he just looked at me like I had two heads then proceeded to act uncomfortable and upset the whole time while also not respecting my requests. Long story short, I wanted to change this and knew I had to help to prevent someone else from having to feel this way.
What is Queer Suave boutique, and what goals do you have for it?
Right when I came out, I felt like there were few safe queer or artsy queer spaces. There were some welcoming spaces, but none focused on fashion and clothing. I started Queer Suave boutique to give the Madison queer community space for fashion. My goal in the coming years is to open a physical storefront where you can have your clothing tailored, custom clothing made, suits constructed, and have a space to learn about the journey of creating clothing where you can trust the process of and enjoy it. I’d also love to create a space where you can both come and watch my work and design your own garments. You can come with me on the journey of making that yard of fabric and buttons into something amazing, whether it’s a jacket that protects your confidence like armor, pants that make you feel like you can take on the world, or a caped blouse that makes you feel like your own superhero.
How can people access Queer Suave?
For now, everything is done through my website, but you are still very much involved in the process. I’ll make a digital image of your garment then we get to the fun part of picking out fabric, thread, buttons, snaps, or straps. Anything you want! I’ll create a sample of your garment for you to test the fit. Then I will cut out your garment pieces to sew, construct it for you, and make you an unforgettable and totally unique piece of clothing that you had a part in creating.
I also have small collections that are ready-to-wear or can be customized and fit to measure for you as well. These collections drop weekly and are limited to five or 10 items that are never re-created, so they’re truly unique.
My clothing design is a mix of formal with streetwear. I wanted it to look sharp and clean but also comfortable as well. Check it out at queersuavebynikki.com.