Nickel & Suede
Local handcrafted jewelry catches on near and far.
Kilee and Soren Nickels have become an e-commerce sensation. The Nickels have teamed up to create Nickel & Suede, their handcrafted line of ultra-lightweight genuine leather earrings and cuffs that really make a statement.
The two met in college, and after two and a half years of living and working in Seattle and starting a family, they decided to move back to Kilee's hometown of Liberty, Missouri, to be close to her family.
"I really wasn't enthusiastic about coming back," Kilee says. "But now it seems to be the perfect place for what we're doing. There are lots of creative companies in this community, and it is an exciting, healthy time for business."
"Liberty is the right place to be, and the right time," Soren says. "We're happy to claim Kansas City as our home."
Nickel & Suede
The company began as a side project for Kilee, who began a fashion and DIY blog as a hobby. She has since gained a following of more than 37,000 on Instagram (@onelittlemomma), and her blog, onelittlemomma.com, has equal success.
As a result, in 2008, the Nickels ventured into selling real leather belts for babies and toddlers, where their skills with leather grew into a more concetrated business model. One day, as she was getting dressed, Kilee remembered an eye-catching piece of gold-textured leather she had picked up the previous week that she knew would go perfectly with her outfit. She proceeded to trace her favorite teardrop earrings onto the leather and cut them out. Not only did she think her new handmade earrings looked great, she was pleasantly surprised at how light and unburdensome they felt as she wore them.
By fall 2013, Kilee was selling on Etsy her earrings in various colors along with a line of ultra-lightweight fashion leather cuff bracelets to a growing customer base. In June 2014, the Nickel & Suede website launched. Soren, who started his career as a CPA, now works full-time with his wife helping grow the business. The couple opened a storefront on the main square in Liberty in June 2016.
The initial response to their products was impressive, and things have expanded with the venture as N&S earrings continue to catch on. Missouri is currently the Nickels No. 1 market, but sales are also growing in California, Texas, Nebraska, and as far away as Canada and the United Kingdom. Overall sales have tripled since just last year.
Parenting and Business
The Nickels describe their experience of juggling business, marriage and parenthood — they have four young sons — as a good one overall but not without its challenges.
"It feels challenging at times to get everything done," Kilee says. "It takes quite a bit of coordination and juggling, plus I still keep up with my blog and social media. It's not always easy to be creative in the businesses direction while at the same time being creative in developing product."
Building a following on her blog, Instagram and Pinterest has paid off because it exposed her brand to lots of potential customers. Soren notes that Kilee’s personal Instagram account has significantly more followers than the N&S social media pages, and that’s most likely because of her of-the-moment sense of style.
"Her hair is famous on Pinterest," he says. "We frequently see women around town wearing Kilee's style of clothing, too."
Several local stylists have already told her that patrons frequently bring in a picture of Kilee and eagerly request the same 'do.
On the Horizon
Besides the Nickel & Suede storefront, you can find N&S jewelry at Made in KC at Prairiefire and at other local boutiques.
"We probably get five to 10 requests a week from boutiques in the area and from out-of-state to carry our lines," Soren says. "We're are not pursuing those requests right away but are rather going the well-paced, sustainable growth route."
As for the future of the store itself, the Nickels will be moving N&S a couple blocks over to a renovated building on the Liberty town square, but details are scarce at the moment and that move is at least a year out.
As for new products and lines, Kilee is enthusiastic about many new ideas, all of which take quite a bit of time and energy to roll out. "We do have new products in the works, and I really wish we could execute all the ideas," she says. "I do feel like we have quite a ways to go to satisfy the demand of our audience."
Nickel & Suede by the Numbers
Nickel & Suede’s website show a higher-than-typical conversion rate and account for around 90 percent of N&S sales.
Between January and June 2015, 85 percent of all N&S sales were outside of Missouri. Top states by N&S sales: No. 1 Texas, No. 2 California, No. 3 Missouri.
Between January and June 2016, Missouri ranks No. 1 in N&S sales (including in-store sales), accounting for 30 percent of overall sales. Sales have tripled what they were from the same time frame from the previous year.
Outside the U.S.
N&S exports account for 6 percent of overall sales, with demand being the highest in Canada, followed by the United Kingdom.