For a young Puertorrican woman, the journey through the fashion industry has taught her much more than leading trends set by brands in the runway.
Nico Rodríguez, Founder and Designer of Nico Mojito, sees fashion a a factor that involves more than consumption and superficial judgement.
It’s an artistic expression.
With her design abilities, Nico discovered she could use her drawing skills to establish her perspectives, representing topics she believes and stands for.
I had the honor to interview her and learn how fashion can have a variety of meanings for each person.
This also strengthes its value as a concept of individuality and freedom.
See how she managed her experience in fashion design, her tips to survive in the industry, and know what is Nico Mojito all about.
1. What is your brand about?
I don’t believe I would consider what I am doing a brand still.
I would love for it to become one, but I feel that it is in it’s birth and development stage.
For now it’s about me experimenting and exploring my abilities as an artist, discovering what I care about and stand for, and representing it through art form/drawings.
This is a personal project too: Trying to push myself out of the comfort zone of the daily routine.
Getting busy, setting goals, and being my old self: ambitious, which I missed dearly.
2. Where did the name come from?
Nico Mojito all started with my best friend and our love for Mojito drinks.
We joked around by getting the Yerba Buena leaf stuck in our teeth and basically smiling at whomever dared to look at us at the bar and laughing carelessly.
Then we wanted to have Instagram usernames that matched.
Her name being Marly, her instagram became Marly Party while mine became Nico Mojito.
It also came from me hating introductions. I always had to explain my name and where I come from.
So when answering that my name is Nico and I came from Puerto Rico I felt I sounded like a bad Dr Seuss rhyme.
3. What inspired you to create this idea?
I have many inspirations, but the most obvious one is my childhood in Puerto Rico.
The drawings represent my feelings about the island, my family, experiences and so on.
But mostly it’s about me realizing how amazing my culture is when I left the country to study and work in the US.
So by using the Vejigante mask as the main character in my drawings, it sort of represents me in different scenarios.
For example, I have this obsession of drawing a Vejigante in some sort of intergalactic/space/cifi setting
This is because I like for it to represent my present self: in a country that doesn’t belong to me, a culture that I don’t identify with were I feel isolated at times.
My travels and work experiences have been an adventure, were sometimes I feel im not only in a different country, but in a different planet.
4. How did you begin your fashion career?
It all started in High School were I began in Lisa Thon’s school taking drawing classes.
There it hit me that I did not belong there, and I needed to pursue something bigger.
I searched for schools that offered degrees in fashion design and then how I could create a career from it.
I did everything by the book: finished my degree, did multiple internships in Manhattan, New York, landed my first job and eventually ended up doing footwear design at my current job.
Lots of long nights, competitiveness, hard work and tears, that is how you start a career in fashion.
5. How where your designs chosen for the SCAD anual fashion show?
The fashion show features the students of 2 campuses of the University, Savannah and Atlanta.
I would dare to say they picked the best from about 150 students.
I was very surprised to be chosen because to be honest, my sewing skills were real bad.
You go through numerous critiques with your peers, professors and Dean of Fashion, to then be evaluated by a Panel of Judges made by industry professionals.
That year’s panel of judges included very estimated designers of the industry, leaders of the CFDA and CEO’s of highly recognized companies.
So it’s an understatement that it was a very nerve racking experience.
After all that process they do a student only show where they see the looks on the runway and then pick the final 25 that make it through to the actual fashion show.
It was a true blessing to see my clothes in the runway, and then see the publicity it received in magazines like Teen Vogue, Women’s Wear Daily, and ID Magazine.
6. What was your first designs for the SCAD fashion show about?
You might see a trend in my work.
My design inspirations where my grandmother and childhood in Puerto Rico.
I always wanted to do a collection about my culture, but never saw the opportunity rise up correctly.
Also, whatever I attempted to draw started to look like a scary Carmen Miranda on steroids interpretation that looked like a bad Cruise costume.
So it took me the whole summer before Senior year to round up my inspiration and carefully study it for it to become what it did, a fun subject I truly felt passionate about.
This was a big “Aha!” moment for me were I came to realize how important my country and culture are for me.
I believe that’s why it appealed to the viewer: I created garments out of huge personal story telling: colors, senses, pageants, basketball, my grandmother, school, etc.
7. What has been the most difficult part of building your business?
For now I am in a sweet spot with my project: It’s still for fun.
I am drawing to distract myself from negativity and to have something to look forward to besides my dog when I come home.
I started selling the stickers and drawings because I still have being competitive and ambitious engraved in my head.
I would like to move forward with apparel and accessories so that is when the hard part comes in: pulling in followers on social media and money.
The followers are tricky because I pretend to work as a local artist when I am truly not.
So I am trying to be witty about how do I approach it by using my friend’s help.
And well the money, fortunately I count with my job which I separate a portion of my salary to buy my supplies.
Balancing my regular work and this has also been hard because I sometimes feel overwhelmed and overworked.
But my passion for it has kept me going.
8. What does fashion mean to you?
Fashion’s meaning for me has changed many times as more I learn about it.
My degree means nothing since Fashion is an ever changing phenomenon and industry.
At first it meant dreams and aspirations of becoming that successful designed or brand like Christian Dior or Chanel are.
Then as I learned about consumption and how bad it’s for the environment.
I thought of fashion as a vice the whole world had, so I was a bit disappointed.
But ultimately Fashion, with it’s negative and positives is a world of dreamers: to save the world, to save just one person.
You can use it to create movements, or to just simply get inspired.
Pick a damn good outfit and step out to face your day with confidence.
9. How would you describe your style and why?
I struggle with this question, since I don’t have a set word for my style.
I feel it can change as easily from feeling something in the morning, to feeling completely different at night.
I can be a chameleon: I love pink, ruffles and skirts, but i also love a good baggy pant with my sneakers.
I can go from glam, to tomboy in 5 seconds.
I measure it like so: if my parents would feel uncomfortable with what I’m wearing, I feel satisfied with the look.
I love attention and quirk, so the more whimsical I can be the better.
10. How does fashion empowers you as a young entrepreneur and woman?
Fashion and hard work is the source of my success.
I believe my current bosses took a chance on me because of my ability of expressing myself about fashion.
Also, how I am conscious about what’s going on and what will happen about any subject: trends, politics, color, design etc.
This never ending thirst for information is what keeps me going and interested in what I do.
So while I am working on one thing, I am ready for the next thing.
This is what entrepreneurship means for me: the hustle.
And as a women, especially a hispanic working for American companies, I believe I’ve had to hustle 10 times more than anyone else.
So fashion gives me knowledge, inspiration and confidence to keep on going.
11. What would you recommend for a student who aspires to study fashion design?
To hold on tight for what a ride it will be.
It’s such an amazing yet hard experience.
I have to admit I cried, and thought about returning home to an average career aspiration.
But just the thought of succumbing to a life without art or design felt like failure and simple boring.
You have to be very thick skinned because there is lots of pressure, competition and very little recognition.
Therefore you have to hold on to the satisfaction of pursuing what you love to keep on going.
I want to suggest for you to read this amazing article which pretty much describes what is like to be in fashion school here.
12. How many followers do you have at the moment?
Followers. What a gut wrenching word.
For now I have measly 947 followers which I am actually really proud of.
I have find my ways of finding more but I am trying not to measure my efforts around it.
My end goal is making art I feel proud of, not something people like.
13. Where can people contact you?
I would love to eventually grow into a more professional looking website, but for now this is very grass roots, so instagram it shall be.