By Andrea Beattie
In order for some small businesses to succeed, you can’t just rely on one person, you need an army of champions.
So fashion designer Nikita Sernack built one — a legion of confident, sexy, adventurous and bold women, clad in swimwear.
Sernack, 36, has built her beach-to-bar and swimwear label Nookie from a small start-up in 2004 to a business with a $4 million dollar annual turnover and a swathe of high-profile fans including Jessica Alba, Kate Hudson, Ariana Grande and a posse of Victoria’s Secret models.
But she had help.
Sernack crafted a sense of identity for fans of her brand — the ‘Nookie Girl’ — and she used social media to gather her loyal champions.
“We’ve nurtured this concept on Instagram as soon as Instagram started,” she told The Huffington Post Australia.
“We nurtured real relationships with them, a real culture of Nookie Girls using the hashtags #Nookie and #NookieGirl.
“We really started to represent them and started to re-post them on Instagram. It’s very, very common now for brands to do that, but then it wasn’t something I’d seen before.
“Our girls are so stunning and beautiful and it’s quite crazy the amount of people I come across who are like, ‘Wow! The Nookie girls are quite a phenomenon’.
“We have this constant, ever-growing stream of these amazing women who are looking incredible and sexy in Nookie.”
The initiative was a saving grace for Sernack, who almost fell victim to the GFC in 2007/08.
“There was a time that I didn’t know if i was going to continue,” Sernack said.
“For a moment there, I thought I was going to run out of money. A huge amount of stores were going under daily and we were copping a lot of bad debt.
“So much of my identity is what I’ve put out there with Nookie and it was a really tough time to think it would end.
“Going through that time of make or break, the blinkers went on and I was only interested in doing what was working, and the styles that were working. And to focus on what our customers wanted. That mentality was really important.”
Online retailing came along for Sernack at the right time as well and helped her business to flourish.
“I trusted my instincts there, and realised it was an important area for me to focus on and put energy into, as well as focus on the people who really knew our product.
“I can’t begin to explain the turnaround. The last three or four years have been up and up and up — it’s a great place to be, never want to be back there where it was tough. But at the same time, things happen and they bring a lot of clarity and learning and make sense.”
Fashion was in her blood
Sernack said while she didn’t study fashion, it was always something she was interested in.
“I was always very particular about how clothes fit,” she said.
“Very often with clothes I’d bought, I’d go and have them tailored. How clothes fit is so important to how you feel wearing them, and I’ve carried that into the brand.”
But back to the army of ladies in swimwear.
Now the Nookie Girl phenomenon is so popular, Sernack said she tours the brand around the world to places she envisages the Nookie Girl would want to travel.
“The Nookie Tour initiative was, and is, about the swimwear line,” Sernack said.
“It embodies the girls and what they love — to travel and explore and broaden their horizons and I want to encourage that, so we go where the Nookie Girl might want to go, places like Samoa, or West Hollywood, or Miami and do a series of shoots there.
“It all filters through our Instagram and blog on our website — it creates interest in the brand and travel, and encourages Nookie girls to travel — and take our bikinis with them.
“The more girls that come across our Nookie page, they’re like “I’m a Nookie Girl too”, and now we sell to every country in the world and we’re delivering to some obscure countries daily, pretty random places, like Iceland and Azerbaijan.”
Nookie girls are vital to the business
For Sernack, being able to communicate with her Nookie Girls is one of the most enjoyable elements of running her business.
“When we started, originally we were selling as a wholesaler and as a wholesaler, you’re selling to buyers who may not be Nookie Girls,” she said.
“The Nookie Girl is an outgoing, fun, life-loving individual who embodies her femininity and likes to be a sexy girl without being overtly sexy.
“They’re definitely not wallflowers, and they’re enjoying life and living life to the fullest. I see beautiful value in women being confident and being able to be whatever they want to be — when they wear a Nookie dress, to stand up taller and feel amazing, and go out and feel fantastic and feel confident.
“I do love to empower a woman.”
Nookie has 250,000 followers on Instagram and it’s increasing every day.
Sernack also had help from a source closer to home — her dad. He encouraged her to stick out the tough times by keeping a strong focus on her brand and to stop thinking like a startup.
“He’s always instilled in me a real mentality — that if I want to be a big business one day, I have to think like a big business,” she said.
“That’s been quite important on a lot of levels and it took me a little bit to get it in the beginning.
“You’re so busy but you have to stop and think and reflect, take yourself out of the business.”
With Nookie now stocked all over Australia and the world, Sernack said 2016 will be a year of continuing to build the brand and focusing on online.
“The online side is super substantial — it’s now over 50 percent of business coming directly to the website. As we grow and continue to grow, those numbers still inch forward. I hope the brand continues to grow and one day someone big comes along and says ‘we really get this concept and we want to work with you’ and we’ll see what happens,” she said.
“We’ll do some underwear, Nookie Knickers, and with our signature label there’s real potential for it to roll out on a much larger scale.”
Sernack says her Nookie Girl army is still the most effective tool she has in her marketing arsenal, and she’s hoping for an increased global influence this year and beyond.
“Our secret is that we’ve really represented our girls — most of what we do on our Instagram is just reposts, it’s user generated content; a beautiful stream and it really, really sells the brand.
“It’s real girls wearing the brand and their interpretations. It’s an amazing tool for us.
“I think we can make it a really iconic label that sticks around for a long time.”
This article first appeared in the Small Business section of The Huffington Post Australia