An interview with Emma and Rachael Nissim
Upon stepping foot inside their modest shop on Hackney Road one is greeted with such an effervescence of character from founders (and sisters) Emma and Rachael that the space suddenly feels on par with a football pitch; “we’ve certainly brought that Hong Kong energy with us – from our mum’s side – I mean, we are a bit hyper…” This is no understatement. Welcome to Nissim.
Starting life as an ethical clothing stand in Greenwich Market for what should have been a 5-week stint prior to Christmas in 2008, “5 weeks turned into 5 years… our business plan is so solid! Ha! It was a great extended honeymoon period with a lovely vibe, a real sense of community. It was really fun.” The sisters bounce off each other, interrupt and finish each other’s sentences, as they talk with such frantic excitement about the business that Emma started, following a course in Fashion Design at Newham College later enhanced by a Textiles Art degree from Goldsmiths University. Rachael joined soon after, leaving her job as a Landscape Architect; “my relationship was with a computer. I missed that human connection.”
Standing on the pillars of creativity, community, and conversation, Nissim has evolved over the years and continues to do so, achieving status as a lifestyle brand catering towards Yogis and those who care for the environment. The success that the sisters have achieved seems somewhat haphazard, an organic journey of opportunity mixed with an obvious business nous. It’s hard not to get swept away by their enthusiasm.
Seeing the financial difficulties other independent brands were facing (“we had a lovely shop called Compendium next to us… he was there for 14 years, and there other businesses that were there for 14 years+, watching them go one by one we thought that these guys are really established, they’re going, and maybe we should do the same”), they decided it was time to leave the market. As luck would have it, a new clothing shop – Wear’s London – moved in as they moved out, and being a fan of Nissim’s designs, decided to stock their clothing.
“We worked so hard building our clientele, so it was important to us to let people know that we weren’t simply disappearing. Operating a retail outlet is so hard I don’t know why we’re doing it again!”
Operating a retail outlet is so hard, I don’t know why we’re doing it again!
They certainly seem up for the challenge. As a small independent business both Emma and Rachael do everything themselves, from the designs to the printing to the advertising to opening up the doors each morning. “When you’re doing every part of the process – whether you’re good at it or not – you just have to do it! You can’t be good at everything but you know where your own strengths and weaknesses are, so we are starting to have clarity from all those learning experiences.” As Rachael exclaimed: “we have to reinvent ourselves constantly. I’m like Madonna!” [Emma interjects: “no one can be as good as Madonna Rach…”]
It would seem that the energy required to tackle the every day challenges of running your own business was learnt at an early age; growing up in Hong Kong their British father was – and still is – an avid hiker and lover of the great outdoors. They were made to hike 3 hours before they were allowed mini mars bars, and both enjoyed stellar sports careers while at school. They credit this with their close working relationship; “we’re used to yelling GOOD GIRL, or GO COVER ME!”
No one can be as good as Madonna rach…
It was this active childhood, surrounded by the incredible Chinese countryside, which gave the girls their love of the environment, a catalyst for their current fundraising activities. Being concerned with where donations end up with various charities, they researched suggestions from David Attenborough and decided upon The World Land Trust. “This is our business and we have to make the right choices, this charity does the best environmental work and you can chose where your money goes.” A portion of their profits always goes direct to WLT.
Their customer base is increasingly becoming more yoga-focussed (Rachael teaches classes in Greenwich still, under her Instagram pseudonym Fun_Yoga_Mum), the super soft material used for their clothing well suited to the travelling Yogi lifestyle. A fortuitous meeting also with the founders of yogastudio.co.uk has led to a successful collaboration, with Nissim now being stocked on their website. Their current focus, however, is on building up a successful Ambassador program not only enhance brand awareness, but to give back to the Yoga community.
“Yoga teachers aren’t earning the income to survive anymore as there are just so many of them, so our story is that we are creating something that will empower these teachers to have a double income through direct sales of our clothing to their students. All they have to do is wear the stuff and have their students like what they’re wearing, and buy it!”
Aside from their range of clothing and decorative goods, Emma runs silk printing workshops from a small workbench in store, via pre-made stencils that can be used on any material; “the workshop is a really nice way of introducing that kind of printing – where you don’t need to be artistic as you can be quite abstract.”
When asked what’s next for the shop, with a naughty twinkle in the eye that has become a warning sign for upcoming mischief, Rachael exclaimed: “Brexit… you can feel it everywhere. What the hell is going on with the world? So, we have just done a fun design purely for our own entertainment (and for a bit of attention!): we’re putting a t-shirt in the window that says “David Attenborough for World Leader”, and on the back “Vote Dave”!” If you’re after a bit of happiness and energy in your life, it should most definitely be Vote Nissim.
David Attenborough for world leader! Vote Dave!