Small Business Profile: Alexis Nido-Russo, Owner and CEO of Local Eclectic
How did you start Local Eclectic?
I started in 2013, while I was working full time at the Chicago Artists Coalition. I started it as a side project. I wanted to create this marketplace for emerging and indie designers, and at the time, it was everything from clothing designers to homeware designers to jewelry designers. I started super grassroots; I reached out to 10 designers that I wanted to work with, and a few of them were local, Chicago based designers like Cities in Dust and Dea Dia. So I really just reached out to some friends, built the website myself on Squarespace as a night time project, and really just grew it from there. It was a side hustle turned full-time job. It really didn’t turn into a self-sustaining business until I took the leap to quit my full-time job and do it full time. It was sink or swim and I had to make it work.
We started with clothing designers and homeware designers, and I really wanted it to be this marketplace to go to find indie designers. I felt like there were all of these street fairs like Renegade and Dose Market and really awesome places where you could go in different cities to find these amazing indie designers, but there wasn’t an online place for that. That’s what I was trying to create, this online destination for indie artists. But what I found out after I quit my job and realized I had to make this a full-time job and something that could sustain my lifestyle, is that my customers were buying jewelry and that’s when I decided to rebrand and make it a place for jewelry. Now we only work with emerging, indie jewelry designers and that seems to be working out as a more focused point of view.
What inspires your work?
I have an art background. I studied fine arts in school, and one of my first real jobs was at the Museum of Contemporary Art. Working with emerging artists is really a passion of mine and working with people who are creating and doing amazing things. I consider all of the jewelry designers that I work with as artists. Working with people that are creatively minded inspires me to keep growing and building the business.
How would you describe your style/aesthetic?
One thing that I’ve realized is that my personal aesthetic is not necessarily my customer’s aesthetic, which is something that was hard to figure out in the beginning. I thought I love this, so I’m going to sell it and my customers will love it. That’s not actually the case. My style is much more bold and funky, I mean I’m wearing rhinestone embellished jeans and massive platform shoes. I like statement jewelry and clothes, and I like to make a scene. Whereas my customers tend to go more towards dainty, delicate, and feminine pieces. That’s something that I’ve had to learn to grow the business, is that what I like isn’t always going to be what my customer likes, and understanding that has helped me to be able to grow. So sometimes designers reach out to me and I tell them that I will be their customer, but I don’t think that it’s the best fit for our audience. I have really honed in on what they want.
What brought you to Chicago?
I moved to Chicago after I graduated from college, which was nine years ago. I’m originally from Springfield, Missouri. I’ve also lived in Puerto Rico, Florida for my adolescence, New York for a short year when I was a baby, and I went to high school and college in Springfield. Bob Barker went to my college. No one has ever heard of it, so I try to legitimize where I went to school by saying that Bob Barker went there.
If you weren’t here, where would you be?
I love Chicago, but the winters get me since I have lived in Florida and Springfield doesn’t get this cold. I’ve really built a home here and have a huge network and all of my friends are here, so if and when the time came to leave, it would be really hard. I do love, love, love the West Coast. I could see building a family there and there is more nature. There are mountains to hike, and I’m not the most outdoorsy person, but I would like to have the option to go climb a very small hill. I think LA ultimately, but I would like to live in New York for a couple of years, but I wouldn’t want to sacrifice my quality of life.
If you weren’t running Local Eclectic, what would you be doing?
I think I always knew that I would eventually become an entrepreneur and start my own business. I was working in marketing, arts, and events, but ultimately I knew there would come a time when I would start my own business. If it wasn’t Local Eclectic, it would be something else. I’m still coming up with 100 business ideas a week. I had an idea to start a cool nail salon that would focus on nail art and have beverages and cocktails, and would eventually be like a Drybar of nails; a place that when you are traveling, you can go and know it will be of the same quality. That is one idea that I had actually explored pretty deeply, and then I realized I needed like a million dollars to do that business, so I started Local Eclectic where I needed no money and just a website. I grew up in a family of entrepreneurs and I’ve seen that as your work and life are sort of one. My life is very fluid with my work, and I always felt trapped being in a 9 to 5.
What are you trying to learn right now?
Last week I decided that I wanted to learn how to sing. I told my husband that I wanted voice lessons for my birthday so I could be better at karaoke. I love karaoke and I have the absolute worst voice you’ve ever heard. In my head I sound like Adele, but out loud I sound like a squealing dog. I did a nights worth of Youtube vocal lessons. I learned some techniques, but that only lasted one night.
In all seriousness, with the business growing, I just hired our second employee, I am trying to learn how to be in a role where I manage two other people. I want to make sure that the people that are working for me are happy. I want them to like what they are doing and feel challenged, but also have direction and goals set in place. I had always thought how am I going to grow an audience, how am I going to get more designers, how am I going to get more traffic to the website; but I didn’t think of what steps I was going to need to scale the business and how I was going to be the best boss to attract the best talent and keep people happy and create a really fulfilling office culture. I want Local Eclectic to be a really fun place for the people that work there. That’s something that I’m really working on right now professionally.
What are you most proud of?
All of my energy and all that I have done for the past three and a half years has been working on this business. I am most proud of taking it to the point where I am able to pay myself a salary, more than anyone else was ever willing to pay me. I now am able to have two employees, and I’m really proud that I have built something that can be someone else’s livelihood also and something that people want to be a part of. The business is also able to support all of the emerging indie designers that we work with. I am able to help them continue to fulfill their passions of creating, making jewelry, and building their own businesses. I’m really proud to have built a business that is helping tons of other women continue to do what they love. I’m most proud of Local Eclectic, where it is now, and where it’s going to go in the next couple of years.
How do you take time for yourself?
I really try to not work on the weekends. I still manage our Instagram account, so I’m doing that, but I really do try to let myself relax on the weekends. Now that it’s getting warm, I have my back yard where I love to garden and spend time. I spend a lot of time just looking at my plants. I try to go to movies, go out with my husband, hang out with friends and do karaoke. I try and let myself not think about work on the weekends. And I drink a lot of wine.
Why do you think it’s important for creative women to come together and collaborate?
We have done a few, and I hope to do more, limited edition collaborations where we pair a creative influencer with a jewelry designer. In my work, I just think that the best work comes out of collaboration. I think that two minds are better than one, especially with people from different disciplines or lines of work come together to create something, and that can be the most powerful moment. It helps to push our boundaries and makes you look at things differently. We’ve got to help each other out and boost one another up. Being a creative person, entrepreneur, or freelancer can be really isolating. The more that we can work together and tell each other that we are doing a great job and create really incredible things with one another, the more that we are going to be able to feel empowered to continue doing what we love.
What is your advice for someone who would want a job like yours?
Do not be discouraged if you don’t have immediate success. Persistence in business is one of the most important qualities, and not feeling defeated, but continuing when it seems like you’re not getting anywhere or your business isn’t growing. Honestly, it took me two and a half years to see traction with Local Eclectic. I kept making changes and adapting and listening to my customers. Not giving up, being persistent, working through the grind, and never feeling defeated, helps you to continue on the path to your goal no matter what.
What is one thing that has surprised you in your path?
I didn’t expect my path to where I am now to be so zig-zagged. Not that I ever expected my life to be a straight line, but I looked at people that right out of high school knew what they wanted to major in and their life was planned at the age of 18. Whereas I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do. I studied fashion, fine arts, psychology, and marketing. When I graduated and moved to Chicago, I worked at an x-ray manufacturing company, I toured with Miley Cyrus for a short stint, worked at the Museum of Contemporary Art, and worked at Guilt City. I was all over the place. That’s the most surprising, the experience and work that I did that lead me to where I am today. And actually, how important and influential every piece of the puzzle was to getting me to where I am now.
Favorite female creatives?
I really look up to female entrepreneurs. Grace Bonney who founded Design Sponge has a really interesting story of growing something from the ground up. Jen Gotch who started Ban.Do is one of my favorite people because she’s just kind of a nut. She’s just being herself. I hate to say Sophia Amoruso, because I sort of hate love her. She really gets on my nerves, but she also started from the bottom and I love those stories. I also really like Bri Emery of Design Love Fest.
I work with creative, female entrepreneurs every day. I love them all and they inspire me to keep doing what I’m doing. The people that I look to are creative entrepreneurs who have started something and have built it from the ground up.
Favorite Chicago places?
3 Greens, I’m here almost every day. The Logan Theater is my absolute favorite movie theater. It’s so old school and basic. I love the Garfield Park Conservatory because it’s nice to have a place to look at ferns and cacti. Parachute is one of my favorite restaurants right now. I also like Bad Hunter, they have an extensive orange wine menu and incredible food. I spend a lot of time in the summer at Christy Webber buying plants, killing them, and buying more. And my house. I love being at home. As I have gotten older, I am turning into a homebody. Especially in the summer time in my backyard.
Top three items of clothing/accessories in your closet?
My engagement ring and a ring from my grandmother. It’s a 1940’s art deco ring that she always wore and it’s my prized possession. I wear it because if my house ever gets broken into, this is the one thing that is irreplaceable.
I got this oversized, denim Gap jacket at a thrift store for $5. I think it’s a men’s XXL and right now I am loving the oversized denim jacket.
This wallet. It’s Opening Ceremony. Like I said, I’m obsessed with nails and so it’s a perfect fit.
My best days start with a workout. If I can start with a 7am class, that’s ideal. I usually stop for coffee, and maybe a treat, on the way to the office. I typically get to the office around 8:30 and check emails, update the website, and have meetings.
Favorite travel destinations?
I love to travel. It’s my favorite thing to spend money on, so this is hard. I love Mexico. I’m a beach girl, so Mexico is one of my favorites. I just went to Tulum for the first time and it really is a magical place. I like Jamaica a lot. I also love going to New York and LA. I’m not the kind of person that has a place that they go all the time, because there are so many place that I want to visit and I have a lot on my wishlist. I really want to go to Cuba. I’ve never been to Spain, Paris, Amsterdam, which are all places I really want to go, but Cuba is number one.
I have a huge sweet tooth. I love candy, gummy candy, cookies. I just love treats. I almost always order dessert when I go out to dinner. Since I’m really into skincare, I love getting facials and I definitely splurge on those. Also, food. I always find a reason to treat myself. There’s always something to celebrate. I got through the day, I’ll have dessert.