Sissies aren’t raised cutting four hours of grass every Saturday in the Alabama summer heat. Country girls are tough, and Stephanie Nichols is no exception. Since tough is what it takes in the retail industry these days, Nichols is thriving. The Brundidge, Ala., native is now the founder of the nationally recognized clothing line, Judith March, and owner of Déjà Vu boutique. Sales are soaring.
Nichols originally started Déjà Vu, a young, contemporary, retail store for women, as a project in her marketing class at Troy State University. Nichols’ instructor, Dr. Steve Garrott, inspired her to take the project a step further and develop a business.
Nichols took his advice and started selling clothes out of the back of her car and at sorority houses. “I would travel to Tuscaloosa and Auburn and set up in different sorority houses and give 10 percent of my sales back to their philanthropy,” says Nichols. “After a year or so of that, I decided to open one of the little huts at Seacrest Beach, Fla., that was only 100 square feet.” She worked at the booth every Thursday through Saturday, making the drive from Alabama to Florida each day. Nichols then sold her Mustang for $4,000 and used the money to grow her business.
Déjà Vu has since expanded to two permanent locations in Florida, one in Seaside and another in Panama City Beach. Nichols lives nearby with husband Justin and 4-year-old son Fox.
Because both stores are located on the Panhandle where the threat of hurricanes could potentially ruin a business, Nichols decided she needed a backup plan for her stores. “Also, being in retail I knew what women wanted, and I couldn’t always find that perfect garment at markets. So I thought, why not start a clothing line? I knew we would sell all over so the threat of hurricanes no longer bothered me. It would be like my own little insurance policy.”
Less than two years ago, Nichols developed the clothing line Judith March, named after her mother Judith and mother-in-law March. “They are two of the strongest women I know,” says Nichols. “They believed in me and gave me the confidence to take risks and keep moving.”
The tops, dresses, jewelry and accessories she creates have a bohemian, yet classic feel. “I feel like you can be Jackie-O one day and Janis Joplin the next,” says Nichols. Her designs are inspired by antique pillows, blankets, old photos of Grace Kelly, embellishments from a purse and vintage garments, to name a few.
Women adore the clothes, and it shows. Already, more than 2,000 stores in the United States, Puerto Rico, Canada and
Australia carry her line, and she’s planning on expanding even more. “Nothing motivates me more than when a store calls and says their numbers are up, and they can’t keep Judith March on the racks,” says Nichols. “I had a store call me one time, and they said their boutique had been struggling due to the economy, and when they started carrying Judith March, their sales went through the roof, and they expanded. Now they have more than one location. That was huge for me. I felt like something we did, made a difference.”
Nichols is passionate about helping others. She even designed a dress for the Toomer’s for Tuscaloosa foundation, which supports tornado victims, and donated 100 percent of the profits from the dress. “I always like to help out in any way I can,” says Nichols.
It’s no surprise that Nichols has been successful. “I have worked hard,” says Nichols, “but I have to say that I would not be anywhere without the people that I work with, the support of friends and family, and last but definitely not least—the good Lord.”
When asked how it feels to have accomplished so much before her 30th birthday she replies, “You know that saying, ‘Hard work keeps you humble?’ Well, I get it now. Being so busy and trying to constantly tame this animal, I really don’t ever think about it.”
In the future, Nichols hopes to spend as much time with her family as possible, catch an abundance of lizards and crabs with her son, and travel more. “I love to work, so I always want to work, but I hope to accomplish balance. I’m working on it, but it is a tough one in this business.”
For more information, visit judithmarch.com, shopwithdejavu.com or call 850.267.0293. Locally you can find Judith March at such East Alabama Living advertisers as: The Village Boutique, Kinnucans and Cutie Pie.