Niche Clothing takes pride in all brand name clothing made in the USA.

Niche, the locally-based clothing brand with a retail store in Pearl, is unusual among American clothing companies in that all of its branded clothes are made in the United States.

Nilgün and Ayse Derman, the mother-daughter team that runs the business, have considered moving production overseas several times over the years, but each time decided that any cost savings weren’t worth it. no need to give up control and flexibility. By keeping things close to home, they can quickly decide whether to make more of a product that is selling well or less of one that is not.

“Not everything is a win-win, so we don’t have to do this, we don’t have to buy this,” Ayse said. “We make the winners, and we don’t have to worry about sitting on huge inventories.”

The brand is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year with a series of events this spring and summer, including tailoring workshops, a fashion show and a sidewalk sale.

It has its roots in Nilgün Derman Artwear, a company selling unique hand-painted garments that Nilgün – who has a background in industrial design – formed in the 1980s after immigrating to the United States from Turkey.

Nilgün and Ayse founded Niche in 1997 in Castle Hills. It didn’t have a retail location until it moved into its current space in Pearl in 2014. A short walk across the river, the business has a warehouse and of a distribution office in an art deco building on Euclid Avenue. Nilgün generally oversees the design, while Ayse focuses on the business side of the business.

The brand is sold in boutiques in cities across the United States. This summer, Nilgün and Ayse plan to start selling men’s clothing in their store.

Ayse, left, and Nilgun Derman founded Niche in 1997, 17 years before opening its first outlet, in Pearl.

William Luther, staff member

They recently sat down to discuss online retail, the importance of comfort in women’s clothing and their decision to stop selling their clothes in Dillard’s department stores. The following has been edited and condensed.

Q: Why did you decide to start selling men’s clothing?

Yes : We’ve already tried it in small increments, but never had enough space. So now there’s finally enough room, and there’s a need here for it. All the men that come in, we want to have things for them and for their wives to buy for them. There is no place (in Pearl) except Dos Carolinas, which is very specifically guayaberas, which makes men’s clothing.

Q: Nilgün, does your Turkish heritage influence your creations?

Nilgun: A little, of course. But right now, the most important thing is that the clothes are comfortable for women, mature women. We draw inspiration from everywhere: colours, nature and fabric. Anything we can find.

Pearl's Niche store is not far from the company's warehouse and distribution office, which is housed in an art deco-style building on Euclid Avenue.

Pearl’s Niche store is not far from the company’s warehouse and distribution office, which is housed in an art deco-style building on Euclid Avenue.

William Luther, staff member

Q: How did you come to fashion design?

Nilgun: I am an industrial designer. When I came to the United States, I was working as a furniture designer in Turkey. After I came to the United States, for a while I raised my children. And they got to elementary school age, and it was time for me to start working. I thought it would be better if I had my own business. At the time, I was probably a little naive. I thought it would be easier if I left home. I know how to sew. I absolutely know how to design. It can be industrial design. It can be fashion design. It can be any type of design.

Q: Women’s fashion isn’t known for prioritizing comfort, is it?

Nilgun: Comfort is a very important thing for me, because I wear my clothes all the time. I design for myself. If I’m comfortable, that means a lot of women are going to like what I’m wearing. Comfortable and beautiful clothes. They don’t just have to be comfortable; they must feel good when they wear it. They must think it’s something really special.

Pearl's Niche store offers jewelry in addition to clothing.

Pearl’s Niche store offers jewelry in addition to clothing.

William Luther, staff member

Q: What about San Antonio? Does the local culture influence you?

Yes : I would say the vibrancy of this area and the arts and the culture and the way of life here. When people wear our clothes, they always get compliments. You always look well put together. But still, everyone will tell you it’s just comfortable to wear, it feels good to me, and I think it’s definitely a San Antonio thing. I think in other places – you know, like Italians like to wear tight woolen belts – looks are really important and comfort can be sacrificed for that. I don’t think San Antonio likes to sacrifice comfort. Plus, it’s hot.

Nilgun: Most of our fabrics can be worn 12 months a year. Its very important. But don’t forget that we also sell in all other states. However, when we buy some of the fabric, we think of San Antonio – the colors, the patterns. But I also have to make drawings for everyone too. We find the balance, in a way.

Q: What makes your clothes comfortable?

Nilgun: Well, I pretty much know… the female body, how it forms over the years. Its very important. How it changes over the years. I know that very well – I’ve been there, I’ve done that. So I make my patterns based on the knowledge I’ve acquired over the years, and that makes it comfortable. Then I make the drawings thinking about the female body. It’s not fair, it will look great on the hanger.

Yes : We also pay attention to the feel of the textiles themselves. It might look big, but if it’s rough, we don’t use it.

Nilgun: We use lots of natural fibers and most of the fabrics we use are washable. And it travels well. This is very important, again, for women. It should pack well – not take up much space – and be happy when you open your luggage.

Nilgun and Ayse Derman's opened their Niche store in Pearl in 2014. It was the company's first outlet.

Nilgun and Ayse Derman’s opened their Niche store in Pearl in 2014. It was the company’s first outlet.

William Luther, staff member

Q: Do you design all of Niche’s clothing or do you have other employees working on the design?

Nilgun: I have a technical designer. I make my drawings, then I entrust them to the technical designer. They put it in a computer, and we all have different sizes, from small to large, which is very important right now. Few designers make large sizes. We go to 3X. They can come and order here — even if we don’t have it, we can make an item for them.

Yes : It is also a flexibility, which we manufacture in the United States. In the 1970s, more than 50% of clothing was made in the United States. In the mid-2000s, it was less than 5%. So it’s an extreme change in this manufacturing process. There are a few other companies in the country that still do it here. It gives us a lot of flexibility on stock control, obviously, but it also allows us to do very quick responses, and smaller cuts and smaller runs. The special kind of stuff – like, someone walks in and says, “Oh my God, I really, really want this shirt in really small and pink, you only have blue.” We’re like, “We can do the pink, no problem.”

Q: Have you thought about making your clothes abroad?

Yes : We’ve thought about it many times over the past 20 years, and we’ve always decided against it for various reasons. First, there was a time when it was very, very cost effective to make something in China. This cost difference is much less now. The shipping time is much longer. Shipping rates – things cost me more than two to three times what they did before the pandemic to ship now. Cloth or raw materials or buttons or whatever. Delivery times are so long that you have to plan so far in advance what you think you’ll sell.

Q: You didn’t used to sell your clothes online, but now you do. Why did you make this change?

Yes : It’s a really interesting development. You know, we closed the store on March 13, 2020. And on March 29, our online store was up and running. Because not just us — every one of our stores across the country has also closed. We have a wonderful in-house graphic designer. We were already browsing our wholesale website, so we had already done that part. She just got into it, man.

Q: Why didn’t you have an online presence before?

Yes : There was a philosophy that you don’t want to compete with your customers. For a long time, that was one thing. It’s not so much a thing now. We try not to overlap too much with what we sell to our customers. We do special colors for the Pearl, or unique colors so that we don’t really compete with the stores at the same time. I think this is good. Ten years ago, it was much harder for store owners to know that their customers could buy directly from you. I think there are less now because a lot more people are shopping online all the time.

Q: Are your clothes still sold at Dillard?

Yes : Not since the pandemic.

Nilgun: As I get older, I try to regulate my time less and less, as it takes over a little more. Dillard’s is wonderful, but those kind of companies, they want new designs almost every month, and I found myself, it takes too long for me.

Yes : You know, the pandemic has changed a lot of things. It also changed the way we work. We just worked so hard, so hard, all the time. Dillard’s is a great company. They treated us very well and we worked with them for a very long time. But it puts you in a place where the output somehow outweighs the amount of creativity and joy you want to put into it, if that makes sense. It takes a while to release a collection, then you have time and inspiration for next season’s collection. But with a business model where you have to deliver a new collection every month, that means you’re constantly rotating through designs, and it becomes more of a routine and less of a creative, joyful expression of design.

About Oscar L. Smith

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