Eight years ago Nikki Steele was a happy, young working mother married to the love of her life, Mark. She had a 6-year-old daughter with another one on the way. Life was happy and comfortable and the family’s future was promising with two incomes — until it suddenly wasn’t.
Steele arrived at work one morning and learned that she no longer had a job. No warning. No explanations. No severance package.
“I was angry and very hurt at first. I was pregnant, and we relied on both incomes,” Steele said. “My husband is so positive and kept reminding me of the benefits of being unemployed. He wanted me to stay home with the girls and kept reassuring me that he could support us just fine, but I wanted more than ‘just fine’ for them.”
Steele laughed and explained, “It really is silly and trivial, but I just loved dressing my girls up in big bows and boutique outfits. Those things can be expensive! So I got busy figuring out how to make things myself.”
She began with hair bows for her girls and posted a few pictures to her Facebook page. Suddenly, she had strangers contacting her about purchasing them for their own children.
And just like that, Steele Designs was born.
“The bows were a hit, and I realized I really enjoyed the work. So I started teaching myself how to make the cute boutique outfits that were so popular in the expensive children’s stores. Every time I took my girls out people commented about how cute they looked,” Steele said.
She soon began selling those as well.
As her girls grew and no longer wanted the boutique clothes as much, Steele began making other products. She has taught herself how to make T-shirts, blankets, mugs, cups, keychains and car decals among many other items.
She credits her husband for allowing her to pursue crafting. “Mark has always been my number one supporter,” she said. “He just goes along with all of my ideas and happily does anything I need him to. Even when my crafting supplies took over every room in our house, he never complained.”
The Steeles have recently purchased a larger home to accommodate Nikki’s growing business with Mark turning a large room into Steele Designs’ headquarters.
Steele took a break from many of her products when COVID-19 hit. “I focused on just making masks for a few months in the beginning of the pandemic,” she said. “I probably made over 2,000 masks.”
She donated most of those.
“A profit margin is not even a concern when something like COVID-19 happens. Those are the times that the most important thing is neighbors taking care of neighbors.”
That kind of thinking is a large part of the reason Steele Designs is thriving in a time when many small, locally owned businesses are in trouble.
Brandi Boyd met Steele when she was tasked with choosing and ordering the yearly school spirit T-shirts for the faculty, staff and students of Agape Montessori Christian Academy.
“I’d already been admiring these cute, colorful T-shirts I was seeing everyone on Facebook wearing, and we (members of the Parent Teacher Organization) knew we wanted to buy locally if we could,” Boyd said. “I asked around and was put in touch with Nikki Steele. She met with us, helped us put our motto into a cute design and then shocked us all with an incredible price. She even donated cute, matching face masks for all of our faculty and staff.”
As far as employees go, Steele Designs may soon have its first new hire. Steele’s younger daughter, Hannah Claire, has begun taking an interest in mom’s business.
“She loves helping me and, of course, I love spending that quality time with her. She’s even been coming up with her own ideas for products,” Steele said. “She was on Pinterest or YouTube and saw someone making these hollow, edible balls that people were using to make hot chocolate. She keeps me hopping coming up with different ideas for flavors. We’ve pretty much perfected them now, so I’m going to let her begin selling those.”
Steele’s next goal is completing a website to showcase all of her products. “The problem is I’m always coming up with new ideas, and I get sidetracked working to perfect my techniques,” she said. “I call it ‘crafter’s brain.’ It never stops.”