Talking with Nikki Hardin, Founder and Publisher of Skirt! Magazine

Episode #167

Today I talk with Nikki Hardin, Founder and Publisher of Skirt! Magazine.
She is a writer, editor, and blue Kentucky girl exiled in South Carolina.
Listen in on our talk about living the creative life and how she started her magazine.

Also, a fabulous new how-to jewelry making book you will love and a new wordplay interactive website I'm addicted to.

Transcription of Nikki Hardin Interview

Alison Lee: Well, I'm back again to talk to someone who I love reading what she has to say. I know all of you out there do as well. My next guest is founder, publisher of skirt magazine. She is a writer and editor, I love how she calls herself a blue Kentucky girl, exiled in South Carolina. She is a country mouse (inaudible) for a penthouse, sometimes recluse, sometimes party girl. Welcome, Nikki Hardin to the Craftcast today.

Nikki Hardin: Hi. thank you so much for having me.

Alison: Oh, so my pleasure. I would love first, let’s get into some of your background and how Skirt the magazine was born. Are you lying in bed one night and say, aha?

Nikki: No. Actually, everybody asks that and I think people always think that there is some epiphany or some lightbulb or something. It was really a gradual process. I was doing freelance writing. I was really just satisfied with the kinds of jobs that I had to do like real estate brochures and annual reports. And I was just in the car with a friend of mind one day and I just said, I just wish I could do a magazine, you know and he said why don’t you. So, it sort of just burrowed into my brain and just kept taking baby steps towards it. And at first it was going to be a newsletter that I sent out to just friends or something and then I met this great talented graphic designer art director and she agreed to design it for me and it turned into a magazine. And she is still with us by the way.

Alison: That's always a good story. But now did you have magazines in your background or did you?

Nikki: No

Alison: You didn’t?

Nikki: No. Well, I was a book editor in the DC area for a while but I had no journalism background or magazine experience. I was basically an English major and just the magazine only experience I had as actually when I was growing up as a kid, I was obsessed with magazines that my mother and my grandmother used to get and I would.

Alison: This is what I'm talking about. This is what I mean.

Nikki: Well, I do think about it a lot because I do think about that a lot because recently, I've been reading a lot of things that say think about what your childhood passion was and let that be a clue to what you might be doing today you know.

Alison: Oh, you are my kind of girl Nikki. You know what I say? This is what I did. This is my thing. If you were in girl scouts, go look at your girl scouts sash and see what badges you got.

Nikki: Exactly and it’s amazing, it's uncanny how often that will, (inaudible) you look back and it has worked out that way our you can see a path that you can take based on what you loved as a child

Alison: I agree 110%. Alright so what magazines where your mother and grandmother cutting out.

Nikki: Oh my gosh, McCall’s, Good Housekeeping, Redbook and I loved, I'm so old. They had Betsy McCall papered dolls in the back of the magazine. But I would cut out just pictures of models and then I would create these families of paper dolls you know that would have these intricate, ongoing, days ongoing adventures you know that I would create for them.

Alison: Your own reality tv show.

Nikki: Yes.

Alison: I am laughing because I'm with you. I understand. I used to lurk, stalk the newsstands waiting for the latest issues of things to come in.

Nikki: Oh yes, I know. I know. And that, so I’ve always loved magazines and just felt like I was stupid enough to think well I can do that. And when we, Kaitlyn my art director, and I didn’t even know how to charge for an ad or what ad sizes should be or anything. We just made it all up and basically, it kind of worked. You know we were lucky because there is a niche right then where there were no magazines like this out there in the country at all. And I know that sounds impossible but there really were not.

Alison: No let’s talk about that because that is so important when people find (inaudible) you said it the French way. Not your niche. Because what did you see? What was the niche? What did you see?

Nikki: Well, I was living, I had moved to Charleston South Carolina and I felt I had nothing to read. The local newspaper had like recipe pages in it for women. There may be an entertainment kind of city paper thing here but there wasn't anything really aimed at women or catering to women. And it was in the South it was in 1994 which was still a really conservative share and it's still conservative here. So, I wanted to publish something that I wanted to read. And I think this is so interesting because I know you've probably read about Steve Jobs

Alison: Yes.

Nikki: Well, I was reading his Ten Commandments and he said don't do focus groups because people don't know what they want until you give it to him.

Alison: I know I love that.

Nikki: I mean and if I had done a focus group about this magazine it would never have been published because people thought I was crazy.

Alison: No. I hear you because it’s really more what you want to know from people is where is their pain. What are they missing, not what do they want because they won’t be able to make up something that's not their job?

Nikki: So that's kind of how it all began.

Alison: And what was it that was driving you that you wanted to read or that you needed to say?

Nikki: I wanted to hear more women's voices. You know I wanted to. I love reading essays by women personal essays and I just felt that everything that. I could buy national women's magazines but I wanted something that was local and authentic and just different from anything else that was out there. I really think it was hard for me to articulate. Like I knew what I wanted to do but I couldn’t exactly put it in words so. And I know that goes counter to everything you're taught that you should be able to put your mission and two sentences, have a business plan. I had none of that it was just all intuition.

Alison: Well, you know I've discovered because you do need to have a plan of where you are going but it doesn’t look like the plan that people think that it’s supposed to be, you need an MBA for.

Nikki: Exactly. And I think my life would have been much easier if I had a business plan and plenty of capital but it just didn’t work out that way.

Alison: Right. I understand. It's just you go for it anyway, it’s the whole deal. Now, who would you say your audience is age way?

Nikki: Well, I would say probably from 35 to 55 maybe, you know. We have readers on either end of that. We have from college students on up to women who are retired or older. But that's where the majority of our audience is right now.

Alison: Got it because I'm always wondering what, here's is where I'm going with this question. You grew up, I grew up with Miss Magazine.

Nikki: Yes. That was my first real fall in love with feminism thing.

Alison: Exactly. And where is feminism right now? What would the t-shirt say on a 20 something if we had to print it up for them?

Nikki: I think it would say something about shopping. I don’t know. I mean it’s very frustrating because I dint see feminism being as strong as it was.

Alison: Is it good that it isn’t because it’s gone?

Nikki: Maybe. I can’t figure it out. I don’t know if I’m just an old fogey. But I do get really frustrated when women get upset at losing rights or having them eroded and it just seems there is a lot of apathy around that right now. And you know maybe it’s inevitable.

Alison: And who maybe their leaders right now? I just find this fascinating and I knew you would be the person to have this kind of conversation with. I mean, are their strong leaders like we had at that time period that our out there?

Nikki: Exactly and you know what else is disturbing? Is for women like Hillary Clinton or Nancy Pelosi to be just thought of as complete bitches you know. I mean it blows my mind. So, but we don't have that same generation Bella Abzug, Gloria Steinem it’s just not there.

Alison: I wonder why that is though? There has to be a reason for it. Because I am looking for myself and I don’t know. Am I not seeing it because I'm not that age or is it not there?

Nikki: I think there is a small group of young women who are committed to that. But I think most younger women feel like they have won the rights. That they are not missing anything.

Alison: Which is good.

Nikki: And maybe it's true. I don’t know.

Alison: Could be a good thing. Well now, so in Skirt, where do you like to have the majority of focus of articles on?

Nikki: Well in the beginning it was kind of a little bit all over the place. But I would say that our core thing about Skirt are the personal essays and we have a theme every month and then that's tied, the essays are tied to them. But you know there is a little bit of something for everyone in there. And I do try, we do get letters that say are too liberal, too feminist, not very often. But when I get a letter like that, I feel good.

Alison: Yes (laughter)

Nikki: I got a letter from somebody saying that we were too liberal because we mentioned biofuels or something that’s like, are you kidding me? I don’t know that was weird. But I feel like we are living in a conversative era and very conservative part of the country, Charleston is. So, you have to take feminism with a spoon full of sugar makes feminism go down. So there have to be other things. We can’t be like Miss Magazine.

Alison: Yes. Is there like in magazines the place that's the most popular that people read first that you know of?

Nikki: I really don’t know. It’s hard for me to figure that out because once I have finished an issue, I can hardly bear to talk about it. And it’s unclear to me what people like and they do hang on to it all month though and they seem to ready it very leisurely and they wait for it to come out every month which is a great thing.

Alison: Oh yes. It's always a good thing for them. Where do you see it going? if you could just go poof?

Nikki: I would love to have kind of a national version of it that wasn’t tied necessarily to one city. I think we are in seven cities now and so part of the content is locally geared to each city and part of is not local. And I would love to have some version of that. I don’t know how that could happen. IO don’t know. I'm not sure. It's hard to say. It's 17 years old and you kind of get to a point where you almost have to reinvent yourself. Which I think we are kind of doing right now. My art director and I had a meeting today at Starbucks away from the office and you know we both agreed that we periodically have to just, have to turn our heads around about it and get our enthusiasm back. Because when you do something for that long the danger is to get into a rut. And I'm very bored. I like to change things up all the time.

Alison: Well, I think that's part of creativity. Is like you have to challenge yourself. Isn’t the latest that I love that Steve Jobs is staying young, stay foolish.

Nikki: Oh yes.

Alison: You see it again. Not the latest thing he said but you know. And I love that.

Nikki: I do to. That is a great line.

Alison: It is because it's easy not to stay that way. Well, he had so many great things that way. I'm obviously a very big fan. Well now first let's tell everyone if they want to take a look at, what’s the best way for them to check it out?

Nikki: Well, the website and then there is a place on there where you can actually see, there is kind of a flipbook of the Charleston issue that has all the editorial in it because the website is very different from the print magazine. It's not exactly, I don’t have anything to do with the website but that's run by our corporate owners. But there is a place on there where you can see the actual magazine.

Alison: Cool so everyone should check out Alright so let’s talk about your blog.

Nikki: Well, I actually is my blog and it's kind of inspired by free to (inaudible) creativity and you know coloring outside the lines. But before that my first blog was called Muse to Muse. And I had a friend here who is moving to Prague and we were just kind of insufferable creative soulmates and so we decided three weeks before she moved that we would create this blog where we each go on and post something every night based on the theme of the day we picked. And then we would read it the next day. And so, we kept that going for about 18 months until she had a baby and she just couldn’t do that every day anymore. So, then I started which is the place where I put writing that really doesn't fit in Skirt and it's also way from me to how a kind of an escape from Skirt that's more it's more personal.

Alison: I like your tagline where my imagination rents a room

Nikki: Yes. And I really have, there are periods that I go through where I don’t do very much with it and other periods where I am just posting every day. It's just been a little bit of a personal escape for me.

Alison: A personal escape that you are willing to share with everyone.

Nikki: Yes. But you know what's funny? Because Skirt is you know, started in Charleston and then I know so many people here, when the print edition comes out it’s like I don’t have any anonymity. But for me being online there seems to be a sense of anonymity, psychically anyway. I don’t.

Alison: In a good way you're saying?

Nikki: Yes. It doesn't make any rational sense but to me I'm anonymous when I'm online. And I don’t have to see people's reactions. I'm just writing. It is very freeing.

Alison: It's an interesting phenomenon, blogs and all of that. It's still creating community though because other people hear your voice and want to hear more of it. So, it is very interesting from that point of view as well.

Nikki: I really like doing it and I wish there is some way I can expand it or make money or something but I the right (inaudible) that doesn’t seem like possible. Making money online is kind of hard unless you are doing what you are doing, teaching classes or you have a product sell or something like that.

Alison: Yes. It's a big shift towards that because we are able to crate community worldwide.

Nikki: Yes.

Alison: And I think it just keeps unfolding how that would be but it certainly a great outlet that way. Well, how do you get, where do you get, I always call it going to the filling station if you are out there being creative. How do you get refueled?

Nikki: We actually I actually been going through a spell where I felt like I had used every word in the dictionary and had nothing else to say or write and those are always scary periods for me because I feel like I'll never come out of it again you know. So, what I do is I read a lot of things that are unrelated to what I do. Traveling does that for me because she gets me out of Charleston and out of my own head. And I just went to visit my friend who I had my first blog within London and stayed with her and her husband and children and it was I came back so inspired and you know just charged up

Alison: Rejuvenated.

Nikki: Yes. So, I mean it takes when I get in one of these funks it takes a while to get out of it sometimes and I feel a little hope that I'm coming out of it finally.

Alison: I hope so to. I always think the way I rationalize that is it’s all part of the circle. You sort of have to go through that to get to the other side.

Nikki: I agree and you know you when you're in it you just forget that and you forget that you've been there before and you come out of it before.

Alison: Isn’t it silly how that is and yet you know it but it’s really hard. You sit there and go I've been here before and It will change, it will change.

Nikki: I know.

Alison: Will it change? Will it change?

Nikki: For me actually, I'm kind of a hermit. I'd like to you know do my own thing but collaboration is really recharging me. Like I said I had a meeting today with the art director and when we can bounce ideas off of each other it just gets me going and we forget to do, we get so caught up in day-to-day stuff that we need to take the time to do that.

Alison: That's true for all artist and everything. Because we tend to be. In order to create, you sort of have to be alone a lot.

Nikki: Exactly. But I think I used to be afraid of collaboration because it seemed like competition to me. And then when I started doing Skirt and working with Kaitlyn, our personalities and our ideas just such a jigsaw fit that it became clear to me that in the best collaborations it expends your abilities. It doesn’t take anything away from you. It builds up your own talent.

Alison: That is a very good comment. I like hearing that. I agree. It feels, it resonates and it makes you bigger.

Nikki: Yes. And it’s really, it’s difficult to find I think the right people to do that with and I think it’s like, if you are a writer you have to be careful who you show your work to and collaboration is the same thing. I think you really need to be sympatico you know and you know when that happens.

Alison: Well, but you brought up something which is an interesting topic which is competition in females.

Nikki: Yes. Well, I have to plead guilty to that. It's really embarrassing for me and I do get very competitive and I hate when I get jealous of other people's talent. Because it just, you know it poisons me, it doesn’t hurt them. And I think it’s a problem for women in general.

Alison: It is. I think so do. Why is that? I think it goes back to, boys are bread up on team's sports and whatnot

Nikki: Yes. I do to. I agree. I never did any sports much less team sports when I was a kid and I just didn’t learn and I think that is a big criticism of women in the workplace. I think it’s pretty much a valid criticism sometimes. That we are our own worst enemy.

Alison: Yes. it's a definite challenge for sure. We don’t have some of those skills that men actually got during the sport thing.

Nikki: I agree.

Alison: No, I think the competition is like we don’t have the tools to make that work so we sort of sit uncomfortably until we wrestle it down.

Nikki: And I think we forget that there is such a thing as healthy competition. We never learnt it or something, I don’t know. Again, that's sport. Again, I look at my goddaughters and my granddaughters and they are playing soccer and volleyball and it is so healthy mentally and it’s amazing. And there are such strong girls, its inspiring. I was very athletic but there weren’t sports necessarily, well actually what there wasn’t a sports bra and that sort of kept me from doing it. But I was a cheerleader

Nikki: I was too.

Alison: Ok. I wanted to be there and I always had that part in me but there wasn’t really a sport that I could do. But I was out there, one way or the other, you know.

Nikki: I just kind of confined myself actually to dating football players so I guess that counts. I don’t know.

Alison: Oh, how did we make it through all of that. Well now tell me what do you think about? Let's just talk fashion for a second. Because you said before women buying clothes and all of that. What is your pulse on fashion right now and what are young women trying to say with their fashion?

Nikki: Well, I don’t think there's, I think there is a lot of conformity and fashion, don't you? I mean I look at all the magazines and if you go to Elle and Vogue and anything else like they're showing the same things

Alison: Well, we know that they have to eventually show the same things. I mean my son's 25 and he is loving stuff and I’m looking at it going ok that's when I was 17. That’s the 70's. It's back.

Nikki: yes. I know. But I love fashion. I'm totally addicted to it but I'm not sure that there is a lot of self-expressions going on. Maybe it’s because I live in the south. It's a little but more conformity here.

Alison: What's the look there?

Nikki: Well, it's not high fashion but the women are very fashion conscious. And we have some incredible shops here that are national level but are owned locally. So, it’s really pretty inspiring. There's one shop I go into all the time called RCW and it’s like you are going into a fashion museum. And that kind of thing inspires me too as the wider. I love looking at clothes and textures and I love going to art galleries because it’s a part of what I do but it inspires me in what I do.

Alison: Absolutely. Well New York women have their own look and its.

Nikki: Oh yes.

Alison: California and New York it's a definite easy one.

Nikki: Yes. Someone in our office went to the Alexander McQueen show in New York and I just bought his book, the book about that show and oh my god, he has amazing. Just the vision, and his clothes certain weren’t like anybody else, ever.

Alison: Well, it makes you sort of look down at your own cloths at that point and go, wait a minute.

Nikki: I know. I need a cage for my head.

Alison: Exactly. Do you know that is so funny because depending on where you live, I spent some time out in Vegas with my son and by the end of the week I realized I needed to wear less clothing and I had to get false eyelashes. I felt just wrong. And I really believed myself. It wasn’t like I was kidding. I was like I better go get some false eyelashes. I'm like did you just hear what you just said. So, a cage for your head I understand.

Nikki: Oh my gosh yes.

Alison: You know you are living in someone else's passion like that and you look down and go wow I could certainly perk this up a bit.

Nikki: Well, I love reading his quotes in this book about what his vision is. And it is really inspiring. I love the book

Alison: Yes. You know what. You put that on your blog, didn’t you?

Nikki: Yes. I put in under something, yes.

Alison: Yes. I have to go get that, because I love that kind of inspiration as well. Well now are you inspired by any of the reality shows today on tv? Are you a fan of any of them?

Nikki: I used to watch obsessively, top chef, project runway, the flipping the house thing.
Alison: I can’t believe I watched that too.

Nikki: I know. But I have to admit. This is so embarrassing. I stopped watching television exactly a year ago and I had it on once. I had it on once in a year to watch Keith Richards interview on 60 minutes. And I don’t know I don’t keep up with it anymore. And I kind of feeling like I need to get back into.

Alison: Wait you've had it off for a year. I love that. Really. Did you make a statement to yourself I'm not going to turn this on?

Nikki: Last year I went through like kind of a bad period where someone I had been very close to died and my whole life turned upside down. I was sitting there and I just thought I was going to turn the TV or something but it’s like I can't. There is too much noise in my life I can't absorb anything else. So, I feel kind of bad about it because I feel like I should be more glued to CNN the way I used to be and I may get back into it but it’s been a peaceful year I have to say.

Alison: That's very inspiring right there because I was looking at CNN yesterday and noticing that I was at gym, I had my earphones on listening to my own music watching the TV screen on CNN which had a ticker tape above, a ticker tape below and people talking in the middle. And I really looked at the whole thing and I thought, human beings are not geared for this.

Nikki: No. I agree so much. I also feel like I was getting to the point where I was absorbing so much bad news every day that I couldn’t do anything about that I was just so stressed out all the time. So, I just needed a break from it

Alison: Well, that is very inspiring. I mean I did take a break but I was forced to over the summer and I went away and there was no TV, no internet, no phone, no nothing. And I literally paced around in my inn in the room and then I went into a sort of nervous laughter because I just thought I can’t believe this. What did people do before all of that.

Nikki: I know, if I didn’t have my computer, I would be a nervous wreck.

Alison: Yes. See?

Nikki: I rely on that and my kindle constantly.

Alison: And I finally chilled down and realized that I found some old architectural digest and then I fell in love back with reading a full article.

Nikki: I know and isn’t it hard when you. I found my attention span was just decreasing decreasing decreasing because I'm used to reading paragraphs it's embarrassing

Alison: I don’t know what it is but it is what's up now is for sure and I keep taking a look at it because there is more to life than only one paragraph. I was pretty much obsessed with Daily Beast for a while online and then I thought I am reading paragraphs every day. I don know anything about anything. I know a little bit about a lot of things.

Nikki: Oh, what's to become of us?

Alison: Well, we are having a good time through it all and somehow, we still understand the creative edge that you have and that's always wonderful to see women out there doing it. And it’s always inspirating and I appreciate it and lot of other women do as well. So, let’s tell everyone one more time. Nikki Hardin from Skirt magazine. You can go on to and also type in her name and you'll get her blog that comes up. So, it's been a pleasure talking to you today, Nikki.

Nikki: Thank you so much. It's been so much fun. And I will stay tuned to your website to see what's going on.

Alison: Thank you so much take care.

Nikki: OK. Bye.

Episode Notes: 

Skirt! Magazine

Katie Pearlman / I’ll Be Waiting 

Michael Crichton / Micro

Shery Serafini / Sensational Bead Embroidery