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

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.

Skirt! Magazine

Katie Pearlman / I’ll Be Waiting

Michael Crichton / Micro

Shery Serafini / Sensational Bead Embroidery


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Interview transcript

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

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