For fashion designer Nina Means, structuring her days with intention is a key to making a life that matters professionally and personally.
Designing fashion and life with intention
Nina Means is a wife, a new mom, and a fashion designer with her own clothing line under the Nina Means label. In addition, she’s the Director of the Austin Community College Fashion Incubator in Austin, Texas, a brand new program that supports the development of the growing fashion industry in the area.
Nina came into the fashion industry from a completely different life. She grew up in Durham, North Carolina, where there are a lot of researchers, engineers, scientists, and doctors. As a young woman, when she told people she wanted to go into fashion, no one understood what she was talking about. So she chose to go into public health, which is what she studied in her undergrad at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. She worked in bilingual patient services, interpreting for doctors and nurses. She continued on to get her Master’s degree in public health and worked on international health metrics and domestic breast cancer issues in Washington D.C.
Though she enjoyed what she was doing, from time to time she wondered what would’ve happened if she had pursued her interest in the fashion industry. She wanted to try it out, knowing that she could get back into the public health field if she didn’t enjoy it. If she succeeded, she would be getting a chance to do something she was truly passionate about.
Once she jumped in, she realized she was where she was supposed to be all along. A lot of opportunities opened up to her. She worked for brands such as Rebecca Taylor, American Eagle Outfitters, and H by Halston for QVC. Her career was going well in NYC when she and her husband decided to relocate to Texas about 3 years ago. She wasn’t sure how to continue to design in Texas, so she started her own line. A few specialty stores in Texas, as well as online stores, carried her designs, she became a professor at the Art Institute, and things started coming together in ways that she never expected it to.
To the woman who has gone down a successful career path but whose heart is in another area, and yet it’s scary to give up the familiar to go after this dream, Nina advises:
Your regrets are going to be louder than your comfort. If you prefer to be comfortable, don’t feel bad about that. But if you absolutely need to find out where something goes, remember you only live once and your time is precious. There is never a time you can’t start something new.”
A typical day
Every day is different, but Nina tries to keep her days somewhat orderly by leaving at the same time, picking up her son and spending time with him, turning off email, and including some downtime with her husband before turning in.
Nina’s day actually begins at night. She’s found through experience that if her night is set up well, her morning goes well. Right after her baby goes to sleep around 7:30 pm, she tries to make sure her baby’s bottles are washed and prepared the next day. If she goes as far as packing lunch for her and her husband for the next day, the morning is a breeze. Having a general idea of what they’ll wear the next day also makes the morning easier.
When morning comes, she gets up around 5:30 am, gets herself together, and brings her baby a warm bottle around 6:15 and gets her morning cuddle time with him. Nina and her husband take turns doing this. After she gets her baby ready for daycare, her husband leaves with the baby around 7 am. Another 15-20 minutes later, she’ll trail out the door to get to work by 8:30.
She does her best to structure her day around the core important things, rather than the urgent things. She currently is building a brand new program at the college, so there are a lot of moving parts. Her work involves a lot of external engagement, brand building, as well as bringing internal stakeholders along with the vision. She just hired two coordinators who are exceptionally good at what they do, so she tries to utilize their skillsets as much as possible by delegating tasks to them.
Her day is filled with responding to emails, meeting with designers and residents, talking with future students, local brands, national brands about sponsorship and collaboration, and working with city partners. The city of Austin was an instrumental part in building this program, so she works closely with the stakeholders of the city for economic development. She also gives guidance and consultation for international delegations.
She spends time designing for her fashion label, but not as much as before, since she now has a full-time job as well as a baby. She is planning to build a few more pieces into her collection and relaunch toward the end of this year or early next year.
One non-negotiable in her daily schedule is her time with her baby before he goes to bed. In order to do that, she has to leave the office at 5 pm to pick him up. She makes sure meetings are scheduled to end no later than 4 pm so she has about an hour to pull herself together and get the plan together for the next day before she leaves. She recognizes that her baby is only going to be that age for a little while, so she protects that time like it is gold. This has paid a lot of dividends in her relationship with her son and also has given her peace from the mom-guilt that many working moms suffer from because she knows when she will have time with her son and that it will not be interrupted.
Once the baby is sleeping, Nina spends time with her husband catching up on one of their favorite shows together, talking about their days, and eating dinner together.
Nina has full days, but she is intentional about how she structures them around the things that are most important to her. By nature, she is a very passionate person, so it is easy for her to throw herself into a lot of things without structure, and to work longer hours than she should because she gets so enthralled by what she’s doing and loses track of time. So she’s been working on balancing her passion with her priorities. That has changed her and how she spends time with her family. She’s intentional because she sees how finite the window of certain experiences is.
Biggest productivity challenges
Like a lot of us, Nina has a hard time saying no. The fear of missing out is real for her. She’s come across some incredible opportunities but the timing wasn’t always right given what else was going on in her life. She thinks sometimes you have to have a little bit of faith that the things that should be there will be and that there are things you can move on without and it’ll be okay. Nina’s a creative person by nature and is always brimming with ideas, but she also recognizes that not all ideas fit the vision or the direction you’re going, so she has to edit a lot.
How Nina evaluates opportunities that come her way during this season of her life
When opportunities come her way, she filters them through whether the activities involved are synchronous, or whether they would take her away from her core goals and values.
By synchronous, she means goals that work together toward the common goal. When it comes to building the Incubator, for example, there are a lot of things she needs in terms of marketing, brand support, sponsorship, and collaboration, but not every opportunity helps advance her vision.
She would like to find a way to temporarily table ideas she’s most interested in pursuing in the future and finding ways to re-integrate them back into opportunities later when it would be a better time.
Sometimes, we say no without the intention about what our future development will be–that leads to missed opportunities. Maybe there are better ways to say ‘Not yet, but under other circumstances I would like to do this’ so the door stays open for the things you’re interested in.
How Nina decides what her core goals are
A lot of what Nina believes in one space helps her with creating her priorities in other spaces. It’s very important for her to be a good wife and mom, but also to use the talents she’s been given. She believes that when you’ve been given a lot, you need to use it well, so she works hard to use her gifts and talents well.
A lot of her decision-making has to do with asking herself, “What talent do I think God is asking me to develop right now?” and “Let me do my best to consume what’s on my plate right now” and trust that when it is time for something new, that will shift, and she will work on that.
Another thing Nina has started saying to herself more often is “the path of less resistance.” That doesn’t necessarily mean the easiest thing to do, but it means stop over-complicating things and just do what you’re good at and do what’s right here, and there will be opportunities to develop other skills along the way.
For her, it’s really about using and making the most of what’s in her hand. She recognizes that there are areas she’s not strong in and for which she has to rely on other people for help. Her decision-making happens around her space, her family, and her particular talents. If she’s good at it, she’ll pursue it and utilize it. If it’s not her strongest suit, she’ll either find support in that area or she’ll decide it probably isn’t the best fit for her.
A book she recommends on the topic of capitalizing on your strengths rather than focusing on trying to improve your weaknesses is The Path Redefined by Lauren Maillian Bias.
Tools Nina recommends
Nina asked her husband for a Michael Kors Runway Smartwatch, which she really loves. She felt like she really needed an assistant, and the watch is currently playing that role. It buzzes her when she has to leave for her next calendar appointment, and she can filter out which emails she receives on her watch.
She uses Google calendar because it is pretty seamless for all her calendar needs in terms of staying on top of her schedule as well as keeping track of all meeting attendees. Google’s Gsuite is the platform she uses for both the Nina Means brand as well as the Fashion Incubator at Austin Community College. It works well for her because it has the cloud system where all the files live and doesn’t junk up her email, and it integrates well with other project management software such as Wrike.
As for her to-do list, she loves a good old fashioned pen and paper checklist because the act of writing it down anchors it in her memory and she likes to check things off as she does them.
What happens on a day when everything gets away from you?
At the time of this conversation, Nina was having a challenging week with added distractions professionally, personally, and emotionally. After she put her baby down for the night, she sat in her office with the intention to clear the space, straightening up, putting things back in order, and to reflect on questions such as what’s important to her, how she wants to be spending her time, how she’s managing her responsibilities, whether she’s been giving herself the time to pursue the things she loves, whether the people she loves are getting what they need from her, and to focus on the positives and blessings in her life.
What’s on the horizon for Nina?
Professionally, Nina and her team are working on a construction project for the branded studios for the ‘Designers in Residence’ program. They’re also working on a designer call that will be happening later in the summer with the local industry, which will help them find the next scalable businesses that’ll be coming into the program in September.
Personally, Nina is going to be working on adding products to her line, so she’s scheduled time to work on that and is looking forward to creating and testing her garments on customers later this year.
Last thoughts on making a life that matters
Find your tribe, your core of women (or men) who are your cheerleaders and keep you motivated and inspired. There will be some days when you don’t feel like it or when it’s harder to pick yourself up. Find someone who will pour into you by cheering you on on days like that. If you tend to be the cheerleader for others, find one for yourself too.
What do you think?
Connect with Nina
More about Nina
In a leap of faith, Nina Means left her career in public health working on international health and domestic breast cancer issues to pursue a career in fashion design. She moved to Italy to study under the masters as a part of the International Fashion Design program at Fashion Institute of Technology in New York. She has designed for Rebecca Taylor, American Eagle Outfitters, and H by Halston for QVC. In 2016, Nina started her namesake label sold in specialty stores and online. In her most recent role as Director of the Austin Community College Fashion Incubator, she is developing a real-to-industry experience that provides students and fashion startups with the necessary educational experience and technology exposure to work efficiently in the fashion industry. The program also provides emerging fashion businesses the product development support to go-to-market in a profitable manner. As an adjunct fashion design and fashion marketing professor, Nina has taught product development, production, introduction to manufacturing, technical design and computer illustrative media in higher education. She also speaks and serves as moderator for panels on fashion business and technology.
Nina is a wife of 5 years and new mom to a sweet 1-year-old little boy. She and her family reside in Pflugerville, Texas.
Resources and Links
- The Path Redefined, by Lauren Maillian Bias
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