PENINSULA PROFILE: Businesswoman gives old clothes new, stylish life

By Diane Urbani de la Paz
Peninsula Daily News

NICOLE BROWN’S UPCYCLED clothing can be found on many Saturdays at the Port Angeles Farmers Market, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at The Gateway pavilion at Front and Lincoln streets in Port Angeles.

Her website showcases her business, Out on a Whim, with a gallery of fashions at Brown is also available for private shopping appointments at 360-417-5229.

OLYMPIC PENINSULA ACADEMY, the Sequim School District’s support program for home-schooling parents, is at 221 West Fir St., Sequim, and can be reached weekdays from 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. at 360-582-3403.

More information can also be found at via the “Select a School . . .” link at the top of the page.
SEQUIM — Nicole Brown has moved around the West, from Portland, Ore., to Anchorage, Alaska, and at last to the North Olympic Peninsula, the place where she wanted to raise her son.

Sewing has been a constant in Brown’s life, ever since she fell in love with it at age 5. As she grew up in Jackson, Calif., in the Sierra Nevada foothills, her mother taught her how to embroider; in 4-H class, Brown made her first apron; and by high school she was sewing her own prom dresses.

In her 20s, Brown managed a natural-fibers clothing store in Portland. From there, she traveled around the country, selling jewelry and home-sewn clothing.

Fourteen years ago, Brown had a son, Azriel. He changed everything, as children do. Brown, who became a single mother when Azriel was very young, wanted to stay home with him, so she started Out on a Whim, a children’s clothing business, in her sewing room.

Brown also wanted to bring up her son somewhere peaceful, somewhere close to nature. Having visited the Peninsula, she knew it fit the bill, so 10 years ago mother and son moved to Port Angeles. Then, five years ago, they found a little house on the outskirts of Sequim.

They also found the Olympic Peninsula Academy, the Sequim School District program providing support for parents who are home schooling their kids. And OPA, with its field trips and classes in art, drama, dance, music, writing, cooking and other subjects, turned out to be what Brown was seeking.

Home-schooling parents and OPA teachers work as partners, Brown says, to tailor student learning to each child’s needs. OPA’s mission, is “to support and encourage home-schooling families,” according to its page on the Sequim School District website, “with a commitment to flexibility, choices, and parental authority regarding the educational direction of the enrolled student.”

At OPA, Brown also found an outlet for her interest in kids’ clothing — and in the reuse of perfectly good stuff.

“Three years ago, beloved longtime teachers Michele Canepa and DeeDee Nielsen were inspired to begin a sharing closet at our school,” Brown recalled. “I jumped at the chance to participate, having helped run a free store in Oregon while my son was a baby.”

Brown and another home-schooling mom, Harmony Kozlowski, got to work collecting donations, then sorting, washing and displaying coats and other clothes to OPA students.

The women also send clothes across the North Olympic Peninsula to shelters and other agencies.

Canepa, who’s been at OPA for 14 years, is officially an “instructional coach,” and has her hands full teaching math, science, geography and dance classes. So she was delighted when the two moms came forward.

“When Nicole and Harmony volunteered to take the sharing closet over — which was awesome — they just stepped it up,” Canepa recalled.

“They got donations from around Sequim, and now it’s become this big thing.”

The OPA sharing closet is aligned with Brown’s values, as is her latest clothing business.

It’s still called Out on a Whim — a name that’s more clever than descriptive. This venture is no whim, after all. Brown devotes her days to finding fabrics, especially sweater material, for the capes, skirts, dresses, hoodies, shawls, jackets and even leg warmers she builds at home.

“This is the most fun I’ve had in my life,” says Brown, 43. “When I’m working, I lose all sense of time.

“Each garment,” she adds, “is a new surprise.”

They’re one of a kind, these creations. There’s a miniskirt made from six sweaters, a dress combining bold red and black patterns and a cape of fanned shades of green.

Brown has just put up her website,, with help from models Sara Jackson and Michele Scott Duncan, both of Sequim. They work out payment through bartering of garments, Brown says. And Jackson, 18, is doing some apprentice work. An environmentalist, she appreciates the green aspect of Out on a Whim.

The newly constructed website, meantime, has a gallery of home-grown photography, showcasing Brown’s abilities with reclaimed materials.

This isn’t recycling, she writes; it’s upcycling, something seamstresses across the country are doing.

“I’m on a perpetual treasure hunt,” haunting garage and estate sales and thrift stores.

“There are so many quality materials,” Brown says, “that would otherwise end up in landfills.”

She hopes to offer an alternative to all that “disposable clothing” out there.

Out on a Whim’s apparel isn’t cheap: pieces run $38 to $98. And unlike many fellow entrepreneurs, Brown wants to keep her sales local. She sets up her racks at the Port Angeles Farmers Market most Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m., unless the weather is terribly windy. She’d rather not see her product flying across Lincoln Street.

Come spring, Brown will return to the Sequim Farmers Market, closer to her home. Meantime, she has her new website beckoning, as well as private shopping by appointment in her home. Brown takes pleasure in face-to-face, as opposed to online, interaction.

She also caters to people who are bedridden or who must spend a lot of time at home, and notes that her clothing is well-suited for them with its seams on the outside.

“Be careful coming to my house in a sweater,” she jokes. “I might make a jacket, cape or skirt out of it.”

“I’m always thinking of new projects,” Brown adds.

She’s making remembrance quilts from pieces of material people bring to her from the closet of a deceased loved one. Old clothing and other fabrics come together, she says, in these quilts that honor and evoke the memory of a mother, sister or friend.

Brown is also hoping to develop a network of “sewing sisters.”

“There aren’t many of us,” she says, since sewing skills aren’t passed down as much as they were a generation ago.

Many people are used to buying inexpensive clothes, made overseas by people who are paid pennies per hour.

Brown, with her one-woman enterprise, means to upcycle that mind set, one garment at a time.

Last modified: January 18. 2014 6:22PM
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