A visit with international fashion line, 'Niche,' created in San Antonio

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Story by Desiree Prieto

Turkish-born designer, Nilgun Derman, and her daughter, Ayse Derman, are the proud owners of Niche, a modern women’s clothing line carried in high-end boutiques and departments stores throughout the U.S. and Canada. In 500-800 stores at any given time, and in almost every state in the U.S., Niche happens to be headquartered in San Antonio, Texas, in an industrial area near the airport, or what I like to call, “Little Industry,” as it’s full of discreet warehouses and studios. However, Niche’s success is anything but little, and you can find the line at Dillard’s La Cantera— in the bridge section with Eileen Fisher—or at Julian Gold on McCullough.

Over 25 years ago, Nilgun Derman began the company with an art-to-wear line of hand-painted garments—influenced from her other passion. She holds a master’s degree in industrial design, and originally made furniture, which she believes inspired her to move toward clothing. “The concept of furniture and industrial design resonates in the work because our pieces are structural and architectural,” Nilgun explains. “But they are comfortable and yet elegant.” Nilgun began designing painted clothing because of its popularity in the late 80s and early 90s, but eventually the clothing evolved into a more ready-to-wear line. The feminine collections, aimed at the 30-and-up demographic, includes wearable separates, casual but sleek and fitted-jerseys, knits, cotton and plaid.

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While the line is created in San Antonio, it’s primarily produced in central Texas, and Niche is proud to have kept it completely “Made in the U.S.” According to Ayse Derman, the company’s Creative Director and a University of Texas at Austin Business Alum, creating the clothing close to home has also helped Niche carve out their own niche in such a competitive market. “A decade ago it seemed very enticing to take production overseas. A lot of companies did it, like Ralph Lauren, and even the boutique brands moved overseas because the production costs so much less.” Ayse continues, “but we were stubborn and kept it here, and now there a lot of problems with overseas production. We can flip over something in three weeks, whereas overseas production cannot be flexible with deliveries and that’s where clothing companies can experience problems.”

Niche can join the “Fashion for a Cause” crowd, as managing their production close to home means they don’t overproduce. Ayse explains that they don’t make anything until receiving orders, and believe it or not, it’s easier that way. “We don’t have to project,” Ayse says, “we do our production based on the response. We don’t end up with extra inventory or clothing.”  Ayse ensures that a percentage of the line is brand new and innovative, and a percentage of the line is tweaked. “We have history on the women’s body, as we have a little core group of clothes that have stayed the same for ten years. Soft separate groups, styles that consistently are best sellers.” The company also fulfills special custom orders, for weddings and other occasions.

Niche produces a couple fashion shows a year for the fall and spring break, which includes 110 bodies, styles, and two smaller breaks, one for holiday and one for resort, like early spring, which features crews. In addition, they attend the big tradeshows in the U.S. I had a chance to check out the Fall 2011 line and adore their black and white jersey dresses and scarves, as well as their brown striped separates, as brown is making a comeback in fashion. If you really want to know more about them, go shopping. As Ayse explains, “the pieces will tell you the whole story.”

Sidenote: While Niche’s studio is closed to the public and their line can only be found in select boutiques and department stores, their involvement in the community is immense: they mentor UIW interns, have hired UIW graduates, and also make fabric donations to the International Academy of Design and Technology.

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