From as far back as Nicole Manno can remember, she’s been drawing, painting and sketching. In college, she focused on graphic design and apparel marketing, combing her two passions—creativity and publicity. After graduating, Nicole became a merchandise design assistant for private-label clothing companies, then co-owned a wholesale-apparel showroom for seven years, before taking time off to have children. But it wasn’t until a year ago that she recognized a demand in the marketplace for hand-painted monograms on both designer and vegan handbags and launched her company Better Off Painted. Quickly, those monograms led to stripes, hearts, stars, lightning bolts and even more intricate original artwork pieces as well restorative work for older leather items that needed some love. Soon enough, Nicole extended her vision to jackets, sneakers, wallets, backpacks, belts, basketballs and suitcases. We sat down with her to learn more about her innovative new venture.
What prompted you to launch your own company?
“I was helping out my friend Anne Delorier, who owns Eleven 11, with her pop-up shops and saw that she was having handbags painted by an artist in New York. Her lead times were really long, so I mentioned that I could do it for her much faster. She gave me the opportunity to start painting some samples and it just kind of took off from there. Thanks Anne!”
How did you get the word out?
“At first, I was painting for Anne’s customers and then I started promoting on Instagram and the word spread from there. The power of social media is remarkable.”
What items are best to paint on?
“Leather and vegan items, which includes handbags, suitcases, backpacks, belts and sneakers. Clothing also works great, particularly denim and canvas. Specialty items, like basketballs, are really fun, but they’re only for display.”
Are there certain fabrics you can’t work with or that are more challenging?
“I’ve been pretty successful painting most items, depending on the desired look, although materials with less texture end up looking cleaner.”
Do you come up with the ideas or do clients typically have something specific in mind?
“It’s definitely a collaboration. It’s hard to know what everyone’s specific tastes are, so I like to consult with the client and get a basic idea of what they’re thinking about. From there, I can jump in to suggest design elements and color variations. I love hearing what my clients have in mind, and I also love the challenge of making their ideas come to life.”
Explain the process from soup to nuts.
“When a client reaches out, I’ll have a design consultation either via email, DM or phone. From there, I’ll photograph the item and graphically mock up the design in Photoshop for approval. Changes are always welcome and encouraged until we get it just right. My goal is for my clients to feel comfortable and be happy with the end result. Upon approval, painting begins. Typical lead time is anywhere between two weeks and a month, depending on my current project load.”
What’s your favorite item you’ve ever painted and why?
“I recently painted a dreamcatcher on a handbag for a client. She gave me guidelines—she wanted a butterfly and a ladybug included in the design—but she trusted my process and gave me full creative license beyond that. It felt great to craft a little piece of wearable art for her.”
What’s next for you?
“I want to appreciate what’s happening right now. I work from home and feel beyond lucky that I’m able to do what I’m passionate about and share it with others. I’m well aware that this may not last forever, but I’m enjoying meeting new people every day and getting creative.”
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