Nicole Tiedman is The Laughing Geisha – the up-and-coming Japanese-inspired vintage brand. She started with a screen printing machine she made herself in a dorm room in London. Now she watches as Kourtney Kardashian is dripped out at Disneyland in her pants. How did she get here?
It’s noon somewhere along the coast of Southern California and Nicole and I are sitting behind our laptops on the all too familiar zoom meeting. Luckily, this one proved to be more exhilarating than the rest. After buying pieces from Nicole Tiedman’s brand, The Laughing Geisha, things came full circle when we got to sit down and chat for this piece. I got to pick her brain about her creative process and inspirations. We dove deep into pushing fashion boundaries, getting started, growing name recognition, and dreaming big for her upcycled fashion brand.
When I asked Nicole about The Laughing Geisha’s inspirations she lit up. Tiedman, an LA native, spent summer months away in Japan visiting her grandparents. Strolling down the back streets of Harajuku, she was exposed to the unique and innovative Japanese style cultivated here. She explained that the design and fashion was unlike anything she’d seen in the states. More specifically, Nicole found herself inspired by Japanese punk, skate culture, and anime. The brand is the result of exploring her identity, blending Japanese influence with the vibrant culture of her home in Southern California.
When Nicole was 20 she spent some time studying in London. This time marked the first moment Tiedman got to spend really alone. She found herself without any outside pressures from parents, friends, or NYU Econ Major requirements. Nicole described herself as a creative person from a young age, but took an 8-year hiatus from art endeavors. When granted this time alone, she turned to art again. She had a fascination with screen printing and then decided to build the machine herself, in her dorm room. She described the process as extremely unruly, but worth it.
Her hands-on approach is inspiring to say the least. I wondered how her homemade screen printing machine followed her back to the states. What made her take the leap of faith and start a clothing brand? The Laughing Geisha was never part of the plan. Both her mom and dad were clear of their expectations for Nicole to find a profession in medicine, law, or finance. Nicole sighed a breath of relief as she recounted the decision to forgo a career on Wall Street. What allowed her to take the leap of faith was actually the pandemic and its slowing effect. Time was at a standstill for a bit. For Nicole, it worked out for the better. The pandemic bought her enough time to make clothes while she tip-toed around kick-starting her finance career. The grind of designing, printing, and creating clothes during the early pandemic months was where she put in the leg work for The Laughing Geisha. Eventually, the brand started generating enough income for Tiedman’s parents to encourage and support it as her new path.
When I asked about creative side hustles, Nicole laughed a little. “A lot of my graphics have come about in funny ways. I had this cool picture of my albino pit bull that I looked at after getting really high. I decided to start messing with it really late at night. I edited it so that he had three heads and thought `hey this will be cool for a graphic.’ Many of the unconventional graphics we see printed onto the oversized baggy Laughing Geisha shirts started from the paint on Nicole’s brush. If she finds herself particularly fond of a certain painting she will make them into negatives and then turn them into prints. She works with a lot of vintage pieces that she upcycles by painting, drawing, and crafting right on the piece itself. She views her work with clothing as art rather than fashion. “When I see people wearing my clothes, I see them wearing my art.” She explained that her art and fashion have been inspired by artists like Jun Takahashi, Murakami, and Yoshimura. “I’m not kidding when I say Japanese people think differently. Their view of the world and their aesthetic goals and ideas are so different and unconventional from anything else you’ve ever seen. It has really shaped what I have found visually pleasing.”
Kourtney Kardashian was recently seen sporting The Laughing Geisha. Whether you love or hate the Kardashian family, they hold indisputable influence over the fashion industry. Having said that, I wanted to know how Nicole felt when she knew a Kardashian was repping her brand? The first thing out of Tiedman’s mouth was, “imposter syndrome.” Nicole quickly changed pace, “Let me tell you though that I really don’t care about that shit. It doesn’t matter who wears it, what makes me happy about doing stuff like this is when I see that people are so happy wearing it. I really don’t want to paint a certain image of who should be wearing my brand or how someone should be wearing it… The clothing brand helped me realize that people liked what I put out. I can wear whatever I think is cool and everyone should do the same.”
In unpacking her journey Nicole got vulnerable, explaining how starting was the hardest part. “People were mean to me about it and were always questioning what I was doing.” Doubt from family, friends, and peers were only made worse by some of her own “failures” in the beginning. Nicole told of times when she released stuff that just did not sell. “It’s a really hard mental game to battle, you definitely have to be mentally strong.” Tiedman also mentioned that getting people to respect her brand was way harder than some might imagine. As a female designer focused on unisex streetwear, it took a lot of time to get people to take her seriously. Her most rewarding moment came when an order from Japan came in. She smiled. “Yeah, as someone who struggles with this weird sort of identity crisis where white people don’t see me as white and Japanese people don’t see me as Japanese, it was the best day for me ever to know that someone in Japan thought my stuff was cool.”
We ended on what her big dreams are for The Laughing Geisha. “When will you feel like you’ve made it?” I asked. Deep in thought, Nicole shared that she has a bunch of new ideas for the brand. “If the brand generates enough income I would love to use some of the money to feed into my other passions.” Nicole points the screen to her two pit bulls. “The one thing on this planet I have always loved and wanted to do is take care of animals. I would love to do cool collaborations with some dog companies and make cool collars and other accessories, where the funds can go back into helping dogs… Once I can, I just want to make the brand more meaningful to me in the sense that I am able to help out with the things I really care about.”
This end to our conversation perfectly embodied the true spirit of Nicole: a young, innovative, caring, and edgy creative that wants to share her brand with all.
The Laughing Geisha will be doing live screen printing at our Dream Machine event on July 17th. Nicole will have a booth set up where you can get a one-of-a-kind piece made fresh on the spot.
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