Nicole Klerlein is just 23 years old but she's already a successful fashion mogul with a business that's about to get even bigger.
"I never expected to have my own business at this age," said Klerlein, who opening Middletown's newest women's clothing store, Nicole J Boutique, at 423 N. Broad St. at noon on Friday.
"What motivated me to get here was my 2-year-old daughter Ellie," she said. "Because when she gets older, I want to be able to tell her to follow her dreams, so that means that first I have to follow my own."
A 2008 graduate of Middletown High School, Klerlein said her new 600-square-foot space is a natural evolution of the small custom clothing business she launched in 2010 after earning her associate degree in fashion design from the Art Institute of New York.
"It started with creating dresses from scratch for prom and bridal parties," she said. "I loved connecting with my customers and having them feel like they weren't just buying from me, but like they had a personal stylist who would help the piece together an outfit. That's the feeling I want all of my customers to have."
Last fall, Klerlein expanded her business into an online boutique at NicoleJ.com, which features women's clothing, accessories and jewelry hand-picked from an array of designers across the country.
"In addition to the website, I've also taken my boutique to homes across the state for private parties that allow women to shop with their girlfriends and actually try things on," she said. "That's something I plan to continue, although now we'll also be planning to have in-store parties, as well."
The success of the website helped the business earn the title Best Women's Casual Clothing Boutique in Delaware Today's upcoming Best of Delaware.
And it convinced Klerlein to open an actual boutique where she can combine the personal touch of her custom clothing business with the retail shopping experience of the website and her in-home visits.
"The store will be stocked with brand-new inventory when we open and feature clothing in all sizes for $50 or less," she said. "We'll have a whole new selection for tops, bottoms, earrings, scarves, bags and hats, none of which my customers will have seen before. It's really exciting."
And it's a long way from the private sewing lessons that Klerlein – whose maiden name is Hinton – received from her grandmother as a child.
"That's how this all started, really," she said. "My grandmother taught me the basics until she became ill in 2003. Fortunately, she's still with us today, but she became too ill to continue teaching me. That inspired me to continue learning and then to purse fashion as a career."
Page 2 of 2 - Nicole J Boutique will be the fifth women's clothing shop to open in downtown Middletown, following in the footsteps of Femme Fatale, First & Little and Lai Renise on West Main Street, and Louis Marie Bridal on North Broad Street.
"Middletown is really turning into a one-stop shop for fashions you can't find anywhere else, especially not at the mall," Klerlein said. "I think all of the shops here are offering something a little different and I think we complement each other very nicely."
Nicole J Boutique will be open this weekend from noon to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday and from noon to 5 p.m. on Sunday.