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Ruby Nichols

 

Ruby Nichols’ beautiful online shop, Almanac of Style, is a tribute to her wanderlust and the artists she’s met on her travels. But no trip has been as real or raw as her quest to find herself. In this deeply personal interview, Ruby tells an epic story of launching her site that spans death, birth, depression, healing—and, ultimately, joy.

 
 

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Do you remember your first week in LA?

I moved here in 2008 to take a job in advertising—it was supposed to be my dream job. I actually went to UCLA for two years before that, so that was my first experience with LA. I was very hesitant about coming back here, because I had a good year and then a really difficult year at school. I just didn’t know how LA would be. But I was lucky because I had some really close friends here already, including one friend that I had grown up with. I ended up crashing with her that week while I was apartment hunting. Then everything fell into place so quickly! I got a car. I got an apartment. I had my job. I took it as a sign that I was meant to be here. Everything felt like it was flowing.

That must have been some dream job, to lure you across the country!

Yeah. I was living in New York, working as a brand strategist in advertising for about four years. This job seemed to fall in my lap. The agency TBWA\Chiat\Day in LA had always been at the top of my list. It was one of those places I wanted to work, just to see what it was like.

How did you get the job?

I submitted a resume online, about two years prior. Probably nobody looked at it! They somehow dug it out of the files and I got a call out of nowhere from a recruiter. She said, “Hey, we’re starting this new brand consultancy here, a little subsidiary of Chiat called the Disruption Consultancy. Our new director told me to call you.” I ended up having a phone conversation with the director, Dave Freeman. I felt such a strong connection with him that I made up my mind: “I need to work with you and I would follow you anywhere in the world.” I was always drawn to small, entrepreneurial companies, so it was exciting that we could build something together.

At the time, I had started dating my husband Jason. We’d been dating two years, so we were at kind of a crossroads, where you decide whether you want to go for the relationship full out. Dating long-distance seemed like a big hurdle. But I was 27 and it was my dream job, so I had to take it and move to LA.

Did you guys break up or stay together?

We stayed together long-distance, and it was not easy. I also left behind my sister and a really tight network of friends. But, as I said, in that first week everything seemed to magically fall in place. The job lived up to all my expectations. My boss was really a free spirit and a genius. And, I discovered Venice and really fell in love with the area. So I felt really at home, and was riding this amazing high. But then, three months into my job, my boss unexpectedly passed away.

Oh, my God.

He was young, around 47. Super unexpected and beyond devastating. His death was never fully explained, but they said it was either a heart attack or stroke, or something else really sudden.

 
Follow your joy. I wish that didn’t sound so cliche! But your joy and happiness are actually a service to the world. It’s a service to yourself and, ultimately, you’re going to help the world somehow by doing that tiny little thing.
 

What did you do?

Dave was the heart and soul of the Disruption Consultancy. When he passed, I was so new at the company that I didn’t know what to do. Chiat wasn't sure exactly what to do, either, so I felt like I was in a weird limbo for a while.

Many people immediately assumed I'd move back to New York. But I didn't even think about it. Part of me wanted so badly to make this job work, because it was just such a huge disappointment. I think I went into “warrior mode”—I was going to carry on Dave's legacy. But the agency went in such a different direction that I just got crushed. I stayed at Disruption for two years, but I became really miserable because I was in denial about everything. I ended up quitting with no other job lined up.  

Was quitting a relief?

It's definitely scary to quit, because you're so conditioned to think, “Oh my God, I can't even survive without a job.” But the reality is, “I don't need this. I'm okay.” I'd been making a decent amount of money. I was living in a shoebox in Venice, which I loved, so my rent was not high. Jason had finally moved out to LA, and he still had a job. I realized I could actually coast for a while.

I freelanced for two years, because it frees up a little time and head space to think about what you want to do. I was thinking: “What next, what next?” I was just Googling a lot, chasing whatever sounded interesting to me.

I think that process of discovery is huge. So many people I know are in dead-end jobs, and I've recommended that exact step to all of them. We always think we need the answer right away, but that’s not how it works. You probably don't know the answer is out there unless you explore it. But we don't allow ourselves to explore. In my gut, I always knew I could create the job that I wanted.  

Even when I was freelancing, I was not happy. The freelance jobs were worse than the full-time jobs. I actually left some freelance jobs. I had to leave because every bone of my body was like, “Get out.”

 
 

Oh, wow.

I also recognize now the trauma that I went through when my boss passed away. I didn’t realize it was traumatic for me at that time. I definitely had a deeper soul connection with him. During that whole soul-searching time, I would constantly ask myself if Dave would be proud of me. That’s how I knew I was on the right path, because I felt that he would be proud.

That’s awesome. Is that how you decided to launch Almanac of Style?

Around that time, Jason and I were traveling a lot. I was in the space of allowing myself to be inspired and open to what makes me happy. I noticed that when Jason and I traveled, no matter where we were in the world, we would gravitate to the artist nooks and neighborhoods. We’d end up talking to all the shop owners and local designers. They were just super interesting people—they always had a great story to tell. I finally asked, “How can I do this for a living?” That’s how the idea started brewing for Almanac of Style.

How did you shape the site into what it is today?

I took it one step at a time. At the time, everybody had a blog. So, I starting collecting stories about people I met while traveling or walking around Venice, and I started the blog as a place to record all those stories. I’d never taken a photography class, and I hadn’t written anything in years. But I gave it a shot. The big thing was to put it out there.

I knew Almanac of Style had to become a real business and make money at the end of the day.  But I figured I could just blog for a year first, to test things out. I could sharpen my storytelling and editorial skills, before I started selling products. And I could build an audience, so that by the time I launched the shop I would already have a following.

I worked on the blog for six months, and it started getting more attention and picked up by the media. But then, I got pregnant! I didn't expect to be so sick during the first trimester, so it majorly slowed me down. I lost the momentum that I had built. I kept trying to respond to inquiries and create content after my son Dash was born, but I was so busy with him that I couldn’t even talk on the phone for 15 minutes.

 
 

Did you get discouraged?

I felt like a failure. I'm such a person of action—I don't talk about anything unless I'm going to do it. I made this big deal about launching the blog, and then I didn’t end up doing anything with it. Now I know that I was suffering from postpartum depression, and struggling more than I realized with being a mom. My son was diagnosed with autism around age three, which actually explained a lot of my struggles, in retrospect. But during that time, I didn't know what was going on. I thought, “Clearly I'm doing something wrong, because I can't control my child. I can't manage it on my own." So I just felt like a failure in business and in motherhood. 

So when did you start getting back on track?

It was a real spiritual journey for me, that’s the only way I can describe it. I finally confronted all my demons. All those things that happened to me really built up because I never dealt with them. I felt bad complaining about my life, which looked perfect from outside. I had a physically healthy child, a loving husband, and the potential for a great career. I finally admitted, "Okay, I'm depressed."

I did finally go to therapy, thank God. And I also got back into my spiritual side. I had never been religious, but I was always interested in New Age stuff when I was younger. I just allowed myself to discover all that stuff again.  A big part of me getting clarity was starting to meditate. It truly did change my life. The weirdest thing is that I was really fearful of trying it, for some reason. Like, “What if it doesn't work?” It would be one more thing I failed at doing. But it did work. Meditation helps me keep my perspective and calms my fears and anxiety. So I think it was a combination of doing spiritual work and going to therapy.

Was your son’s diagnosis a huge awakening, as well?

I do think going to therapy prepped us for receiving the news. Dash’s teacher mentioned that she was noticing symptoms and recommended that we get him evaluated. The good thing is that we were open to all of that, because we’d been doing so much work on ourselves. Actually, it was a relief to get the diagnosis. You think, "We finally have the answers now and not just a ton of questions."

Of course, you also think, "Oh my God, how's this going to impact him later?" But we're very, very fortunate that Dash’s case is considered very mild on the spectrum. He was a little bit behind developmentally, but he's doing a great now.

It's been a huge transformation for our entire family. A year ago, we were so miserable, we couldn't figure out how to survive the day. It sounds so corny, but it does feel like a rebirth. I vow to myself that I'll never ignore those major things again. I try to acknowledge all of my feelings now.

With this personal transformation, where is Almanac of Style today?

I finally relaunched the blog as the e-commerce site that I always dreamed about. I was just like, "I'm fucking doing this. I've dreamed about it for so long that it's going to be real.” I started rebuilding the site at the end of 2016, and then launched it in April 2017.

As it happens with creative projects, the concept only solidified towards the very end. I decided to feature different neighborhoods each season, and then collaborate with the local artists to make exclusive things to sell. I started with Joshua Tree in the spring, then in fall/winter I covered Eastside LA. Now I'm heading into my third season, which is going be Oakland.

I also decided last year to host my own pop-up market series, which is called AOS Night Market. The online shop is great, but I also love creating in-person connections. The events happen in the evening, because it's more of a party vibe and then you can have cocktails! The first one was in December, hosted at a beautiful vintage store called La Commune General. Next, I want to branch out with events in Oakland and Brooklyn.

You're living the dream!

What's crazy is that I didn't know how much mental and emotional preparation I would need to make it happen. That's why it's so important to talk about the process of how you got there, because people only see when you're there. They don’t see the struggle and heartbreak. I mean, it took four years just to get the e-commerce site up!

What’s the best piece of advice you could give?

Follow your joy. I wish that didn't sound so cliche! But your joy and happiness are actually a service to the world. It's a service to yourself and, ultimately, you're going to help the world somehow by doing that tiny little thing.

I wanted to share the motherhood side of my story, as well, because there are a lot of moms starting their own businesses. Starting a business is even harder when you have a child, because you feel like you can’t take any time for yourself.  So this is a huge lesson for women in general: Fill yourself up, so that you have something to give.

What does LA mean to you?

LA is wild to me. I think that’s why I dreamed about it, because it's still the Wild West. Everyone loves to hate LA! But I just love that people here don't care, because we're some of the happiest people. People here are truly joyful.

 

Visit Almanac of Style here

 
 

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Photography by Magdalena Wielopolska ©


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