Though Tracy Nicole is a young, vivacious spirit, she’s wise beyond her years and seems to have lived five different and fascinating lives. Many readers may be surprised to know that one of Atlanta’s leading fashion designers — and proud mamas — actually got her start as an occupational therapist and is also a published author! Tracy eventually found her calling as a designer before her personal struggle with cancer began. She had fought the disease on the sidelines when her mother battled breast cancer three times; eventually, Tracy was called into action herself upon getting the dreaded call from her doctor about her own breast cancer diagnosis. Today, we celebrate October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month with a true Atlanta hero and her inspiring story. Meet Tracy Nicole, today’s FACE of Atlanta!
How did you transition from a career in occupational therapy to your current creative role as fashion designer?
I was an occupational therapist by day when I decided to go back to school at night to study fashion design. I knew it was my passion when I would work a 10-hour day and look forward to going to school at night. When it came time to make the career change, I decided to open a retail store called Tracy Nicole and it was there the brand was born — and I walked away from therapy for good. It would be five years later that I actually got the courage to start developing my line and focus solely on Tracy Nicole Clothing.
What was the first clothing item you designed that made you think you could really do this for a living?
My high school prom dress. While everyone was searching for the perfect dress, I had exactly what I wanted in my head. I sketched it out, bought the fabric and got a friend of my mom’s to help me make it. I always had a high fashion sense and never liked to look like everyone else. The dress turned out perfect!
I knew I wanted to become a fashion designer around middle school. On TV, I was addicted to watching the creative designs on the models and the designer walking out at the end. Then one day, while watching a runway show and admiring the beautiful high-end designs, something happened. For the first time in my life, I saw a designer that looked like me. It was Tracy Reese. This was the first confirmation I got that it was even possible for me to become a successful fashion designer.
What was the very first thing that went through your mind when your doctors said you had breast cancer?
My very first thought was the possibility of not being here for my two daughters who were so young. When the voice on the other end of the call said who she was, I had no worries. She sounded as if everything was okay. She calmly said, “We got your results from the biopsy and it was cancerous.” I stopped breathing for a minute; time stood still as I let the words sink in. Only the people closest to me know that I don’t immediately react to things that are painful. The more painful or difficult it is to digest, the longer it takes me to react — so you can only imagine how long it took me to react to this.
I was waiting for her to say something else — as if there were something else to say. I was hoping for a brief moment that it was some kind of mistake. Wait, they just calmly tell you this over the phone. Why is she so calm?! My response was (in my I-can-handle-this voice), “Okay, what’s next?” In her monotone voice she said, “I need you to come to my office tomorrow. Will that work for you?” I thought, How could it NOT work for me? How can any of this work for me?! Is this a trick question? I reluctantly said, “Of course.” I ended the call as if it never happened. I just wasn’t ready. I shared the news with no one and I finished my day as if nothing ever happened.
You’re very involved with breast cancer awareness programs and causes like Susan G. Komen. What should every woman know about early diagnosis?
I am still here because of early detection. Every woman should stay on top of their own health no matter how scary it can get. Early diagnosis is not a death sentence and catching it early can save your life.
What’s one style trend you wish would go extinct?
Gladiator sandals! I hate to see gladiator sandals up the legs. I wish that trend would die!
Every time I run into you, you’re always smiling or laughing. What’s the trick to keeping such a positive spirit and attitude? Where are your favorite places in Atlanta to lighten the mood?
I always focus on the positive and truly enjoy my life. I’m not easily upset and I don’t sweat small things. Going through breast cancer slowed me down in a good way and I enjoy being in the moment. I have the best friends in the world and am blessed to be surrounded by positive, supportive people.
I love going to fun adventurous places with my daughters. We love to go bike riding on the BeltLine or hang out at Sky Zone and Stone Summit. We eat at places like Zoe’s Kitchen and Cafe Sunflower. My friends and I do brunch once a month and we love to go to Vickery’s Bar and Grill — and grabbing a drink at the W hotel is always fun.
Your mother is a three-time breast cancer survivor and now you’re in the survivors’ club. How did her battle affect your outlook upon your own cancer diagnosis? What have you told your daughters about your family’s history with breast cancer?
My mother has always been my example of a survivor, even before breast cancer. She has a great influence on my positive attitude. To see her battle and beat cancer three times killed any doubts that I could not beat the disease.
My daughters were so young when I got diagnosed that I had to find a book to read to them to help them understand on their level. With the help of their teachers, I found the book Mom and the Polka-Dot Boo-Boo and it really helped my girls understand what I was going through and what my mom went through. My mom and I had genetic testing and found there is no cancer gene in our family. It was a relief to find out I do not have a gene to pass to my daughters. My girls have seen their grandmother and mother beat breast cancer and know the importance of staying up on their health.
You beat out hundreds of designers to win the Belk Southern Designer Showcase 2016 and have Tracy Nicole Clothing available in this national department store. How do you define Southern style, specifically Atlanta’s look?
The Tracy Nicole clothing line represents modern, Southern style in its all-encompassing representation of soft, flowing textiles that are simple and easy while also being comfortable and transitional — perfect for the woman juggling work, life and play! The line gives the consumer build-able ensemble pieces that marry from season to season, one line to the next.
Southern style is a lifestyle! In the South, we are taught at young ages that being a proper lady or gentleman is paramount. We are rich in history, tradition and presentation. However, we tend to resist change, especially if that change upsets the balance of what we are used to. What we cannot deny, however, is that change does in fact come — whether we choose to accept it or not. The modernization of Southern style in Atlanta is a delicate balance of maintaining the true essence of the “classic woman” and the clean lines of current couture. As Atlanta continues to grow in the fashion world, Southern style is truly about less fuss but still looking like all the effort.
Why did you decide to add “author” to your long list of accomplishments? What was your inspiration?
I have always expressed myself easier through writing and used it as an outlet with short stories and poetry. I even studied writing screenplays. I grew up with an alcoholic, abusive father and struggled with self-esteem in high school. I had no idea what love was and how I should be letting someone treat me. After college, I used those experiences to write a fictional story entitled, Who Said Peaches Were Perfect? I wanted to write a story that I wish I could have read when I was younger. It is full of life lessons and real experiences everyone can relate to at any age. I wanted to give back and help young girls realize their worth and not settle. I started a non-profit called Perfect Peach Inc., which provides self-esteem workshops to young girls.
I followed the novel with the Who Said Peaches Were Perfect? workbook and have partnered with several schools and non-profit organizations to provide the workshops. Each year, Tracy Nicole Clothing creates a new t-shirt with an empowering message designed exclusively to support self-esteem workshops for at-risk teens.
What three things can you not live without, excluding friends, family and faith?
My passport, shoes and yoga mat.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given?
My grandfather taught me to always live by the Golden Rule: Always treat people how you want to be treated, no matter what.
Our thanks to Tracy Nicole for sharing a little insight into her creative process and the importance of taking care of our health. Learn more about early detection, self-exams and how you can get involved helping raise awareness and funds for breast cancer research by clicking here.
As usual, we couldn’t create this wonderful FACES series without the talented CatMax Photography!
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