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Celebrity Inventors: Kelly Nishimoto of Cute Booty Lounge On How To Go From Idea To Store Shelf

An Interview With Edward Sylvan

People love Cute Booty Lounge because of what it is, what it represents. You can duplicate it all you want, but you will never be able to duplicate the experience that we have created for our customers, and you can never duplicate me. The only challenge I’m facing now is how to truly scale the business. We have taken it as far as we can with a small crew and innovative thinking. Now it’s time to take it to that next level. So the challenge is putting together a team that sees the vision on an international scale and making it happen!

As a part of our series called “Celebrity Inventors”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Kelly Nishimoto of CUTE BOOTY LOUNGE.

Host of TLC’s Something Borrowed, Something New, Kelly Nishimoto™ is most widely known for her “Cute Booty” Pants and irresistible collections of Lounge Wear. Cute Booty™ was a concept born in Kelly’s garage in 2004. She was looking to make pants that embraced a woman’s curves (particularly the booty) but that was still polished enough to wear out & about! Her signature? Luscious modal fabrics, ruched back seams, scrunchy booty pockets, large eyelets, & oversized satin bows! Now with a full range of over a dozen styles, which come in classic and seasonal color options, Cute Booty™ enjoys an unrivaled position as the most comfortable and sexy all-purpose lounge pant there is. These signature pants are so coveted in fact, that in 2010 swimwear giant, Beach Bunny, contracted Kelly Nishimoto, Inc. to private label her famous pants, “Ruffle Booty” aka “Bunny Booty, bearing the “Beach Bunny” label for their online store & retail chain. Most recently you can find these pants with a new twist through the latest brand to private label “Cute Booty” Lounge — GASOLINE GYPSY.

In 2006 Cute Booty™ became its own business under Los Angeles designer Kelly Nishimoto’s Design Studio and has since seen astronomical growth in popularity with fun-loving, confident customers all over the world. Cute Booty™ prides itself in accessorizing the sexiest women on the planet and works with numerous sports, college, and professional clients in addition to our thousands of fabulous individual customers. Kelly Nishimoto’s Cute Booty Lounge is proud to be produced locally in Downtown Los Angeles. We pride ourselves on ethical business practices and amazing customer service!

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a bit about your “childhood backstory”?

I’m from a tiny town in Georgia with a population of less than 1000 people. There are only two red lights in the entire town! I was raised by my amazing, free-spirited father after my parents divorced when I was eight. I was actually asked to choose with whom I wanted to live after they explained what divorce was…Although I am extremely passionate about the Japanese side of me, the relationship with my mother has always been a tumultuous one. We were partially raised in an occult religion, so when we visited her on the weekends we had to follow extreme & strange rules and attend church for what seemed like hours and hours every Saturday. My love for the creative arts came from both parents. My father is super handy with his hands and can pretty much build anything. In fact, he built the log cabin I grew up in! There is a creek with a waterfall in the backyard and the house has stained glass windows that shine rainbows on my carpet during the day. It was magical! My mother was a Goldsmith and jewelry designer. I remember from a young age her carving out art from wax and casting it into gold. She also had a bead bar at her jewelry store which was probably very innovative at that time! Both of my parents are musicians and played the guitar. I also remember spending nights with my Japanese grandmother, who would work into the night sewing dog and cat T-shirts for my aunts' advertising company. All of these creative things were around me but there was also chaos! Being creative and making something out of nothing was my way to escape and have some type of internal peace. Santa Claus brought me a sewing machine when I was 11 years old. I didn’t understand what a fashion designer was or that I could actually go to a store and buy fabric. I used to take apart my dad’s old Harley Davidson T-shirts and whatever old sheets and pillowcases I can find around the house and I would just sew and sew for hours! A couple of key things I remember from those days was making a wedding dress out of trash bags and duct tape and sewing my sister's cheerleading skirt. She had come home crying one day and told me they had asked all of the moms to sew or get their cheerleading skirts sewn. She handed me a pattern and a pile of fabric and said, “We don’t really have a mother.” That broke my heart and at that moment I learn how to read a paper pattern, cut it out of fabric, and construct a garment properly. I’m sure it was a little wonky! But I got the job done and put a smile on her face… P.S. She had the coolest skirt on the squad! I strayed from the pattern a little to make it less frumpy!

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

Yes! Absolutely… And it’s a good one! It’s a little harsh but it’s very true. “A man will pee on your face and swear to his death that it’s raining.” I heard this when I was 16 years old. And oddly enough it came out of a shady person’s mouth. I have been burned so many times over the years by people who have lost their way and have let their moral compass be compromised. I now believe in having a small group of people whom you trust in your circle. It’s so important to surround yourself with people who are truly there to protect you. There are so many wolves in sheep’s clothing, and they are hungry to steal the breath away from you. I definitely learned this the hard way. I also understand that hurt people hurt people. But personally, it’s extremely important to me to be a good & kind human. At moments, the memories are overwhelming when I think back to what people have tried to take for me. So my goal is to have as much in life as I can so that I can keep giving. Especially to the people who have watched over me through the years. Also, success is true revenge. Oh! Add another lesson I’ve learned is to always have a contract for EVERY situation! Lol! My lawyer will be proud of me for this one…

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Movie: I’m truly a dreamer! The Never Ending Story is one of my all-time favorite movies. I believe in magic and in another life I was able to fly! Bastion was also just a boy who was trying to navigate life and escape into another world where his presence and decisions mattered…Heart & Soul mattered…

Podcast: “The Only One in the Room” I had the pleasure of being a guest on this amazing podcast created & hosted by Laura Cathcart Robbins. It’s an inspiring platform for people who feel like they are the only ones. It was nice to hear my story played back to me. It was a reminder that I’m not alone. And the things that I went through and how I persevered can be inspiring to other people. It also reminded me how resilient I am.

Book: “The Tipping Point!” It just gave me perspective on how business and ideas work and if you just keep trucking through the hard times you’re tipping point will come!

Ok super. Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. What was the catalyst that inspired you to invent your product? Can you share the story of your “ah-ha” moment with us?

Oh yes! This is a good one… I’ve always been an athletic girl with a little bit of extra booty. Back in 2004, when I was in my early 20’s, I was obsessed with a very popular brand at the time, but couldn’t afford their coveted track suits. When I was finally able to buy only the pants, they had a horrible fit and didn’t look good on me. Something was wrong with the pattern and it did NOT embrace my curves. So, I took the pattern apart and analyzed what the problems were. I ended up making a completely new pattern out of birthday wrapping paper and changing the curve of the back seam and crotch. I made them from a more drapey t-shirt like fabric and added some scrunchy pockets I had just created. I also decided that I needed to glam up the pants and modernize them by using oversized grommets and a large silk bowtie. I immediately called them “Cute Booty Pants” because, well, they made my booty cute! Almost too cute, so I put them in a drawer. I feared they were too sexy.

Cut to a year later, I had agreed to a training session with my friend at the gym. I had nothing clean to wear so I pulled my Cute Booty Pants out of the drawer and hoped that no one would make fun of me. When I got to the gym I ended up NOT working out because I was bombarded for two hours about where the pants came from and how they can get a pair! At that moment, I knew I was onto something! I ended up seeking a business partner and showing my first collection at Mercedes Benz Fashion Week in Los Angeles in October 2005! The star of the show? My Cute Booty pants!

There is no shortage of good ideas out there. Many people have good ideas all the time. But people seem to struggle in taking a good idea and translating it into an actual business. How did you overcome this challenge?

I honestly never saw it as a challenge. I knew I had a good idea and my goal was just to get it on the people! At the time I started my business, I was a bartender. After a while, I would calculate my earnings into how many pants I had to sell so that I could quit bartending and be in Fashion full-time. Every day I would think to myself if I could just sell 4 pairs of pants I could not bartend tonight. If I could sell 6 pairs of pants today, I could hire another employee. It’s amazing how many people have tried to take my idea as their own. Even from the beginning, I had a couple of larger companies attempt to steal my designs. It’s a constant battle, but at the end of the day, I know that as a creative person, I have more ideas and I don’t have to copy anyone. If someone has to copy you, they are always one step behind because they’re waiting for YOU… that really woke me up! People love Cute Booty Lounge because of what it is, what it represents. You can duplicate it all you want, but you will never be able to duplicate the experience that we have created for our customers, and you can never duplicate me. The only challenge I’m facing now is how to truly scale the business. We have taken it as far as we can with a small crew and innovative thinking. Now it’s time to take it to that next level. So the challenge is putting together a team that sees the vision on an international scale and making it happen!

Often when people think of a new idea, they dismiss it saying someone else must have thought of it before. How would you recommend that someone go about researching whether or not their idea has already been created?

With social media and Google, it’s so easy to see what people are putting out there! If you think you have an original idea then my advice is to immediately secure your domain name and a trademark or patent! If all of those things go through and are approved then you can then take your idea to market and expand on it. I’ve never worried about what other people are doing. I just do what’s in my head and in my heart and I let my intuition guide me. It’s when I stray from my intuition that I start making mistakes and poor decisions. Don’t let people get in your ear & in your head. Listen to all of the advice and do what you feel. One of the experiences I carry with me is a trip I took to Mexico… I went on an eight-hour hike through Makana. At one point I slipped off of a rock and hit my head. Even though I had on a helmet, it seriously jarred me. My guide literally picked me up by my backpack (out of the water) and pushed me forward. I will never forget that. It was a lesson, that no matter how hard you fall, and how bad it hurts, pick yourself up and propel forward…

Did you have a role model or a person who inspired you to persevere despite the hardships involved in taking the risk of selling a new product?

There isn’t one particular person. It’s very random people who have been strategically placed in my life and at certain times show up to give me exactly what I need at that moment to keep going. It’s really been a combination of my family, my close friends and some amazing people who have just “showed up” for me when I really needed the support.

For the benefit of our readers, can you share the story, and outline the steps that you went through, from when you thought of the idea until it finally landed on the store shelves? In particular, we’d love to hear about how to file a patent, how to source a good manufacturer, and how to find a retailer to distribute it.

For me, it was really all about trial & error. I’m not a strategic planner. I’m the type of person who feels my way through things. I probably did things a little backward. I got accepted to Mercedes-Benz Fashion Week before I even had a collection! lol! Anytime you create a product you have to get it in front of the people! So the first step is to protect yourself. File your trademarks file your patterns if you can. And then you want to show what you’ve created to people to get feedback on what they think, how it works, what price point it should be. Listen to all of the advice and decide which advice applies to what you’re doing. I’m also the type of person who hates to break a promise or let people down. So when I said I would have a collection ready for fashion week, I had a collection ready for fashion week! I had celebrities in the front row I had cohesive shoes, hair, make-up, accessories, it was a real show! The next thing you have to think about is how you’re going to sell your product. You can’t have a great idea if there is no sales force behind it. It has to be available to be successful. Before I launched my collection, I had an amazing salesperson lined up! And I had already committed to a couple of Wholesale Tradeshows! It only takes one good person to get the momentum going! And having your collection at a tradeshow is a great way to introduce yourself and your product to buyers. Our first collection off of the runway she already secured a half $1 million in sales for that season. That’s an amazing number for a new designer! Make sure you establish who you are. Why are you different? For me, it was all about the fit, the fabrics, and being able to transition pieces from day tonight! I’m also all about comfort. Manufacturing and scaling is a different ball game period finding a good manufacturer take patience and a lot of questions! Have them make samples before you commit to using them. Also, make sure they have all of their licenses in order and have signed a contract. You don’t want your designs being sold out the back door and you don’t want a batch of badly made merchandise. Another level you have to think about is your presence on social media, backend marketing, and your customer experience on your website. Creating a product and having your own business have so many layers. The work never stops but the endgame can be extremely rewarding if you see the vision and never stop working towards that.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

Making mistakes is never funny! But once, I had a HUGE Macy’s order and my contractor made all of the dresses 4 inches too short. It was printed silk and we had no more fabric. So how do you correct 500 dresses that are 4 inches too short? You have to get creative! So I added a 4-inch ruffle of silk Charmeuse to the bottom. The dress ended up being a hit and Macy’s never even noticed the hiccup! Lol! Whew! Got away with that one…

The early stages must have been challenging. Are you able to identify a “tipping point” after making your invention, when you started to see success? Did you start doing anything different? Are there takeaways or lessons that others can learn from that?

There have actually been several tipping points! But I have yet to see the big one! The first tipping point was white labeling my collection for a big swimwear company that wanted to bring loungewear into their stores. This generated a ton of income for the business but ended up backfiring because that company tried to steal my designs. I ended up taking them to court and really struggling. But, this leads to growth, and a vision of bigger things to come. The second tipping point was going viral on social media with an influencer who was also a friend at the time! Well, that Influencer got a little greedy and tried to bully me into giving her half of my company. Then she tried starting her own line with my old manufacturer (who was also a bully). This triggered another level of growth! But, now we had a presence on social media and were ready for the next tipping point! The third tipping point, believe it or not, was Covid! Although at first, it seemed disastrous, we quickly sprung into action and created a mask. At first, I had an aversion to making a mask. I didn’t think this whole thing would last. My fiancé peeled me out of bed and said, “Kelly, get up and make a darn mask. Make the baddest, most functional mask of them all. I promise you, it will be worth it!” And it was! Since we manufacture locally, here in Los Angeles, we were able to quickly make tens of thousands of masks and ended up being the official supplier for several Police Departments, fire departments, and city officials! We were also able to donate a mask to a hospital and healthcare workers! Making the masks saved us during a time when business seemed grim. It not only saved us financially but also gave us a purpose. The next tipping point? Taking over the world, one Cute Booty® at a time!

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Invented My Product” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)

  1. TRADEMARK & PATENT whatever you can! Everything & Anything to establish yourself as the original creator.
  2. Have a contract for everything! And make everyone sign an NDA! Legally protect yourself and your business from all people involved in case they get funny ideas. Also, when your gut instinct says to fire someone. Listen to it and never look back Instinct is everything!
  3. Expect knock-offs! For some reason, people just feel entitled to steal your original work and pass it off as their own…even your photos and fabric prints! Not quite sure when this became OK, but it seems to be a big trend amongst Amazon sellers, social media influencers, and others. I literally have a trademark on my pocket that I created in my garage in 2004. I’m pretty sure I was the first person to make a pair of pants that had a scrunch butt. Yet, I see dozens of knock-offs on a daily basis. I used to feel like it was a slap in the face, but now I realize they are the ones who are so insecure, they have to take credit for something, knowing it doesn’t belong to them, and then pretend that it does…
  4. Money comes and goes. Don’t be afraid to spend it where it needs to be spent! Also, don’t be afraid to cut back when somethings not working just to spare someone’s feelings.
  5. Always envision what’s next and always have multiple streams of revenue coming through your business. That way if one stream falls off or weakens, you have others to support!

Let’s imagine that a reader reading this interview has an idea for a product that they would like to invent. What are the first few steps that you would recommend that they take?

If you have an idea, go for it! Never let a good idea sit for too long. First, write it down, then create your sample, then protect that shiz. After it’s protected, talk about it to anyone and everyone who will listen. The rest will fall into place!

There are many invention development consultants. Would you recommend that a person with a new idea hire such a consultant, or should they try to strike out on their own?

I don’t think you need a consultant in the beginning. There are tons of people out there who would be willing to talk to you for free. Listen & learn as much as you can! I would, however, recommend hiring a good trademark and patent attorney because those things are hard to file on your own and that’s definitely worth the money. Also a small hint, most people will tell you patents are too expensive, but that’s simply not the case! How much is your idea worth? Trust me, it’s worth it, in the long run, to pay a few thousand dollars to protect a product or idea that could possibly bring you millions in the future. It’s definitely less expensive to spend the money upfront protecting your idea than to battle someone in the future who’s trying to claim it.

What are your thoughts about bootstrapping vs looking for venture capital? What is the best way to decide if you should do either one?

Do you want to sell your soul or keep it intact? Lol! Just kidding. If you decide to immediately go for a venture capitalist, just be prepared to give a large chunk of your company away. The longer route is to do everything yourself in the beginning, grassroots style, and try to grow it to a point to where your company is worth something more to a venture capitalist. Then you will be giving less away for more in return because you’ve already done the “legwork”. I really just have to decide what route is better for you, your business, and the lifestyle you want to have.

Ok. We are nearly done. Here are our final questions. How have you used your success to make the world a better place?

You know, I often struggle with that. Have I done enough? What more can I do to impact the world? Starting your own business from nothing, trying to make your own place in the world, and raising a child in the midst of everything, is a very hard balance. I try to create as much opportunity as I can for those around me and I try to teach my son the importance of being a good person. I give often and rarely do I turn anyone down who’s asking for help unless I feel like they are asking for shady reasons. I’ve always had a dream of selling this business and starting a charity called “Fox it Forward”. It would be an organization that helps creative moms who are trying to start their own businesses. It would give them support and advice to keep their lights on & bellies full while they figure out how to make their dreams a reality and raise a child at the same time. I remember when I was pregnant with Fox, I had four employees, a retail store in downtown LA, and $1.25 in my bank account. I remember feeling so hopeless… like I wouldn’t even be able to feed my child much less keep my employees paid. But I never gave up and things just worked out because I ALWAYS pushed forward. I would like to be the reason why life works out for some of these creative moms in the future.

You are an inspiration to a great many people. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.

FREE DAYCARE TO EVERY WORKING FAMILY! So much good could be accomplished if parents just had an extra set of helping hands… it just puts me back in that place when I had just given birth to my son, I was working at my store downtown, I was also on the phone with someone solving a problem with my QuickBooks while breast-feeding and photoshopping at the same time…What can I say, I’m a multi-tasking mom! I could have just used a little more help…

We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them.

I’ve always wanted to meet with Marcus Lemonis. I just love who he is and what he represents. I’ve sat down a dozen times to write him a letter… about me, how I started, what I’ve been through, about my business, about how successful this brand can become. It all started with an idea in a garage with a roll of wrapping paper and a scrunchy pocket design. I bartended to pay the bills. And now I have a business that’s worth, let’s just say, I’m proud of myself, but it’s still not enough… I’m ready to scale to the next level! I’m ready to give the big boys a run for their money in the clothing industry. So Marcus, if you’re reading, I saw the episode where you met with the woman who made leggings. I was sitting in front of my TV jumping up and down with my hand raised saying, Hey! Pick Me! Pick Me! I’m easy to work with and my ideas expand far beyond leggings. Cute Booty is a lifestyle. It’s a way of life. It’s a way for women to feel good about themselves, not only with what they are wearing but where it came from…

Thank you so much for these amazing insights. This was so inspiring.

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Edward Sylvan, CEO of Sycamore Entertainment Group

Edward Sylvan, CEO of Sycamore Entertainment Group

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Specializing in acquiring, producing and distributing films about equality, diversity and other thought provoking subjects