Updated: Nov 27, 2020
This article appeared originally on VoyageLA site.
Today we’d like to introduce you to Dionne Nicholls.
Dionne, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
I was born in Montreal to immigrant parents from the island of St. Lucia. Shortly thereafter, we moved to Ottawa, Ontario where my three siblings and I were raised by our loving, hardworking, single-mom. Growing up in this small government town I always knew that I would live in a big city and by the time I graduated university I also knew I would be working in fashion. That summer of 1998, I bought my one-way ticket to the Big Apple to follow my dream to work on 5th Ave in New York City. And, yes, I also moved for love. My college sweetheart had already made the move to New York a couple of years prior.
Landing my first job from an ad in the NY Times Classifieds with a recruiting firm specializing in the fashion industry, I worked my way up from an Assistant to Executive Recruiter within the first year. Next thing you know, I get poached to launch a fashion division with a larger executive search firm before I finally decided it was time to make the leap into the fashion arena and fulfill my lifelong dream. During all that time in recruiting, I was honing my interview skills, learning what trade publications to read and was able to pinpoint exactly what career path I wanted to take. The idea of becoming a buyer had fallen to the wayside when I learned about the wholesale side of the fashion business.
My first opportunity was short-lived working as a Sales Assistant to the VP of Sales for a luxury multi-brand showroom on 5th Ave. Dolce & Gabbana, Roberto Cavalli…I thought I had made it! I remember one of the Account Executives taking me under her wing and showing how to represent, sell and grow a wholesale collection. I was a sponge! Then seven months in, the team was called down to the office to receive the announcement that our division was being shut down. It was like all the air was gut-punched right out of my stomach! However, God works in mysterious ways because it also turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me. My next role was a step up as an Account Executive with a luxury German fashion brand called Rena Lange. Now, I was working with the top luxury accounts in the North America, from Neiman Marcus, Bergdorf Goodman to Saks Fifth Ave and Holt Renfrew. By age 34, I had navigated my career working my way up to Director of Sales for the French fashion house SONIA RYKIEL. At this point, my fashion career had taken me to some of the most beautiful cities in North America and the world –Germany, France, Italy.
After 20 years in the women’s luxury wholesale fashion industry, I went on to launch the first Kleinfeld (of say Yes to the Dress fame) location outside of the US, in Toronto, one of the most buzzed about retail ventures in Canada. It was a 20, 000 sqft luxury bridal emporium! I was the founding Sales Manager, leading an awesome team of Sales Consultants, developed the blueprint for the customer experience, hosted events with some of the most talented designers in the world. It was big investment for the company so let’s just say all eyes on us but I’m happy to say we were hitting all our sales targets ahead of schedule AND I still got to travel to New York regularly –you’d think I would have been in my glory!
At this juncture in my life I had turned 40, left my college sweetheart after 17 years, was a single mom of an amazing little boy who was nine then, working at what should have been my dream job surrounded again by all my family and long-time friends living in the fabulous city of Toronto –the big city with the small town feel that fit all my quality of life needs.
However, something was gnawing at my heart that there was more I was supposed to do in this world. I thought I was going to go back to school and teach kindergarten because I felt I was being called to educate, motivate and empower the next generation. Just as I had begun researching my options, my son’s father, Shaun, reaches out to me and and says, “Dionne I want to launch a financial literacy youth program. You would be perfect. Will you help me?”
I had to take a moment to think about it of course because the concept would still be educating, motivating and empowering the next generation just in a different way. And there was also the critical part to consider that the proposal was coming from my ex. I decided to look at it from the point of view that your gifts don’t always come packaged exactly how you expect them to and the power of forgiveness makes the impossible possible.
In 2014, our non-profit financial literacy youth program, Financially CLEAN was born. Fast-forward, over 5000 young people have graduated from our classes.
So now, I am creating a financial literacy movement as a Program Director and Instructor for Financially CLEAN teaching the Personal Branding module of our curriculum in high schools and youth organizations and have the supporting role, as the ‘Lady with the Facts,’ on our podcast, TWO BLACK GUYS WITH GOOD CREDIT, rated as one of the top Black-Hosted, Smart and Funny Podcasts of 2017 by Black Enterprise Magazine and a Top Podcast in Color by iTunes and CASTBOX.FM for 2018 and Entrepreneur Magazine Top 40 Podcasts for 2019. On the show, I deliver the history, stats and cold hard facts, but you certainly can’t miss my infectious laugh as I chop it up with my co-hosts. And, I am also a contributor to personal finance & lifestyle segments on News 12 and News 12+.
In addition to serving the next generation, I felt called to serve women in transitional periods of their lives.
I am a graduate of an internationally acclaimed and ICF accredited life & leadership coach training program and Founder of Live Your Best Life for You where I work with women in transitional periods in their lives to co-create lives of limitless possibility through forward-action, accountability and fashion.
My mission is to get my clients out of their own way to achieve the health, career, relationships, finances, look and overall life goals they not only desire but deserve.
Through my journey, I have truly discovered my voice as a Guest Speaker, Moderator, Podcaster, Instructor, Panelist and Coach furthering my mission to educate, motivate and empower my community and communities at large.
Shaun and I have also been able to re-write our story and create a new legacy. Knowing my son understands we are not together but work together to put some good into the world is the best feeling and lesson of all. And, last year I got engaged to the love of my life, David Germain. I’m in a beautiful space where I have the blessing from both Shaun and my son, Chase.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Launching Financially CLEAN, was definitely about me getting out of my comfort zone. Making the leap from fashion to finance was a very intimidating. Coming to terms with the fact I don’t have to know it all and that I bring value to the students in so many ways was huge turning point for me. Getting clear on the gifts on the talents that I bring to the program was process for me.
With CLEAN we’ve had a lot of meetings, big meetings that looked so promising that we thought would open doors to big opportunities or funding that would fizzle and leave us disheartened when they didn’t work out. Some days you just want to give up and cry and then you remember that the mission is bigger than you.
Branching out to become a Life Coach was another time where the fear of doing something new crept in. Will people take me seriously? Will they see the value in what I do? The fear of the unknown held me back in the beginning until I started doing the darn thing! Seeing the impact my coaching has on my clients and the results they are creating in their lives is all I needed to give me the confidence boost I needed.
Please tell us about Live Your Best Life For You, Financially Clean and Two Black Guys with Good Credit.
Live Your Best Life For You
I work with women to embrace their best selves from the inside out. I call myself a Life & Wardrobe Stylist because life is a lot like our closets. We may have all the pieces but don’t always know how to put them together. I offer an a la carte service for those who may want to start with coaching and then revamp their look to reflect their new Being or visa-versa. Or some ladies may just want coaching or some just want styling. The fact I’m able to bring both of my passions together is a dream come true. I focus on the woman who wears many hats, mother, wife, leader, business owner, career, community activist who wants to find balance and live her best life.
Financially CLEAN has taught students not only nationally but internationally with our main focus on youth and millennials. We are 12-week program, not a one-off workshop, because we believe in changing mindsets and behaviors for the long-term. Studies show it takes at least 30 days to do so if we are going to make transformational change. We make early financial education fun and accessible using a very a straight-talk strategic approach using role play, games, real life experience case studies. When we launched our program six years ago, the goal was to see financial literacy as a permanent part of the public school curriculum K-12. Last year, we were invited to stand with Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams during his press conference to announce his bill that would do just that! That was a humbling moment for us. We now teach an ongoing program to millennials at Brooklyn Borough Hall. We’ve taken the program back to Ottawa, Canada where we both grew up to teach at the University of Ottawa coming full circle. Annually, we’ve had the awesome pleasure of taking our students to tour the Federal Reserve to learn how money works, hosted innovative events at the Microsoft Flagship. It’s been an amazing ride!
Our personal finance podcast, TWO BLACK GUYS WITH GOOD CREDIT is a 5-star rated podcast on iTunes. We’ve enjoyed several top rankings including:
Rated as one of the top Black-Hosted, Smart and Funny Podcasts of 2017 by Black Enterprise Magazine
Top Podcast of Color by iTunes and Castbox.Fm for 2018
Entrepreneur Magazine Top 40 Podcasts for 2019
What makes our show unique is that “the black guys” Shaun and Matt take a barbershop banter approach to discussing finance and I bring the objectivity by delivering the history, stats and cold hard facts. It’s light, fun edu-tainment where we take complex financial principles and pare them down to make it easily digestible.
We have thousands of listeners every week now tuning in around North America and beyond. In 2019, we just signed with a podcast network after working out our homes or the last 4 years with a computer and a mic.
Is there a characteristic or quality that you feel is essential to success?
Resilience, keeping a positive mindset and staying on purpose. If I do run into an obstacle it won’t keep me down for long! I always look for the lesson and then focus on how to get up, under, around or through that wall. I am firm believer in endless possibility when you are on purpose. God will put the people, put you in the rooms, the positions that will lead you to success if you are willing to put in the work. My favorite scripture is “Faith without works is dead” James 2:17. And, I remind myself that anytime a door closes, it means it wasn’t meant for me because God has something so much bigger and better in store.