As the founder and CEO of Cayman Fashion Group, Nicola de Lima is known for her innate style and buying expertise, but her work behind the scenes with husband and business partner Patrick Maloir greatly contributes to the success of the company’s six high-end boutiques.
This includes four boutiques in Camana Bay’s Town Centre: NKY, NKY Collections, SOLES Shoe Salon, and POLO by NKY; another boutique, Fifth on Seven, located at the Caribbean Plaza on Seven Mile Beach; and Seafire Supply Co., situated at the Kimpton Seafire Resort + Spa. Each shop offers something unique and collectively encompasses over 200 designer collections of men’s, women’s and kids’ apparel, footwear, handbags, accessories, jewellery, gift items and books.
In March, NKY — the first of Cayman Fashion Group’s shops in Camana Bay — celebrated its 10-year anniversary in the development.
Nicola and Patrick handle all administrative tasks, including sales projections and forecasts, hiring employees, handling designer logistics, merchandising and fulfilling customer requests. It’s a job that Nicola says requires six to eight hours a day, seven days a week.
She buys merchandise according to formulas for each delivery, which she says is the most important task to master in the fashion retail business. “I have seen more stores open and close simply because they didn’t buy properly. The fixed costs of operating in a destination such as Camana Bay do not change from month to month, so you need to know how to buy to maximise sales at your busiest times,” she says.
As a self-confessed micro-manager and perfectionist, Nicola says she feels better when she does the job herself.
“I am the type of leader who will delegate, but I need to know at the end of day that everything I’ve asked for was handled properly and executed to my satisfaction,” she says, adding that she is only as good as her staff, whom she hand-selects and trains. She acts as their day-to-day general manager. “Sharing my knowledge with each team member is the key to our mutual success.”
Despite her hectic workload and extensive travel, Nicola loves every single part of what she does. “I get out of bed every morning with excitement to conquer and accomplish everything related to my job as CEO for Cayman Fashion Group.”
Nicola’s entrepreneurial spirit began at the age of eight with a newspaper route in Prince Edward Island in Eastern Canada.
“I delivered 178 newspapers every morning before I had to be at school by 8:30 a.m., with my loyal golden Labrador, Major, by my side every single morning. I was the richest self-made kid in elementary school,” she says, also citing her parents as big influences.
“They led by example for me and my three siblings to always show us that you must work hard to succeed in life,” she says, noting that her father was a successful neurosurgeon and her mother a real estate agent with a thriving property rental business.
Nicola worked in many clothing stores along the way and when she was not following her managers around asking countless questions, she was joyfully styling customers. She then took a turn and enrolled in a three-year culinary school, which was followed by a degree from a renowned five-star hotel management school. Years later, Nicola returned to the world of fashion and business, but her earlier training left a lasting impression because strict demands were placed on appearance and attire, from crisply pressed uniforms to perfectly placed hair to polished shoes—all before 5 a.m., when her 12-hour school day would commence.
“Today, this carries through to every one of my six stores, as well as to my team, who do a phenomenal job in always paying attention to the details, and exceeding expectations pertaining to quality professional service.”
MOVE TO CAMANA BAY
Nicola’s first boutique was at The Strand shopping centre and fulfilled a niche in Grand Cayman at that time for designer apparel.
“Back then, if you wanted anything of quality you would have to board a plane and head to Miami’s malls to get the latest and greatest,” she says. “I decided to change that and bring in the quality brands everyone wanted at the exact same United States retail price in Cayman dollars.”
She would also negotiate the best possible terms so that she would receive the goods at the same time stores in cities like New York, London and Tokyo received them — a philosophy she still embraces today. The store was beginning to outgrow its small space when Nicola received an opportunity to tour Camana Bay, which was still a construction site at the time, but was promised to grow into a “bustling town centre.” She knew it was the ideal setting to launch her flagship boutique, NKY, which opened in March 2008; three more boutiques would follow in the Town Centre between then and 2011.
“It was a risk, but having been in business negotiations for years in real estate transactions, I knew the words well, ‘no risk, no reward,’” she says.
For anyone looking to open a business, Nicola offers this sage advice: “Start small, learn the business, take small steps, excel in customer service, take calculated risks, and be realistic with your goals. That’s what I did.”