How Natasha Nurse Went From Lawyer to Lifestyle Guru
June 23, 2017 | Filed in: Woman of the Week
When MM was in the process of developing First Addition (our new extended size range), one of the first people we called for advice was Natasha Nurse. The co-founder of Dressing Room 8, a website-turned-business that provides coaching and consulting related to plus size fashion and body positivity, Natasha appears to do exactly what she wants, when she wants to—but it wasn’t always that way. Here, she talks about her path to entrepreneurship, her former law career, and why fashion can be the great equalizer.
I AM A LAWYER BY TRADE. I graduated from New York Law School in 2011, but I didn’t go down the traditional attorney path; I did legal recruiting, and then I worked for a company that did bar prep. Then, in December of 2015, the company let go of 30 percent of directors across the country, and I was one of them. At that juncture, I had to decide if I was going to get another job, or if I was going to invest in myself—and I chose the latter.
I WANTED TO START MY OWN BUSINESS because I always felt like my identity wasn’t in line with my work environment. Some employers would say I was too loud, or I had too many suggestions, or I didn’t fit the gist of what they were looking for. I had an idea to start a website that focused on plus size fashion as a tool for empowerment, so I found a business partner and launched Dressing Room 8. That led to consulting with plus size brands on social media and content branding strategy. More recently, I added coaching to the mix, because I found that I was often in a position where I was helping people with their goals. Part of my experience in bar prep taught me how to do that—how do you find what you need to be successful? Now I work with women in different parts of the country who use my services to improve their public speaking and start or run their own businesses. We teach women and girls about the art of networking, how to be more body confident, how to dress in a way that feels great, and how to advance their careers.
I LIKED MY PREVIOUS JOBS, but I never felt like I was celebrated as a person in any of them. I never felt like I was given the leeway and the freedom to be as creative as I wanted. I’d had enough of suppressing who I am to work in an environment with all these rules, regulations, and scrutiny. If I’m going to go through drama, I want to do it for my own self. I don’t want to do it to satisfy someone else.
I’VE BEEN CHALLENGED in every state of my life—I was bullied for being a plus size and chastised for not being the right kind of employee, and it got to a threshold where I was willing to say, “You know what, I have an idea, and I can do this.” Bravery gives you opportunities. Our business grew from my power of being unafraid and unapologetic and putting myself out there. I believe that “no” is just “not now.” A lot of people hear “no” and totally crumble, but I’ll keep pitching.
I THINK WORK-LIFE BALANCE doesn’t really exist. You’re aiming for harmony. I don’t necessarily have a time when I completely shut down, but the best way for me to have harmony is to have activities or people that force you to turn off your phone sometimes—things you treasure that will take you away from being online, from taking calls, from email. It takes time to plan the life you want for yourself. Every call I take or email I send, I plot it out in my calendar. I have to carve out time for myself, and time to think. It keeps me in control, and it keeps from getting to the point of resenting how my time is used.
I’VE ALWAYS CHASED opportunities to do new and different things. As a kid, I played the flute at Carnegie Hall when I was 11, and I worked for NASA doing carbon storage research at 14. I went to Penn State for undergrad, where I met my husband, who’s an electrical engineer, and we’ve been together since we were 18—it’ll be 13 years this September. We both have the entrepreneurial bug; we’ll talk about voids we see in the market, and watch business-oriented TV shows together.
BOTH OF MY PARENTS are from Kingston, Jamaica, and were models of hard work for me. I was born here, and my mom went to school full-time and worked full-time. She sometimes went days on end without sleeping—you do what you need to do in life. My dad is that type of militant person, too. I would get a 98 on an exam and his response was, “Why didn’t you get the other two points?” I’ve grown up with the attitude of never being complacent. You can always do more, even when you’re at the top of your game, and not just professionally: What are you doing for your community? How are you inspiring other people? The idea of doing multiple jobs is something I’ve carried since I was a child. A lot of kids grow up thinking they should be one thing—a doctor, a lawyer, a journalist—but in reality, we’re all multifaceted individuals.
I LOVE HOW FASHION can make you feel special. It’s an opportunity for us to feel good, and worthy of everything we deserve in our lives. As a plus size person, you’re going to be scrutinized in a way that others aren’t because you’re defiant. You don’t fit society’s picture of normal. Whenever you’re outside of that parameter, people judge you, and fashion is a great tool for you to say, “I may not be ‘straight size,’ but I can dress like the best of them. I can create looks that make me feel powerful.” In that sense, fashion can be an equalizer. Unfortunately, a lot of plus size women don’t feel catered to or supported by the industry, and only now are brands like MM.LaFleur offering beautiful options for women who need something to wear to work or events. It’s crazy that even in 2017, a woman will ask a designer to dress her, and the designer won’t because that woman is a plus size. I hope that in ten years, or even five years, that’s not the case—because all people have to get dressed. We don’t live in a naked world. People need options.
WHEN MM WAS CREATING PLUS SIZES, I like that you took the time to hold focus groups and hear the consumer’s perspective. You did your due diligence, and showed that you care. A lot of plus size brands cater to the sexy side of things, but not all of us want to look that way. We’re lawyers and mothers or we just don’t want to show skin for whatever reason. Personally, I don’t want to expose all of my bust or my behind. You should definitely have fun with clothing, but make sure you’re finding what works for you. You have to understand how to dress for your body type, and what you’re projecting.
CLOTHING SHOULD NOT BE AN INHIBITOR—you want it to be effortless. You want it to take you from day to night and make you feel like you can do anything. That confidence is only going to fuel you. When you feel good in something, you’re going to have a better stance—your posture will be better, and that affects how you communicate with people. Your self-doubt diminishes. That’s why fashion is more than people like to think. It’s definitely more than putting on clothes. It’s a way for you to live the life you want.
Photos by Maria Karas.