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  • Valerie Hope

Ep. 62 - Not Quite Strangers: Making Your Brand About Style, Not Just Fashion

Updated: Jul 2

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Not Quite Strangers: Making Your Brand About Style, Not Just Fashion

This time is an opportunity to hang out with a couple of random people, at least for you guys. They are not random to me, but they may be random to readers. Hopefully, this is an opportunity to build some curiosity about what we're talking about and who we are as people, shift our perspectives about meeting strangers or some topic we discussed, and build a connection. Establishing a connection is the core of this show.

The universe has some amazing ways to work because I'm never at a loss for meeting interesting people. The two people I have here with me are as interesting as many of my guests, but I'll tell you why. First of all, we'll start with Indiya Martinez. Indiya and I met because you were my Lyft driver when I was going to the airport.

It was an early flight. I had to be at the airport by 6:00 in the morning. You came to pick me up at 4:00 or 5:00. In that 25-minute time, we had this cool conversation about your love for all things vintage and fashion. I was like, “This is interesting. I didn't want to stop our conversation.” At that moment, I was like, “Indiya, you should be on my show. I know who I would pair you up with.”

Nadia is my fashionista friend. She has been my fashion stylist over the last few months. You and I met because of a common friend that we have. We have a friend, Dominique, who introduced me because I was asking her, “I am looking to change up my style. I need some support. It's hard to do it by myself.” She introduced the two of us.

The cool thing is that you're in Switzerland. We've worked together for the last several months. Your joy and passion for expressing your personal style and helping other people discover their style, I thought, you and Indiya would have a fascinating conversation about this because both of you were keen and interesting. I thought, “Whatever could go wrong if we talk about fashion with people who love it?” Welcome to the show.

Thank you, Valerie, for the invitation. I'm looking forward to talking about fashion.

Let's start with a couple of things. One is, besides the fact that I invited you, why did the two of you say yes to being on a show to talk with a stranger?

I love meeting new people. It's one of my passions in life. It's also what I prefer with my job. Meeting new people from different cultures and countries, I've always been interested in that.

Indiya, what about you?

One, I didn't want the conversation to end. Number two, I'm a secret Lyft driver. No one else knows about it. I do it early. I meet the most interesting people when I do it. It was great to think about, “We get to continue our conversation.” I get to meet someone new. From having an online boutique and doing events, I love meeting new people. I'm an introvert, but I love meeting new people in that moment because when it's talking about those things that I love, I forget that I'm an introvert.

You said you were a secret Lyft driver. Did I out you to the world?

My mom and boyfriend know, but no one else knows. They were like, “Why are you up at 4:30 in the morning?” I'm like, “I'm good.”

I apologize. I didn't realize it was a secret.

It's not a problem. It's not like I'm murdering people.

One of the reasons that the two of you would be such a great match is this whole idea of fashion and personal style. Both of you have come to it and expressed it in different ways. Talk to us about what it is that got you interested in fashion and style. What does that look like for you?

Maybe Indiya, because it's my job. I'm more curious about why Indiya is passionate about fashion.

When I was younger, I was raised a lot around my grandmother. I had an aunt. She's eight years older than me. She would always get the Vogue Magazine and Mademoiselle. I remember Linda Evangelista's spreads from back then. I fell in love with those things and the jewelry. When my grandma would take me to the store and, as bribery, give me a couple of dollars, I would get the little bag of jewelry and the gaudiest item of clothing possible that spoke to me at 5 and 6 years old. The mink fur looks like ferrets together, I was like, “I love that.” I want to put that on with fifteen necklaces of all different types of metal, but it helped me to develop my style from there.

I've never been dressed like everyone else. I end up getting a lot of compliments. I had a lady come up to me. There's a little neighborhood bar that we go to. One night, I had this beautiful vintage wrap that I had gotten from one of my thrift store halls. I had these gorgeous cameos. Someone had taken, combined two cameos together, and put beautiful pieces of gold chain. They made it their own. It had these huge pearls. I had it right here. I had my little thigh-high suede boots on.

This lady comes up to me. She's like, “You do know you're in a neighborhood bar.” I was like, “Yes.” One of my friends who's known me. Chris was sitting next to me. He's like, “ It doesn't matter. Wherever she goes, she's going to be overdressed because that's who she is.” She was like, “You have on suede boots and a vintage wrap.” I was like, “Yes.” I had on huge hoop earrings, and my hair was curly. My hair was down and crazy looking. She's like, “I love your style. I would never be brave enough to wear that.” I was like, “The people that live in my head, we are all friends together. Whatever we want to put on, we're going to put it on.”

Nadia, what do you think about that?

Indiya has a personal style. She is putting into practice what I want my clients to do. Having their personal style is a way to express who they are. In Europe, we like to think that appearance is not important, but it's the other way around. Appearance is important because it's an extension of our identity. Every day, when we dress up, we decide what we want to communicate to the world. I don't want people to look all the same. I would love every single woman or man to look unique. Personal style is a way to express our uniqueness. It's what you are doing already.

I have been a character. I've always been aware of who I am, and I am different. Doing that and being transplanted to Texas, as I've gotten older, I had gone through phases of wanting to be because aside from my secret Lyft driving, my actual job is as an accountant. They tend to be vanilla. Walking into the office with my vintage jewelry and the dress code I had to wear prior to COVID was the only way I could express myself.

When I was starting out in my career, and as I got further into it, I developed a style to still express it. No, I'm not vanilla. I have a creative mind, and I'm intelligent. I'm able to get my job done, but I'm going to wear that vintage seashell necklace with the shells on it or my hoop earrings. Someone else was like, “That doesn't go together.” Everything goes together with me. I'm going to figure out a commonality. Once I put it on, it's like, “I'm good, and I feel good.”

Nadiya, can you tell us how you got involved in this idea of developing a personal style? Why does that even matter to you?

We have a common point with Indiya. I have a first professional life. I used to be a banker in wealth management. I had to have a strict dress code. I've been interested in fashion ever since I was a child. With my first pocket money, I wanted to buy dresses. I admired all the fabrics, colors, and the feeling of being well-dressed according to my taste. I am originally from Italy. In Italy, it's part of the culture to like fashion. In banking, I realized how our image and style can impact our self-confidence, self-esteem, and success.

After twenty years, my need for more creativity was important, and I changed my work life. I started a new profession. I was trained in Italy and Paris. What I want to reach with my profession is to help women feel more confident and beautiful. When we are confident and beautiful, we perform better. You are more happy. When you are more happy, everything goes better.

When we are confident and beautiful, we perform better.

It's the main reason because even if we are in a corporate world, we can express our personal style while being credible, professionally-wise. I've seen many women renouncing their personal taste because they wanted to be vanilla to fit in with what was expected from them. I've seen many women exaggerating their style and losing their credibility. Our image does not influence our expertise, but it does influence the perception of our competencies or expertise.

I had a coffee with a friend. He told me that he had hired a young woman. She arrived the first day at the office with a deep V-neck. This is not appropriate. We then complain that women are not taken seriously enough. There is a balance in everything. I want to help people to express their personality while being aligned with their environment, position, or industry.

I'm far on the other side of the spectrum from the two of you when it comes to fashion. I don't recall ever wanting to buy anything related to clothing, jewelry, or any of those things at any point in my childhood. I did have dolls, but my mom told me I used to pretend to teach my doll. I was a teacher. This is what I do now. I was expressing that part of myself.

I grew up with three brothers. My mother wasn't a girly girl. Dressing up was never a big deal. She was always practical. I grew up that way. What's been interesting is I've had moments. I want to ask how your style has evolved over the years. I've gone from the tomboy. I don't care what I wear. I want to be comfortable hanging out with all my friends and doing stuff, like, “I want to dress it up. I want to fit in professionally.” I didn't want to fit in well, and I didn't feel like my personality showed.

I've gone through all sorts of layers. Now, I'm like, “How do I express certain qualities of my personality through my style?” Nadia, you've helped me identify the best palette to wear for my skin tone. That's been helpful. I'm curious about how the two of you have evolved since you were children buying mink and dresses. How did you evolve your style over time?

After my banking career, I let my creativity express itself. It helped me to know myself better.

Through my style, I express who I am. I am quite a rebellious person. I'm a rebel. I like to feel free. I like my hippie style. I want to express rock bohemian. If I am in a corporate environment, there is always a piece showcasing this personal style. I don't know if I'm answering the question, but my style has evolved to a more rock and roll bohemian style, much less classical. When I wear a suit, I feel like, “It's not me. I'm like an actress.”

Indiya, what about you? How have you evolved?

It was one of the things for me, and she talked about that. It was the fabrics. My mom is a seamstress. As I got older, I did not hate going to the fabric store, and I started to touch everything because before, it had to be made, and I needed it to see it. I started learning more about fabrics and patterns. Growing up, in elementary school, the way my mom dressed me, I had slacks, and the teacher had slacks. Our slacks were the same color. I was in kindergarten. All I remember thinking was, “When I can dress myself, lady, I can dress myself.”

Once I got to junior high, I went with the trend. When I was in junior high here in Texas, everybody was wearing penny loafers. I still love Hogan as a designer. Other people are like, “Hogan?” They think they only made shoes. They had amazing products when we were younger and didn't know that. I'm older. I sold a vintage Hogan purse. It was well made, but they have good quality products. As I've gotten older, I love vintage things that are some tried and true classic things.

I have the blazer with the elbow pads on it. It's not in navy blue or black. I have it in heather gray with navy blue patches on it. It's a certain brand and a classic style. You have to have at least one of those things in there. It still has a little bit of me because it's heather gray. It's not a normal color. When I wear it, I wear it with some navy blue pencil pants with the little slits on the side. I love shoes. I'm going to have a nice shoe with it. Either it's going to be a boot if it's this time of the year, or it's going to be a nice little chunky heel with some color.

Throughout the years, there are certain designers who have spoken to me about the things that they've created and designed. Some people, like one of my aunts, told me the other day. There are other designers that are way better, but I love Jessica Simpson's shoes. They're not the most comfortable, but I love her shoes. I love the design, pops of color, and sequins.

Am I going to wear an all-sequin outfit? No, I am not. I will put that on with something else that's quiet. I've learned. Once I first start dressing myself, I'm going to put on all the necklaces at one time. I learned less is more. I'm going to have on a beautiful asymmetrical. I know the certain types of styles that look good on me. I'm going to have an asymmetrical dress on. That's a classic style. I may have it with something with a bunch of colors. I have some solid pieces to go along with it.

One of the other things that I love and collect is Betsey Johnson. Betsey Johnson's style is out there. I wish I could be completely out there, but I am an accountant. There are parts of me that I'm still going to be rigid with. I'm going to have that, but I’m going to have on five rings and carry one of her purses. They're all going to be in the same metal.

My style has learned that I can still have those nice iconic pieces, but I can take and marry them. I’m always making sure that I still shine through and I'm wearing it. If I put on something, I'm like, “That's something you would wear.” Even my sister would call me and be like, “I've seen this.” I knew that this was something people knew because of how they understood and saw it.

They know your style. They've seen you.

I'm only 47, but I haven't been curating this style for a long time.

I have a question for you. When you dress up, it's for you to feel good. Have you experienced being perceived in the wrong way that you wanted to be perceived?

Yes, I have.

Is this a problem for you or not?

Not anymore. It was a problem for me in the beginning. The evolution of times has helped that not to be a problem anymore. I do have tattoos. I have been in Corporate America. I didn't get my tattoos until I was an adult, not when I was fifteen. When I got my first tattoo, I was aware of what I was doing. It was when I was nineteen years old.

My tattoos are strategically placed. However, if I wear a U-shaped sweater, it may come down, and you may see something. When you're having a conference and sitting in a boardroom with executives, I'm presenting their financials to them, and someone is looking at me, and they see that. I have to defend my knowledge because this was before tattoos were accepted. I always had to be aware of what I was wearing and make sure that nothing was showing, which is why I have my blazers and cardigans. As time has evolved, it's now way more accepted because I'm sitting there with the owner of the company, who has a full sleeve. He doesn't care.

Indiya, you confirmed to me that our image influences our chances of success or happiness because a first impression is made in three seconds, and you explained before that your style did impact the perception of your capabilities. You are confirming what I was explaining before. My question to you is, did you feel sad or unhappy that you were not perceived the way you are? The level of your capabilities was not perceived how they should be. Did you suffer from that or not?

Not Quite Strangers | Making Your Brand
Making Your Brand: Our image influences our chances of success because the first impression is done in three seconds.

My initial reaction was I was angry. I was angry because I had fought hard for my education and to make sure that I was knowledgeable about all of the things that I did related to finance and accounting because I'd worked myself through the industry. I've worked myself through accounting within different industries. It was offputting to me because of that. That initial anger was my first reaction. After that, it did go to sadness for a moment because I won't allow myself to stay in that space very long. What I did was challenge myself. I have to work ten times.

You said you felt angry. You're upset and sad that those things had an impact. This is interesting. Nadia, you've asked me a lot of those same questions. This is not a coaching session, Nadia. Stand down. No one's told me this. I've never had someone do or say anything that made me perceive that somehow how I was dressed or not dressed impacted their trust in me or credibility. I'm not saying that doesn't happen. I'm not saying I can't read other people's minds, but there's a line.

The two of you have said it beautifully. You found a space in which you could express your true selves fully. You express yourselves fully. For me, it's always been a balance of I don't want to have to work hard at it. You listed all of these different brand names and the metals. You have all these details, and I'm like, “I don't want to work that hard. I want this to be easy and comfortable.” Nadia, you helped me find a middle ground. You’re like, “Focus on these things and simplify.” That's helped somewhat. How do you guys reconcile what society wants and expects versus what feels authentic to you?

There is a balance. You need to find the right balance between respecting yourself and your personality and what the world is expecting from you.

Find the right balance between respecting you and your personality and what the world expects from you.

How do you know when you're balanced and when you're not? What should people pay attention to, or what do you pay attention to?

It's why I exist and have been trained to. Everything is about non-verbal communication. The color speaks about you. With the style, we have what we call a style DNA. For women, there are different style DNA. It’s when you know your personal style, colors, and how to flatter your figure. Indiya, one question I had for you was, do you matter? Are you interested in flattering your figure, or do you want to express your creativity?

I'm aware of my figure and the things that look good on me. That comes from reading Mademoiselle, Vogue, and all of these magazines while growing up. Those are the things that it's like, “This is what's going to look good on me.” I learned and started being aware of the types of dresses that I was buying and knowing I was a little bit shorter. I identify as being tall, but I am shorter.

I don't remember what we were talking about before, but there's something interesting that Nadia is talking about. That was the distinction between style and fashion. The thing that comes to mind for me, based on what the two of you shared, is part of who we are is expressed through how we look and show up in this space. You also said not only how we look but also how we feel about how we look. Let me ask this. How do the two of you feel about how you look when you walk into a space dressed with creativity or with the style that you want to express? How does it feel? What emotions or sensations come up?

Not Quite Strangers | Making Your Brand
Making Your Brand: A big part of who we are is expressed through how we look.

I feel confident. All of my knowledge exudes through that confidence.

Nadia, what about you? How do you feel?

I also feel confident and aligned. For me, it's important. When I'm wearing the clothes that I like, I feel beautiful. Even if I have a complex part of my set that I don't like, I always feel beautiful and confident.

Culturally, how has your culture influenced this perception about your style or how you express yourself in your style? We're talking about Texas, the United States, Switzerland, and Italy. How would you guys say that your surroundings, culture, and upbringing influenced this idea of this style that you've established?

In Italy, style and fashion is an important topic. Switzerland is a bit different, but in Italy, all the people are concerned about feeling good and wearing clothes that flatter themselves. It's deep in the culture. I'm talented for that. I've been influenced by that, even if I have a mother who is not interested in fashion at all. She sees me on social media. She talked to me and said, “I don't know why you started to love clothes because I'm different from you. I cannot understand. Maybe it’s because of your grandma.” My grandmother used to be used to create clothes. My Italian part influenced me. I want to look my best all the time. It can be in jeans and a T-shirt. I'm not speaking about dressing up. We can look beautiful with jeans and a T-shirt.

Style and fashion is a very important topic in Italy. Italians are concerned about feeling good and wearing clothes that flutter themselves because it's engraved in their culture.

Indiya, what would you say to that?

My culture did not play any key factor in it. I've always been the person who, if I like something, I like it. The colors, different styles, the magazines, and my mom being a seamstress are the things that influence me in that aspect because I know what's going to look nice on me. I know my sizes and the evolution of sizes I've been through. My culture did not have an impact on me in that aspect because I've always been myself. I've never let that be a deciding factor in me and how I interact with my world.

Both of you are aligned when it comes to that. It's embedded in who you are, how you show up in the world, and what's important to you, which is why I was like, “This is the matchup.” The one thing I will say I'm struggling with as it relates to the topic of fashion and style is the consumerism of it. There's always something more to get. There's another piece of jewelry, a handbag, and a pair of shoes. All those types of things and how sustainable it is.

I remember seeing a presentation at UC Berkeley. We have a course where we ask students to give a passion speech. In his passion speech, one of the students talked about when he and his wife had traveled to China, which is where they're from. They went to Hong Kong and all the high-end fashion houses there. They had an opportunity to look there.

He talked about his wife going to one of the cities in China where they manufacture some of the clothing for these fashion houses and the conditions that he saw. The pollution was a result of what he saw in the manufacturing process. It helped me think much more deeply about the impact of what we wear and choose and how much we buy on our planet. Has that ever crossed your mind? How do you guys reconcile some of that? Does it matter?

It was one of the reasons I wanted to help people to consume less and better. My personal case was interesting because I used to consume a lot. I wanted to compensate for the frustration that I had in my professional life and personal life with fashion. I was passionate about fashion. I was buying and buying to feel better.

Not Quite Strangers | Making Your Brand
Making Your Brand: Consume less. Create more.

When I changed jobs, I realized the impact of the fashion industry on the planet. I became more aware. I changed my mindset. Now, I want to wear only clothes that make me feel good and that are my personal style, even if they are not trendy. I'm not concerned about trends anymore. I buy less and better because I know what makes me feel good. I also like secondhand. I was a good client for secondhand shops.

Not Quite Strangers | Making Your Brand
Making Your Brand: I buy less and better because I know what makes me feel good.

Indiya has one vintage shop. Indiya, what about you?

That's one of the reasons why I love vintage things. A lot of the materials, the artistry, the jewelry, and the clothing are not the same quality. At least 90% of my wardrobe is vintage. I take good care of those items so I'm able to turn around and return them for someone else to love later on. One of the reasons why I have a boutique store is because I want people to understand the story of the product or the purse. It's a basketweave purse. It's gorgeous. I'll take the time to research it and be able to give the buyer of that purse the story about it. The jewelry is the same thing.

They have a story. Those stories need to be told. They also need to get a new life with someone new after you've had them take care of them so they're able to have a second life. If there are repairs that need to be done, from my mom being a seamstress, she's taught me. She's also taught her granddaughter. I will repair something. I have no problem with it. I love it. I will change something if I need to.

There's always a way to make it your own. People don't realize that. People don't think about that. People don't think about the conditions of the workers. It may have only taken a few dollars to make this item, but it's being sold for thousands of dollars. In the same respect, people also don't know that a Louis Vuitton purse when they're handmade and the details.

If you ever watch how a purse is made or a piece of jewelry is made, you would have a way different respect for those items because you see the artistry, the care, and the detail that go into it for the artist that's making it. I want to celebrate the artist. I want to celebrate their endeavor and what they've made. I make jewelry, and I know that it's tea. If I string a whole necklace and take it apart because it's not what I want, it's a passion. I want to show someone else's passion and care for it.

It would be helpful for anyone who's been reading this conversation. The two of you have had quite a journey in your own lives to express your style and the meaning that your style has to you personally, but also what you want to project to other people. If you were to give the readers some advice or challenge them to do or think in a different way, what would each of you want to invite the viewers and listeners to do as a result of our conversation?

On my side, I would like the readers to try to consume less and more consciously and think that every item has a spirit. Indiya is explaining that well. I would love the readers to appreciate every item they have and try to put fashion at their service instead of being a fashion victim.

Fashion at your service versus fashion victim, I like that.

Some people have their own qualms about thrift stores, secondhand shops, or boutiques of vintage items. I would challenge a person. If you're in Dallas, we can go together. Go to any thrift store and consignment shop. If you're a woman, look in the dresses. Don't scan through and look at, “This color speaks to me.” Go through each of the dresses, pull them out, and look at the ones that are truly vintage. Look at the details and think about the tools that that person may have had during that time period when they made it.

That would give someone a different appreciation for it to take and look at the details of it, not like, “This is a dress. It's an A-line dress.” Look at the details and think about the person who made it, or think about how it was made. The appreciation and the details would help a person to have a better appreciation for those things.

We might need to take a field trip because I don't usually look at vintage. I might take you up on that, Indiya. Not to look from the consumer perspective but to honor the craftsmanship that went into it. It speaks to being able to appreciate the item. I have to admit. I don't think I do. There are fifteen of them on the rack. I find the one that's my size, that I like the shape or color, and that seems to fit my palette, but I don't think about who put it together and how it got to the store. I don't think about the craftsmanship that went into designing this particular cut. It’s a nice challenge. As we wrap up our conversation, share with each other. In light of all the challenges that we experienced, what are you taking from our interaction?

What I'm taking away from the conversation is consuming it less because I buy 18 pounds of jewelry at a time from an auction. It gives me hours of pleasure going through them.

To support you, Indiya, I'll make sure to put the link to your online shop. You have an online shop. People can help you get rid of your 18 pounds of jewelry if you're selling it.

I would have to list it to happen.

Nadia, what about you?

What I take with me is it's about creativity. I was impressed by Indiya talking about the creativity behind the items and the clothes and how fashion can help to express creativity even if we are not in a creative job. Indiya is an accountant. I used to be a banker. Fashion helps us to express our creativity. I would love to see more people doing this.

I want to thank the two of you for our conversation and whatever it took for you to be here and be engaged in this conversation to share a bit of yourself. We might be able to follow some of you. If you have some of your fashion or style displays online, I'll put it so people can follow you and see some of the things that you were talking about.

More than anything. What the two of you share is the freedom for people to own their self-expression and do it in ways that are conscious. That honors those who put together the items we choose to express ourselves. That could be said for many things, our vehicles, foods, and furniture. Thank you both so much for being here and sharing a bit of yourself with us.

Own your self-expression. Do it in ways that are conscious and that honor those that put together the items that we choose to express ourselves.

Thank you for inviting us.

Before you leave, I'm going to say to the people who've been reading, thank you all for tuning in to this episode. Please like us, favorite us, or rate us on your favorite platform. That's a way for other people to find out about this. Thank you all so much for reading. Have a wonderful rest of the day, everyone.

Important Links 

Strangers: Meet Indiya Martinez & Nadia De Col

From: Nebraska/Texas/USA & Italy/Switzerland

Connect With:

Indiya Martinez

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Nadia De Col

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·         Website

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