Meet Nikki McAvity of Robot Bunnies LLC., a local Arizona designer who is combining functionality with FIERCE design here in the Valley. Nikki sat down with me to provide some insight into this rapidly growing brand.
Hi Nikki, give us a little background on yourself and how you got into the fashion industry?
My career started in NYC in the beauty industry, where I worked in-house at Estee Lauder Companies in Public Relations. I first worked for the Prescriptives brand and then Clinique (both owned by Lauder) and spent 8 years there before branching out to open my own boutique PR firm called ShopPR. At Lauder, we were often involved with the fashion world, providing products and makeup artist teams to do makeup for the CFDA’s 7th on Sixth fashion shows twice a year.
We would meet with the designers to discuss the looks they were going for, then be behind the scenes during the shows. In this capacity, I worked with designers big and small, from Alexander McQueen’s first NYC runway show to Badgley Mischka to Cynthia Rowley to Teulah, Jill Stuart, etc. After starting ShopPR, I also represented many accessories brands making items like bags and jewelry.
What made you want to create your own line?
Having grown up in NYC with a Mom who was a magazine editor and then becoming a beauty/fashion publicist, I always loved clothes and style and appreciated fantastic design. As a PR person, that fascination was primarily expressed in my own wardrobe and how I styled myself. I would say that I’ve always had a creative and distinctive style.
I enjoyed representing many passionate independent designers and creators of various types but always had a secret dream to design/make something myself to start a brand. Ultimately, it seems only natural that that would be in fashion because that is what I love.
Why the name Robot Bunnies?
I wish I had a better story, but really, It’s a fluke. My son, who has always been obsessed with bunnies, inspired that name. When he was younger, we played with stickers one day and came across one of a robot bunny. I was beginning to plan my line (at that point, more baby- and kid-focused) and thought it was a cute name.
When I switched to making items for adults, I considered whether to change it but still liked it and felt it was viable. There are some really cool Japanese brands out there now with names like A Bathing Ape. I felt Robot Bunnies worked in that vein.
It seems like your style is simple, accessible, but still FIERCE! What made you come up with the idea of having one piece that can be mixed and matched into several different styles?
This capsule collection felt right to me after the year+ of COVID lockdowns and losses for several reasons.
- It doesn’t feel like a time for impractical, high-concept, and insanely expensive fashion. It’s a time for a chic, easy, no-nonsense style with integrity and personal resonance. People really appreciate the human connection of an item that is special, unique, and handmade for them. The fantastic prints created by independent artists only add to that sense of humanity and collaboration. In addition, making-to-order is a more eco-friendly and sustainable business model than producing a bunch of inventory that may or may not sell. I think people appreciate responsibility and conservation in business now more than ever as well.
- The actual items in the collection felt right because they are simple, expressive, versatile, easy to wear, and easy to care for. I think having a selection of 3 items that can work together provides a no-brainer style solution for folks just beginning to shed their lockdown sweats and yoga pants and wear real clothes again.
The core idea is that you can lounge around the house (and/or work from home) in your tank top and matching Boy Shorts – even get on Zoom for business calls – and then throw on your matching Wrap Skirt and be out the door in seconds when it’s time to go to the market or pick up the kids. Also, the natural of a Wrap Skirt and Tank Top & Boy Shorts made from stretchy fabric is that they are very forgiving. Should you lose or gain a few pounds, you would more than likely still wear the same size.
A “perfect fit” is not necessary. Finally, people are starting to go back out in the world and travel, and these are the most convenient travel pieces ever. You can pack around them, including other tops that work with the Wrap Skirt and other bottoms that work with the Tank Top and then sleep in the Boy Shorts, etc.
Do you make all your own fabrics?
No, I don’t make the fabrics. I pour overprints and patterns created by independent artists to find a curated selection that feels right to me for whatever collection I’m working on. Then, I have fabrics printed with those patterns for use in the line.
You don’t just sell apparel but bucket hats, pillows, and face masks! Why did you decide to add those into your line?
I actually started the line focused on items for babies and kids. At that point (in roughly 2018), I discovered and became enchanted with all of the fantastic artist-created patterns one can have printed onto fabric. I went down a rabbit hole, searching for the ones I loved and then mixing them up in exciting ways. So, when Covid hit, I already had a ton of fun and fabulous fabrics.
A friend suggested I try making masks. I wasn’t super excited about the idea but did it anyway. When I threw the masks up on Etsy Shop and Facebook, they just took off like wildfire. I was up until 4 every morning sewing and LOVING IT. I realized right away how thrilling it was to make a wearable item that people loved and felt comfortable in. I knew I was done with the baby stuff. I wanted to make style items for grownups. I always wanted to do it but held back for fear that it would be too complicated (with all of the sizing, etc.).
Next, I launched the hats for spring/summer 2020. Made of 100% cotton denim, each is reversible and pairs a complementary combination of patterns. To me, each is like a piece of art itself. I get so many great reviews about how outstanding the craftsmanship is and the shape of the hat and the patterns it comes in. The throw pillows came next and were really an evolution from the baby pillows I was already doing. Launching the apparel, which I just did in June, has been the culmination of my dream.
I will likely never launch an extensive collection with many items because of how I work, i.e., using indie-artist patterns and artisanal techniques and making each item to order. I’m more interested in offering perfect versions of classic items (i.e., tank tops, wrap skirts) in a wide variety of unique prints that can be worn alone or mixed and matched.
Where can individuals purchase your products? Are they strictly online?
Right now, they are only online – both on my website (www.robotbunnies.com) and Etsy Shop (RobotBunniesllc). Because the fabrics I use are pretty expensive and the workmanship in each item is meticulous, keeping it online allows us to keep the price points accessible.
What is your goal for this line, and what was it like starting this brand amid the pandemic?
My plan is to launch a limited number of items each season that feels right for that season. These can run the gamut from clothing to lifestyle/home items. For instance, for holidays, I plan to focus on tabletop (tablecloths, placemats, napkins, etc.) and kitchen items (aprons, oven mitts, potholders, etc.). Once an item is launched, I won’t take it off the site but, instead, refresh the selection of prints offered in and/or, in some cases, the fabric to something more applicable to the new season.
It was both strange and organic as far as getting a brand off the ground during the pandemic. Even though I wasn’t excited to make masks, I was moved at the time by how difficult things were for the then hardest-hit New York area. Being a native New Yorker, my heart was breaking to see the morgue truck outside a hospital on the block where I grew up and a temporary hospital erected in Central Park where I played as a child. I wanted to do something to help. So, when I first offered the masks, I gave 3 away to frontline workers in the NY tri-state area for everyone I sold. With so many people losing their livelihoods, it felt strange to suddenly have a thriving business because of the pandemic.
At the same time, I was honored to make an item that would protect people’s health while letting them feel a little more comfortable and attractive in something as foreign (at that time) as a face mask. Because my items are made to order, and probably because I have been the primary model for Robot Bunnies (and people see me all over the website), I interact with my customers significantly. There is a fundamental human connection, and they know the item is being made especially for them.
This is something I have loved about my business, and I think my customers have too, especially during such a scary and uncertain time.