With a simple but effective business concept, Nicola de Lima, owner of Cayman Fashion Group, the island’s largest fashion designer retailer for men and women, says she is catering directly to the varied fashion needs of Cayman with five stores.
“My philosophy is very simple,” said de Lima. “It has always been to bring in the best brands in today’s market, buy what our customers want, and to sell them at the same U.S. retail price in Cayman dollars.
“My vision was to bring my passion for fashion to the Cayman Islands. One store at a time. One designer brand at a time.”
De Lima was born and raised in Prince Edward Island, Canada, so she is an island girl at heart and very much at home here in Cayman. Trained in the hospitality business, de Lima started out in hotel management in Europe before moving to Cayman in 1994 as a food and beverage manager.
“I always admired, watched and followed fashion passionately, although I was in another profession,” said de Lima. “I knew it was my calling.”
While dealing with many residents and tourists, de Lima listened closely to comments that matched how she felt about a very obvious gap in the market. “There was little to no shopping or selection for fashion on the island and everyone hopped on a plane whenever retail therapy was in order,” de Lima said. “I always loved fashion and dreamed fashion. The time was right and I saw it as an opportunity to bring fashion to the Cayman Islands.”
De Lima opened her first store, a Ralph Lauren boutique on Seven Mile Beach, in late 2005. The Ritz-Carlton, Grand Cayman opened the same day. NKY Menswear followed in 2007, when she was the first retail tenant in the middle of a construction site at Camana Bay. The store offered Ralph Lauren, Lacoste, Hugo Boss and Robert Graham.
“They say there’s nothing better than a well-dressed man,” said de Lima.
“That’s true. We have men of all sizes in Cayman, and I proudly can say we do dress a large segment of Cayman’s best-dressed men.”
NKY Collections followed soon after, stocking all the popular brands. Big names in fashion like DVF, BCBGMAXAZRIA, Halston Heritage and Herve Leger, were now available in Cayman.
“People were drawn to it,” de Lima said.
“It didn’t matter, construction site or not, people came and wanted fashion and asked for more brands.”
Her next store was SOLES Shoe Salon, offering shoes for both beach and brunch, as well as footwear suitable for the red carpet at the many gala events on island. De Lima then opened The Jean Bar – a premium denim store.
De Lima’s fifth store is Fifth on Seven in Caribbean Plaza. This brings to mind both Fifth Avenue, the iconic fashion street in New York, and “7th on Sixth,” the name that the Council of Fashion Designers of America gave to New York Fashion Week’s first home in Bryant Park from 1993 to 2010.
De Lima’s latest inspiration has a bright modernist interior and offers resort wear for men and women.
“Anything and everything you can want,” said de Lima, “within footsteps of the most beautiful beach in the world.”
To stock her five stores, which include men’s, women’s, kids’ apparel, footwear, designer handbags, accessories and fashion jewelry, de Lima travels widely with her husband Patrick. They visit designer showrooms, fashion shows and attend private viewings across the U.S., Caribbean, Europe, Central America, South America and Asia at least 30 times per year.
“We touch, feel and see every sample and have models try everything for us to see the fit before we buy it for our stores,” said de Lima.
“We only will buy the best of the best of any collection, bar none.”
De Lima’s preference is go to the showrooms. “It is much more personal and intimate,” she said.
“The shows are packed and busy and not at all the same one-on-one experience that you get with a designer in their own showroom.”
When shopping for pieces, de Lima says she looks out for collections to suit the Cayman style and weather, including breathable fabrics, Cayman-style color palettes, and silhouettes that flatter different body types.
“I wanted to create a brand that would dress everyone,” de Lima said.
“When I mean everyone, I envisioned from the very petite woman to the curvy full-figured Caribbean woman.”
Cayman Fashion Group also buys pieces from spring/summer and fall/winter collections.
“Cayman has a large segment that travel to cooler temperatures throughout the year,” de Lima explained.
“They need pieces from fall/winter to get them through the different climates.”
As well as bringing international brands to the island, de Lima is very supportive of the talent of local designers. At Cayman Islands Fashion Week in April, the team from CFG were right on the front row near actor Trai Byers, who had flown in from the U.S. with Caymanian actress Grace Gealey, the co-presenter of the show.
“My team and I were all very impressed with the high quality of designs and what these accomplished designers put on the runway,” said de Lima.
“I was especially proud of the local Cayman designers and what they brought on stage. We have amazing local talent in our own backyard.”
“I love fashion, I breathe fashion. I know fashion,” said de Lima.
“I want to make people look and feel beautiful. That’s what really means the most to me. I would never have been able to achieve what I’ve achieved with my brand without my loyal customers.”
Today, NKY carries more than 180 of the top-most, sought-after designer brands on the market.