Her clothes are in every fashion editor’s closet.
And yet we know very little about her.
How is that possible?
She rarely gives interviews. She doesn’t advertise. She just stays focused on the work.
Nili Lotan launched her brand in 2003 with six pieces and $25,000.
Today, it’s a $100 million business.
How'd she do it?
By creating clothes women want to wear. Every single day.
ALINA CHO: You worked for Ralph Lauren. You worked for Liz Claiborne. You worked for Nautica. You were a senior designer for Adrienne Vittadini. You were channeling other people's visions and you decided, “I’ve got my own vision.”
NILI LOTAN: That's correct.
ALINA CHO: What was the white space you were trying to fill in the market?
NILI LOTAN: It’s interesting because today I talk a lot about the white space that I filled. When I started, it was such a spontaneous move. I did not have a business plan. I did not have investments. I [just] wanted to prove [to] myself that I [could] create something valid, different than anybody else and to give [women] a reason to buy my clothes.
So, I did have a strategy from a product perspective.
ALINA CHO: Which was what?
NILI LOTAN: I always was wearing denim and jeans all my life. I [had] a concept of creating casual pants that are as sexy and as handy as a denim but they're not denim, they are made from cotton.
It was a very small vision and a very small niche and a very small white space, to your point, but that's what I [saw as an] opportunity from a product segment. I started with five or six garments.
ALINA CHO: Six pieces, I read. Three pairs of pants, two jackets and a skirt.
NILI LOTAN: Exactly.
ALINA CHO: When did you realize that things were catching on?
NILI LOTAN: Honestly, right at the beginning. Those [six] pieces took off. The first order I got out of nowhere was a half-million-dollar order. The next one was $1.2 million, then $3 million.
ALINA CHO: What do you think people were responding to?
NILI LOTAN: Very few designers focus on the casual side of life.
Most designers, in their fantasy, they're doing gowns. For me, it was like, "Okay, what do I need that I don't have?"
ALINA CHO: One of your trademarks is this military aesthetic. Your military pant is still a bestseller today.
Your military jacket is iconic. In fact, the back of that jacket has your number from [your time in] the Israeli Air Force. Is that right?
NILI LOTAN: Right. Yes. I actually took as an inspiration a pilot flight suit. I lived on an air force base for three years. I myself served in the army for two years, so [these uniforms were] part of my background. Hearing airplanes flying over my head was the sound of the music that I heard, so it was very close to my heart.
ALINA CHO: Wow.
NILI LOTAN: By the way, the photographer Annie Leibovitz was once interviewed, and I happened to be there. Someone was asking her to give advice to young creative people. One of the things she said is, "Always go to something close to you, something close to your heart."
ALINA CHO: Because that’s what will be the most authentic.
NILI LOTAN: She actually started to shoot her parents, her father. For me, it was a natural thing to grab something that I had in the closet and start from there.
ALINA CHO: Can you quantify how big a company you are right now, in terms of distribution, in terms of sales?
NILI LOTAN: We are in about 300, 350 stores worldwide. By the end of the year, I'm going to have seven retail stores of my own. And we have a pretty hefty digital business, e-commerce.
ALINA CHO: I love your e-commerce site, by the way. It probably saved you during the pandemic.
NILI LOTAN: Saved me during the pandemic.
ALINA CHO: Next year, you will be celebrating 20 years in business. I'm curious to know whether you think about the next 20 years — where you want to take the business.
NILI LOTAN: I am launching a men’s [collection] in June. And I'm launching a full line of handbags in September.
ALINA CHO: That's big.
NILI LOTAN: I started the business with $25,000 of my own and the business is reaching $100 million. In 2016, we were eight [employees]. We are now [more than] 100, so the growth in the last six years [has been] phenomenal.
ALINA CHO: To what do you attribute that growth?
NILI LOTAN: I don't do fashion shows. I don't advertise.
ALINA CHO: By the way, Nili, you rarely do press.
NILI LOTAN: I rarely do press.
ALINA CHO: But you are in every fashion editor's closet.
ALINA CHO: One last thing because I can't let you go without asking about this. [Someone said to me recently], "I'm not sure you realize this, but Nili and her husband David are like the Beyoncé and Jay-Z of Israel.
They cannot walk down the street without being mobbed.” Your husband is a very well-known singer-songwriter, guitarist, multi-platinum, right?
NILI LOTAN: Yes.
ALINA CHO: Well, first of all, is that statement true?
NILI LOTAN: Yes, it's true. My husband, David [Broza], has been on the charts for many years. He's a very talented musician who has been super successful from the age of 18 in Israel and he's now in his 60s. He's been a legend in Israel for many years.
ALINA CHO: Was it love at first sight?
NILI LOTAN: Yeah, it’s hard to explain.
ALINA CHO: You were like magnets.
NILI LOTAN: Magnets. And we still are.
ALINA CHO: How long have you been married?
NILI LOTAN: 10 years.
ALINA CHO: I can see the joy in your face even when you’re talking about him.
NILI LOTAN: Well, I have to say that what's been happening now is that the recognition of my name and my brand has grown so much in Israel.
ALINA CHO: Well, you are equals.
NILI LOTAN: Yeah. To the point that, yes, now it's like Beyoncé and Jay-Z. People do recognize us, do know us and it's been fun for me because it's a new thing for him. For him, he's used to it, but he gets a kick out of it now because people come to me.