Friday, December 2, 2016

Ethical Style Note: How I Got Here

I first became passionate about ethical style via vintage clothing and the handmade movement.  As an artist and history lover, these fashion vehicles made both aesthetic and practical sense to me-- preserving the style and quality of yesteryear, and donning a unique item made by (and thus benefiting) and individual creator.  All of this allowing me to vote with my dollar against cheaply made, corporate fashion.  Little did I know, there were far more grievous factors at play in the fast fashion industry.  Years dealing in vintage clothing passed, and I applied on a whim for an opportunity to intern with a Fair Trade brand that I had discovered less than a year prior.

Now friends, I must take this moment to sidebar:  my applying for an internship at all, was in and of itself quite curious.  I wasn't a college student, and have not a single degree to my name.  I applied simply to learn and experience.  Did I feel a little crazy doing so?  Yeah, but it was the first step in forming one of my best habits to date: defying logic.  I digress, but want to encourage anyone reading, who may feel unqualified (for whatever).  The world is a-changin', if you have raw skills, use them!  Don't let lack of cultural approval, or a piece of paper that confirms your intelligence hold you back from taking a leap.

And when I took that leap, it paid off!  In just the three short months that I had the opportunity to intern at Mata Traders, my eyes were opened to the full reality of Fair Trade and the ugly truth of mainstream manufacturing.  Suddenly, even vintage and handmade took on a new value in my mind, as ethical sisters to Fair Trade!  Since, I have added thrifting and domestic (U.S., Canada, Australia, U.K., etc.) made goods to that list as well, the common thread being items made without the violation of ethical standards.  These are the roots of Novel Nellie.  Of course, realizations like this require change.

I began to think about specific online boutiques that I had occasionally shopped at, stuffed to the gills with adorable, unique, unethically produced clothing.  Ick.  It made me sad.  It made me angry.  That awareness fueled my efforts to find ethically sourced or produced clothing equally as unique and adorable, and honestly it has been super easy!  One of a kind and interesting garments are more than available in the vintage, handmade and Fair Trade marketplaces, but somehow most women don't seem to be aware of this.

These days, one of my larger passions (I have a lot of them!) is to help spread awareness about ethical consumerism in general, but also to create a boutique that offers a variety of ethical options, without sacrificing an ounce of style.

Interested in learning more?  Check back for the next Ethical Style Note: Making the Switch. I'll be sharing about my own transition from shopping mainstream, and how easy that change can be!  As always, you can also head over to Novel Nellie and check out the hand curated selection of vintage, handmade, Fair Trade and U.S. made clothing and accessories!

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Fall Giveaway!

I figured it was about time to put on a Novel Nellie giveaway!  With it's lovely plum print and whiskey hued strap, this handmade Wisteria Date Bag by Rachel Elise Bags is beyond adorable, and the perfect size for the necessities! You can enter four different ways (each counts as a separate entry, increasing your chances of winning!):

  • Follow Novel Nellie on Instagram @novelnellie
  • Repost our post about the contest on Instagram with the hashtag #NNFallGiveaway
  • Like the Novel Nellie Facebook Page
  • Follow Novel Nellie on Pinterest @novelnellie
So what are you waiting for?  Our contest starts today 10/25 and ends this Sunday evening (10/30) at midnight (central time)!  You can also enter for your friends by tagging them in the comments of our Instagram post. :)

Can't wait to give this beauty away to one lucky winner!

Friday, September 9, 2016

Thursday, August 25, 2016

The Long and Short of It

Just coming away from a weekend at Long Grove Vintage Days, I have measurements fresh on the brain.  The modern reality of shopping often hangs on labels like Medium, size 10 and long, but how often do these labels actually remain consistent to the information that they are supposed to represent?  As women worldwide know well, not often.  A size 6 in one brand may be a couple of inches smaller than another brand, and let's not forget about the unique size challenges when it comes to vintage clothing-- a 1940's size 8 does not equal a 1970's size 8.

Enter: Measurements!  These numbers, with never-changing meaning, should be your friend.  An inch is always an inch, thank goodness!  They are the only unit of size that are not in constant flux from brand to brand, and decade to decade. Knowing your measurements can save time, money and the frustration of the "this doesn't fit!" moment. We all want that, right?  That's why Novel Nellie only lists measurements to express size! Never return, exchange or fuss over an ill-fitting garment again (in any shop, just ask for garment measurements!)

Now that we've talked about why measurements matter, let's get practical!

The most tried and true way to find your garment measurements, is to find a dress (or romper, or jumpsuit) that fits you well, and measure that lying flat!  This is better than measuring your actual body, because a garment is slightly bigger than our body measurements.  To get an accurate hip measurement, you'll need to measure a dress that's fitted at the hip, or even a pair of pants (i.e. not like the dress pictured below).  

For bust, measure from armpit to armpit, for the waist, across the smallest part of the midsection, and for hips, across the widest part of the fitted garment.  I usually measure length from the shoulder to the hem.

It's pretty amazing how simply knowing our measurements can make shopping easier, do away with labels, and find styles we like faster!  If you have any questions about how to find or use your measurements, send us a note at :)

Wednesday, August 17, 2016

Long Grove Vintage Days!

This coming Saturday and Sunday, August 20th and 21st, you can find Novel Nellie at historic Long Grove's newest street festival: Vintage Days!

Not only am I stoked about this weekend to get out in the sunshine and to organize a stunning booth full of vintage clothing for you, but there's also a very special place in my heart for the venue because Long Grove is my hometown!

My childhood elementary school is nestled just next to the historic Village, I have so many memories of many of the old (now gone) shops, and I've watched over the past decade or so as Long Grove has...well, sort of died.  I even wrote this post on the topic, back in 2014 because the decline of the business environment made me so sad.  In the past several of months, though, I've felt a sort of changing of the winds when I've been in Long Grove-- new growth of businesses, aesthetic improvement, promising new endeavors, and finding shops that I actually want to shop in-- all of this while still maintaining Long Grove's values in history, small business and authenticity. So while many buildings in the Villiage are currently for sale, I see that as a good thing!  New ownership, new blood, new ideas to bring life back to this little historic village that I call my home town.

The only thing possible sweeter than that, is that I get to be part of that resurging business environment by setting up shop at this first year of Vintage Days!  If you are in the Chicago-land area this weekend, you should definitely check it out-- to me, it feels like history in the making and the start of progress in Long Grove again!  Admission is free, there will be food, craft brew, hayrides, music and lots of vintage shopping to do.

See you there!

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

Adventure Awaits

Over the past week and a half, I've been summer adventuring-- but really, life adventuring. 

When I launched this little boutique and described the lady that Novel Nellie represents, it's no fluke that the aspect of adventure was included!  Though I love bringing you beautiful, unique and well made clothing and accessories of a variety of ethical sources, that clothing is not who I am.  None of us are the clothes we wear, or the style we don, we are what we use our breath, influence and gifts to do in this life!

Since early spring, I've known that the end of July was going to be full: full of joy, crazy schedules, travel and quality time spent with an array of lovely characters.  On the 24th I flew to San Jose to spend four days with an amazing organization that I love.  I had the opportunity to experience their day-to-day work, break bread with the founders, share in awesome conversation and even visit a good friend of mine in the process.  I arrived home with one day to spare before launching into my next adventure: an annual summer youth camp that I volunteer at, leading a small group of high school girls.  What an amazing weekend it was, full of laughter, tears and real talk about both pain and hope.

Life can be quite the adventure when we are out to love others, leave our expectations behind and embrace what awaits in the road ahead of us.  I can safely say that this even applies to clothes, in making a choice to shop ethically so that makers are treated fairly-- in that simple choice, we are contributing to a better tomorrow! :)

Do you have an adventure in loving others that you'd like to share? Send it to and you could be featured here on the blog! :)

Friday, July 15, 2016

Thrifty Lady

Find this strange, if you will:  I love thrifting. These tops are just some of my recent thrifty success!

Even having created Novel Nellie, where I truly hope people will shop for (and love) ethical clothing and accessories, I want you to love thrifting too!  Why?  Because I know thrifting is awesome-- for your wallet, for your creative expression, for sustainability and yes, even for the good of the garment industry!  Every garment that you or I purchase from our local Goodwill or independent thrift store, is one less garment that is purchased from brands that manufacture with unethical standards.

But what about that adorable J. Crew blouse you picked up the last time you scored at Savers?  J.Crew, and a million other mainstream brands don't exactly adhere to ethical manufacturing, right?

Right, but by purchasing that blouse, as apposed to a new one actually from the brand in question, you are:

  • reusing something that could be needlessly turned into waste.
  • not putting more money into the pockets of unethical garment production.
  • Oh, and saving money. <3

Our purchasing choices matter!  Voting with our dollars if you will, and there are many ways to vote for a more ethical, sustainable future-- one of which is voting against unethical fashion, in any way you can.  Thrifting falls into that category friends, so you will find me doing it often!  Can I tell you how many times someone compliments a top or pair of pants I'm wearing, and I boldly + joyfully get to say that I got it for $3 at Goodwill!? 

It's bliss, let me tell you. ;)

This is, of course, only half of the ethical fashion battle, though, as ethically made brands and makers still need our support to keep doing what they are doing-- making fair trade, handmade or US made garments, and finding quality vintage goods.  By purchasing these clothes and accessories, we're spreading the reach of ethical fashion and giving competition to brands that don't take ethical manufacturing into account!  I'd be thrilled if one day brands like Target and Seychelles used Fair Trade manufacturing, but until then, I'll be thrifting and buying ethical. What about you?

Have a friend or two that needs to hear about this stuff? Go ahead and share away!

Monday, July 11, 2016


Novel Nellie has been off the ground for over a month now, so I thought it was about time to introduce myself-- the crazy lady who runs this thing!  Hi, I'm Erin. :) 

Unlike some business endeavors, I have launched Novel Nellie totally alone. Hear me out when I say that, for I have many supportive family members and friends who have leaned in, during the past month or so (not to mention the awesome brands I carry!)-- even to the extent of me slipping into use of the word "we" from time to time when referring to Novel Nellie!  I have been so blessed and encouraged by my people: my super tech savvy friend who always responds to FB message questions about website things, or my editor friend who is always willing to proofread and offer suggestions! The friend who shares my love of aesthetics who I can bounce logo, photo or color ideas off of, and my Mom who hears and helps on literally every front! Even friends who haven't directly contributed to the building of this little boutique, have checked in on me, prayed for me and come out to be there on my opening day!  I am definitely running Novel Nellie as one woman, with no employees (yet!), but am surrounded by a village of support. Bear with me if I still say "we" sometimes, as I think of those hearts and faces!  Even in these very early days, I'd like to think that this is how many small businesses begin: one crazy dame (or gent) and an idea.

I am a creative, a historian and a lover of authenticity (even when it's messy).  The outdoors and wide open spaces are my favorite place to be, and I've always been one to color outside the lines when purpose has called me to. Having spent the last five years dealing in vintage clothing, I suppose I shouldn't be surprised to have launched this kind of endeavor but honestly I am!  Novel Nellie came into existence seemingly overnight, when circumstances and provision fell into my lap in a way that I believe only God can orchestrate. Some days I still wake up and suddenly remember that I'm doing this thing!  It's a crazy adventure already, and I couldn't be more thankful to share ethical style, and uniquely made goods with uniquely made people.

Please know, that when you shop at Novel Nellie, you are buying not just from me, but helping to support the livelihoods of creatives, makers and artisans here in North America and all over the world! I'm just the middle (wo)man, hoping to share these beautiful, quality goods and ethical aesthetics with you!  Together, maybe we can end the reality of unethical manufacturing practices!

Thanks so much for checking out Novel Nellie, and for caring about ethical consumerism! Your questions or comments are always welcome here or via email to

💕 Erin Conley

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Vintage for All

I often encounter people who like the idea of vintage clothing, but seem afraid to, or uncertain of how to wear it. Most of the time, I've found that they think it will be fussy or high maintenance, while others can only envision past styles as "costume".  Still, I'm a total believer that vintage clothing can be worn and enjoyed by anyone, styled different ways for different folks in everyday life! 

A dress is only a dress, no one person can say how it should be styled. Perhaps one person would take a rockabilly approach to a dress, another might add a bohemian touch, or maybe wear the garment as it originally would have been! Regardless of decade, garments take on the personality of the wearer-- the phrase "Wear it, don't let it wear you." comes to mind. :)  This is the very reason Novel Nellie has a fitting room! Not just to determine fit, but to allow you to explore a style you may not have before.  It's sometimes amazing the difference between what we see on the hanger, and what we see on a person, it is truly a risk worth taking! 

So next time you are in the shop looking for dress, find something vintage that speaks to you and try it on! Sister, you may be delightfully surprised. :)

On the note of the change styling can make, check out how I styled this 60's drop waist dress to make it more updated! ✨

If you've styled a Novel Nellie dress to make it your own, I'd love to see it! Tag #novelnellie on Instagram if you'd like to share. ;)

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Opening Day Open House!

Opening day is only four days away, and I am busy putting the final touches on Novel Nellie! On Saturday the 28th at noon, the blue door to the shop will open to customers for the first time-- won't you stop by and check it out? :) We're pretty excited to share with the NW suburbs a kind of retail that it hasn't often had as an option: products made by ethical means, that sacrifice not an ounce of style!  At Novel Nellie you will find clothing and accessories that are unique, well made and that apply your dollar towards positive change. Our space is small, but our product and purpose is mighty!

See you there!  Questions? Send them to----->

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Friday, May 6, 2016

Who is Novel Nellie?

A Novel Nellie is...

Smart: both intelligent and scrappy, in a way that takes responsibility for her circle of influence, desires to learn and shares her knowledge with others.

Effortless: not striving for perfection, but realizing that scars and the unexpected can generate growth, and may make for a more interesting, rewarding story!

Inclusive: treating people like the individuals they are, not comparing or competing, but recognizing the beauty in both variety and kindred spirit.

Adventurous: jumping with both feet into a world that greatly needs each of us to pursue our built-in purpose-- for this day, this year and each season to come.

Do you love the expression of personal style, but know that your value is not in what you wear, but in who you are?  Do you want to be an ambassador for ethical style that helps protect, employ and liberate creativesand craftsmen both here in the US and all over the world?  Would you like to shop in a place that values quality over quantity, and offers one-of-a-kind garments, and jewelry crafted by hand?

If you believe style is not "one size fits all", that each person sees beauty in different aesthetics, that choosing to shop ethically is a bold move towards positive change, then you should probably come check Novel Nellie out!

Stay tuned here on the blog for more details about the brands and products we'll be carrying, events and behind the scenes updates!  You can also find us on Instagram @novelnellie and on Facebook!