In a rare sit-down, Nicolo Nimor tells us how the shirt from Cebu made it to the shores of Manila and flew by internationally
There were only two ways to buy “scene kid” merch and shirts back in the mid-2000s: either afford shipping brands like Hot Topic, Drop Dead, and Glamour Kills or go straight to the bootleg alleys of Cartimar. But as early as 2007, an artist from Cebu delivered smiles to the shores of Manila which later flew by internationally.
Speaking of this Myspace music era, FreebieMNL has spoken with the man behind “happy kid” whom everyone knows as NICK AUTOMATIC from Cebu.
In this FreebieMNL exclusive, we asked its creator Nicolo Nimor about his rise, fall, and plateau following all the recognition and success that the brand has gained.
“Bata pa lang ako, nagdo-drawing na ako,” Nimor says in a sit-down interview at Two’s Kitchen, Marikina. He started as a kid who was given school supplies rather than toys by his architect dad—which he says is their family’s foundation. But, he jests, apart from all the accomplishments that he has gained, Nimor can’t still beat his father when it comes to drawing.
As Nicolo Nimor says, he needed to drop out of college due to financial constraints. Since it is “weird” for him not to do anything, he packed his best portfolio and applied for a day job. Even though he doesn’t have enough software skills, he braved to showcase his artwork in a Korean Graphic Design agency. He then got hired because of his natural skillset, he says.
Nimor’s debut happened when he was still a drummer for the metal-core band Campbell. In 2007, there were Jess, Mike, and the Spiderman fan Nick for a do-it-yourself brand called Venom Three. Yet, the real start of his glory days started with one of his biggest downfalls.
“May portfolio akong iprinint ko pa tapos nilagay ko sa clear book. Ipinakita ko sa team leader tapos parang na-amaze sila kasi ako, hindi ako marunong mag-vector, hindi ako marunong mag-line tool ng photoshop. Wala,” he says.
Nimor’s 9-to-5 work equipped him with software knowledge that made him better at digital design. Uploading his artwork via Deviantart is how he made his way into freelancing. At first, he was cynical that he could make real money on the internet. But as soon as people started to discover his craft, the bills started to electronically get transferred to his account.
“Hindi ako naniniwala na may pera sa internet kasi wala talaga akong alam. Tapos may mga client na nagsasabi na mag-open ako ng Paypal. ‘Tapos nag-open ako. Doon, nawi-withdraw ko na siya or minsan, yung iba, [through] Western Union,” he recalls.
Diving deep and finding his path in graphic designing and shirts, Nimor was able to earn daily by freelancing. There came a time when he found a website called emtees.com. The page was simple—all he needed to do was design a shirt, upload it, then wait for a buyer. This is where he channeled his love for zombie and evil-related designs, gaining him monumental prominence on the site. It then came to a moment when the post-hardcore band A Day to Remember frontman emailed him! “Talagang siya ang nag-e-mail sa akin. Nagpapagawa ng tour shirt.”
“Siguro, nai-kwento ni Jeremy sa ibang tao yung mga design,” Nimor says. After that, a series of rock stars started emailing him, asking Nimor to design for them. Among the first ones were Devil Wears Prada’s Mike Haranica, then Chad Gilbert of the pop-punk band New Found Glory. Then, the iconic “scene” favorite store Hot Topic comes after. These prominent record labels in the U.S. started to follow through, even household names such as Victory Records.
For someone who plays and is into bands, Nimor has been living his dream. Then comes the end of the lane where he asks himself, “What would a design with my voice be,” with the intention of wanting to deliver a voice that caters to joy. And while sketching, he unintentionally gave birth to a character called “Happy Kid,” which gave birth to NICK AUTOMATIC.
READ ALSO: The Oral History Of NOBODY Clothing
Nimor’s only issue with the newfound idea is not being editorially creative with wordplay. He admits, “I’m not good with names. So, I decided to make it simple.” Just like his idol Johnny Cupcakes—and pegs like Bench—he wanted a straightforward name for his brand.
“My nickname is Nick and ‘Automatic’ because it rhymes. That’s how I came up with Nick Automatic,” he says with a broad grin.
Nimor was lucky to have a buddy who owned a printing shop when he started laying the designs on paint over shirts. Though cynical about it, he was tagged somewhere downtown in Cebu where they started the small business. At first, 30 pieces were printed.
“So, may manufacturing side na ako tapos may kilala siya na sastre na gumagawa ng t-shirt na custom. E, di game na yan. Kasi, again, formula: may manufacturing na ako, may printing na. Ako, doon na sa technical side,” he says.
Nimor also used his experiences with speaking to foreign clients and handling a Facebook page because of his band. He used these as assets in selling the shirts.
Being part of Cebu’s underground music scene, he was able to make shirts for supportive friends with local acts like Chicosci and Urbandub. These bands promoted the shirts by wearing them at gigs. Yet, at these times, he enthusiastically recalls, “I was still overwhelmed. Since back in the day, it wasn’t normal that local shirt designers would have this kind of support from bands.”
After that, he started doing do-it-yourself meet-ups in fast-food chains and coffee shops until they were able to afford a shack in Cebu. The trend boomed and created a long queue of customers. Of course, Manila did not miss out since the shirts were also sold in Built by Sonic in Eastwood.
Fakes of his shirts, however, were also printed as soon as Nick Automatic became even more popular. Nimor even jested that he likes buying bootlegs but doesn’t want his shirts to have counterfeits.
Comparing the local streetwear scene in the present, Nimor tells FreebieMNL that there was “no such thing as sponsors back in the day.” He even said that nobody believed in him because he was too young to own a brand. Yet, he was able to cross the trials.
“Nadaanan ko yung parang mud pa siya, hindi siya concrete na path na madaanan. Nadaanan ko lahat ng trials and errors talaga,” he describes the moment.
However, Nimor says that he fell in love with the support that Manila gave him, as almost every shirt that they release gets sold out. He, with a business partner, decided to extend the business. Not knowing the nitty-gritty, he decided to cash his way into a mall store but with unforeseen calculations with finances.
In hindsight, he narrates, “Yung mall kasi parang akala ko, ito yung milestone sa isang brand kasi binubuo ko yung story ko na independent ako, locally made. ‘Tapos nakapag-mall, iba yan.” However, today, he admits not being able to see the down side of it.
“Sinasabi ko talaga yan, kahit mag-talk ako sa mga schools, pero di ko sinasabi yung huwag kayong mag-mall. Pero sinasabi ko na mag-independent na lang kayo kasi mahal sa mall,” he mentions.
These days, he can be seen most of the time creating new designs and managing his shop in Conception, Marikina City. He has also collaborated with High Minds Clothing.
While Nicolo Nimor’s household brand sits tight these days, he still doesn’t want it to be called “streetwear.” Shirts are the right noun for NICK AUTOMATIC, according to him. He continues to make new designs and these shirts still sell even to younger audiences.
If there’s a takeaway to Nimor’s story, passion and consistency are his quintessential. “If you have passion without consistency, you will not be able to max out your full potential,” he stresses.
Nimor adds that if a person has a passion for what he does, they need to do it consistently, “as in balls deep,” for them to develop and achieve their goal. One also needs to cope with the technology. These are his golden rules, and this is the story of NICK AUTOMATIC.
Banner Art Paulo Correa
Words Aram Lascano