Inspired Chicago | Xo Design Co.

I've been working on this project quietly for the last few weeks and I'm SO dang excited to finally be able to share it! It's no secret that my goal as a photographer and as an entrepenur is to empower, inspire, and educate women through photography - it's the driving force behind all of my decisions when it comes to my work. Well a few months ago I came up with a wild idea as a way to connect with local women and find a way to celebrate their accomplishments, help others learn from their experiences, and create inspirational blog posts for other creative women in the area. 

This is the very beginning of this new project, and I couldn't be more thankful to Nichole Johnston from XO Design Co. for letting me get to speak with her this past week and learn a little about how she pursued her passions in life! Inspired Chicago will be a monthly feature on the blog that highlights entrepreneurial women in Chicagoland; I'll be interviewing event planners (like Nichole!), florists, designers, and many more. ;) Nichole and I met at Morgan's in Bloom in West Town and was kind enough to give me some of her time, despite coordinating her team and personally preparing two weddings for the coming weekend. So thank you again for letting me interview you, Nichole. I had such a great time getting to know you, and I hope you all enjoy reading her interview below!

Nichole Johnson of XO Design Co. in Morgan's in Bloom in West Town Chicago
Morgan's in Bloom florals Chicago

Q. How did you get into event planning? 

When I was in high school I used to always love the idea of a before and after of a space. I just loved seeing it come full circle into something totally different than what it was. I didn’t really know what that mean though - I didn’t know there was a difference between an event planner and an event designer. I really hadn’t thought too much about it, I just really loved the before and after, that’s what brought me into it. I didn’t even go to school for it actually.

Morgan's in Bloom florist Chicago
Morgan's in Bloom event design

Want to be featured on Inspired Chicago?

Q. Why did you choose to do event planning in Chicago?

I feel like Chicago is a hub, I don’t think I realized how much, but Chicago is just such a huge influence in the midwest. I see a lot of design work coming out of the people that are designing down in this area, we have a very distinct style and I just felt like an idea in my head of a type of client that is excited about something different. I really love unique and something that lights a fire in your soul a little bit more than the same old same old every time.

I feel like the people I grew up with and moved down here were those kind of mover and shaker kind of people, so I felt like that’s where I needed to be, around those types of girls. Not to mention all of the wholesalers are down here, all of the logistically stuff that could potentially be a nightmare is extremely simple now. I’ve gotten to join forces with Amanda and Morgan’s in Bloom, and they’re my lifeblood, they're amazing, and having this community over competition thing is very different than what's been going on.

There are over 60k weddings in chicago every year, we don’t need to be fighting each other for business. There's different types of clients for different people. We’ve kind of fallen into what I love which is the bohemian look, loose greens, and lots of movement. On the other end there’s the really tight stuff and that’s a different type of client. I feel like it just made it so much easier for us to grow, being down here, the people I meet, the places I can go.

Nichole Johnson of XO Design Co in Chicago
Little purple flowers at Morgan's in Bloom Chicago

Q. Are you connected to a creative community in Chicago, & how do you feel it's helped you?

It’s so much easier and nicer to know that you’re not alone in all of it. I feel like entrepreneurship in general was such an overwhelming thing for me. I’d never run PNL or trained employees, and everyday it's a new thing and it can get very lonesome I'd think. I have Amanda, I have Josh, I have my friend Kayla, we all just kind of bounce ideas off of each other and learn from each other. And whenever we have a new business tactic, something new that's gonna make the business better, we all share it. It's just so awesome, it makes it so much easier. And I've never felt like it held my business back in anyway, if anything it just projects you forward. And of course there's Erin Mcdonald, my friend and long term mentor. He's taught me so much. Introduced me to some of the best in the industry and has guided me through the world of design. He always keeps me on the creative straight and narrow.

I’m honestly left feeling so so thankful for my husband that he took the time to shock me awake. When I told him a hundred times that I could see myself doing the staffing thing for a long time because I liked the people, but it was tolling on my body, I was dying. I just kept looking at it like this is the next 40 years of my life. For him to just be like you shouldn't suffer everyday, you should be working toward what you want - just having the knowledge that someone was backing me, that someone was behind me, that I didn’t have to worry about, like, procuring insurance was just a huge confidence boost. I was very fortunate, because I don’t even know what kind of tragedy it would have been to have missed all this.

Nichole Johnson of XO Design Co
Morgan's in Bloom in West Town Chicago

Q. Do you feel that without that support, you would have been deterred from pursuing your passions?

There were so many unknowns. I’m very methodical in what I do so that I don’t have to lose, and when I worked for the lady in the suburbs, I would have stuck with that for a long time as a crutch. She actually ended up going out of business so I was pushed into this full time. And I remember Josh telling me, the minute that you don’t have a backup anymore, you’d be shocked at what could happen. You make it work. And once I did, the projection of my company from start to finish, in the short period of time from when I came down here full time and that happened? Lightyears difference than if I had just rode it slowly.

But there’s not just one person. It’s my husband, it’s Josh, he was huge for me, having these guys to support me coming down here. My brother is my best friend, I bounce ideas off of him all the time. He was basically my assistant before I could afford one. He was my right hand man for everything. Even my dad, he literally comes and helps me do late night pickups with me. It’s a total community effort.  I’m hoping things can get to a point where I can start to pay back a little bit more too, and the way things are going so far it looks like it.

Nichole Johnson of XO Design Co in Chicago


Want to Be Featured on Inspired Chicago?


Katharine Hannah

Katharine’s work has graced the walls of institutions such as The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, The Harold Washington Library of Chicago, and local galleries such as Dreambox Gallery, Siragus Gallery and Blick Art Materials. She has also been featured on websites such as the Huffington Post, Phlearn, Fstoppers, Tigress Magazine for Girls, Bitchtopia, and Golden Boy Press.

In addition to photography, Katharine has been a mentor and educator in the arts since 2013. She has worked with students in various organizations and projects over the last two years, including Hive Chicago’s PROjectUS initiative and Digital Youth Network’s Digital Diva’s and Chicago City of Learning programs.