GhostGoods | Pinning Down Success

Cape Town designer Nicole Dalton has been working in the creative industry for over a decade. She works as the head of design for studio, Jane Says, by day and moonlights as the creator of her own brand, GhostGoods.

Designer and founder of GhostGoods, Nicole Dalton. Image by Amber Rose Cowie.

Started around four years ago as a personal creative outlet for Dalton, the small, online accessories shop stocks adorable lapel pins and more. Adorned with messages like, ‘Be Kind’, ‘Just Chill’ and ‘It’s Cute To Care’, the brand is charmingly positive, colourful, and optimistic.

As someone who has experience with depression, Dalton sees these themes as something sorely needed in a world that doesn’t always feel like the happiest place these days.

Working from a small studio in her Cape Town flat, Dalton balances both the demands of a day job and a flourishing small business. 

We chat to her about running a creative business:

Lapel pins by GhostGoods. Image by Amber Rose Cowie.

When did you start GhostGoods?

About four years ago. By day, I’m studio head of a small design studio, Jane Says, and GhostGoods was started as a creative outlet for me and a way to create freely. 

Where does the name GhostGoods come from and what type of products do you make?

I began with just lapel pins — I’m a longtime pin collector myself — I eventually expanded GhostGoods’ offering by adding other accessories including patches, purses, key rings, and prints. I’d love to eventually start producing finer jewellery pieces and homeware.

As for the name, I’m a huge fan of The White Stripes and Jack White and a lot of their songs have somewhat ghostly themes and one of them is ‘Little Ghost’. I also have a little bit of a quieter nature, so that name just worked out for me. 

How would you describe the brand?

I’d describe it as real and honest, but lighthearted. 

Nicole Dalton of GhostGoods in her studio in Cape Town. Image by Amber Rose Cowie.

What kinds of things inspire your designs?

Often I’m creating things that I want but I can’t find anywhere. I generally have themes in mind or things that are occurring in my life at a certain time, so I try to design around that. ‘Be Kind’ is a theme forever. 

Other makers, other design, typography — these are some of the things that inspire but obviously my inspirations are very broad. 

But if I had to identify one, it would be New York-based graphic designer, Adam J.K. He’s always been very happy talking about mental health, and his work has interesting messaging. I feel seen when I look at his work, which I think is so important. 

How do you balance a full time job with running a business on the side?

I’m not going to say that I am necessarily the best at it, it’s hard. But it really helps that I love working, I love what I do, I’m good at it. At the same time, I understand that I can’t do everything, be perfect or please everyone at the same time. Hopefully one day I’ll run GhostGoods full time, but having a full-time job is also a complete luxury because I don’t yet have to have that pressure of feeling like GhostGoods is make-it-or-break-it for me.

GhostGoods by Nicole Dalton. Made ethically in Cape Town. Image by Amber Rose Cowie.

What kind of role has social media played in helping you build your brand?

Instagram was initially an enormous tool in developing my customer base, but they’ve since really screwed with the algorithm. Just through the use of the right hashtags, I found myself receiving more and more emails from people wanting to buy my products, particularly overseas customers who were, for a long time, my main source of business. 

What’s the most important lesson that running your own business and brand has taught you?

I have to be patient with myself. It’s okay to not get everything right. There’s no handbook to starting and running a creative business – and it’s okay to ask for help. 

Connecting PayPal to my Etsy store has also been so easy and has made it possible to sell my products to international clients. Paypal is also such a trustworthy platform that has been helpful to me as a creative person, who isn’t necessarily very technology-minded.

Nicole Dalton's collection of pins. Image by Amber Rose Cowie.
Nicole Dalton’s collection of pins

What’s next for GhostGoods?

As long as I keep GhostGoods going I’ll be really happy. It’s been a difficult time for the local fashion industry with so many brands closing down, so to still be growing and thriving in five years, that would make me happy.

Photos by Amber Rose Cowie 

Nicole Dalton, founder of GhostGoods. Image by Amber Rose Cowie.

This interview and been edited and condensed.

Between 10 and 5