It’s not too often that I run into someone in their twenties who seems to have it all figured out. Many of us cycle through gigs or jobs to pay the bills before we find something fulfilling that sticks. Damiane Nickles is a young southsider who has intentionally designed his life around something he’s passionate about: plants. However, getting to where he is required some trial and error.
I met Damiane on Instagram, a vehicle through which I’ve met many friends and collaborators since moving to Chicago. He sells cute and curated houseplants in scrumptious little pots or upcycled vessels through his account, @notaplantshop. His captions are eccentric, loud, and silly. “SELLING - THESE TWO ZZ PLANTS AKA ZAMIOCULCAS ZAMIIFOLIA AKA ZANZIBAR GEM AKA ZZ COOL J AKA THE MOST INDESTRUCTIBLE PLANT OF ALL TIME. DM OR COMMENT TO CLAIM. K. BYE.” This is Damiane’s love language, and I’m head over heels.
After DMing him, he invited me over for lunch. I took the CTA from my home in Rogers Park to his place in Brighton Park and was greeted with a hug and a beer. We chatted in his kitchen while he prepared orzo with fresh herbs, sausage, and a side salad with shaved apples and a real “slutty balsamic,” as he described it. He set the dining table with handmade plates and bowls, and his two roommates came out of their rooms and joined. Do roommates in their twenties regularly do this on a Saturday? Who is he? Where am I? I was smitten.
Before creating @notaplantshop last fall, he attempted having a table at Plant Chicago’s farmers market. He knocked over his plants, broke some pots, and knew this sales model wasn’t right for him. He decided that using Instagram felt more natural and resonated with his audience. Over lunch, he described the process of making a sale. “I have them grab the plant from its current spot in my apartment to establish that special bond,” he said. I admired how intentional his process was and his charm lured me in.
Damiane’s parents immigrated to Brooklyn from Trinidad in 1985, and his father planted a hibiscus garden in their backyard as a little piece of home for him and his wife. “Some of my best memories of plants come from seeing my dad hosing down the backyard with dozens of six foot tall hibiscus plants,” he reminisced. “He used to talk to them and show them so much love.”
Damiane was a creative kid and when a teacher in sixth grade introduced him to the work of Frank Stella, he knew that’s what he wanted to do. He went to college for painting and later switched to graphic design. Feeling stagnant working in corporate branding, he changed his pace by moving to Chicago to stay with his brother. He considered culinary school but was advised to work in restaurants instead, so he bussed tables at Found and worked back-of-house at The Barn, both in Evanston.
Found was receiving its microgreens from Closed Loop Farms, an urban farm located in Back of the Yards that supplies microgreens to many restaurants including Girl and the Goat and Sunda. Its founder, Adam Pollack, made weekly deliveries to Found and Damiane admired him as a young guy running such a unique business. He stopped him in the alleyway one day before leaving and was working at Closed Loop Farms by the following week, where he is now the Sales Manager.
When I arrived at 7am, I was greeted with a hug, the scent of fresh microgreens, and Solange playing in the background. The humidity felt good on my skin, hardened by Chicago’s winter. Tuesdays are harvesting days and the team was hard at work trimming and prepping the greens for delivery. I walked around, admiring the aisles of plants under a variety of grow lights. At one point I overheard Damiane laughing about when he used to use a fake ID from Hawaii. The kinship between the 8 coworkers was evident, oft making jokes and talking about their weeks not to pass time, but to be present with each other’s company.
What I admire about Damiane is his ability to craft a life around something he loves by taking risks, not being afraid to try new things, and putting in the hard work. Even if the process feels dark and scary, it’s still possible to be fulfilled along the way. His plans for @notaplantshop? For now he wants to keep making people happy, spread knowledge, and aim for a higher output when the warm weather arrives.