Nikki Graves '06 - The Rockport Group


Do librarians wear black suede high-heeled pumps? Shoe librarians sometimes do.

Nicole "Nikki" Graves, a 2006 Visual Arts graduate of Curry College, oversees the library of shoe samples and does a whole lot more in her job as Global Quality Assurance Specialist at the Rockport Group.

"I basically get the front-row seat to what's going to come out the next season," Nikki says about the Rockport shoe library. "If we need to look at something, if there's an issue arising in the markets, then we can pull it and then take a look at that, what it's supposed to look like."

Nikki and her colleagues receive shoe shipments from factories, and they make sure that every aspect of each shoe matches the standard they keep in the library racks. She feels that her career thus far has taken a bit of a "head to toe" path: In her role at Bureau Veritas, a consumer product testing lab, Nikki reviewed clothes and other textiles, and as a product safety specialist for Fiesta Jewelry, she worked with accessories.

Now in the world of shoes at Rockport, Nikki's "right-hand man" is fellow Curry alum Adam Gittleson, a 2013 Business Management grad, who collaborates with her and other employees to monitor quality and report any problems with the footwear. The alumni literally work side by side at their desks, in the shoe library, and in the "cage" — an area filled with lasts (custom foot-shaped forms that are the foundation for a shoe's design, comfort, function, fit, and construction).

In addition to spotting potential safety and quality problems, Nikki recommends aesthetic improvements in the shoes, thanks to her eye for color and design. Being able to work hand in hand with the designers, and to see issues start early, reminds Nikki of her studio days at Curry.

"When we do the reviews for the shoes, I always think back to sitting in studio class at Curry, where we'd critique everyone's art pieces ... One of my professors, Laurie Alpert, would always say that critiques are not something to be taken personally. In fact they help you progress and make something good, even better."

Her arts experience clearly helped Nikki in her career, and she encourages anyone considering an arts major to consider the many paths for post-college success.

"Honestly, there's so many different things that you wouldn't necessarily think as being related to Visual Arts," she says. "If you're doing something that you love, it can be transferred into pretty much anything you do. Without getting a degree ... I couldn't have this position. And a lot of different things I was able to do I wouldn't have been able to. I'm just so grateful that I've had the opportunity to be in college, and succeed."

Curry's location near Boston was appealing to Nikki, who lived in the Providence area before college. She says Curry "felt like a small suburb, but you're close enough to all the action." Nikki visited Boston frequently while she was at Curry, taking advantage of the shuttle to Faneuil Hall and other locations.

She also got to live and work in New York City for an exciting summer internship at Ande Sew Custom Knitwear. Nikki applied for the internship, despite thinking she wouldn't be considered since she did not yet have a fashion background. But she got the gig, and worked with a wide range of people in the fashion and magazine industries. Interning "was exhausting, but it was really fun," says Nikki. "It was ... a lot of running around. I was the only one, so I had to do a jack of all trades sort of thing."

Impressed with the level of support she received from faculty and staff while at Curry, Nikki also appreciated having her professor/advisor visit her internship. "Laurie actually came to see the setup, and see how I was doing, and we were able to talk and she saw the whole environment. And it was really cool."

Nikki mentioned Prof. Alpert, as well as Prof. Iris Kumar, as two instructors that were "fundamentally important to shaping who I am as an adult, and really making sure that I had kept on to my art." Prof. Alpert and Nikki still keep in touch. "It's really nice to have that connection after so many years."

When told the name of her major at Curry is now called Studio Arts, Nikki agreed that name worked well, as she remembers spending "all her time in studio." She has fond memories of the small class sizes, especially in the printmaking and painting studios. Since she lived on campus while she was at Curry, Nikki enjoyed the convenience of being able to head over from the residence halls to the studio in the evening as well as during the day.

Curry connections at Nikki's recent wedding in Newport, R.I., included the photographer, Molly Bergeron LaCroix; bridesmaid Lindsey Brown McLravy; and other guests. Nikki and Lindsey are working with Joe Morabito to spearhead planning for their 10-year Curry reunion this year. Also in her spare time, Nikki has kept busy with photography, as a roller derby competitor (a bit of a family legacy, as her Nana also was a derby girl in 1930s Rhode Island), and as a proud mom to 4-year-old Owen.

About those pumps that Nikki prefers: "Rockport is famous for having sport technology within a pump, so you can stand on a shoe, and it feels like you're standing on a cloud, essentially. They call it the 'Seven to 7' so technically you can wear it from 7 in the morning to 7 at night, and it feels fantastic."

For a woman running around as much as Nikki, sensible yet fashionable shoes are a perfect fit.


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