“I basically asked myself what my ideal dream job would be and did it.” Nicole Lorenson combines photography & vintage fashion at Preservation.

For Nicole Lorenson, Preservation has always been about an intentional combination of photography and vintage clothing.

Since moving back to Iowa, Lorenson’s business has fueled her passion for bringing light to the fashion scene in the Midwest, which she says some might overlook.

One of the ways Lorenson has done so is by participating in events like the second annual Flyover Fashion Fest, which took place last week in Iowa City. Another is her East Village storefront.

A shot inside the Preservation shop located in the East Village of Des Moines.


Clay & Milk: How did you get started?

Nicole Lorenson: I studied photography in college. That’s my trade. I was always really into vintage fashion when I was in school, mostly because it was cheap and I liked photographing vintage clothing on my models. I ended up studying portrait and commercial photography and moved to New York City after I graduated. I really wanted to pursue fashion photography, but it never really worked out. I made some great contacts and had some opportunities, but it was really sporadic and I felt like I was out there spending tons of money and not doing what I studied.

For probably four or five years I worked for other portrait photographers in a traditional studio setting. Around that point—it was about 2009 or 2010—Etsy started becoming a thing. I had been collecting vintage clothing the whole time [I lived in New York], and I was getting ready to move to Colorado. I had whole closets dedicated to clothes I didn’t wear, just because I felt like I needed to keep them.

So I started selling my vintage on Etsy. My photography skills were perfect for that, and it kind of took off. I think I always had it in my head that I wanted to have a space someday. I love real interaction. I’m definitely a verbal communicator so, to me, being only online wasn’t fulfilling enough, even though it was cool to start that way.

I sold on Etsy for three or four years before I moved back to Des Moines and started working at 8/7 Central. I met a ton of people and at that time, I was still doing photography freelance for my own clients and selling vintage on Etsy. I was working two full-time jobs and was like “I think I could see myself staying here.”

I started casually looking at spaces and happened to know Chrissy [Jensen] who owns Domestica. She gave me a heads up that her space would be available and that’s what launched me to really pursue Preservation. I had always thought I would merge the two businesses but when that space opened, I wrote a business plan and met with a banker. I just knew I had to do it. To be totally honest, I was also going through a divorce at that time and it seemed like the right opportunity to put all my energy into something I’d had in my head for a long time.

My vision was just to create this job for myself where I could still actively be in the photography industry but not doing the traditional thing as far as the photography world is concerned. I still wanted fashion be a part of that without just owning a boutique. I basically asked myself what my ideal dream job would be and did it.

C&M: Tell us a bit about what you’re building with Preservation.

NL: My main goal is to actively show people you can wear vintage or recycled clothing in a very modern and fashionable way. When I first started I didn’t have as much control over what modern brands would come in my store. Now that I’ve been open for awhile, I’m getting to choose what I want. Essentially, I want the businesses I’m buying from to have the same goals as I do as far as being socially responsible and environmentally conscious.

That’s one of the most important thing to me. I never just want to be mindlessly selling things. Especially if I’m pairing modern pieces with vintage, the whole goal is preserving to the core. Vintage is obviously preservation in that you’re saving old things but it’s also about the environment and not buying things that are being made irresponsibly. Everyone has a budget, and I get that. But I think if everybody was a little more conscious about the clothes they’re buying it would make a difference.

C&M: You also share content and photography on the Preservation blog. What kinds of stories inspire you?

NL: One of the newer series I’ve been working on that I’ve really enjoyed doing is the “Life in Style” series where I feature customers who inspire me. I feature my friends, too, but I get to know someone who shops at my store and go into their home and photograph their overall style. That’s been really fun and I really love doing those because it features my work but gives me a chance to share what someone else is into and what someone else likes. That’s probably my favorite thing to do on the Preservation blog. 

From Lorenson’s “Life in Style” series.

C&M: What’s been the most challenging part of owning a business?

NL: I would say the most challenging part is really just making time for myself and taking time off, just turning my brain off and trying to step away from it. You almost get to the point where you’re addicted to [your business]. I can’t leave it alone even when I leave. I’m kind of a control freak so I have a hard time letting it go for a second. But I try hard to be present and try not to alienate my family and friends.

C&M: What does success look like for you? In what areas do you want to be better?

NL: I think success to me is being able to keep doing what I love, but also sustain my lifestyle. I don’t live some crazy life, but being able to keep my business open and trying to contribute to the community as well [is what I consider successful]. I’ve always wanted to be participating in things that are going on in Des Moines and have Preservation be a place the community can come to and hang out.

C&M: Who inspires you?

NL: I would say I’m pretty inspired by my family. My mom is an incredible person. She’s such a hard worker and she’s always a great mom. My stepdad is a farmer and is one of those people who would work hard and do anything for anyone but would never take any credit or expect anything for it. Both of my siblings are really hard workers too and just want to do nice things to help people.

I would also say I’m inspired by fellow business owners in the Des Moines area. When I was going to open the shop and had some questions I talked with Chrissy [Jensen of Domestica], Mike [Draper] from RAYGUN, Tami Stroh who at the time owned Stitch, and Jen Hansen from Eden. They all were so open and willing to answer questions. They were all really honest with me, which I thought was really cool.

Really, I find other women awesome who are pursuing their dreams and not worrying that it’s what everyone expects of them.

About Nicole Lorenson
Age: 33
Location: Des Moines, Iowa
Instagram: @shoppreservation / @studiopreservation

Megan Bannister is a freelance writer based in Des Moines and a regular contributor to Clay & Milk.