Damiane Nickles is a young south-sider who has designed his life around something he’s passionate about: plants.
He sells cute curated houseplants in scrumptious little pots or upcycled vessels through his Instagram 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.” He photographs in his living room, which is styled with a variety of midcentury modern furniture, art, and tchotchkes.
Before creating @notaplantshop last fall, Nickles had 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. Instagram felt more natural and resonated with his audience. After he posts a new photo, followers comment or DM him to claim the plant (they generally cost between $10 and $50), and then pick it up from his apartment in Brighton Park. “I have them grab the plant from its current spot in my apartment to establish that special bond,” he said, describing the process of making a sale. (He also has houseplants available for sale at Sol Cafe in Rogers Park.)
Nickles’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 says. “He used to talk to them and show them so much love.”
Nickles went to college in New York for painting and later switched to graphic design. Feeling stagnant in his work in corporate branding, he moved to Chicago and began working at Found and the Barn, Evanston restaurants known for their commitment to local sourcing. Found received its microgreens from Closed Loop Farms, located in the sustainably minded compound the Plant, in Back of the Yards. Intrigued, Nickles found his way to working there.
Closed Loop Farms is a sustainable food incubator that also houses businesses such as Whiner Beer and Four Letter Word Coffee. The basement farm has a fresh, earthy scent, and the tropical humidity of the room is a nice reprieve from Chicago’s winter. The room glows with a purple hue from the grow lights. Garlic chives and Genovese basil rest along rows of shelves, some of the 32 varieties of microgreens on the farm. Employees harvest the microgreens twice a week, trimming at stations from five to ten every morning, when deliveries begin to go out. Closed Loop Farms currently provides for 85 restaurants, including Girl and the Goat and Sunda, and also sells edible flowers in late spring through the fall.
Nickles’s passion for plants goes hand-in-hand with his desire to educate others. His plans for @notaplantshop? He wants to make people happy, spread knowledge, and aim for a higher output when the warm weather arrives. v