Inspired by a drastic change of lifestyle and scenery, Ulrika “Red" Nilsson founded an antiques and upcycled furniture company with sustainability and community in mind.

Photos by Florence Montmare

Meet Ulrika “Red” Nilsson, a model, entrepreneur, influencer, mentor, coach, and CEO of Redcircle, a woman-owned, experiential event company, specializing in event strategy, creation, and management for corporations, entrepreneurs, nonprofits, and private clients.

Diabetes became a wakeup call for Nilsson, and her lifestyle changed drastically. She moved from New York City to the town of Port Jefferson, New York — and, inspired by the change of lifestyle and scenery, she is now in the startup phase of a new endeavor centered around authentic impact with a focus on health, sustainability, environment, and community. Her new venture, Red & Co Antiques Garage, is an antiques and upcycled furniture company founded with sustainability and community in mind. Its hybrid retail model empowers female investors and women-owned companies, and offers an experiential approach to products, services, workshops, and events, including local and curated brand popups, as well as a coworking meeting space and an onsite podcast studio — enlivening a “forgotten” community while helping put a dent in the millions of tons of furnishings taken to landfills in the US.
We caught up with Nilsson to learn more about the story behind Red & Co Antiques Garage, how the company is funded and operates, Nilsson’s top three pieces of advice for other social entrepreneurs, and more.

I’m interested in the inspiration behind Red & Co. Antiques Garage. What is its birth story? 

UN: We go through life doing (hopefully) some things we love, but also doing many things that don’t align at all with our interests, our purpose, and our beliefs. In my late forties I asked myself how I ended up living life on autopilot. I decided to switch these paradigms — doing more things I really love, with the understanding that doing some things I don’t love is necessary sometimes. I credit this decision to my life experiences in general, but perhaps a life-altering health scare sped up this process — causing me to realize that this dream meant melding my business experience with my passion for experiential events, sustainability, women advocacy, community, storytelling, and making a difference.

One day my husband and I drove by a vacant building in a rundown part of our town. I stopped him and said, “This may be it!” We drove around the old industrial building as I explained what I had in mind. Before this moment, the concept was only floating around in my head. But at that time, everything became real. I called the brokers associated with the building and the very next day I walked inside what will soon be Red & Co Antiques Garage. The building was once Ford’s first dealership, in an area of town that used to be known as “antique row.” Most of this otherwise beautiful neighborhood is considered a blighted area. Red & Co, along with the town of Port Jefferson, are putting revitalization plans in motion to bringing life and commerce back!  

Here’s the vision that was born out of all this. We are a brick-and-mortar destination located in Port Jefferson, New York, a vibrant place with a focus on accessible antiques and upcycled furniture with sustainability and community in mind. Our hybrid retail model offers an experiential approach to products, services, workshops, and events. The space includes local and curated brand popups, a coworking meeting space, an onsite podcast studio, and so much more.

Any insights on getting funded? 

UN: Engage and inspire your community and create something they can truly be part of. In a matter of days, after sharing my business concept with a few select women in my town, people started calling and connecting with me online. They were all asking how they could be part of my new venture — they wanted to put money in and wanted to help. It was only an idea at that time, but the community was ready to rock! That is the power a community can unleash, but also the power behind creating a business model and concept where everyone wins. People want to belong; people want to make a difference. Give them that and they will help you exceed your fundraising and startup goals. (The ‘Co’ in the business name — Red & Co Antiques Garage — represents all the female investors). 

Another way to increase your funding success is by creating accessibility and empowering groups that may not always get a chance to be at the table. I did that by embracing a larger investor pool, opting for female investors only (or women-owned companies), and I allocated a number of very low investment blocks to women who, with that, may be able to call themselves an investor for the first time. The empowerment behind that can be life-changing! 

What are your values at Red & Co Antiques Garage?

UN: This could be a long list, but if I focus on four values that are instrumental both in terms of running a business as well as dealing with investors, customers, vendors, etc., these would be them:

Communication: We consistently communicate in a transparent, respectful, and timely manner.

Integrity: We are committed to honest, respectful interaction; strong moral principles; and ethical behavior.

Innovation: We are constantly developing and initiating new practices and procedures to improve efficiency and relativity of our operations.

Team work: We value and respect the contributions of others and recognize that each individual is essential to our success.

Please share any quick stats or numbers you’re proud of that gets at the footprint the company is making in the community.  

UN: The exciting thing is that we will lead the revitalization of a part of town that for a long time has been forgotten and simply driven through. We will bring life and commerce to the area again. We will give people a reason to stop and spend time in the neighborhood. With a store of this size, including the activities bringing people together, we are going to make a big impact not only in our smaller community but on Long Island, too. Ten million tons of furniture and furnishings were taken to landfills in 2017 (in the US) and counting; we will help change this trajectory by exposing everyone to our philosophy and the importance of buying accessible antiques and upcycled furniture (good products and good prices).

Anything exciting to announce?

UN: Before our official fundraising has even begun, we have verbal investment commitments totaling half the fundraising goal!  

What does “conscious leadership” mean to you? Do you have any best practices to help yourself become and embody conscious leadership?

UN: I see conscious leadership as being aware, authentic, and in tune with oneself and the world around them. The best practices to get there, or to maintain your position, is to meditate and to be intentional about everything you do.

What is the most important thing in your life right now?

UN: The most important thing in my life right now is making a difference, a positive impact, in as many ways as I possibly can!

What is the largest challenge that you’re facing right now?

UN: Time! I need 48-hour days, not only to have time to do everything I need and want to do, but also to have the time to enjoy the process.

What is giving you hope for the future?

UN: I feel hopeful for the future when I witness people (across generations) collaborating and changing habits, needs, and wants for the sake of our environment.

Top 3 lessons for social entrepreneurs (or others in similar industries/models)?

UN: 1. Without gratitude and appreciation you have nothing. One of my favorite quotes is: “Trade your expectation for appreciation and the world changes instantly.”

2. Listen to your customers and people around you, but trust your gut.

3. Don’t do it alone! Leverage your network and people who want to support you and your vision!

Vanessa Childers

Vanessa Childers is the Editorial Director of Conscious Company Media, where she bolsters digital brand awareness and drives the overarching content strategy.

Florence Montmare

Florence Montmare is an artist, photographer, director, and strategist, whose creative drive takes her around the globe. Born in Vienna and raised in Stockholm by Swedish and Greek parents, she studied a Masters in Innovation & Design Management in Sweden. Subsequently, she worked for several years as a creative consultant in advertising. Seeking new challenges, Montmare ventured to New York City, simultaneously transitioning from the corporate to the fine art world. She traveled South America with only her Nikon F-301, a backpack full of TRI-X, and a diary. After graduating from the International Center of Photography, New York, and working with fine art projects in Paris, Montmare established her studio practice in New York and Stockholm, working with international creative agencies and artists. She makes photographs, films, installations, creative content and campaigns, while exhibiting at galleries internationally. Follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

SIGN UP FOR OUR NEWSLETTER