Dana Veraldi | Creators Project
Kilo Kish Interviews the Founder of DEERDANA
November 11, 2015
Los Angeles, CA
The Creators Project: When did you start DEERDANA? Was it the first brand?
I started DEERDANA as a website when I was in high school. I bought the domain and I just put my photography on it. It was just my portfolio site. It actually originally was a Beck fan site, which not many people know. In high school, I was obsessed with Beck. I probably saw him live 18 times, but he’s only been in Philadelphia maybe four times. I would make my mother drive me to see him in surrounding states. I drew him once, but he has so many different styles and phases he’s gone through. So my website was a photography website, and then I made shirts in a screen-printing class when I was a senior in college. I drew line drawings based on photos I’d taken of friends.
My photography was primarily portraits of my friends. A lot of them were in New York, because I’d go to New York almost every weekend. And I had done a shirt of my friend Jackson who was a DJ, and he was DJ-ing with model Agyness Deyn. So she ended up wearing her own shirt to a photoshoot, and that was the first press I got on the cover of Time Magazine. I was doing the shirts very DIY, not thinking about it as a business at all. I made them at school. I moved to New York the day I graduated from college. I packed both my parents’ cars and we drove to New York City and then I was putting them in my apartment in Bushwick. So I would print to order and I had a shirt of my grandmother, I had a shirt of bunny rabbits, just really random things. There was a similar style to all of them, but there was no business plan at all.
Pia Arrobio in Diamond X DEERDANA OBD tee Images DEERDANA
So were you shocked when you got the press for that first shirt?
Oh of course. I remember she called me and said they wanted to credit me so she said she’d just give them my website. I think I was selling them for $30. And I would mess so many up because I was not good at printing.
You were printing them in your house?
And hanging them to dry with clothespins, and printing on random shirts. Every shirt was random.
It’s literally one of the hardest things. You need a whole table…
And cleaning the bathtub, and the ink. It also was a carpeted apartment, and there were big circles of ink everywhere. I remember when I moved out I didn't even ask for my security deposit back, because I just knew I had to get out of there. There was ink everywhere. So I never had a business plan. It sort of morphed.
So at what point, were you about to start doing it seriously?
I never wanted to sit down and talk about goals and get an investment, which I still have not done to this day, which maybe is not so smart. But I just let it grow organically and then always had other jobs to supplement myself financially and also just to have a schedule of some sort. I don’t do the design seasonally, I just sort of do whatever I want. Like I worked for a stylist for three years and then worked for Adidas for a while doing freelance event projects, and then I worked with Theory, Tory Burch, and Trademark, just helping with different aspects of companies. I always learn things that I can apply to my own company.
Rejjie Snow in DEERDANA Sade tee
So how do you think your brand would be different if it was your only project? There are so many compromises you have to make when you’re pressed for money. Obviously you’re going to try to grow your business a lot faster if that’s your only source of income.
My older brother is a techy business man. He doesn’t have too much knowledge of the fashion or art world, which is where I see myself. He’s tried to make these business plans for me and there’s so much money you have to raise, and then you’re going to sell to places like Target and Bloomingdale’s, but that’s not what I want to do. What I would like to do is to continue to sell to these special boutiques. I increase my retailers every year and do projects with people I really like, and collaborations and make different objects.
So what are some of you favorite collaborations that you’ve done?
I loved working with La Mer because it was very corporate and I had to go to all these board meetings with all these people and sell myself to them. They thought that I was cooler than I was, too. I don’t know if I’m seen as streetwear or what, but they appreciated that I was like a “crazy artist” that does everything on her own, and they’re the opposite of that. I did a collaboration with Uber, which was awesome because I love Uber, and I got paid in credit. I made t-shirts and tote bags for them. I don’t even know where they went.
So with these collaborations, do you usually reach out to them or do they reach out?
Probably a third of them come from personal connections. For example, the La Mer job happened after my friend Ruba Abu-Nimah introduced me to a friend of hers who works at Estee Lauder when we both happened to be eating in the same restaurant in Soho. Often when I pitch something, it doesn’t usually work out. With sales or with projects, I don’t know why. You just have to wait and let things happen. I have learned to be patient.
Justin Bieber in DEERDANA Lil Wayne tee
When something doesn’t go through, what makes you want to try to do it again, as opposed to being discouraged by it?
I mean, I don’t put myself out there in the way that I blindly pitch to a company very often, just because I have a number of connections and usually know someone who knows someone, so it’s not usually so blindly shooting in the dark. I’ve been really lucky. I’ve had really great collaborations, and I’ve worked with great friends, so whenever something doesn't work out, it’s fine with me, it’s almost like their loss. And the thing is, something will always happen down the line. Who knows with stores, maybe they have too many graphic tees. I can’t take it personally.
I always take everything personally.
Well, there are certain things that annoy me more than others. For example, I’m from Philadelphia and any store that I’ve pitched to in Philly in the past five years has been unresponsive. And then about a month ago, I got an email from a store there that asked for DEERDANA to be part of the holiday market.
Travis Scott in DEERDANA Marilyn Manson tee. Image courtesy Nolan Persons
Who are some artists that have inspired you?
Artists who inspire me include Jean Cocteau, Tierney Gearon, Piero Fornasetti, and my talented friends that I am surrounded by in NYC and LA! I started my drawing style in a silk-screening class with a piece of acetate and my own photos, so I traced the contour line style, like outlines of my friends’ photos. There a lot of people that can draw better than me, and that gives them a sort of childishness which is sort of cute.
That’s the nice thing about your drawings, because it’s what people could potentially do. But they didn’t.
Yeah, it’s imperfect and then it has some character to it. I mean, I like a lot of fine artists’ drawings. I like Picasso’s drawings, and I like to see unfinished drawings, because they’re really just simple, gestural artwork.
So what’s a day in the life at your studio like, when you’re working on something?
I have a great team around me in my studio in Soho. They sometimes come at random hours, so each day is different. I probably spend the first hour on email, and then we have lunch because it’s noon. I prefer to do my actual drawing by myself so I usually don’t do that until the evening and I play really loud music when I draw, so I usually have to wait till the evening, because I have neighbors in my building. Recently, I’ve been really into Paul Simon, The Weeknd, Drake, and Young Thug. I love Tame Impala. That’s someone I reached out to who I never heard back from.
So after lunch, we fulfill my web orders and then we’re usually doing some research for a new project. There’s some research or social media we all do together, and then I prepare myself to do drawings if I have to do drawings.
DEERDANA Grace Jones beach towel
Yeah, because for me, to jump from doing super business-y stuff and then to jump into making the art is really hard. How do you get yourself to switch brain modes between business and making art?
I have to drive myself crazy with one of them. Like I really hate Excel and invoices, so I’ll know that I have to do invoices and then I get to turn my computer off and do drawings. So it’s like the prize at the end. Or the other way around, if I’m so sick of doing the drawings, then I get to do something more fun like call my manager or something and talk about a new project. Something that’s more business, but a more fun aspect of it.
Do you do them in the same day, or do you switch days where it’s all business one day and all art the next?
I do both most days. Because I do a lot of it on the computer too so everything’s hand drawn, but I often will do multiple drawings and then maybe combine the eyes from one or the mouth from another. Or the banners are usually on different pages. So there’s a lot of Photoshopping. So it’s still the art side of it, but it’s on the computer. So there’s always something art-related that I’m doing every day, even if it’s not physically drawing.
When your work is done, are you satisfied or are you never satisfied?
I’m usually satisfied. I also get so excited that I want to mock it up on a model and put it on the website as though the shirt’s already done, like I can’t wait. And it’s not even about getting people’s feedback. Especially when it’s people that I really love, like Carl Sagan the astronomer. I was so excited about his shirt, it had little stars in the background, I just wanted to share it with other people who really liked him. It wasn’t that I wanted someone like Vogue to write about it, it’s never about press, there’s just something about sharing it. And I think for some reason I’m able to stop the drawing process at a certain point and be like, “OK that looks enough like them. It’s done.”
Who would you most be excited about wearing your design?
I think it’s really funny the idea of someone wearing themselves. So like Howard Stern wearing himself would be really funny. Larry David, of course. It’s in general fun to see anyone I really respect and admire wearing any of the shirts, not just their own. Like even Justin Bieber, who I’ve loved since he was a baby, wore the Lil Wayne shirt when I made it years ago. He was probably the first person that I was so excited to see. My friend was on a photoshoot with him and took a picture of him in the shirt.
Do you design with a specific buyer in mind? Or is every shirt different?
I mostly do t-shirts as something that everyone can wear. I literally make shirts for newborn babies and my 90-year-old grandmother. And there’s always a time that someone wears a shirt. My friend’s nephew, who is two years old, his favorite shirt is the Basquiat shirt, and he doesn’t know who Basquiat is, but there’s something about it—he picks it out. He likes the face or the hair or something.
So what kind of advice could you give someone starting their own brand becoming a creative?
Well my marketing/PR standpoint, because I don’t have a marketing person or a PR person, is just that I give lots of things away for free.
Yeah I have so many shirts from you that I’m constantly getting compliments on and I tell them it’s DEERDANA.
Yeah, because the money I might pay a PR person, I just spend on literally anyone that comes into my office. Take a shirt, take one for your mom! Because people are that much more excited to wear something they got as a gift or for free, so it works and it’s just word of mouth.
So in terms of a brand, do you think keeping it consistent is best, or to constantly push toward something else?
Well, the shirts themselves are something that’s more consistent. They’ve been the same for years, printing, everything. And they’re cotton shirts printed in the US consistently. Since I’ve nailed my production down, I’ve been able to do other things, like use the drawings in ashtrays or beach towels, so it’s the best of both worlds: leaving one thing consistent and innovating at the same time.
Is there anything you’d like to promote coming up?
My next shirt is of The Fonz from Happy Days. I’m donating some of the profits to a charity that he chose called Milk and Bookies. I love that I’ve reached a level where I’m able to do some shirts with the people, which is fun and then I can ask them, "Do you want to profit from it, do you want to donate to a charity?"
As told by The Creators Project