Real Talk with Shalla Black, Owner of Danes & Divas
Entrepreneurship is a grueling career path, which any business owner will gladly tell you — but they’ll also tell you that the long hours are worth the reward. Shalla Black, the owner and creative mind behind Danes & Divas, is one of those rare people who’s always had an affinity for entrepreneurship — and her products showcase that. Shalla spoke with us about what she’s learned from starting her own pet apparel and accessories brand, how she stays organized and focused, and how she prepared to start her own business.
Name: Shalla Black
Location: Vancouver, British Columbia Canada
Company: Danes & Divas
What it is: Pet Apparel and Accessories Brand
Educational Background: Some college pertaining to domestic pet health care and fashion marketing
What inspired you to start Danes & Divas?
My pets definitely inspired me to get started simply in shopping for them! When I couldn’t quite find the perfect collar and leash set that would compliment their personalities, I decided to design them myself.
What’s it like working with your husband? How do you make sure to keep your work life separate from your personal relationship?
Working with my husband is awesome! We share the same work ethic and values; we can always bounce ideas off of each other and honestly share opinions. Together we make a great team! When it’s time to close up shop we do try to limit the use of work-related tech and lengthy business discussions. We try our best to not work too much on weekends so we can just enjoy spending time as a family (us + the fur-kids).
How did you get into making dog collars and accessories?
I’ve always been well-acquainted with spoiling my pups with seasonal collars, so the pet store staples soon began to look stagnant. I had an idea to make my pups their own custom collars and started brainstorming some design ideas. Within the same week I started collecting supplies to make the first run of collars and leashes that I would later sell to friends, at craft markets, online via Etsy, and to a few retailers before launching our own branded site.
Have you always loved sewing and design? When did you get into that?
I was introduced to sewing at a young age through my mom, who had sewn many outfits for me as a child, but also in seeing her run her own business in custom home decor. By the time I reached high school, I was already quite familiar with sewing and was always the first to sit down at the machine in textiles class. Art class was another favorite of mine as I was able incorporate fashion sketches and textiles into my work. I was commissioned by friends to convert their designer denim jeans into pleated minis at a nominal fee. This was my first stint at entrepreneurship and working without patterns. It was just something I was always into.
What did you do for a living before Danes & Divas? How did that prepare you to be a business owner?
I began working in the fashion retail industry during my senior year of high school. That eventually lead to a management position, which allowed me to build skills in visual merchandising, customer service, seasonal trends, sales, and stats. After high school, I attended college for fashion marketing and design. I eventually left my retail job and dropped out of fashion marketing to pursue a career in another field I was passionate about: working with animals as a veterinary assistant.
My first employer in this field actually had me handling all of the clinic’s marketing, introducing me to the world of print advertising, website editing, social media marketing, customer outreach, acquisition and retention. My second and last employer in the veterinary industry had allowed me to sell my products in-clinic. Here, I was able to see the demand for the products first-hand and silently observe customers shopping the products to see what they thought. After just three months of working there, I took a leap of faith and left to pursue Danes & Divas full-time!
Because Danes & Divas is an eCommerce site, how do you make sure to build growth and attract new customers? Specifically, how does social media help you do that?
For the most part our growth has been very organic. We get a lot of social media referrals from Facebook, Instagram, or Pinterest posts. However, working with Instagram influencers has definitely helped showcase our product to more people than any other social community. Many influencer posts are also organic in that they’re genuine customers who simply post for the sake of sharing our product because they love it. That’s the best marketing! We do participate as sponsors for a few local events every year. We limit the number of shows we do to just include a few that we really love and that jive with our brand.
Giving back is an important aspect of Danes & Divas. What organizations do you contribute to, and why do you make sure giving back is a part of your business?
We believe that all businesses should contribute positively to their communities in some way and giving back is something that will forever be a part of Danes & Divas’ core values. We do our part by supporting our local shelters, but we also contribute to humanitarian efforts via the Red Cross and other causes close to our hearts such as Alzheimer’s, Arthritis, and Cancer research organizations.
What’s the biggest lesson you’ve learned since starting Danes & Divas?
It’s hard to choose just one! I would have to say that starting out, I completely underestimated the time commitment of this venture. Weekends are seldom “weekends” as a start-up entrepreneur. You’re always working and always thinking about work. It’s not just a job, it’s a lifestyle in itself. However, if you truly love what you do, then working three months straight really isn’t so bad; it’s actually quite fulfilling!
What do you like to do when you aren’t working?
Lately I’ve been working on home renovations. When I’m not caught up with that I can usually be found lounging on my couch sketching and binge watching the latest Netflix series, dreaming up new fabric patterns, curating my next playlist on Spotify (@danesanddivas), entertaining friends for dinner, and of course, hanging out with the fur-kids.
What’s your favorite part of your job?
Aside from it always being Bring Your Dog to Work Day and getting to work with my husband, curating and designing are my favorite. I love putting together collections and designing textiles. I’ll never grow tired of selecting new prints to be a part of the next Danes & Divas collection!
What does a typical day look like for you?
My day definitely varies throughout the week and I’m still working on establishing the ideal routine that works for me. Mondays look very different from Fridays, but I have a “mock schedule” to help me remember where to allocate my tasks throughout each day of the week. I am not at all a morning person and do my best work in the afternoons and evenings.
I usually take it easy in the morning and get to work at 10 a.m. or 11 a.m. I start my day over coffee and assign my to-do list into the day’s schedule. I then get into responding to emails and posting to social media. I’ll start working on orders with my assistant throughout the afternoon, place supply orders, review stats, do a bit of bookkeeping, composing the next social media post, and signing thank you notes for each order before taking one last look at emails at around 6 p.m. At the end of the day, I review our accounts so I know what’s come in and what’s gone out. I’ll also note this in my planner as well as write out a few important to-do’s for the following day. At this time, my workday usually ends around 8 p.m. or 9 p.m.
Last modified on October 24th, 2018
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