At an age when most of us were still playing house with our Easy Bake Ovens, Dallas Shaw was already honing her artistic skill. At four, she started to draw—and by the time she hit the sixth grade, she had already requested her first job—from an animator at Walt Disney. The company took Dallas up on her offer—well, years later, once she had grown up and graduated from her university’s illustration program. Now this Delaware-based artist is 32 years old and, from the helm of her eponymous company, is signing contracts with the fashion world’s elite, everyone from Chanel and Kate Spade to Donna Karan and Ralph Lauren. Her illustrations are whimsy at its finest, depicting sweet, watercolor renderings of wildly chic women. Dallas’ imaginative drawings have graced the pages of countless magazines and style blogs, and have even cropped up on the official tote for last year’s Fashion Week.
Today, Dallas welcomes The Everygirl into her home for a tour around her office and a chat about creating the stylish company that’s been taking the fashion world by storm.
Full name: Dallas Shaw
Current title/company: Owner, Dallas Shaw
Educational background: Bachelor of Arts in Illustration from Marywood University
Does what you studied in school apply to what you currently do? If not, where did you learn the skills required for your current position?
I majored in Illustration in College, but have been drawing practically every day since I could hold a pencil.
What was your first job out of college and how did you land that position?
While I had several jobs throughout school, my first job after college was working in Walt Disney World’s animation building, teaching guests how to draw. I wrote to an animator at Walt Disney Studios when I was in the 6th grade and asked for a job…eventually, I interned there and began work there after graduation. I knew that I wanted to be an artist at a very young age. It wasn’t until a year or two later that I transitioned into fashion.
You have what many people would call a “dream career.” How did you get started in the fashion industry? What advice do you have to others looking to succeed in it?
When I decided I wanted to work in fashion I realized I didn’t know a soul in the industry so I used the talent I already had, mixed with personal style to reach out to designers nationwide. I called them, I emailed them, I got my artwork into their hands any way that I could. Eventually it worked.
When did you launch your illustration brand Dallas Shaw, and how has it changed since starting? After you had the idea to start your business, what was your first step to make it a reality?
The Dallas Shaw company began as just illustrations and has now evolved into fashion illustrations for the best fashion houses and other stylish projects. I began making it a reality with a website the second I decided to do it. If you think too hard about anything with that is considered risk, you’ll talk yourself out of it.
Your list of clientele includes Chanel, Kate Spade, Donna Karan, and Jack Rogers. How did you gain the attention of such highly esteemed brands? Was it something that happened quickly or did you build your way up by working with smaller companies to start?
I worked my way up and paid my dues to say the very least. I have always had an art-related job but I started by taking anything paid (almost anything). I realized that I wasn’t happy just drawing, I needed to take on projects that I really enjoyed, and that’s when I switched over to fashion related projects—what I really understand. Now I am are fortunate that I can pick and choose my projects.
From illustrating to fashion design, you have had amazing opportunities to showcase your work. Last year you even designed the official tote for Mercedes-Benz fashion week! Did you ever dream that you would have that kind of opportunity? What do you think is a main ingredient that has attributed to this kind of success and recognition for you?
The support from the fashion industry has been a huge asset to my career. When I began working with designers they realized I wasn’t just an artist, I also study fashion and love the industry. It was very valuable to designers, and my business grew because of that. They passed my name around in the industry very quickly. I didn’t expect the immense support, but I found that designers didn’t just want my artwork, they wanted to work with me, and that is still the best part about my job because I can always bring my own style into the work. I live in Delaware currently so I do need to get to NYC and California often. I lived in Florida before moving here (I am a beach girl at heart), but it is important for me to be closer to the city.
In what ways do you still want to see your career evolve?
I am working on even larger projects this year and I hope to keep working with more fashion houses. I am also working on finding new ways to make the work more readily available to everyday fashionistas as well (the new shop page at the website, etc.).
How did you support yourself when you were in the beginning stages of launching your business? Did you ever work for free and would you recommend others do as well when they are starting off?
When I began my business I had a full-time job until I was stable enough to leave. I would work full-time in the morning, and work on building my own business at night. It took years before I could do it full time. I never worked for free, but very often worked at a lower cost when starting out. I think the biggest mistake anyone with a real talent can make is devaluing his or her work.
How did you handle marketing your services when you were just starting out?
I tried a lot of things. I worked with a gallery in Miami to show my work, and when I didn’t find my clients there I tried different pr reps. It cost me alot of money to figure it all out. It turns out for me, designers want to hear directly from me, and not an outsider so now we do all marketing in house. You sometimes have to try many things to find out what works best for you.
What is your favorite part about running your own business? What is the most challenging part?
There is a lot of good in running your own business. The ability to work on your own time, the sense of pride, the beautiful things I get to see in the fashion industry. The challenging part is keeping up with the hours in the fashion business. It’s pretty non-stop.
Take us through an average day at work. What does your typical schedule look like?
My typical day is a whirlwind and there isn’t much of an average day b/c projects change weekly or monthly. Generally I am up between 5 and 6 in the am. I spend a few hours in the morning writing and responding to emails, reviewing new project proposals, making sure all of the social media sites are running smoothly. Then I spend the rest of the days running in and out of meetings, drawing, stopping by a client’s place for a brief style consultation or event depending on the project. I am usually doing some research at night for projects- checking out images and trends to make sure what I love shows up in each project.
Best moment of your career so far?
I am so thankful to be able to say I have had a few. I have a certain sense of pride watching the DKNY Pr Girl project become so successful on twitter (and off). When I saw people carrying my bags on the way into a shows at MBFW- that was a pretty amazing feeling. And I just finished illustrating a book that will be released soon. All good moments.
What advice do you have for other aspiring entrepreneurs?
I always tell entrepreneurs that you need to make sure you truly love what you choose to do because to be successful you have to put in the hours. If you don’t love what you do, you won’t have the drive to keep it up.