Designer Danielle Guizio dropped out of fashion school and decided to start her namesake brand in her parents’ basement with only $400. Cut to nearly five years later and you’ll find the likes of Kylie Jenner, Bella Hadid and Hailey Baldwin Bieber sporting her streetwear-inspired threads under her eponymous label, Danielle Guizio, with a coveted spot in Forbes 30 Under 30. But how did Guizio get to where she is today?
Danielle is the perfect paradigm of how hard work and tenacity coupled with passion can really drive a dream forward. And, she did it singlehandedly without financial backing and in a very millennial way: utilizing social media as a platform to garner a following and turn fans into sales. From the days of Myspace to Twitter and Instagram, Guizio took advantage of her digital networks and understood early on that a strong social media presence and leveraging influencer marketing would be the most effective (and in her case, viral) strategy in terms of brand awareness and driving sales. To this day, Guizio is referenced as a success story for designers that have used Instagram as a launchpad.
What you’ll learn about Guizio, even from a brief chat and a look around her showroom, is that she’s a committed designer who takes her craft seriously and hasn’t taken the easy way out since she started. She even follows the industry constructs of producing seasonal collections and campaign shoots with international showrooms in Milan and Paris – a refreshing business structure when Instagram brands prefer employing intermittent “drops” to sell product instead. She sketches herself, is meticulous when it comes to what color and fabric will go on which silhouette, selective when it comes to aligning her brand with partners, and above all, has become a disciplined designer in multiple categories without formal design experience.
Below, a candid conversation with Guizio who walks us through her early beginnings and how she has grown her fashion empire to the coveted, celebrity-clad label it is today.
Taylor Boozan (TB): Give me the full Danielle story from day 1.
Danielle Guizio (DG): I started my brand four and a half years ago out of my parents’ basement. Prior to that, I was working retail for a streetwear company and I had just saved up money from my tax return which was only about $400 that I put in savings, and I used that to start my brand singlehandedly with three graphic tees. Before that, I was going to fashion school for the business of fashion. I had dropped out and was in a confused place — it was expensive and my parents didn’t have the means to fund it. So I figured, let me take business classes at community college. I left the city and moved back in with my parents, and on the side I started working in streetwear and interning for a PR company, so I had my hands in both business and fashion simultaneously. During that time I had a crazy health scare.
TB: What happened?
DG: I went to the doctor for something else and they ended up finding a tumor on my liver. They had to remove half of it along with my gall bladder. It was absurd. I was in-and-out of Sloan Kettering and things were happening really fast. I finally got word that everything was fine once I recovered from surgery, and I realized life is so short and we really have to do what we want to do while we’re here. I told myself this is the time where I have to be selfish and I have to make decisions in order to make myself happy.
TB: At this point have you ever designed clothes, even for yourself?
DG: I never went to fashion design school, but ever since I can remember I would customize clothing. Since middle school I would go thrifting and I would customize everything myself, cut things up, distress them, make my own t-shirts with spray paint, or other kinds of supplies and write on them.
TB: Did you know what it would take to start your own brand?
DG: My dad owns his own business so I was always around it and I understood how serious owning your own business is. And if you’re going to do it, you really have to do it and focus. Growing up I wasn’t on the honor roll but I knew that I had it in me to work really hard towards something that I wanted. After I recovered from the tumors, it really put life in perspective. I told Mark, my boyfriend, and his sister who I’m best friends with that I wanted to start my brand while we were sitting on the couch one day, and I knew I wanted to start with graphic tees because they were so symbolic to what I grew up with. So, I made a website, took product shots, had a launch date, and everything pretty much sold out the day we launched. At this time I was shipping out of my parents’ basement.
TB: How did you make the announcement? Instagram?
DG: I used Instagram, yup. I guess Twitter was probably bigger than Instagram at the time. People weren’t really utilizing Instagram as much as they do now, but I’ve always used it as a business tool. I was so much in that mind state at a young age and wanted to utilize my platform to turn my followers into sales. I just remember being in my college classes swapping out my product shots, updating my item descriptions while not listening to my professor — I would hide behind my desk and pretend I was working. Eventually I couldn’t manage both, and I told my dad that I couldn’t do this anymore and I literally have to tend to my business. He saw the sales and knew it wasn’t a joke.
TB: So you were a one-woman show?
DG: Yes, and my little brother who I somehow brainwashed into helping me for free. I didn’t even have a car! Some days I would walk to the post office and drop off my own packages. My overhead was obviously low so I continued to flip, flip, flip. I began placing bigger orders. My dad let me leave school and after that, I was just insanely focus on my brand. It’s crazy when you actually give something so much life and so much attention and you see when you really nurture something what it can grow into. I saw a lot of my friends doing side hustle things which is cool, too. I love that.
TB: How did you get from shipping graphic tees out of your parents’ basement to getting threads on celebrities? Who was the first celebrity to be seen in your line?
DG: Kylie (Jenner). She wore one of my oversized graphic tees. I’ll never forget that moment. I found her address, shipped a shirt to her house and she ended up wearing it.
TB: What were the immediate results from that?
DG: Well, sales obviously but instant brand recognition for sure. And you know, even though it was a few years ago, the internet was still working just as fast so that’s how I started getting recognized by other stylists, and that’s how Hailey (Baldwin Bieber) started wearing my pieces and Bella (Hadid).
TB: How do you manage designing for so many categories? What was the trajectory of when you launched each one?
DG: I started out just designing for women’s, but I realized that men were asking for the pieces as well especially with the graphic tees. A lot of my pieces could be unisex, and when I came out with the bombers more men started to ask. So, I was like, if I can be filling this void, why not offer it? For swim, it was definitely something that I personally wanted. I kind of just taught myself how to design swim all by myself from working with manufacturers and I just jumped right into it. I didn’t go to a traditional design school but it just came naturally to me I guess. I have an undying passion for designing and I’m super eager. If I want to design something, I say let’s just do it.
TB: How would you describe the aesthetic of your brand? What kind of person aside from yourself are you really trying to speak to?
DG: I think I’m definitely speaking to the youth. My customer demographic is 18 to 35, so I’m speaking to the customer who essentially is me. I’m my own customer and demographic pretty much. And as I’m growing, they’re growing with me. In terms of style, this is always a hard question for me to answer in a way because there are so many different elements to certain pieces. We have blazers, we have more mature pieces, hoodies, and then we have your sexier items. The one thing about my pieces and the silhouettes that I design is that I always want whoever is wearing them to feel good whether it be the fit or the material. I want you to be comfortable, even in the sexier pieces. Comfort is confidence.
TB: Tell me about your collection with the FDNY.
DG: I reached out to FDNY myself. When I was thinking about who I wanted to collaborate with, I asked myself who I valued the most. I have the utmost respect for the FDNY and I come from a family of firefighters on my mom’s side. The legacy of dedication to firefighting and people risking their lives to protect New York City is inspiring. A portion of sales from our collection is donated to support the FDNY.
TB: What do you think is the importance of having collaborations for a brand like yours? Do you think that your customer gravitates towards that?
DG: It’s definitely a combination of both for sure. Because for me, to do collaborations and join forces with two companies is epic. And especially something that’s totally contrast to what you are, you know? I have an exciting collab for summer 2020 that I’ll be able to share soon.
TB: What’s a typical day like for you?
DG: I come into work and I pretty much start working right off the bat with my employees and answering any questions that they have on the business end. I usually attend meetings and join calls with sales. Towards the end of the day is when we have our design meetings and we start creating because I always say, I’m not thinking of one good idea before 3 p.m. I’m just a night owl. Last night I was up working until 4 a.m. brainstorming and thinking of new logos.
TB: Are you rebranding?
DG: Right now I’m planning to drop Danielle from the label name. I want to gear it more towards Guizo, especially since I’m producing more menswear. I think Guizio is more universal. So, I guess a rebrand in a sense, but we’re always coming up with new logos. Branding right now is so important especially as my brand is really beginning to grow. I want people to be able to identify it and these are just the beginning stages, but it’s the perfect opportunity to create your own path and create your own niche.
TB: Do you think that getting clothing on influencers and celebrities still is the best approach since you’ve seen such amazing success since your start? Is that still the core of your marketing strategy?
DG: It’s actually kind of interesting because that was something that helped me hardcore in the beginning phases. Seeding out to influencers, et cetera. But the past year, that’s something I’ve definitely been holding back on because you realize how important it is to give your brand exclusivity. So, it came to a point where I was like, wow we’re gifting too much. It’s almost like too many people are wearing this in a way. When you want it to feel special, you want there to be exclusivity behind it. So, we have been holding back and we don’t gift to influencers that much anymore. I’m super particular about who we gift to and sometimes that could be someone who doesn’t even have that many likes, or that many followers. It’s just a girl that I believe looks true to my brand, and we’ll gift to her because it’s an organic seeding rather than just showing it to the masses. One cool girl wearing your piece that you feel connects with your brand is sometimes better than 100 influencers wearing your brand, but I think you just become more protective over your brand in general. I see a lot of brands over-gifting and I want longevity for my brand. But I of course respect and admire all influencers. It’s crazy what they’re doing and how they’re helping brands. Some brands are growing singlehandedly off of them.
TB: Who do you want to see in your clothes?
DG: I’m heavily into K-pop artists and I’d love for them to be wearing my brand. That market is just insane and one that I’m trying to tap into. But here in the US, I love Jorja Smith, Solange, SZA and Bella Hadid. I love how they’re always experimenting with trends and you can tell that they’re not afraid to wear something. I think I relate to that a lot.
TB: And your boyfriend has a jewelry line?
TB: How long have you been together?
DG: Six years, since before either of us had our brands.
TB: And how did that work? Do you guys collaborate with each other? How do you feed off of each other both being designers and owners of your own brands?
DG: Well, we live together and we obviously share an office together. We started our brands at the same time and even though he’s a jeweler, it’s crazy that every single step of the way of starting a business has been reflective of each other. Everything mirrors, even if you’re in different industries. We still do the same exact thing and face the same exact struggles. And I’m only realizing this year that I don’t think I could get to where I am — and there’s still a long way to go — without genuine support. We’re always helping each other and we’re always inspiring each other. We’re on this wild ride together.
TB: What is your go-to uniform? What are you always wearing?
DG: I’m either always wearing just a vintage t-shirt and denim jeans or a dress and sneakers.
TB: When was the moment where you realized, wow I really created something amazing, or ‘this is it’?
DG: I continue to have those moments. I think you get so obsessed with just business in general. It’s not that I’m never satisfied – every single day I’m super grateful for everything that I’ve accomplished and everything that I continue to do. But nothing ever feels like it’s complete. Nothing ever feels like it’s finished.