I have had a creative crush on the Yowie brand for quite some time. Getting to meet Shannon Maldonado and learn more about her impeccably curated collection has been such a treat. We sat down for an interview and got to talk about the creative process behind Yowie along with what it is like to run a small business:
How did you first get interested in fashion and home goods? What were some of your early experience working in the industry?
I have been making things for as long as I can remember. When I was a child my mother would create custom outfits for my sister and I using colorful trims and remnant fabrics that she found on Fabric Row. She taught me to sew around age ten and how to alter Butterick and Mcall's patterns. Those moments helped me realize how much I loved being creative. During middle school I began sketching every day, reading every fashion magazine I could get my hands on, and making my own clothing.
I attended F.I.T. to study fashion design after high school and fell hard for American sportswear. The feeling of seeing my first sketch as an assistant designer graduate into a proto sample is a very strong early memory. Another highlight was working on the launch team for a brand called 77kids. We were such a lean team that we were able to be immersed in so many facets of building a brand from the ground up. I know that experience helped me prepare for Yowie. I am such a sponge and do my best to learn from every company that I have worked for.
It seems like you come from a family of entrepreneurs how has this helped you with running your own business.
This is a recent development in our family history. My mother and sister started a food truck three years ago and riding that wave with them has been so rewarding and given me so much respect for everyone that works in the food industry. Watching them grow organically and seeing the highs and lows of that first year especially sticks in my mind. It's long hours, sleepless nights, and lots of mistakes in the beginning.
Their teamwork is something that I admire so much and often can't believe how well they balance one another. I don't have a business partner but consider them and my best friend Katie (who is also an entrepreneur) as my daily sounding board for everything and anything Yowie related.
You have a background in fashion design, what drew you to curate a home goods collection?
After over a decade of working in fashion, I started to see my inspirations shift into home. I've always worked for large clothing companies but never wanted to have my own clothing line, yet the thought of owning my own store or gallery space was always looming in the back of my mind and heart.
How did Yowie initially start, describe the process and how the business grew.
Yowie began with a few Pinterest boards and lots of neon Post-its. Once I decided I was going to start something I filled a notebook with inspiration for the logo, the products I'd like to carry, name ideas, and the feeling of a future store environment. While working full time I stayed up late most nights and weekends for six months before taking the plunge towards freelance.
I saved money, researched starting an LLC, and read every article in Inc., Bloomberg Business Week and Fast Company that time allowed. When I received the first official product "Yes!" from a ceramicist in Los Angeles things started to feel official. I decided on the date May 9th for our launch and the rest is history.
I am always excited to look online and find great brands I have not heard of, what is the process like of finding new brands and what is it that makes you invest in them for your store?
The process of finding new brands and artists takes place mainly on social media and then through a few of my favorite home and design sites.Each item has to be really unique or a riff on a classic shape or era of design. I want my customer to feel an emotional pull to each object that we carry and if it's less emotional than perhaps it's something very functional that they didn't know that they needed.
What were some ways you were able to grow your online business?
I am still learning how to grow my online business. Yowie is eight months old and though we've seen growth in our social media and online sales channels it feels as if it’s happening organically through the pop-ups, word of mouth, and Instagram. I don't have it all figured out but what has worked for us is being consistent, creating our own content, and trying to post something meaningful to the brand every day.
You have had two really amazing pop- ups at Meadow Sweet Mercantile, what were something you learned from that experience and do you have any suggestions for anyone interested in doing a pop-up?
Thank you! The pop-up model is a great learning experience for any online shop. Getting customer feedback in real time is priceless as well as being able to tell the stories behind some of the objects, and walk customers through our exclusive collaborations. I think perceived value was my number one learning and I now have a better understanding of how much people are willing to invest in which kind of product.
If you are looking to do a pop-up I would say plan, promote, set goals, and have fun. Give yourself the time to make it a memorable experience for your audience and don't feel shy about asking people to come. I sketched fixtures, emailed local publications, contacted over a hundred potential customers on Instagram, ordered pop-up exclusives, set sales goals, and endless other steps, and it all felt worth the time invested.
It can be hard to launch a business because there is so much competition, what are some tactics you have used to reach your customer
I think you have to be 300% confident in what you are trying to sell. Period. There is always going to be competition so you need to work hard to find your customer, continue to engage them and to remain consistent even if it seems like no one is listening.
I used to be more introverted but now I am so comfortable reaching out to people that I think might resonate with my brand. Using Instagram messenger or sending a simple personal email has been a great tool. You have to love what you're doing because launching a business far from easy and takes incredible stamina.
Tell us about the newest pop-up you are working on:
I have a two-day pop-up happening at my favorite coffee shop and agency Rally on February 11th and 12th. This will be a small selection of our current assortment and a few new items including exclusive vases by Brian Giniewski. I am also in the early stages of planning on a longer residency for the month of March and sourcing a space for May which is our one year anniversary which will also coincide with the relaunch of our website.
What are some new products/brands you are excited for (from Yowie) Is there any exciting stories behind these products?
I am very excited about some things that are working on with Dean Roper. He is an artist that I have been a fan of for a long time. Also excited to begin carrying some one of a kind pieces by the Philly-based Felt + Fat ceramics team. I like mixing new with older iconic brands so we will soon be carrying Crow Canyon Home, an enamelware brand that is 40 years old and whom I've admired forever. I love finding pieces that seem like opposites but work together in your home.