Welcome to Career Week! While we always make career-focused content a priority on Fashionista, we thought spring would be a good time to give you an extra helping of tips and tricks on how to make it in the fashion industry.
Dani Roche was aware of her entrepreneurial spirit as early as age eight. "I remember sitting underneath my dining room table at my parents' house, trying to sell my drawings to my mom," says Roche over the phone from Toronto. "I thought it was so cool to have a shop." By 16, she did just that and launched an online shop called Plastic Skyline with her friend and longtime business partner Bianca Venerayan. Inspired by Nasty Gal during its eBay days, Roche's own e-commerce venture offered vintage clothes, but it wasn’t easily backed by platforms like Shopify or Squarespace. Instead, she was hard-coding every single item for sale and copying and pasting HTML to build her website.
After high school, Roche went on to study graphic design, though she notes that it was "kind of by default." Her college degree led to full-time jobs at MTV and a community platform called The Creator Class; throughout college and her early years of work, her fashion-blog-turned-creative-agency Kastor & Pollux, which she founded in 2011, was treated like a side gig. But about two years ago, she decided to focus all of her attention on Kastor & Pollux, taking on more projects and growing a team of three full-time members to work with her, in addition to contributors and collaborators.
A true product of growing up online, Roche's personal brand was built on the internet from a young age as she logged onto fashion websites like Lookbook.nu, or web forums about graphic design. With Kastor & Pollux, Roche applies her knack for turning digital content into IRL experiences — such as a pop-up art installation for a local shopping center, which garnered more than 2 million impressions on Instagram, or an activation with Fujifilm that generated five million Instagram impressions over two days. "It's about combining these experiential spaces to ultimately market digitally," says Roche. "I like to bring that 2-D versus 3-D aspect to all of my work."
Now, at 25 years old, Roche is the creative director of a new outerwear brand called Biannual, officially launching this fall. And while Roche's background isn't exactly in fashion, she believes everything she's worked on has informed all her projects — past, present and future. "I think that also makes for a more well-rounded scope of work because I'm always curious and interested in trying new things," she says. "Biannual is an extension for me to try something new."
Roche's approach towards Biannual is inspired by her own friends from all types of niche backgrounds, as well as the idea of dualities and juxtaposition. The 100-percent vegan line — which ranges from oversize, vividly color-blocked puffer jackets filled with "down" made from recycled cashmere blend, to bold faux fur coats in red and white — features adaptable details, such as a zip-off hoodie or removable trims. "Everything is meant for anyone. I want to be able to see every single one of my friends from every single walk of life being able to enjoy and style Biannual as their own," she says.
We caught up with Roche to learn more about Kastor & Pollux, her new gig with Biannual and her best advice for those hoping to kickstart their own creative business ventures.
What made you want to start Kastor & Pollux, and how did it turn into a creative agency?
After the vintage e-commerce shop, my business partner at the time and I wanted to start something new, and we came up with Kastor & Pollux, which was originally also an e-commerce store, but because of the rise of the fashion blog and online fashion communities, we saw an opportunity to use ourselves as a catalyst and marketing tool to sell the clothes that we were designing. So Kastor & Pollux gained notoriety for being a fashion blog — even though we started as a platform to show what we were making.
Around 2014, I decided to shift the focus from being exclusively a fashion blog into to doing more creative community projects. We started to do art shows and more collaborative work with people in Toronto and from there, I decided to shift the focus completely to more creative content services. Right now Kastor & Pollux does anything from event production and design to branding and content strategy to photography and videography. For me, it's just an opportunity to continue to collaborate and work across disciplines, but also a way to self-discover what I'm interested in doing.
How did your creative director role come about with Biannual?
Biannual came to be by its parent company called Corwik Group, which wanted to create a new outerwear line that catered towards a more conscious millennial consumer. Because I don't come from a traditional fashion background, they knew that I would be approaching them from an on-the-ground community perspective.
What were your first thoughts on taking on Biannual, especially since you don't have a fashion background?
Going into anything that's out of the ordinary is scary, but for me it's really exciting to be able to throw myself into something that I know I'm not traditionally trained in. Biannual is exciting because I can build something from the bottom up, like starting with literally nothing and figuring out what my message was, what I wanted to say with the brand, how I could digitalize that and how I could share that with an audience.
What have you learned from this creative director role that you haven't from running a company?
I've always been an all-or-nothing person. Even though things like sales are out of my scope of work, I've been trying to learn how the industry works and how production works because it will inform my work in the long run. And to be more familiar with the timelines. My mind has been blown so many times because as a consumer or on the creative side of things, you'll get a project brief and you'll know what the deadline is. But you don't know what the steps are that lead to that deadline. With Biannual, I can figure out the process of how everything works and why it comes together the way it does. That's the most exciting part for me even though it's also been super overwhelming and stressful — but in a good way.
What else do you want to explore professionally and creatively?
Just in general, I want to learn new programs — I recently decided I want to learn to use Rhino, a rendering software that architects use. I feel like all those things can inform the work I'm already doing. So for Biannual, I would love to do some kind of activation or build a pop-up or window display, I knew how to render things I would be able to effectively come up with a design and have it actually look legit rather than a proposal. I feel like learning things that way will push me to try new mediums with projects I'm working on.
What's your advice for those wanting to take the leap on starting their own creative business ventures?
I talk to a lot of students, and what I've noticed a lot for young people is there's still a huge hesitancy to put work out there that you're not 100 percent stoked on. But it's important to make as much as work as you can; try as many new things as possible and learn from those experiences. There are so many things that I'm embarrassed of online that I posted over the past 10 years or so, like old Deviant Art or Neopet Guild layouts. I'm so embarrassed of them but I'm not trying to look perfect. I didn't just fall into this position that I'm in now. It's been a lot of years of doing work that I'm not necessarily super proud of, but has helped me to learn and grow and be a better designer and better business owner and better creative director.