Friday, February 19, 2010

An Interview with Dana Gibson Designs

During my exciting trip to the New York International Gift Fair, I was fortunate to have had a lovely conversation with Ms. Dana Gibson, owner and founder of Dana Gibson. I was immediately attracted to her work and she was even lovier to speak with than her objects I admired. We chatted about design for a while and exchanged contact info. at the end of the conversation. As an aspring designer I am always curious about how people become so successful and Dana was nice enough to offer an interview for the Shorely Chic blog. She started out making thing in her basement after a short stint as a teacher... 

Me: How did you get started with Dana Gibson? i.e. what were you doing before, what did you start out making? where did you start selling? etc....

Dana: My first career was teaching but it was not a natural fit. (I had to study hard to keep up with tenth graders). So when I moved back to my home town, Richmond without a teaching job, I started thinking seriously about turning a hobby into a money making operation. I took several great classes in ceramics in Louisiana at LSU and continued in Richmond. The things I was drawn to and made were so different than what others were doing. I was interested in ornate porcelain and they were into simple forms or earthy textures.—very pottery looking stuff This difference was the seed for knowing I had something to offer that would set me apart and a key to my success in the long run.

I first worked in my basement, a great big white room with a kiln and three work tables. I started selling to local stores then went on the road-- New York, Jacksonville, Charlotte-- and picked out a few exclusive stores . After a year I hired an assistant to help me. I had a production line now and it was all about how many pieces I could make in a day. Little did I know the selling of it was the biggest challenge. (It still is.) I remember taking $5000 worth of product to a church bazaar. I sold about $100.

I learned from this of course and kept going. Henri Bendels ordered 12 tureens which led to a 3 year relationship with the store. It occurred to me to print a catalog and that netted a huge order with Neiman Marcus. Things have changed as far as marketing so being adaptable is a huge plus.

Me: What is it that inspires you the most?

Dana: Beautiful things inspire me- a room, a beaded box, an old worn transfer ware platter. I’m more about things that have been made- a cathedral, textile- than nature. To me nature is relaxing and freeing but if I see something someone has put together and made out of nothing, I am inspired to do this too.

Me: What have been your biggest challenges as a designer?

Dana: Changing with the times. Certain things go out of style I have found in my 15 years of doing this. Thankfully I’m not in fashion or I’d have whiplash. When I first started, Shabby Chic was just dawning. Pale colors, vintage charm and distressed furniture were everywhere. These still have their place but the look is not prevalent, a bit like bubble skirts and blue eye shadow from the eighties. Black and white crispness is dominant, jewel tones and exoticism, although I see this trend waning. Staying on top of these is probably the most challenging because I have to order my product 6 months in advance. My customer is traditional and classic so she won’t s change a whole lot but she doesn’t want her house to look dated.

Me: At what point in your design career would you say you took your biggest risk?

Dana: Going overseas to manufacture. It was the best thing I could do. My conservative father said no but I heard the roars yes from everywhere else. It was a gamble for sure but if I hadn’t taken that step, I’d definitely be out of business. My product was too expensive and you could find something almost as nice at a lower price point. I also was getting a little tired of production but going overseas has it’s own set of problems.

Me: What is the most satisfying aspect of being a designer?

Dana: I like the response from my customers, the people who buy it. It’s kind of like being on stage and having an audience. To see that they like the same thing I do is tremendous. It’s also a connection with other people. In writing it would be called a voice. I have a small voice in the world of home design and that’s satisfying.

Me: Would you say there is a certain trait you must have to become successful in this industry?

Dana: Tenacity. It’s 95% work and 5% glamour. I spend some days straightening out the warehouse, or fixing product that comes in flawed so it is as nice as it can be before we ship. MY name’s on my product so when a customer has a problem, and they will when you have a lot of customers, it’s a stresser. Another thing that is helpful is faith. If it s meant to be it will be.

Me: Do you have any future plans for DG?

Dana: I’d like to design wallpaper and textiles but for now I’m so busy running the business, the time I need in the studio for this is not there. I really enjoy making beautiful things that people enjoy in their home. I kind of like being a part of their lives. At Christmas, something I made will give someone pleasure and I think of this on Xmas day. Pleasure is a huge theme in my life and what I do. Good food, excruciatingly beautiful colors, a book that moves you deeply. It’s all we have.

Me: Anything you'd like to add would be great!!

No except good luck to anyone who is thinking of doing what they love. It is a lot of work but the rewards make up for that. I’m never bored, I’m challenged, I get to come up with creative solutions. I always thought it would be fun to work in advertising—there’s a lot of stewing involved. Problem solving and working hard are a formula for success.
Wasn't that great?? I loved learning about Dana's journey to success and am even more excited to have established a relationship with this talented designer!


  1. Great interview. She is so inspiring. When we learn how important hard work and tenacity are to a successful business and for that matter life, it gives us reassurance. Good things are not easy to get.
    I also love her style and comments on keeping current with style. It's so easy to get stuck in a style especially as we get older. It's good to keep it clean and fresh.
    Thanks for sharing that interview!

  2. Thank you for sharing! We can learn so much from others! Michelle-

  3. That cowhide lamp base and pink croc base are fabfabfab! Wish I knew about them last week. I wrote a piece on animal prints used in interiors. Those are my all time favorites. Good find! Really nice interview with Dana Gibson.

  4. I want I need I love.. everything!!! You and Dana have such a gift. I wish I had that decor talent. Thank you for the interview :)

  5. Great interview. Isn't itrefreshing to learn about such inspiring people:)

  6. Thoroughly enjoyed this interview!!
    Thanks for sharing it with us!

  7. I've met her, she is really nice. I worked for a designer (aka wicked witch of the west) in Richmond and we sold Dana's line. Love her little wastepaper baskets.

  8. Really enjoyed this interview. Would love to hear more on about sending your ideas overseas to be manufactured.

  9. fun post! I love hearing how people get started. I love those cushions on that chair!

  10. This is great. I love her comments at the end. So encouraging for anyone on the cusp of a big project or dream!

    As for her designs, especially love her wastebaskets and frames. Why are cute wastebaskets so hard to find?

  11. awesome job. thanks. those patterns and pillows are lovely.