As part of AIGA’s Diversity & Inclusion initiative, we are kickstarting our new series Diversity in Design – a collection of interviews that showcases the work, and celebrates the accomplishments of Tampa Bay area creatives who represent the multi-faceted definitions of diversity. Candidates featured come from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds or groups including gender, sexual orientation, ability, cultural and ethnic origins, race, age, and socio-economic conditions in the Tampa Bay area. This month, we have a chat with Djenee Dunn, owner and brand stylist of D.TAMU, Inc. is a boutique brand styling agency based in Tampa, Florida.
Tell us about yourself, and D.TAMU, Inc.
I grew up in the US Virgin Islands, and I lived there for 17 years. When I began searching for colleges during my senior year of high school I knew that I wanted to be in Florida. I just wasn’t sure where. A representative from the Art Institutes visited my school and I immediately knew what I wanted to do. My mom and I went on a tour of various colleges in Orlando and Tampa and when I got to the Art Institute of Tampa, I left already registered for the next semester. I wanted to experience different things, travel, and explore more outside of my home-island. I thought Miami and Orlando were too big for me, and soon discovered what Tampa had to offer.
I experienced quite a culture shock, I mean even just going from only shopping at KMART to having Walmart and Target was a different experience. I even began working really hard to try and mask my accent so I wouldn’t have to repeat myself. It was a little rough just finding my footing at first, but quickly began to discover where I could be myself.
At the Art Institute of Tampa, I studied Fashion and Retail Management. After my first year there, I began thinking about the longevity of the career I wanted, and also the financial impact the program was having. I applied and received a scholarship from the University of Tampa and went on to receive a Bachelor of Arts degree in Advertising and Public Relations.
During my senior year at UT, I was the first PR and Communications intern for Elevate, Inc., a local PR company. Then upon graduating, became the first full-time employee. I managed a team of employees and interns as a Senior Account Executive. Shortly after that I went on to work as the HR Manager for an IT company in Sarasota. Long story short, I hate driving and I’m not really a big fan of those sensitive HR conversations.
During that first year and a half after graduation, I quickly realized that the office-life wasn’t for me. I wanted flexibility and the opportunity to work with clients of my choosing – the ones I found true value and potential to build lasting relationships with. I began working with my mom as a consultant for her PR company, did some freelance projects, and worked as an Executive Assistant for the owners of PerfecTiming Concierge and FocalPoint Business Performance of Tampa Bay. They both encouraged flexibility and were selfless mentors for me in moving towards my goal of business ownership—and just feeling appreciated—which I think I lacked in my other places of employment. I truly looked up to them and knew I wanted to have that success. On February 29, 2016, I officially launched D.TAMU, a boutique brand styling agency that works with businesses to create the best version of their brand by merging the gap between content and design.
I am a huge proponent of giving back to my community and I also volunteer as a board member for two amazing non-profit organizations: Positive Spin, Inc. and The Tampa Connection.
Since D.TAMU focuses on branding, why do you think it’s important for businesses to have good branding and storytelling?
I primarily work with companies and clients that are just starting out, not sure how to jump start, or still figuring out their audience. It is important to put branding at the forefront of your business. To me, branding is more than just making a logo, it’s creating a cohesive story that your audience can follow and recognize, creating a sense of loyalty.
D.TAMU stands out from the one stop shops like Fiverr because we are thinking of the longevity of your brand, developing strategy, and creating the entire mood #issavibe
Any recent projects that you would like to share?
D.TAMU recently launched our Non-Profit Project of the Year program, giving organizations in the United States and US Virgin Islands an opportunity to receive our services with very limited costs to them. I mean verrrrrry limited! Check it out here. I’m also currently working on building up a directory and resource center for young entrepreneurs in the US Virgin Islands called YES.VI. It’s more of a passion project and I’m building it up slowly.
What is representation to you, and why is it important in the community?
Women of color have been coming out of the shadows, not only in the creative community, but also in politics and technology. Inclusion gives a sense of accomplishment that we don’t see very often in these industries. It’s a big deal. We are making great strides and it’s changing the way we see women of color and what we’ve been trying to tell the world we’re capable of doing from the get-go.
We have to make room for ourselves at the table. We’re tired of “just being” and not having the support that we need and have earned. So, now we’re just grabbing up all the seats, bring our own thrones, and being the head of the table in many cases. And even more, we’re ‘hyping’ each other up and bringing others along with us. It’s a come-up!
I also want to point out that I’m started to get tired of hearing this narrative around “women in business” – I think it’s starting to get played out. It’s time we establish and accept that women are equally capable of having success as business owners and it’s not because she’s a woman that it should be this huge deal. Yes, there are some benefits that come along with having the ‘minority’ status as both a woman business owner and a black business owner, but it doesn’t need to lead every conversation.
Any advice do you want to give to people who are wanting to break in the design industry and/or as a business owner?
Don’t try to compete. Everything is not, and does not have to be, a competition.
You have to find people in your area of expertise who do the exact same thing as you. I have what I call a “business bestie.” I met Allysen Kerr, the owner of Antebellum Design Co., at Tampa Bay Startup Week. We hit it off immediately. We bounce ideas off each other, ask each other for advice, work on projects together, vent our frustrations and grab lunch or drinks every so often. It’s important to have someone you can trust and feel like you don’t have to compete within the same industry as you.
Just do it. Take the leap.
When I started, I only had about $1,000 in my savings account with nothing lined up but my gut instinct. It seems unfathomable, almost impossible, but having your own business is attainable. I know it’s easier said than done, and there are many other contributing factors, for instance I didn’t have children to consider like many others may. So, do it at the pace most comfortable for you, but don’t keep putting it off.
Make lasting connections.
I cannot stress enough the importance of making connections. I’ve spent maybe $20 on advertising for D.TAMU. The majority of my clients have come to me by referrals from other clients and friends that I’ve created trusting and lasting relationships with.
The Diversity in Design Series aims to cultivate and broaden an inclusive design community by celebrating creatives from traditionally underrepresented backgrounds in the Tampa Bay area. Do you or someone you know want to be featured?
Learn more about AIGA Diversity & Inclusion.