Dionna Dorsey is the founder of Dionna Dorsey Design, a creative direction firm, and her side hustle, DISTRICT of CLOTHING, is a lifestyle brand encouraging progression, inspiring action and supporting self-love.
Dionna’s love for design began as a young child with a coloring book and has since grown into an entrepreneurial passion. She uses simplicity, consistency, and inspiring design to support clients in their brand development through creative services.
I had the opportunity to interview Dionna recently. Here are some of the highlights of that interview:
Jill Griffin: You have a full-time graphic design company called Dionna Dorsey Design as well as a side hustle that’s an online store called District of Clothing. What is the concept behind the District of Clothing?
Dionna Dorsey: We are a lifestyle brand that encourages progression, inspires action, and supports self- love. Our top-selling item is a t-shirt that says, “Dreamer Doer.” Very simple, very direct.
Griffin: I love the District of Clothing name. Where did it come from?
Dorsey: I have a branding, marketing and fashion design background and I live in DC. So I was considering all of those at the time. I thought about how much Washington DC loves and supports Washington DC and as I kept going with different names, District of Clothing stuck with me, especially for local marketing reasons. It also worked because I wanted to spread our message of encouragement, action and self-love as far and wide as possible. I eventually developed designs for people in other areas like Baltimore, Philadelphia and Los Angeles. It really helped from a marketing standpoint for the brand.
Griffin: What was it about your business that said to you, “This is going to grow?” What was the gut feel there? I’m really interested in women’s instincts.
Dorsey: I believe that entrepreneurship is a calling. I was called to this. I had and still very much have a gut feeling that we will continue to grow and reach people in a most positive way. I went to fashion design school in Milan and was a fashion designer in NYC in my twenties. One thing I learned was to keep it simple and to make it memorable and timeless. That’s what I aim to do.
Griffin: How much of your income came from District of Clothing? How much time did you spend on that business before COVID, and how has that changed during the pandemic?
Dorsey: Prior to COVID, something like 20% to 24% of my income came from District of Clothing and I spent 5-10 hours a week on it. Today, I spend about 30 hours a week on my side hustle business.
Griffin: How did you build District of Clothing revenue during COVID?
Dorsey: In early to mid-March, I started to notice the decrease in client requests from Dionna Dorsey Design. I was anxious about work and fearful about the pandemic, but I realized that if I am constantly encouraging my community to take action then I should probably take my own advice. I needed to find some peace in the midst of the chaos and so I pivoted toward productivity with District of Clothing.
I changed my social media strategy and referenced flattening the curve, social distancing, being productive and how Isaac Newton developed the theory of gravity during the pandemic that he experienced. As time went on, I started posting real-life quarantine experiences like laundry piling up and other experiences discussed in my group chats.
I also worked on my website. I removed the homepage hero image so the site would load faster. I added a message banner at the top to note orders may be slower than normal because we were receiving wonderful correspondence from Printful that let us know the steps they were taking to keep our North Carolina and Los Angeles teams healthy and safe. I created a “Work From Home” sale inspired by social media posts showing that people were doing Zoom calls in our “Dreamer Doer” shirt or grocery shopping in our “Do Not Touch the Artwork” shirt with a mask on.
Griffin: Did you introduce any new products during the pandemic?
Dorsey: Yes, I launched the Common Purpose collection that I designed in 2019. I was planning to release it in August or September of this year as a way to encourage people to vote in the 2020 American presidential election, but then it hit me that there’s no time like now to have a common purpose when we’re only going to get through this pandemic together.
I added the Common Purpose collection to the site in April and earmarked a portion of those sales to support COVID relief. The money is going to the World Central Kitchen. They have donated over 10 million fresh meals to real people. It’s been a joy and delightful to support them.
Griffin: With all of those efforts during the coronavirus outbreak, what happened to your District of Clothing business? What were the results?
Dorsey: Business exploded. In April, I received 170 orders averaging two to three items apiece. That’s compared to 29 orders the previous month and 49 orders in April 2019. I had a strong May as well, nearly matching April’s volume.
The other thing that happened was an unbelievable response from the District of Clothing community. People sent messages and DMs. If there was day or two that we didn’t post, people sent DM’s to check on us and ask how they could support us as a small business. I get emotional just thinking about it.
Griffin: That’s amazing. Why do you think District of Clothing resonates so much with customers?
Dorsey: We have a community of people who share similar values and beliefs. They are interested in inspiring action in themselves. And we all need community and encouragement. I also think that when you act with integrity and intention, when you are inspiring and seek out the good in others, people organically connect to that. It’s energizing, it’s uplifting – it’s almost a high in itself. The photos we post aren’t models but actual community members wearing their “Dreamer Doer” shirt and sharing about how they’ve been motivated by the brand and our message.
Griffin: Any final thoughts about your entrepreneurial journey?
Dorsey: If an idea comes to you – especially for women and women of color – if you have the ability to take 5 or 20 or 25 minutes a day to work on it, do it. I remember hearing my parents and Oprah talking about having multiple streams of income. I turned 40 last week, and every day these things matter more to me. I would encourage men to do the same thing as well. It doesn’t have to be the next Nike or Purell or whatever. It can just be the first whatever it is, and that can be enough.
That makes me think of a Maya Angelou quote: “My wish for you is that you continue. Continue to be who and how you are, to astonish a mean world with your acts of kindness.” I try to remember that every day.