Danielle Johnson

When Danielle moved to a small town in 7th grade she was able to try a lot of things. This helped her confidence.

Take us back to you as a kid.

I was a spaz. I was loud, animated and I laughed a lot. I was always creating something: drawing, painting, singing, taking pictures, writing, making jewelry. And if I wasn't doing any of those things, I had my head in a book. I moved from Urbandale to Van Meter in 7th grade. Because it was such a small school I was able to be involved in anything I wanted to try so I tried most of it. I feel I owe a lot of my confidence to this.

I drove a silver VW Beetle stick shift with a ceiling decorated in buttons, pins and pictures. I was into music and art. I began selling jewelry at my mom’s farmer’s market booths. I officially started my first business with a friend in Jr. High, we even had business cards. My dream growing up was always to be an artist and the only thing that has changed is my definition of artist is broader than it once was.

What’s keeping you busy?

I became a vendor for Bon-Ton in December 2016 so that filled 2017 with huge changes. Christmas just wrapped up and I was busy with custom online orders and wholesale orders for the 40+ Younkers and Herberger’s stores I supply. I was invited by West Elm for two pop ups in December. My husband, Austin, and I had a blast meeting everyone who came into the store and getting to know the awesome team there.

We’re moving the shop from the basement to the garage. With the slate coming in on pallets and the amount of product we are going through, carrying it downstairs just to carry it back up again is a step that needed to be cut out. We are excited for the change.

Along with my new designs I’ll be launching this year, I’ve been accepted by the University of Iowa to sell their licensed products so I’m excited to see where all of this takes me.

"Over the years, I had spent a lot of time on Etsy buying gifts and dreaming of opening my own shop."

Walk us through the days leading up to starting your own thing?

I graduated from ISU with a degree in English and no real experience. So when I moved to Minneapolis after graduating, I had no idea of how wanting to write a book translated into paying the bills. I bartended and had a couple desk jobs, actually all things I really enjoyed doing. Over the years, I had spent a lot of time on Etsy buying gifts and dreaming of opening my own shop. In February of 2012, I mustered up the courage to register my shop even though I had no idea what I was going to make. Seven days later I went to work and the company had been bought and I was laid off. So instead of heading home, I went to the craft store and bought supplies for some things that had been floating around in my head. I made wine cork coasters with the corks I had saved from bartending. And I sold a set! Austin and I went to dinner to celebrate my first sale. So while I looked for a new job I worked on product ideas and building up my Etsy shop.

How do you focus on the work you love doing? Walk us through a good day.

I'm a full-time mom to a four year old and a one year old who doesn't sleep much. On a good day, the kids play nicely together and nap at the same time in the afternoon so I have a chance to do some work downstairs or at the kitchen table. Austin works full-time so we really rely on our time once the kids are in bed for the night. We’ll go down to the shop and work for an hour or two. That’s when we can really focus, so we’ve both become night owls. Austin will mix ink, prep slate and tie finished coaster sets while I stamp and paint the designs onto the slate.

"Instead of heading home, I went to the craft store and bought supplies for some things that had been floating around in my head."

What have been the challenges? Who and what has helped?

Honestly, focus and time are my biggest challenges. When I get an hour of uninterrupted work, it's a miracle. I'm multitasking at all times: playing with the kids, wrapping an order up, dishes, laundry, lunch, emails, etc. I always try to use my time wisely which leaves me wishing I was a more fully present mother, but that's the struggle when you work from home and you’re the boss.

When I became a vendor for Bon-Ton and I needed to make some big changes to accommodate the size of the orders and how quickly they came. Austin played a huge part in turning my Etsy shop into a business. He implemented time studies, a smart work-flow and built a shop in our basement. We work together at night once the kids go to bed. My in-laws play a big role in keeping this afloat. They are always willing to step in and come on the weekends to help with the kids, the meals and production. My mom, who lives in Florida, has flown in several times to do whatever I need her to for a week at a time. My dad has a wealth of knowledge in growing a business and has helped me immensely in me making the right long term decisions. I literally could not do this without help. Maintaining a business is hard enough, but the process of growing it and building a brand has quickly made me realize I have to ask for help or all aspects of my life start to fall apart.

Someone is starting a project for the first time, what would you want to say to them?

Finish it, even if it's junk. Then start the next thing and then the next thing. All of the sudden, the things that didn’t work will be behind you and what’s working will be in front of you. It’s not easy and it’s tiresome. Fear, self-doubt, and failures will try to wreck what you’ve started so keep people in your life that help silence those doubts and push you through them. Don't be afraid to fail- I know it is so easy to say, but once you step over that terrifying line of what ifs to what’s next, everything will start to move quick.

"Fear, self-doubt, and failures will try to wreck what you’ve started so keep people in your life that help silence those doubts and push you through them."

Why Des Moines?

When I left Des Moines after college I was never coming back. There was nothing to do, it had no potential, it was too small, too this, too that. Growing up, downtown Des Moines became vacant and depressing. But after living in and loving Minneapolis, when we decided to start a family I wanted to be right back here. It’s safe; it’s home. But what surprised me is that it feels different. There is an energy that wasn’t here when I left. New businesses, events and ideas. I am so glad we came back.

Des Moines is growing. What’s one new thing that caught your eye?

One thing that has caught my eye is how many other people are out there doing their own thing just like me. Making, building, creating, designing, whatever it may be. Doing your own thing is lonely and it’s so easy to feel isolated. But I have met some really great makers and they are a huge encouragement to me on a day to day basis. I think it says a lot about our community here and how we are growing together.

If you could grant the Des Moines one wish what would it be and why?

I wish for Des Moines to maintain it’s sense of community. I feel like it’s such an obvious feeling when you're out and about. Since I moved back a lot has changed. Not so much physically, it’s the same Des Moines I grew up driving around. But it feels different. And I feel differently about it now. I want to be part of it, part of this movement where we all make this city exactly what we want it to be, together. I feel like I can be part of what makes Des Moines great. And not because of what I am doing or what I have accomplished, but because I have the desire to be a part of it. I LOVE that. Minneapolis felt so big at times and I definitely never felt like I could be part of it in that way. There, I was on the outside always looking in, but here I feel like I can just walk right in.

"I have met some really great makers and they are a huge encouragement to me on a day to day basis."

Convince someone new to DSM your favorite place to go on your day off.

My daughter loves going to see the Iowa Cubs play, so we go as often as we can and it’s become one of our favorite things to do now. Who doesn’t love a good baseball game in the summer? You can always get good seats, interact with the players and drink local beer from the Iowa Craft Beer Tent!

The most underrated thing in DSM is ________. Why?

What you can buy locally. Think outside the box. Instead of clicking through Prime, check out what is being made here in Des Moines. You can find so much right here! Decor, clothing, food, coffee, beer, wine, music, art, furniture, business services, I mean the list goes on and on. Head to a locally owned business, use the shop local option on Etsy, clock through the #madeindsm hashtag and you’ll be surprised at what you find!

What are you most proud of and why?

I’m proud of the life Austin and I have built. I am so proud of Austin and his career. On top of working very full days he comes home and is an amazing dad to our kids and works late into the night with me. I may have started this six years ago but it took both of us, completely and entirely, to get it here today. This business wouldn't run without us both being all in, so I'm thankful we are. It's not common or easy to work well with your spouse, but we make an excellent team.

"This business wouldn't run without us both being all in, so I'm thankful we are."

In three months what do you hope to accomplish?

I am currently working on collaborating with some Des Moines breweries and businesses. I’d love for 2018 to hold as much work with local brands and companies as I have time for.

I'm hoping to complete some new designs and products that I've had floating around in my head for ages. We’re planning on applying for local shows and the Farmer’s Market. We are also looking into getting our product in local shops around town.

What’s one thing people need to know you really care about?

My kids. This business allows me to stay home with them and that means the world to me. Working from home with little ones brings a whole slew of challenges to the table, including getting the actual work done. But I wouldn’t trade a single moment of frustration or slow productivity for more success. Being here for their day to day moments is an honor I’m so grateful for. So I want to say thank you to each one of you who have supported me along the way. 

Derek Jensen