Ten whole entire years have flown by since I started Dupenny in the attic bedroom of my parent's house. The name (one of my mother's nicknames) was a temporary choice that stuck. My plan was simple; I would make the world smile, one wall at a time. I sat in my quiet loft space doodling vintage pinups, burlesque dancers, zombies, vampires and the like... People laughed and told me no-one would buy my designs. Some even thought I should be "ashamed" of myself. One day around that time I discovered my favourite ever quote:
“Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary.” - Cecil Beaton.
Everyone said it wouldn't work, but I knew better than to listen to those who lacked imagination. I had no business experience and no clue what I was doing, but I did have a vision and a drive to be reckoned with. And I knew how to get attention.
In those days the internet was like the Wild West, still waiting to be discovered. My first website was static, it was just sooooo awful! My folks would help me cut up HUGE reels of wallpaper on the floor of their hallway. I'd spend my nights screen-printing lengths of wallpaper by hand at Print Club Londonbecause it was the only time the studio was empty enough to print wallpaper!
I spent most of my first year preparing my stand for 100% Design, where I officially unleashed Dupenny into the world. I applied for one of 5 newcomer bursary grants towards show costs and was told I had no chance. Amazingly, I won the grant, had the press booths smothered in my wallpapers and was nominated for an Elle Decoration British Design Award - it was a lot to take in! I've been so fortunate that running Dupenny has been my full-time job every day since.
The past 10 years have been... non-stop. I won't sugar-coat it, it's been pretty stressful at times. I was severely naive to the constant bullsh*t that comes with the day-to-day running of my own little business; what ghastly monster of a horror show have I created?! I'm sure most small creative business owners can relate! I tell you, it's no joke, and if it wasn't for the good stuff I would have given up long ago.
So, about the good stuff ... I'm thankful for all the far, wide and wonderful places my little dream has taken me, and the clients and friends I've built trusting relationships with in every corner of the world. I'm grateful to all who've supported my journey - the ones who helped me get started, those who've tirelessly lugged suitcases of my wallpapers around the globe, anyone who's found themselves stuck on a ridiculous "adventure" for the sake of my work, and those who still stick with me despite it all. Honestly, I have to wonder why anyone would put up my sh*t!
Some of my favourite highlights include my wallpapers exhibiting alongside famous works by masters of controversy such as Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen and Damien Hirst, my '50s Housewives' and 'Call Girls' designs being added to the V&A Museum Archives. I've created my very ownDupenny Boudoirat Brighton's infamousHotel Pelirocco,collaborated on my own fashion range with ModCloth,been slammed by the Daily Mail (AKA Daily Fail) on more than one occasion, and the '50s Housewives' have even starred alongside Hollywood royalty, Richard Gere!!! Yes, you heard it.
To celebrate a decade of business we've revamped our iconic 'Burlesque' Wallpaper to include scarlet red lips. We printed a limited number of rolls, which are already proving super popular, so if you like what you see, you know what to do!
One thing that's always astonished me on this journey is just how willing small, creative businesses are to support each other and offer advice. I've been asked a lot of questions and made every possible mistake over the years, so I thought I'd put together a list of 10 valuable lessons my career has taught me. I hope this advice can help other small creatives who want to carve a similar career for themselves ...
10 business lessons for creatives:
1. Find your niche and own it. Even the most saturated markets have room for something better, new and fresh. Don't bend to suit the market, make the market fit around you.- When the world was still drowning in "vanilla" wallpapers people used to tell me no-one would pay for my wacky designs, "especially at that price". All I can say is, they were very wrong.
2. Create your own hype, don't wait for others to do it for you. Don't be afraid to "fake it 'til you make it."- This came naturally to me from day one. It's not rocket science. Get attention, get attention, get attention.
3. Don't worry about what others think - really don't. It's a waste of your time, not to mention none of their business.- If I had a penny every time someone's been offended by my work I'd own my Jaguar E-Type already ...
4. There will NEVER be enough time, so buy it. - 10 years on and I still can't accept that I'll never catch my tail, not even for a second! Figure out where your time is most valuable and outsource the remaining tasks to others. (I'm still getting to grips with this one myself.)
5. Stay true to your morals. You are in control of what your brand represents. Set the standard. - (From the start I've aimed to use sustainable methods, materials and packaging. Try sourcing those things 10 years ago! Luckily the world is slowly catching on and such alternatives are more readily available/affordable.)
6. Your competitors are your friends, use them to your advantage. They get it.- I cannot stress how valuable my fellow designers have been over the years. We discuss everything from photoshop tricks, to supplier issues, to which shows are worth doing. It took me a while to realise it's not a competition.
7. You don't need a "big break" and there's no need to sell your soul!- If big commercial projects are what you want/need, then by all means go get 'em! Personally, I find them no different to working for someone else. I realise I'm happy doing my thing without compromising my creative freedom or soul.
8. Don't compare your success to others. - This is your story. Theirs is theirs and you don't know what they did to get there. If they're doing well then good for them, they've obviously got something right! Stay focused on your own dream, not someone else's.
9. Make time for yourself. - All guns blazin' eventually takes its toll both physically and mentally, and makes you less productive in the long-run. Nowadays I'm constantly pushing to improve my work/life balance, because what's the point in all of this otherwise?
10. Be adaptable. - Technology moves fast! 10 years ago many of today's most successful businesses didn't exist, and some of yesterday's biggest companies have since evaporated. A lot changes in 10 years. You either evolve with the times or you get left behind. Harsh but true.