A 7-Figure Licensing Program?! How Dabney Lee Got Started in Licensing -

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A 7-Figure Licensing Program?! How Dabney Lee Got Started in Licensing

Licensing

3/16/2020

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For today’s episode, I have not one, but TWO special guests joining me. First is my licensing agent, Julie Turkel, who has been on the podcast a few times now (read/listen to Julie’s story here and what our designer/agent relationship looks like here). And we have Dabney Lee—another one of Julie’s clients.

Dabney is a really great, down to earth, amazingly talented designer and mom of triplets who I met when I taught a workshop in her store in 2015. She’s so incredibly inspiring all the way around. When I was contacted by a yoga towel company a couple of years ago, I had no idea what to charge or what my fee would be to have my artwork on their products.

I instantly thought of Dabney because she has stationery, a spa line, lunch bags, etc. in all the big places—Barnes and Noble, Staples, Target, Home Goods… Her designs have been featured in Matchbook, Design Milk, Oprah, The EveryGirl, Hamptons Magazine and more. She is a staple in the licensing industry and has been doing it for a long time.

I know a lot of you are interested in passive income and how to earn passive income, monthly passive income, whether you’re an artist, photographer, designer, influencer… Licensing is the jam. So let’s dig into licensing and Dabney’s story!

 

Tell us about you and how you started your brand.

Dabney: (03:00) First of all, thank you for having me. This is my first podcast. Super exciting. Love it. Yeah. And we go way back. What year was that, that you were at my store?

Jenna: I know, I was just trying to think. I think it was maybe 2015. Oh my God, it’s so long ago. I know in Dumbo. Brooklyn. You don’t have a store anymore?

Dabney: I don’t have that store. I have a store in Shelter Island in the summer and then maybe something opening closer to home soon. We’ll see. But basically I started my business in Atlanta, Georgia because I loved paper, like I loved all things stationery, all things monogrammed, personalized, bright colors, super preppy. And I just, I would do these holiday shows at schools and churches and I mean, I just really hawked my wares, I mean, it was hard. I did it at night, I did it on the weekends. I had a full time job and it was just kind of like my passion project and I started and I loved it and I just kept going and going and going.

And I worked at this post production company in Atlanta and one of our clients approached me and she said, “Hey Dabney, I want to start a stationery company and I would always doodle in my spare time. And she said, “I want you to be my artist and can I…”, She didn’t use the word license, but she said, “Can I I buy some images from you or can I work out a deal that if I print your image on stationery for Parker, blah, blah, blah, I’ll pay you a percentage.” And I was like, Oh yeah, that sounds great. Sure. Why not? Like that sounds super easy. And it hit me the other day, like I started in licensing from the very beginning and I had no idea until the other day I realized, I’m like, Oh my God, that’s exactly how it started.

Julie: I hadn’t heard that part of the story by the way, Dabney. That’s so interesting.

Dabney: (05:05) And I was like, Oh my God, this is so funny that that’s where my career ultimately ended up. There was a lot of in between, between that and where we are today. So her name was Siobhan and she brought in her samples one day to show me and it was like a light went off and I was like, Oh my God, this is what I want to do. I want to do personalized stationery. I want to have a stationery line, I want to wholesale it, I want to sell to retailers. How exciting. And living in the South, there were stores on every corner, stationery stores. And so I would go and I would do my research and I like got my prices and I’d see what their trends were. And at the time I was dating my now husband and we weren’t engaged yet, but he made me wait awhile, five years to be exact.

He was from New York and he moved back to New York for a job. And I just said, look buddy, like I’m not moving to New York until I have a ring on my finger. I already moved from California to Atlanta, like, if you want this, you got to put a ring on it. So he did. And when I was moving up to New York, I said, listen… At this point I had built a following and I was doing a ton of like custom work. I hadn’t started wholesaling and I said, I think I want to do this crazy thing called the stationery show, which was at the Javits in New York once a year humongous show. And I said, “Okay, listen, I really want to concentrate on my brand Dabney Lee. And he was super supportive. And so I moved in August of 2004, or that’s when we got married.

Dabney: (07:05) And then I did the stationery show for the first time in May of 2005. So I busted my buns and it was back then there were Imprintables, I don’t know, I’m dating myself for your listeners, I’m going to assume, but Imprintables were like a box set of stationery you could take home, you could print on your inkjet at home and you could turn it into personalized stationery or an announcement. Your face tells me you’ve never heard of.

Jenna: Yeah, I feel like a newb, but yeah, I’ve never heard of it.

Dabney: Oh God, I’m so old.

Jenna: No, you’re not.

Dabney: Feels like it right in this moment. They were huge, huge, huge. Like you would walk into Kate’s Paperie in the city and they’d have a whole section of Imprintables.

Julie: I lived for Imprintables.

Dabney: You could write on it. I mean if you were super savvy you could print on it yourself. And a lot of these like small boutique stationery stores would print in house. And so if you needed a quick turnaround invite and it was inkjet, super affordable, super fast. This was right at the age when the digital printer was coming out. So like the Indigo and all of those printers were starting to become super popular. So it wasn’t like you had to have a huge offset situation, you didn’t have to do letterpress anymore, you could have it super affordable. So my whole thing was pattern. And so what I did was I put pattern on the…it was a flat card and it had like a little bit of a preview of a pattern on the front and then on the back it was all pattern and it was really fun. It was a little more expensive than the regular card because most cards were like one over zero or four over zero.

Dabney: (09:00) And I’ll never forget at the first show, I picked up 50 retailers who wanted to buy my stock and I was like, wow. And then one lady, I will not name her name but she…from Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania. She was like, “Listen, no one is going to pay this for your stationery. Like people do not care that there’s a pattern. And I was like, huh, interesting. That’s very rude. But like that’s all taken into consideration for like two seconds. And I was like, but that’s who I am. I’m all about pattern. So needless to say, she ended up buying from me like a couple of years later because she knew was wrong, I just became known for pattern. And so it did that for a few years.

Then I developed a line of personalized stationery with an album. So you’d like walk into Kate’s Paperie, you’d go in the back and you flip through their albums and you’d say, I want my name Jenna on a flat card with that pattern and that color. And because of the digital press, it was so much easier and so much more affordable.

So I did that for a few years and then I just kind of felt like this is getting a little stale, I want to try something new. And people just kept asking for different items with my patterns. So I developed this home line called Dabney Lee At Home. It was right at the launch of all of that lucite stuff. I mean it was just the lucite with the bright colors and the bold patterns like really popped and it was insanely popular. And I would do the shows and people would come by and they’d say like, “Oh, I wish you’d do a cocktail napkin.” Or, “I wish you’d do wrapping paper.”

And at that point I was like, I have no interest in figuring out how to go to China and making that product. Like I can barely manage what I’ve got going on here. I know it looks like I know what I’m doing, but like maybe I don’t.

Actually, one of my retail stores was friendly with the Caspari people and, and for your listeners, maybe they don’t know who Caspari is. They are paper company and they do cocktail napkins and paper plates and really fun items like that and they approached me and that was kinda technically I think my first license. And they said, we’ll pay you this royalty. And I was like, Oh my God, this is the [easiest] thing I’ve ever done. Like, no problem. I’ll do this. And we got the samples, I’m like, Oh my God, this is so fantastic and it’s beautiful and I love it.

 

Where did Caspari (the paper product publisher) find you?

Dabney: (12:00) They found me through one of my stores in New Canaan, Connecticut, and they’ve since closed, but it was called M. Milestones and the owner of the store was like super fun. It was back in the day when stationery stores were like super mom and pop and you have a relationship with all your vendors. So you’d go out for drinks or go out to dinner. I was just like, I want to say the good old days, but it really was the good old days and you would do a million connections. And so Dan was the owner and he was really friendly with the Caspari people and he said, You gotta meet Dabney. She has these amazing patterns. It’d be so fun if you did cocktail napkins with her and paper plates and whatever. So he was really the one that like helped me realize like there’s this whole world, but I still didn’t understand it. I was like, Oh, that’s so fun. Great. I had paper napkins and that was cool. Then I’m trying to think what year it was. I was approached by Blue Sky.

Julie: I met you right after you had the triplets and then we talked, you were kind of taking a little bit of a pause from being at the stationery show. This is the timing as I recall it… You and I started talking about working together and then I think I got pregnant and was having a baby and we were kind of going back and forth as to whether we were going to work together and then we signed and then right after that, I think Blue Sky came and they had seen you at one of the shows and you and I had just started working together. Maybe those conversations had started, but then they resumed right after you and I had started working together.

Dabney: Yeah. I feel like, yeah, they were walking the show. They found me because I think I was diagonal from one of their other partners and I cannot remember her name.

 

Was the Blue Sky deal your big break into licensing?

Dabney: (15:04) Absolutely. I think Blue Sky was my big break I think it was just right time, right place. I had great patterns. I had amazing design. Like I had the best booth at the stationery show. They would put me up and they used me as an example of this is what your booth should look like. And I wasn’t afraid of making it bold and bright and fun and they happened to be walking the show and it just kind of fell into place. I feel like I got really lucky there.

With Blue Sky, it was at the time when I think they…Julie, you’ll probably agree… they were looking for just something new and fresh and my prints were really bold and different than anything you were seeing in the marketplace at the time. And so they approached me. In the meantime, I had met Julie, like Julie was just randomly, not randomly, but she was walking the show looking for people that she could represent. And I think you walked by and you’re like, wait, what’s that? And I remember our first meeting and she was like, I’d love to represent you. And I’m like, Oh, okay, sure. This sounds too good to be true. Like, what’s the worst that could happen?

Julie: (16:34) I feel like you and I started working together and then Blue Sky happened at the same time. And you know, what was interesting about Blue Sky and their business, they had sort of secured this space at Target. It was an end cap in the stationery aisle at Target and they had sold Target on this idea of like, we’ll take this space and we’ll just keep adding fresh designs.

And so they saw Dabney and she had just started working with me and was like, “Oh, hey, you know, can you help me with this deal?” And I was like, yes. I had a lot of experience working in that particular area and working with, actually with one of their main competitors and it was just like really interesting timing because like I had just finished working on a lot of products in that same area. So I just had a lot of experience in that doing those kinds of deals. And I knew what the potential was at Target. And it was great. It was such a phenomenal opportunity for Dabney. I think it’s interesting in this podcast that she talks about how she started her business basically in licensing. But this was like the first time that she’s really breaking out into a major retail store with a seven-figure program, which is life changing for a creative person like Dabney who just is pursuing her passion. It’s like a life-changing event and turning point for the business.

Jenna: (18:11) So that initial program was a seven-figure program?!

Julie: Yes. In terms of wholesale sales, it was a seven figure. It was a huge amount of space in Target. It was an end cap. And the idea was that it would happen once a year. So once a year, like with this deal was like if the product sold, which by the way it’s sold through, it was like 98% sold through or 100% sold through. But if the product sold, it would repeat again and this would become like an ongoing thing.

Dabney: Well and it’s insane. Like for me it was like a real… Like I cannot believe this is actually happening. I cannot believe that someone wants to take a chance on me. Something that I created that’s all been like in my head and like I love this and these patterns and these bright colors and I like to mix them and match them and like throw them on things. And along comes this company and they’re like, “Hey, we want to take a chance on you.” And it’s fine. Like you can take a chance on me but it doesn’t mean it’s going to sell and it does really well. And I’m like, wait, who are these people that want to buy things with my name on it and my design… it was a real “pinch me” moment.

I still look back, I’m like, Oh my God, I feel like the luckiest girl in the whole world, that this could happen to me. And it just, I don’t know, like so many blood, sweat, tears, you know, all nighters went into what I was doing before with all fulfilling my own orders and doing the wholesale. And then all of a sudden I was like, all that was meant to be because it led me to this point in my life and in my career that I was able to say, yeah, I can do that. And people do like my designs and this is…

 

And now you’re doing stationery, home office accessories, tech products, pet products, lunch bags, gardening tools…

Julie: (20:41) Dabney has a spa line!

Dabney: It was, I mean, Julie, like it’s all a blur to me. You know, the fact that I had three babies at once and like, I don’t remember a lot of how I got from there to here, but I think it was, there was a a long time where it was just Blue Sky and Caspari but like Blue Sky was our main focus for a long time. And then from there, there were other deals that trickled in here and there.

But you know, the thing about us is that we love a partnership and we’re really loyal and we go to bat for our partners and we have really good relationships with them. So we stay with them for the long run. And you know, there’s also a learning curve when you start to work with a new partner. But with Blue Sky it was super easy. Whenever Julie and I talk about all our partners we’re like, Oh my God, Blue Sky is the dream. They’re just so easy and so lovely. And then there’s a time where you have to like get up and running with the others. But once they’re up and running, it’s so easy and it’s so fun. And just to see stuff come to fruition is, I mean it’s the best.

Julie: (22:09) One thing I want to point out… We’ve had Blue Sky as a partner, I think it’s 10 years. That’s crazy. That’s such a long time. It’s like, I think it’s in its fourth renewal or something like that. Amazing. It’s huge. And they’re known for having designers cycle in and out. They’re known for introducing trend designers to major retail stores like Target. That’s the essence of their business.

But Dabney has been one of their best-selling and I think longest running licenses. And for all that Dabney describes her look as being wacky and kind of out there, it’s super duper commercial and it never really goes out of style. There’s always a customer for her look. And I think that’s one of the reasons why. The other reason is probably because Dabney is a pleasure to work with. But just from a design standpoint it’s super commercial. And the other thing that I want to point out about the trajectory, cause I’m sure some people who are listening to this podcast are like, okay so she’s got this one deal and then the next thing you know all these other deals come and this is an endurance game.

It doesn’t sound like it was that long. But nonetheless, you are plugging away kind of doing your thing, paying your dues as a business owner or as a creator. And this one opportunity comes by and you probably manifested it in the same way that you started your business. You kind of manifested this first partner being a stationery partner that came along and introduce you to major retailer. But once you sign that partnership, it’s a great way to be like, okay, we’re off to the races, we should get more partners. But there’s usually, at least in my experience, a period of time that occurs from the time when you sign a deal to the time when it gets into the store and sells, which could be like a year where you might go out and tell the story of how this program is launching at Target.

Julie: But people are like, “That’s great. Keep in touch, come back to me when it’s sold through.” There’s a period of time where you’re like, okay, I can’t do anything until this hits because when this hits it’s going to be so huge. And then I can talk about how well it’s sold and then I will get even bigger partners or more partners on board for my brand.

So it’s been kind of like the process of our finding new partners and kind of like collecting… I think most of the partners that we have, at least the ones that are super fruitful for us are going into multiple years of renewal and they’re just people that we’ve collected along the way at sort of right time, right place for the brand because there’s the trajectory that I just described. You know, you’re selling the look, but you’re also pitching the story of how the brand got up and running and that takes some time to kind of craft it in a meaningful way.

 

On working with a licensing agent…

Dabney: (25:07) You definitely have to prove yourself. You say, okay, we did this and guess what? It was really successful and it’s sold through and you should take a leap of faith as well. And for the most part people do. And then they see and then run into issues in licensing, which Julie and I can talk about and commiserate about where a partner gets super excited about what you’re doing and what’s selling. And then they say want to launch into different categories that they don’t always have the rights to. For me, I just do the creative but poor Julie has to really, you know, she’s the boss. She sits down and she says, okay, so I love that you did umbrellas, but that wasn’t in your category or I love that you did when a soda pop cans, but that’s like not in your category. So then she has to bring them in… and then it gets complicated sometimes. Very awkward conversation.

Julie: I know, you know… I’m a bad cop.

Dabney: And Julie’s like, “No, it’s actually not fine. They’re in violation.” Or even if they’re not in violation, but if somebody else comes along and they want that category. You just have to protect yourself in this industry and this whole licensing world. And you know, for me, I wear my heart on my sleeve and I get super excited and I love the aspect of building a relationship with all of these partners. And we do, for the most part, have amazing relationships with who we work with. But sometimes things get a little loosey goosey. And you know, Julie’s there to make sure that the T’s are crossed and the I’s are dotted and nobody’s trying to get away with things they’re not supposed to.

Jenna: Yes. I mean, I also… Speaking from personal experience…I’m very grateful to have Julie on the team.

Julie: I’m very grateful for you all. I’m only as good as my clients.

Jenna: Love this. This is going in such a loving direction.

 

Why are more and more companies licensing art for their products?

Julie: (27:32) One of the things I do want to point out that Dabney is saying is that in art licensing and surface pattern design licensing is one of the fastest growing segments of the business. It happens to be one of the smaller segments of the overall licensing business, but it’s the fastest growing because a lot of companies have realized that they don’t have the design staff to design really beautiful product. Even though they can source it and it’s good quality and they know how to price it and ship it and sell it, but they don’t know how to design it. And they don’t know how to attract good staff…they don’t even want to pay for the staff in a lot of cases to create a library of patterns.

And they recognize that some of their buyers may be looking around at other brands, may be exposed to other brands or see certain looks. And so they look for a license and they look to designers like Dabney to fill that niche for them and to provide them with a brand hook and a design library that would be very costly for them to create on their own.

And so the upside for designers like Dabney is that there are these opportunities out there. But the downside, or at least the pitfall of that and the reason why you do need to be careful in these instances is that a lot of companies will choose the licensed designer brands because they tend to be cheaper than Disney. And they want to take advantage of the fact that designers are hungry for this, that their livelihood, that this is found money for them, their livelihoods then become dependent on it and they’re just the creative person and they want to just..I don’t mean it in a mean way, but they just feel like, “Oh yeah, they’ll be okay with this because you know, what, what are they doing? They’re sitting around creating a pattern. I’m going to pay them for it. So it should be cool.” But as you grow and become more experienced in licensing and you add more partners, you really just have to monitor them because that’s kind of the nature of the beast and you could get yourselves into trouble legally with one of your contracts if you don’t.

 

What are the 1 or 2 things that you can attribute your huge success in licensing to?

Dabney: (30:59) Oh God. That’s a great question. I think that, I think there’s a bunch of things that go into having a successful licensing business. I think that you have to have the passion, right? It can’t, for me at least, it’s not just about the paycheck, it’s about the passion to see those items. Like everything I think that we’ve ever produced with Dabney Lee and one of our prints is something that I would use in my life. So, you know, not that I garden, but I aspire to garden. So it’s like I want to tell a story. Like you can have all these really great things. Like I die for my Blue Sky planner, I’m holding one right here. I love it so much. I use all my tech accessories. I use all my cooler bags, my kids take the lunchboxes to school every day. So it’s really an extension of my lifestyle.

I think for some people you do sell out. And for me, I’m not willing to do that. So if I want to see my pattern on something, it’s gotta be something that I truly would use in my life and something that would make me super excited to see. So that’s one part. I think that having an organized library and having your assets in one central location.

And this took us a while to learn. Like Julie and I did not start out like this. We’re very much super ghetto in the beginning, did not know what we were doing, but after awhile I was like, no, there’s gotta be a process to streamline this. And so we did guidelines and we have a central Dropbox where we keep everything and we drop all new fresh patterns every quarter goes right in there.

Then most of our partners get an email that says like… I mean there’s a fantasy that like you just do it every quarter except that most partners want something in mid quarter and it’s like a special rush project at dah, dah, dah. So you’re dropping things in constantly, but you’re just reminding them like, Hey, this is on Dropbox and you should just peruse and see. At this point, I mean, let me, I’m just going to look into my Dropbox right now to see, cause I’m embarrassed that I don’t actually know how many prints we have in there right now. There’s over 300, at least.

Julie: (33:34) They can recolor them. I mean between that, the actual patterns themselves and just the fact that they could be recolored people want to do them and you know, licensees would want to do them in black and white or sometimes the best is when we walk into a showroom and they’ve taken your stripe and they’ve overlayed a lemon on top and they’ve mixed the prints. So those become new prints.

Dabney: It’s over 600. It’s very extensive! You know, they’re always asking for new and better and new colorways…and we’re very we’re very tolerant of and lenient. You can recolor. If a buyer comes in and says, I’m just going to use chevron because it happens to be one of the most popular ongoing patterns in our library, which at this point in 2020, we don’t know why, but whatever, it is! And people love it. It’s relatable. It’s an easy sell, it’s safe, whatever. You can recolor that every day and people would still buy it. So we just say, go with it. And you know, we have the, the right to approve the colors and you know, saying, well actually no, we don’t do mauve or we don’t do sea foam.

Julie: We do sea foam, we just call it mint.

Dabney: Big fight over that with one… We’re pretty easy going about that stuff. Like the buyers come to you and they say, I want to do a story in purple. And so we say, “Okay, that’s fine. You can recolor it,” and show them a storyboard and they can pick from all these different prints and recolor it in purple or eggplant or whatever they’re calling it. But that’s why it’s like endless. I would say our most popular prints are a stripe, a polka dot, a chevron, you know, it’s really interesting to me… You can do all these trend-setting prints, but at the end of the day… everyone in the masses are not buying that. They want something easy, relatable.

Jenna: I think that’s a really valuable point that you bring up, because you have a really huge variety of different types of prints. Like I’m just thinking the zebra because I’ve seen the zebra pattern that you do all over the place.

Dabney: Oh, his name is Bruno.

Jenna: Bruno. I did know that from the, from the Instagram stories you did the other day that you never do.

 

On using Instagram and social media…

Dabney: (36:22) Can we just talk about that for one minute. I have triplets. I work from home. Licensing also… well, maybe we can talk about that later, but it has afforded me to work from home, which has been life changing for me and my family. So I work from home and I really truly struggle with social media and Julie and I talk about this all the time. Sometimes she yells at me, but I try and then I’m like, okay, I’m gung ho and I’m going to do this.

Like I’m a one-woman show. That’s what people need to understand, too. I don’t have an assistant. Yeah, it’s me. I do this all myself and Julie, like I rely on Julie for a lot, but social media? That’s on me. I have a couple people that we hire out to take photography. And someone built our website and Julie’s like my partner, like I just bounce ideas off of her. But this, I just, I struggle with it cause I’m like, it’s 7:00 PM and I should be hanging out with my children and doing homework instead of doing social media. I thought I was 44 but I just realized I’m 45 so I think I missed the social media thing. Like I’m not that hip…

Jenna: Well don’t say that. I don’t think, I don’t think you missed it. I want you to leave that open because I mean you never know. But I do value that you mentioned that because there are so many people that struggle with the social media piece because life is crazy. And not that I want to say put all your eggs in the Instagram basket because that’s definitely not at all. And you have a thriving, very successful business that is definitely not attributed to Instagram. And so that’s valuable for people to hear because a lot of people put a lot of their eggs in the Instagram basket and think that in order to have, especially these days, in order to have a successful business, you need to have like this crazy Instagram following or you know, this beautiful aesthetic and feed on your whatever. And it definitely helps with promoting your products and your licenses that you have. But you did have these really beneficial and amazingly… They performed really well. These programs that you did before Instagram blew up. And so I think that attributes to why it’s maybe something you can get away with nowadays of not having to be on Instagram to promote your stuff and get new partners.

Julie: (39:05) I’m honestly not sure you really can get away with it in this day and age. Honestly, I think Dabney got grandfathered into a time where people were not really, you know, cars, manufacturers and retailers were not really looking at that. And she has a track record in licensing. I get this comment all the time from the licensees when I’m talking to them about challenges that they’re having or how we can do things better. Cause even though we’ve gained a lot of traction at major retailers, there’s still some that we want to get into that are now starting to look at, well what can she bring? More and more retailers are looking at like what does this, what can this brand bring into my store? What type of new customer that wouldn’t ordinarily come in here would come in because she’s promoting the brand and people say to me all the time, Dabney does really well. The brand totally sells without any promotion but imagine what would happen if we started to really promote this. She would just be on fire.

Dabney: So everyone send me your resumes. I would love to hire a social media person. (shop@dabneylee.com)

Jenna: Hey man, we’ll put your email in the show notes. So if anybody is a social media director, guru, whatever their title is, they can, they can shoot you an email maybe.

Dabney: That’s not my thing. I struggle with the guilt of, okay, I gotta be with my kids or I need to be working. And like I’d rather focus on creating new content and prints for our partners than social media. So I definitely, I mean I know we have this talk all the time, but I would love to have some help in that area. And that is a goal for 2020 for me. I’m not going to lie to, you know, maybe Jenna.

Jenna: Oh, I have no time for you girl. That came out so wrong!

Julie: I feel like one of the triplets, you should get them a phone and tell them that you’ll get them a phone if they just take, you know, take a photography class and take… Like my daughter, my almost 12 year old daughter understands lighting and like you know, knows how to use a camera. Like I don’t know how to use a camera. That’s like a big part of the reason why this isn’t Dabney’s issue. But part of the reason why I don’t want to be on social media is because I really don’t understand how to use a camera. It’s not my thing. But like these kids today are really savvy.

Jenna: They are man, and not to say that we can’t talk Instagram cause I would love to talk Instagram with you anytime, any day, any place Dabney. But I definitely can’t manage your social media.

Dabney: (41:37) I like it but I’m so real. Like Julie and I talk about this like she thinks people would love to see like a day in my life, but it’s not always so pretty. I’m like, all right, if they want it, I’ll give it to them. It’s just going to be, pardon my French, a s*** show.

Jenna: Totally. And that’s relatable. The s*** show is relatable. And so that’s people resonate with. And that attaches it to your brand.

Dabney: I think it’s not to the fact that like our first deal with Blue Sky was like why would all these people want to buy something that I made? Like why? Why do these people on Instagram want to see me and my life and I’m not that fabulous? It’s just normal. It’s me, I’m working, I’m raising three children.

Jenna: That’s why they want to see that.

Julie: I was going to say, I feel like of all the brands that I follow and all the things that I see, I mean I think you’re more interesting than a lot of things I waste my time following. The fact that you’re so humble about it and it’s sort of effortless for you that you manage your triplets, you know you’re a full time mom and in your spare time, you know between the drop off and pickup, you create these patterns and you hand them off and you say you don’t know why people buy them, but you have a pulse on something. You have something that a lot of people don’t have that they really have to work hard to create. It’s effortless to you, and you have a sense of humor about it.

Jenna: (43:11) Your sense of humor is awesome by the way. And also you just got to think about these partners that you have and you’re in Target for example, the customers in Target… A lot of them are parents and a lot of them have that like, Oh her life is chaotic, too? Phew! I could manage this, she has triplets or like being inspired that you have this really thriving, successful business AND are a mom of triplets. Like that’s doable. That’s something that people can aspire to. And then they see your name and you know you get it, you get it obviously on the shelves of Target and they’re like, Oh I’ve recognized that name cause I follow her because she’s so inspiring. How she’s able to juggle it all, do the mom thing and the business owner thing and all of that and it just attaches people to your brand even more in a more humanizing way. Something that they can actually resonate with.

And it sounds so weird because we didn’t use to need to rely on that, that we rely on it, but we didn’t really need to be aware of how the consumer thinks and how they want to attach and purchase from a human or have more relationship built with the brand that they’re purchasing from. But it’s just the way social media has completely shifted consumerism and completely shifted businesses today. And you know, obviously you’re still going to be incredibly successful whether you decide to pick up and run with Instagram or not. But I do think that there is, like Julie was saying, there’s a huge opportunity for you there because your life is so interesting to me. And it’s something that is so relatable, having all of the things that you’re juggling and all of that. And even if you don’t do it well, you’re still doing it. And it’s something that people can relate to.

Dabney: (44:54) All right, well anyone interested can send me a resume (shop@dabneylee.com). I feel like this was an intervention. Did you plan this?

Jenna: Totally. Julie and I decided before this podcast… we gotta sit Dabney down. We’re going to trick her.

Dabney: Oh my God. It’s like, you know, when your parents are trying to use the computer and you’re like, it’s not that hard. Technology. I get your pain. I get your struggles, though. So many people are with you. So I get it. I’ll make it a goal for 2020. I promise.

 

What is your dream collaboration?

Dabney: (45:59) Julie would say there’s so many, but I was thinking about this question today and I really, really think that for me it would be tabletop and it would be from like off napkins to melamine, like a whole hostess series where you could walk into, you know, a Home Goods, something where you know, it’s attainable, right? Target and you could say, I want to throw a fabulous garden party and I can go and I can get the most wonderful plates, napkins, cups, lanterns…like this whole fun party situation. And that’s what I do. I moved out of Brooklyn so that I could live in the suburbs and I love to entertain. I love fine China and all the good crystal and the silver. My grandma taught me all of that. But just to have like something a little more relatable and easy and functional with children to have this whole outdoor series would be fantastic. And you could have cushions for your outdoor sofa and like umbrellas and an awning and I think it would be absolutely fantastic.

Jenna: Oh, I’m already there, I’m sipping my margarita. Oh, I love that. I mean I think your pattern already should be in space that. When I visualize it, that makes perfect sense to me. And it is surprising to me that it’s not already in a hostess series. And I love that you have that like part of your personality, too. You like to host parties and that’s something that is so key in something that brings me back earlier in our conversation that you mentioned is something you would attribute a lot of your success to is like sticking true to you and designing things that you would also use. You use all your tech, etc. So I love that. I love hearing that from you and you are somebody that I’ve always been inspired by once I came across your work after I taught my workshop at your store, at your shop in Dumbo, which you no longer have anymore, but you do have some shops, right? You have one in Shelter Island.

Dabney: (48:18) So we closed Dumbo when I was moving to Westchester. We live outside of New York City now and I opened my Shelter Island store. This’ll be my seventh summer having the store. It’s just a summer shop. It’s open Memorial Day to Labor Day cause on the East coast you only have a very short season. We’re out there all summer and it’s fabulous and fun and we sell some Dabney Lee and we sell some caftans and candles and floaties, like a really fun beach shop. And I’m looking to maybe open a second store and we’ll see what 2020 holds.

It’s exciting and fun and a lot of work, but you know, my kids will be going to middle school in a year and the middle school is like less than a mile from our house. So I feel like at that point they can walk home and I don’t think I could have done this in Brooklyn. So I mean you can obviously, but I couldn’t, it was just I had the best nanny in the whole world when I lived in Brooklyn and we decided to move. And since then I’m like, there’s no one I trust more than her. So it’s just on me and, and I love that. I love that I can pick my kids up every day and I still get all my work done. And for the most part, nobody complains except for the social media. You win some you lose some!

 

Where can people find you?

Dabney: (50:32) On our website they can see kind of what we’re up to and what partnerships that we have. Someday they’ll be able to shop on our website. So if there’s anyone that wants to work on our website, also email me. They can see us right now in…Barnes and Noble, not Home Goods…well some Home Goods…

Julie: TJ Maxx, some Home Goods, Barnes and Noble, Target, Sam’s Club, Walmart, Office Depot, Staples… There’s more, there’s more. I’m forgetting some but that’s a lot. Meijer, we’re going to be doing possibly QVC. We’ve got a lot of places.

Dabney: Mainly on Instagram.

Jenna: Yeah, mainly on Instagram. Out of all of those places, she’s mostly on Instagram.

Dabney: And I may just tag you in every post.

Jenna: Thank you. Yes, please. But what is your Instagram handle?

Dabney: @dabneylee

Jenna: And then you guys know Julie, @iamjulieturkel.


 

If you are an experienced social media ninja interested in working with Dabney, send your resume to shop@dabneylee.com!

Comment below and tell me…what is your dream collaboration?

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