By Julia Gall
Women running their own companies? We love to see it. In our monthly series Small Business Spotlight, we chat with independent fashion, beauty, and lifestyle entrepreneurs about their journey to be-your-own-boss status. Here, tips for raising funds, developing a marketing strategy, navigating social media, and more—straight from women who have done it themselves.
Yowie was a “nights and weekends” project Shannon Maldonado started while working as a designer for American Eagle and, later, at Urban Outfitters after she returned to her hometown of Philadelphia. Then came the moment when she “hit a wall creatively” and left her corporate job to focus on her creative studio and lifestyle boutique. Five years later, she has big plans for keeping her business small and local while expanding the space. No matter what, she'll stay true to her core as a Philly-centric platform for small businesses and creatives, as well as a light source in the local community.
Beyond the store, Maldonado is also in her stride, taking on other design and consulting projects and collaborating with fellow creatives, like Telsha Anderson, owner of the fashion concept store, t.a. Today the two are launching a resin sculpture in partnership with American Express and NTWRK, a mobile-first video shopping platform. Maldonado and Anderson met on Instagram, swapping stories and sharing advice on being female business owners; they say they were thrilled to come together on a special project in support of small, minority-owned businesses. That is the energy Maldonado continues to generate with Yowie.
On Going Back Home
I quit my job, like, a month into Yowie without a real plan, to be totally honest. I had saved some money, but I wasn’t quite sure where I'd land. I moved back to Philly and was ready to do it here. I knew at the time [that there wasn't]—and there still isn’t—anything like us here and it would be really fun to challenge myself to go back to my hometown, re-learn the city, and also open a really interesting space that doesn’t exist yet. It’s been awesome, I’m so happy we did it here.
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On Turning the Side Hustle into the Main Hustle
I was freelancing at Urban Outfitters and I felt like I was living a double life. At that point, I had a storefront and people would come into my store on the weekends and say, ‘Wait, don’t you work at Urban? What are you doing here?’ And I would say, ‘This is my store.’ And they were like, ‘Well, then, what are you doing there?’ And I was like, ‘I don’t really know! I got to figure this out!’ So I was trying to straddle both fences. I wasn’t quite ready to leave fashion, it was something I wanted to do my whole life. I went to FIT and it was my dream to be a fashion designer. But [working at Urban Outfitters], I couldn’t really devote enough energy to growing Yowie. I was about 18 to 20 months in and I remember talking my one of my best friends and he was like, ‘Did you move to Philly to work at Urban Outfitters or did you move to Philly to start a brand?’ And I was like, ‘I moved to Philly to start a brand.’ And he said, ‘Then get out of there! Go focus on your brand and you’ll figure it out.’ I was still juggling other freelance [jobs] to make it work and I still do other projects outside of the shop.
On Putting Yourself Out There
It was super scary. Being a designer is all I know. I wasn’t trained as a curator, art designer, or interior designer, all things [Yowie does] now, so I mean, it’s still scary putting ourselves out there. I was so used to being an anonymous designer working for bigger brands, so now I feel like I’m standing out there naked in front of everyone like, ‘These are things I like…I hope you like them too.’ Taking a bet on yourself is scary but also exhilarating at the same time. I have an amazing community of friends and my family is super supportive and everyone is rooting for me [on] the sidelines and even on the days when I’m maybe not sure myself of what’s going to happen next.
On What She’s Learned
I think my greatest lesson during this time is that we can never be static. I’ve always thought of my brand as being in this constant beta mode. We test things all the time, and some were really successful and others that were, mmm...not so great. But we learn something from it or it was fun to do. So I think more than ever—since the pandemic started—always be ready to evolve. We pivoted back to being online and did workshops and online coffee meetings with customers who were looking for advice. We just tried to keep it really personal and keep that connection since we weren’t able to have those in-person visits. I feel like within two months our sales kind of stabilized. Vulnerability has always been a really big part of my brand and just being really open about my journey and the things I’ve learned along the way.
On Standing Out
I try to lead with some kind of humility [with regards to] what’s happening and am always sharing our platform with other people. We constantly try to raise money for local organizations and causes that we care about. And just being really human in a sea of DTC brands and huge big box stores; we want to feel really small. Being small and being niche is our strength, instead of trying to be something for everyone.
I got connected to the project through Telsha Anderson [the owner of t.a.]. Before Yowie, most of my friends were childhood friends or friends I met through friends or ex-boyfriends and now it’s expanded my friend group through the internet and social media; I have so many social media friends. So Telsha was someone I quickly bonded with, being female business owners, kind of figuring it out. I love that her brand is so youthful and playful but still elevated and we connected on a personal level. So when she called me for [the American Express] project I was like, ‘Yeah I’m totally in, that sounds really interesting.’ I loved that American Express was trying to really support small businesses at a very important time. We’re very, very fortunate that we were able to pivot, to survive, and even grow last year.
On the Future of Yowie
In the short term, we are in the procress purchasing a building in our neighborhood and becoming a mixed-use space. So we’ll have an expanded Yowie store, a cafe of some kind, and 10 to 12 hotel rooms that are Yowie-designed and branded above our store. I’ve fallen in love with hospitality through some of the design projects we’ve worked on with other people, so the idea of a Yowie hotel is so exciting. Long term, I want us to be woven into the culture of Philadelphia. I want people to be really proud that the brand grew here and we’re not expanding outside of Philadelphia. We do pop-up’s here and there but our feet are cemented in Philly.
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