Recently, an impressive article on the Printful blog about District of Clothing — an online store launched by 36-year-old graphic designer Dionna Dorsey of Washington, DC. — caught my attention. Dionna’s simple but popular designs are becoming hot commodities. And so I reached out to Dionna for an interview. She was more than happy to let me pick her brain and learn more about the winning design and marketing strategies of a fashion start-up success story making waves in eCommerce.
Q: District of Clothing is generating a lot of well deserved buzz. From conceptualizing a message for a piece of clothing to designing it and selling it through online store, what are the steps in your creative process and why does this approach work so well for you?
Dionna: Thank you! I first make sure I’m constantly in environments that breed creativity. I’m very protective of my [creative] energy, especially my home space, to ensure I’m in a good place to prepare for creation, to continue creating, and even to develop. Once I find my inspiration — at times it will find me — I like to let my mind wonder so I read quite a bit, cook, visit museums often, and enjoy being outside in nature. When something connects, I begin researching and sketching and eventually share. It’s a fairly organic process that may change from time to time, but I think it works for me because it works for me!
Q: With your talents and work now garnering international attention, what can you say is the biggest mistake or shortcoming you struggled with early in your graphic design career that you had to overcome to get to this point today where you are now both critically and commercially successful?
Dionna: Believing in myself and my ability to do the work. Once I found self-acceptance and learned to appreciate my highs and lows as a creative, I found complete confidence in my work. Don’t get me wrong, I still get nervous before every project, but I trust that nervousness now. And I intentionally use my highs, lows, and my quirks to fuel my creativity and productivity.
Q: How do you stay informed about the modern messaging content and style preferences of today’s online shoppers and consumers you’re trying to reach with your designs?
Dionna: I wouldn’t say that I do. While I’m a news junkie and am usually up to date with the current news cycle, I’ve never been much of a fan of the trend. Instead, I remain true to my classic, minimalistic style which is both feminine yet androgynous, simultaneously. And I often remind myself, ‘simplicity speaks louder than one thousand words and versatility project timeless innovation and style’. While it’s definitely important to remain informed and aware of today’s resources, I’m much more interested in building the brand a solid foundation for continued growth which includes constant communication with our community, making updates, conducting research and making revisions to help us continue moving forward.
Q: What are some of your favorite tshirt design themes, in terms of color selections/pairings and fonts that seem to particularly resonate with consumers inclined to purchase text-based designs?
Dionna: Anything in black and white or bold contrast and usually simple block lettering. I love iconic brands and their original designs — it’s really exciting to see Adidas, Calvin Klein, Champion and Donna Karan, etc. revert back to their original branding and styles. Super cool. In this day and age, consumers want to feel connected to brands they know and trust, not gimmicks. Brands that have sustained over time or perhaps even made a come back — brands with an honest story to tell. Consumers want to be an extension of, or rather community members, of brands that are timeless, innovative, and doing something for the social good.
Q: Is there, in your opinion, an across-the-board winning formula for text based tshirt designs that consumers will be aesthetically attracted to?
Dionna: Yes! If you keep it simple, you keep it moving. Keep it simple.
Q: Can you please share an example of your work and walk us through what you feel makes the look work (and perhaps what aspiring graphic designers and Print on Demand tshirt makers can learn from your approach)?
Dionna: The Dreamer/Doer design (officially the Doer Tee) is probably the one design of which I’m most proud, and the lynchpin to District’s existence. I think what makes this work so well is the simplistic visible and invisible nature of the design, that it’s a part of everyone’s day to day life, that it depicts movement and progression, and finally that it’s inspiring. I used the rectangle, which is the most commonly used area shape in logo design because it’s both easily recognized and a trusted shape that illustrates honesty, solidity, and stability. Having placed it behind the text naturally leads to focusing the eye and also trusting the text which are words emphatically significant and universally relatable in their own right. To be specific, they’re relatable, inclusive, and political words that invoke emotion. Lastly, I used a horizontal line to gently cross out ‘Dreamer’ almost as if it were a to-do list item and yet, it’s still significantly bold, present, and visible (because we have to first be a dreamer in order to be a doer, but just because we do, we never cease from dreaming.) My suggestion to any aspiring designers is to keep it simple. Simple and clean, but remember to invoke emotion and movement in your designs.
Q: Where can people go to learn more about District of Clothing and check out your work?
Dionna: You can check us out online at districtofclothing.com or follow us on Instagram at @district_of_clothing.