Originally from South Philadelphia, Shannon Maldonado moved back to the area after 12 years in New York to start Shopyowie.com, an online store where you can find curated home objects and lifestyle products. Shannon walked away from her full-time corporate gig as an apparel designer, taking a leap of faith and everything she learned to pursue her true passion.
Shannon has some valuable advice for anyone looking for the courage to follow their entrepreneurial dreams. She shared some insight on how she got started, how she stays inspired and how – even during the challenging parts of building her business – she knows she’s headed in the right direction. Check out what she has to say below.
Blavity: Can you tell me about yourself and how you got started with Yowie?
Shannon Maldonado: I’ve always been creative and loved to draw, which led to making my own clothes and even producing small accessories that I sold to my classmates in middle school. I attended F.I.T. to study fashion design and fell hard for American sportswear. I’ve been fortunate enough to work at large brands and see my product touch so many different people. My last position before taking the leap was designing outerwear at American Eagle.
It was an incredible opportunity but the department was lacking support. I wore many hats as I ran the division without an assistant designer, working on product that is historically cost challenged and labor intensive in all stages of development. In the beginning, I was happy being busy and executing everything, but on my last trip to Asia where I had to spend the 12-hour flight back sketching for a meeting that was the next day I wondered, “Is this still where I want to be?”
I remember so clearly having what author Michael Gerber calls my “entrepreneurial seizure:” that moment when you decide you need to start your own business. Standing in my final product presentation in front of a wall of beautiful samples that I worked tirelessly to develop I looked into the crowd of 30 people and felt blank. The meeting continued and my boss complimented me in front of the room, but something was still missing. I just knew in that moment that it was time to move on and to figure out how to make this after hours project Yowie a reality. As my day job started to feel less creative and more managerial, I began to crave the frantic nature of starting a small business; I needed it.
Soon after this meeting, I decided that I needed to start thinking about what my next steps were going to be. I began thinking about what I’d want my store to look like, what I wanted the products to be. I had 120 names that I eventually narrowed down to Yowie.
B. How did you get the courage to pursue Yowie full time?
Shannon Maldonado: The last time I felt this sure about something was when I made the decision to attend the FIT fashion program. It was just a very strong feeling that this was my next big move. I just knew that I could be doing more and I feel like one of my strengths is that I'm easily adaptable. I can bounce around, I can problem solve and I didn't feel that I was being fully challenged in that way anymore at the office. After over a decade of working in fashion, I started to see my inspirations shift into home. I've never wanted to have my own clothing line, yet the thought of owning my own store or gallery space was always looming in the back of my mind and heart.
Everyone thought I was crazy. My friends, family and boyfriend were positive, but they had many questions. I felt guilty blindsiding my boss with my resignation, but there’s never a good time to quit your job. I calmly explained that "I have this other thing that I need to do and I know that it’s my time to take a break and do something else outside of here.” As I told her a little more about the concept she understood and eventually became one of my first customers! A month later I moved back to Philadelphia to jump right into it.
B: What’s your day-to-day like running a business?
Shannon Maldonado: In building this business, no day is identical and many day-to-day tasks I am still learning as I go. I’m never afraid to say, “Hey, do you know how to do this?” to one of my peers. I think being humble enough to admit when you’re not an expert goes a long way and I’ve met so many incredibly talented and generous people in building Yowie.
What I love about this new role is that every day is different. I am the founder, buyer, art director, marketing director, photographer, brand ambassador, collaborator, copywriter, web manager, executive assistant, shipping specialist and the person who handwrites a thank you note to every customer with confetti and a doodle. There are always new challenges or something I didn't think of and it’s been really fun to learn to embrace the chaos. I was too comfortable before.
B. Describe Yowie. What can customers find there?
Shannon Maldonado: Yowie is a lifestyle shop focused on curating collections of modern, playful and one-of-a-kind objects for your home. We aim to be an elevated gift shop where you can find handmade ceramics, vases, textiles like rugs and pillowcases, candles, and so much more. Color is really important to my brand and I felt that was an area of opportunity for independent home goods brands. I love mixing neutral items with colorful, punchy, art inspired objects that are not so quiet. I'm really excited to bring something different to the table.
I curate most of our products from small independent designers and artists. I work with a few larger brands but each has over forty years of history and in most cases are still family run. We're hoping to introduce new product every 6-8 weeks but don’t want to become too tied to a calendar as we want every product to feel really thoughtful. It’s not about just adding more stuff to your apartment. The idea is to provide really special items that you can't live without. I am also working on a new concept where one product per delivery has 100% of its proceeds donated to charity. I’m excited to introduce this channel to our brand and further engage with causes that we want to support.
B: How have you been able to engage with new customers to fuel your business?
Shannon Maldonado: Pinterest has been such a great tool to get our products in front of new customers. Every single item that's on our website is also available to shop through Pinterest, and because Pinterest is so visual, it's easy for people who are already on the platform to find our products and pin them to their wish lists.
For example, maybe they have a “Should I Buy This” board (as I do!) and they can effortlessly save our products there. Or maybe they have an apartment decor board and I love that they can go in there, pin it and then just easily click through and make a purchase. It’s that moment where you can say, “okay, I love this thing and I need to have it” and I love that those moments are easily facilitated through Pinterest.
B: How do you stay inspired?
Shannon Maldonado: I'm often inspired by art, traveling to other cities, old movies and photography. Some of my most cherished memories of travel involve ending up at an art museum or gallery space. Many of the people that I work with to source products for Yowie are amazing artists and trained in multiple mediums. I feel inspired and lucky that I am able to help introduce their works to a new audience.
Pinterest has also been incredibly helpful for me as a source of inspiration for Yowie. It has served as a way to craft the visual language of the brand. Early on, I used Pinterest to really hone in on how I wanted to present the brand from color to typography. On Pinterest, you can find ideas that inspire a logo, business cards, a mailer or a pop-up flier. The possibilities are endless!
B: What advice do you have for other entrepreneurs?
Shannon Maldonado: I would say read, research and ask as many questions as you can from those already in the field. If you can find a mentor even better. I'm a total nerd for Inc. Magazine, Fast Company and podcasts like StartUp and How I Built This. Hearing the stories of success, speed bumps, and even how others have failed is so valuable and inspiring. I take a million notes (mostly on neon Post-its) and try to absorb as much as possible. For me, it’s really about trying to learn from how others have done it.
I would tell someone who wants to pursue a business to really just focus in on your idea and be 300% confident in what you are trying to achieve. Focus your energy wisely, only outsource when necessary and understand the power of social media and visual content to engage your customers. Once you’re launched the hardest part begins in continuing to build your brand identity and finding your customer. As we are based online the pop-up model has been a great learning experience for us. Getting feedback from customers in real time is priceless.
At the end of the day having that laser sharp focus and obsession with your brand and idea is what's going to power you through the nights when it feels like nothing's moving forward and you think that no one cares. You need that momentum and vision!
This post is brought to you in collaboration with Pinterest.