Domonique Brown is many things: an award-winning marketing professional, a designer, an illustrator, and a business owner—she founded the home décor and lifestyle brand DomoINK. The brand celebrates black culture and is so profound, it has caught the attention of mass merchandisers like Target, and celebrities like Issa Rae.
“It feels like yesterday I was inside of Target saying, I want to be in here,” Brown says. She tells me she tears up sometimes thinking about how she went from an artist who had no following, no reach, and didn’t know anybody, to where she is today.
“I just had a dream,” she says.
Domonique’s journey started with a passion. She tells me she loved drawing from as early as the age of three, and with encouragement from her teachers and family, she continued to draw until her college years when she stopped completely.
“I wasn’t seeing a reflection of me when I would go to art galleries,” Brown says. “I wasn’t seeing black art.”
The message she took away from that was that there was no space for her as a black artist.
“So, I went a different route. I started studying graphic design as a way to still be creative then I got my MBA in marketing because that was a career I was fine with if I couldn’t be an artist,” she says.
To Domonique’s surprise, her career choice ended up leading her to exactly where she had once only dreamed of being.
As she advanced in the field of marketing, which she says she does enjoy, she developed knowledge and skills that would later be foundational to her launching and successfully growing DomoINK once she got back to drawing.
The pandemic and a new home eventually lead Domonique back to drawing.
“I was at home every day. That was my opportunity to start drawing again. Especially since I had just moved into my first home, and it was an absolute struggle to find black art for it. I didn’t know where to go, and the artwork I would see felt mass-produced, like stock images. I wanted something that was reflective of me. So, I thought, well, I am an artist. I can just create it myself.”
Domonique began creating images of girls with cornrows and braids and of men with different hairstyles, showing off beards etc. When she finished producing the images for herself, she decided to see if others might want them too. Through posting on social media, she discovered that there was a market for her work after all. This then led her to launch DomoINK.
“I wanted to create an art store where people were able to buy my prints and original art pieces. But then people began requesting items like, can you put this on a shirt? I would love this as a tote bag etc. That opened my eyes to how many people were feeling the same struggle I was feeling of not being able to find black aesthetic products. So, I switched from just an art print store to a home décor store and now it’s expanding into a lifestyle brand.”
A Strong Business Model
If you’re wondering how someone can bootstrap their way toward making $500,000 a year from a side hustle, here’s Domonique’s answer— have a good business model. For her business, that meant going with print-on-demand instead of holding inventory.
“When you have inventory, you have a liability. I want to run my business with no liability. All I want to do is cover my company salaries, pay myself a salary, and cover the expenses to run my site on Shopify. [Print-on-demand] gives me space to experiment. I can place my product on different items and then see how my customer base feels about it,” Brown says.
For people wanting to set up a business, she recommends doing so in a way where a bunch of inventory isn’t being created at first.
“Let’s say you’re selling candles, make one candle first. Let someone buy that candle before you go and make 20 of them so you’re not spending money on supplies and trying to figure out how to get rid of 20 candles when you could just have one candle. If it doesn’t work out, put that candle up on your bookshelf and try again. Try to keep your expenses as low as possible while you’re getting your footing.”
Brand And Retail Partnerships
When I ask Domonique for tips on getting brand and retail partnerships, she tells me she thinks the best thing an artist can do is just post on social media.
She says a lot of opportunities have come to her from people just coming across her posts. For example, some work she did for the L.A. Times came from someone searching #blackart on Instagram, a hashtag she always puts on her posts.
“Also, keep a good connection with your community, because you don’t know who knows who that can lead to other opportunities as well.”
Having a good connection with somebody online recently led to her collaborating with Dr Martens.
“Collaborations also open doors to other ones,” Brown says. “It shows trust. If Samsung is willing to invest in me, it gives other brands the feeling to trust me as well. That’s kind of how Target happened, people were seeing, okay, she’s definitely able to produce and she’s able to sell.”
While Domonique is a proponent of social media, she also understands how posting can feel uncomfortable.
“When I first started posting, I was scared to show my face. I felt weird about it,” Brown says. She eventually started posting diary-style entries with her face included because people were assuming she was a man. “My [Instagram] name is Snoop Doggy Dom,” Brown cackles.
With this new practice, she learned two things: 1. Consistently posting helped her build confidence to do more of it. 2. Allowing people to see her, helped her connect with customers and brands.
“If brands are able to feel connected to you, then it opens the door for you to be able to collaborate with them. Show who you are. With a lot of brand deals I’ve done, they really just love me and my content. [My content] allows people and brands to get a sense of who I am. Let your personality shine through.”
How She Balances Everything
Domonique doesn’t see herself quitting her full-time job anytime soon. “The job funds the dream!” she says.
When I ask her how she manages both, she tells me being able to work from home definitely helps. No longer having to commute means getting back time in her day which she is able to use for DomoINK. She now practices blocking off time before and after her job for tasks that need to get done. This helps her get ahead instead of just being reactive.
In addition, she says she also outsources some items on her to-do list so she isn’t burning out.
“I couldn’t figure out a work-life balance at first. Once DomoINK started getting popular, my mind was like okay I have to keep making, I have to keep producing, I have to figure this out. But then I realized the best work I produce is when I take my time, and I’m not working until three o’clock in the morning. If your business grows to a certain level that you need help, get it,” Brown says.
While it was initially hard for her to take this step, she believes it was the only way she could truly grow.
Her tip for vetting freelance talent before hiring them is to look at reviews and connect with former or current customers to get an idea of how the person works.
“Would you guys be a good pair? Someone could be an amazing marketing person, but their personality might not mix with yours. Be careful of who you hire, take the time to vet them instead of rushing.”
“It’s very trippy to think DomoINK could grow to be a million dollars business if I set the right parameters around it,” Brown tells me. But she believes she can do it and that you can too.
If there were just one message she could leave you with from her experience, it would be that anyone can create the opportunities they desire.
“If you want something, you can create that dream for yourself if you put in the time and the effort. Don’t get hung up on the thought that it can’t be you. Think of it as, why not me?”
To learn more about Domonique follow her on social media and for great home and lifestyle pieces shop DomoINK.com.