How to Make an Extra $29K per Year With Your Side Project: The Story of District of Clothing
District of Clothing is an online store run by Dionna Dorsey, a 36-year-old graphic designer/creative director from Washington, DC.
Inspired by the creative community that surrounded her, Dionna wanted to push positivity into the universe. She started District of Clothing in 2014, which sells inspiring messages on apparel like shirts, hoodies, hats, and kidswear.
Dionna’s online shop is her side project. That means she also has a full-time job.
Read on to find out how Dionna juggles a life with a full-time job and an online shop, her journey from launching her store to making money with her first sales, and the challenge of maintaining customers’ interest to keep them coming back for more.
The start of District of Clothing
In 2009, Dionna moved back home to Washington, DC, from New York City where she worked as a fashion designer.
”I moved home and I couldn’t get hired, so I pretty much hired myself. That’s when I started Dionna Dorsey Design.”
Dionna Dorsey Design is a creative design boutique, which is Dionna’s full-time job. As a creative entrepreneur, she was surrounded by a lot of other creatives and entrepreneurs, many of whom inspired District of Clothing.
”I thought, okay I have this awesome company [Dionna Dorsey Design], but I also need to make sure I have passive income coming in as well. And I wanted to create something positive and encouraging – something reflective of what was happening around me. As a creative entrepreneur I’m constantly working with people who dream, and then actually take the initiative to make their dreams happen. That’s what inspired DISTRICT.”
Dionna’s top places for inspiration:
- National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC
- The @NatGeo Instagram account
- Her Spotify “Inspiration” playlist, which features Philip Glass, Chance the Rapper, and Maya Angelou, as well as playing old records from her personal collection
- Biking and walking the trails near her apartment
From launching the store to making the first sale
”The idea [of District of Clothing] came to me in January 2014. I was sitting in a restaurant, and it just popped into my head. I pulled out a pen and quickly sketched the Dreamer Doer sketch and I passed it to my friend without saying a word.”
Her friend loved it.
Finding time to bring the idea to reality was more challenging. With a full-time job and a lot of other things going on, it took Dionna several months to find time in her tight schedule to sit down and actually get her shop up and running.
The store finally went live late November 2014.
”Putting up a website, getting the online shop together itself wasn’t very challenging. […] It took about a week or so to get the shop up and running.”
Next, Dionna needed to get the word out about her brand. For that, she used influencer marketing.
I was a part of a creative group here in Washington, DC, called the Creative Collective, and I passed out a few shirts to women with whom I worked. They all had large Instagram followings, and some of them were blog owners. Passing out shirts to them, and them taking their own pictures [and sharing on their social media and blogs] – it started to pick up steam.
Influencer marketing not only got Dionna her first customers, but it also reached the organizers of POLITICO, Google, and the Tory Burch Foundation’s Women Rule Summit in Washington, DC. They had a marketplace for women business owners, and they invited Dionna to sell her District of Clothing items in the marketplace there.
Dionna took the opportunity. That was also the official launch of District of Clothing.
Dionna’s favorite design tools and resources:
- InDesign (she pretty much uses the entire Creative Suite)
Marketing that tells stories is marketing that sells
Dionna thinks that storytelling is the best marketing tactic that keeps people continuously coming back to her shop. Instagram is her main marketing channel which she uses to share and tell the story of District of Clothing as a brand.
We want to make sure people feel and know they are part of the brand. We post pictures of actual customers wearing our shirts, and we integrate that with positive messaging and storytelling. We truly live and breathe our “dream and do” lifestyle – our message is authentic, and so are our customers, so it resonates.
They are responding in the comments section and tagging us in other posts saying they love our product, and are thankful for the message.
Here’s another trick:
Dionna uses Instagram as a remarketing channel, but not in a typical way.
”We noticed that it’s typically the same few items that are often abandoned [in the shopping cart]. But those are the same few items that are the most purchased too. So we started to [post more images of these items], so that people continue seeing them.”
That’s a smart way to make people familiar with your products and designs. And the good old truth is – the more someone sees something, the more they want to purchase it.
While Instagram is their main marketing channel and Facebook recently joined as another one, the brand is also growing through local marketing.
When I say local marketing, that’s essentially just going to events either wearing the shirt or passing out business cards, or even doing pop-up shops and selling as a vendor at different marketplaces and events throughout the city.
And then just being an active member in the local creative maker community has helped Dionna get District of Clothing featured on large local blogs.
To keep up sales and customer interest, Dionna tests new products every couple of weeks. She adds new items for a limited time, then sees if these items do well or not. That’s the privilege of using drop shipping services like Printful – you can experiment and test all kinds of products, but only keep selling those your customers love.
Drop shipping is a great way to test a lot of new products, but you need to learn how to work with it.
So here are the lessons we learned:
- Find the social media channels where your audience hangs out
- Use marketing to tell your story and engage with your customers
- Be an active community member and engage in offline marketing
- Continuously test new products, and keep those that are selling
Dionna’s top apps and tools for her shop:
Making $29k a year working a few hours per week
All the online and offline marketing efforts come together at some point. This holiday season District of Clothing hit a record with almost 250 items sold in November and December alone (wow!), both online and at the Steadfast Supply Holiday pop-up shop.
But how does Dionna find time for District of Clothing while managing her other company, Dionna Dorsey Design?
Her answer is timelines and deadlines.
”I try to break every day into three parts, so that I have my personal time, I have my Dionna Dorsey Design time, and then I have the District of Clothing time. Then I make timelines and deadlines for myself, and I stick to them.”
Dionna says she spends about 1-2 hours a day on District of Clothing. Yes, almost two full work days every week, and that’s quite a lot. But for Dionna it pays off. In 2016, her side project made her $29K of extra income!
Dionna admits that seeing store picking up the steam and becoming more and more popular is very encouraging.
”It pushes me to want just keep doing more […] And just going out to a restaurant and seeing that someone’s wearing one of my shirts, makes me wanna leave the restaurant and go and get back to work!”
Dionna’s favorite productivity tools:
- Google Calendar. For Dionna, ”if it’s not on the calendar, it doesn’t exist.”
- The iPhone reminder app
- Twyla Tharp’s The Creative Habit: Learn It and Use It for Life – the book she’s constantly reading and rereading.
- Her notebook
Final words? Just do it.
At the end of our interview, I asked Dionna what would she recommend to other sellers that are just getting started. And I just love her answer:
Number one: just do it. You don’t know if you don’t start.
Then she adds:
”And plan your budget appropriately. Running an online shop is great, but it also takes time. Make sure that you’re paying your bills, and that you’re paying yourself, too.”
No one said it would be easy. But according to Dionna, it’s definitely exciting.