MLTWY: Virginia Arrisueño / DeNada Design

Mornings Like These With You
February 8th, 2014
Virginia Arrisueño / DeNada Design
52 O St. Studios

MLT: My first question is about your brand. It's your baby. DeNada. Where did that name come from?

VA: I get that question a lot. My name, Virginia Arrisueño, is hard to pronounce and ever since I was a little kid, people would butcher it all the time. So, I wanted to choose a name that was connected with my roots. My family is from Peru and I am first generation here in the US and I wanted to choose a name that people could pronounce easily and everybody already knows. DeNada, as many people know, means "you're welcome," "it's nothing," and they can also connect it to my Peruvian heritage knowing it's a Spanish word.

MLT: How did you first learn to knit? I know DeNada is mostly knits so was that something you learned on your own or is that a skill that was passed onto you?

VA: It was passed onto me. When I was a little kid, my aunt taught me how to knit. I used to sew and knit all the time and not a lot of people knew that. Honestly, I would go to piano class with my little bag of things I'd be knitting for my dolls. I stopped knitting as much in high school and in college I revisited my passion for fibers and ended up doing my thesis and concentration on conceptual art with a focus on fiber arts. I've always had this passion for textiles and in college, I was able to explore more with it. I would use lots of different types of materials and threads to do installation pieces. I was going to major in business but at the last minute, because I kept changing my mind on my major, I ended up attending the University of Maryland, an in-state school. That was really great because ultimately I met my husband there. I was really lucky that during my last few years in college, they introduced a thesis program on fiber arts. They only chose 5 students and I was in the first group of 5 people chosen for this program. It was intense and you had to do an end of year show but you were also given a studio space which was amazing. I would sneak in late at night and it was always lots of fun! You become friends with your studio mates and you form great relationships.

MLT: When did you decide to take the plunge and go full-time into making and selling your work?

VA: When I graduated, I was doing fine arts. Loved it. I was doing really well and placing first in art competitions. Not to toot my own horn but in one of the competitions where I got first place, it was in New York and it was juried by the curator of the Guggenheim. It was wonderful but... with art, or anything you do, you really have to have that passion and love and for some reason along the way, I no longer had that passion. It's tough for an artist sometimes... if you don't get paid, you're struggling. You don't have an income and you need to pay rent. So I just made the decision that since I've always had a passion for business, it was time to put the two together. I got a job working with a handbag designer and she taught me to make handbags. She moved away and at that time, I was so tired of "finding jobs" so I just decided to start a business. I'm gonna make handbags and see how it goes. It did really well and it took me to a new level and a new mindset where I thought, "hey, I can actually start my own business. I can actually make a living." So from there, I realized, I don't know if I'm into handbags... why not revisit what I did in college and combine my passion for business with my art? Create something. Do something. I then created a capsule collection under the name DeNada and when I showed them to some shop owners in DC, they loved them and picked them up. I was doing Eastern Market and other places. That's why I have so much involved in DC Meet Market because it connects the community and I feel like it's the perfect platform for business owners to connect. So from there, I was generating income. It was tough because some days you have to wake up super early and you're doing lots of this yourself... but eventually by getting wholesale accounts and investing time in trade shows and getting things sourced from Peru, slowly I was building my brand. Now I'm able to grow and I'm actually going to Peru to finalize the upcoming 2014 collection.

MLT: Businesses can be intimidating when it comes to starting them, creating their identity, etc. and I know you wear so many different hats. What are your different businesses?

VA: I always tell people that being an artist, you're not just an artist. You have to be a business person. Trying to figure out that balance of how to do both where you don't feel overwhelmed with the business side and still being able to create. Once you find the balance, you can do it. Just face fear and say, get out of my way, you know? Just do it. The other projects I'm involved with are the DC Meet Market. That's M-E-E-T, not m-e-a-t. Haha! That's one. Ulysses Room, which is where our showroom is located, is an event space that I use during the week, but not on weekends, so why not allow other like-minded creatives and business owners utilize the space for their benefit? Why not have a talk or a film night or use it for workshops? I saw this as an opportunity, it's perfect! When I moved into this building and saw this space, I loved it. When it became available, I called it immediately. Ulysses Room is here for creative purposes or to support local businesses in some way. We like to make sure people know it is available for them. The other project I'm involved with is Topaz + Arrow. I do that with my friend, Morgan. She actually worked on the first lookbook for DeNada in 2009 and since then we've always worked together here and there. Last year, we were working together even more and one day, I was like "HEY! We get along and we love to create. Wouldn't it be wonderful if we offered workshops?" She works super hard, I work super hard, we just clicked. She has her space and I have mine and the workshops are usually split between the two.

MLT: You guys have come up with so many interesting things for your workshops and the topics for each one continually get more and more interesting. The different things you guys teach, are these things you guys already know about or do you have to research into doing them beforehand?

VA: Morgan and I agreed whatever we do, we need to have knowledge about it. Whatever we do, for example the next one is photo transfers, we are doing it in a way I used to do back in college for some of my paintings. You get really cool results! Something like that while yes, I'm familiar with it, but even I have to revisit it before. Sometimes we'll have someone else come in and teach, like for the Bitters + Cocktails workshop. We got such great partners for that!

MLT: So you're busy a lot. I know you had mentioned to me that you have one day a week where you focus on spending time with your son. Are your weeks usually all busy and you have that one day to relax or do you have a varying schedule?

VA: Normally, Mondays are my day with my son. My husband and I, we both work a lot, so what we do is designate a mommy day and a daddy day and Sundays are family day. Other days, Atticus [her son] is at daycare. It is so important to us that he is with us a lot and can do lots of different activities. We see him all the time except for when he is at daycare. When I was growing up, my father worked really hard and I didn't get to see him as much as I would have wanted. Not to say he is a bad dad, he gave us so many amazing experiences and opportunities but since Kelly and I can do it, why not have a family day?

MLT: I know your husband is an artist. Do you guys ever collaborate?

VA: Kelly helps me out with a lot of the punch cards for my designs because he is very knowledgable with computers. I know them as well, he is just faster... so sometimes if I have an idea, he'll put it together. But we are developing a kid's line. It's going to be a collaboration between he and I. I'll create the styles and he'll do some designs and images.

MLT: Do you guys draw a lot of inspiration from one another? Does he help you with ideas?

VA: Yeah! Kelly and I definitely bounce ideas off of each other all the time. I think that made us so attracted to one another. We are both artists and we're all about creativity so we definitely try to encourage each other with new ideas.

MLT: Is there any advice to someone who may be in a similar position to where you were at before starting DeNada? A passion that you've always loved but are afraid to make a career out of... what do you think they should do?

VA: Grown up advice? Always have a part-time job. Or, if you can handle it, work full-time and do your passion part-time. You HAVE to pay rent and pay your bills. These things take time. You need to have stability. That's my grown up advice, haha. The other advice I would give is whatever you decide to do, make sure you love it. When I started out, I asked someone who is very successful in their business the same question you asked me and she said "Be passionate. Always make sure you're passionate." My father also said that we should choose to do something in life we really love. We make a lot of sacrifices. If you don't have the passion... it's going to feel agonizing. If you have the passion and you have the love, it's exciting and not work. I'm excited everyday to come in here. It doesn't feel like a job and the thing is, I always worked from home before having a studio. Everytime I take a step forward, I look back and think, "Wow! It keeps growing." Who knows what could happen next year? The whole thing is that I always keep looking forward. I don't know what else I would be doing if I didn't embrace this part of myself. You have to be true to yourself. And, Morgan may laugh, but I'm really into underdog movies like Rocky and whenever I'm a little down, I'll turn on a movie like that and get totally pumped up again. You can do it! It's something he says that struck me hard... it's not about winning, it's how much you can take. It's all in how many punches you take and your ability to keep moving forward. Every day has highs and lows and sometimes I don't wanna get out of bed but you just have to keep getting up and moving. As long as you know who you are and what you want, everything will align.

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Many thanks to Virginia and her trusty pup Kobi for having us in the Ulysses Room last weekend. It was an honor and a privilege to spend time with Virginia, get to know her and to see her beautiful space. If you're a creative in the DC area looking to host an event in a beautiful space, the Ulysses Room is your spot. If you're looking for a fun activity to learn from and share an afternoon with fun people, attend a Topaz + Arrow event. If you're looking to represent your business or meet other business owners, hit up DC Meet Market. Cold out there? Warm up in a DeNada knit. Virginia is unstoppable and there is much to be seen from this lady. 

All photos courtesy of Emma McAlary