Meet Dani Egna, the 26-year-old Founder & CEO of Inked by Dani! Dani launched her line of cruelty-free temporary tattoos in her college dorm room and is now sold in more than 10,000 retail locations including Target, Ulta, and Forever 21. She is also featured recipient of Forbes 2019 30 under 30 list for Art & Style!
Dani's story is super inspiring as she took her passion for art and channeled it into a unique and thriving business while in college. Read on to learn how Dani followed her bliss in creating her dream career!
Tell us about yourself!
I have always been in love with all things art- I was obsessed with drawing and painting before I was even walking. In grew up in Long Island, where I started a career selling art through various gallery art shows and on Etsy. I then went on to study fine arts at the University of Southern California, with an emphasis in painting, but took classes in ceramics, printmaking, cinema and architecture to get a really well-rounded education on all sorts of art. I started my brand, INKED by Dani, during my senior year of college. Since graduating, I have been living in NYC in Greenwich Village!
What inspired Inked by Dani? What were your first steps in getting started?
During my senior year of college, my career path went through huge transition; I started INKED by Dani, which is a brand of temporary tattoos based on my hand-drawn fine art designs.
The idea for the brand came one night after a themed party at college. My friends, knowing how much I loved drawing, asked me to cover them in hand-drawn doodles using eyeliner. The feedback from that night was overwhelming- everyone my friends saw that night was obsessed with the designs. In that moment, a light bulb went off in my head… I could do some completely unique here and create chic temporary tattoos with an art-driven aesthetic, unlike anything else on the market. Other temporary tattoo brands were targeted to kids or lacked a sleek and millennial-driven look. It was a perfect pivot- I could utilize my fine arts training and tattoos as a new art medium to create a completely innovative brand.
Using the money I made from selling my artwork throughout high school and college, I funded the launch of INKED by Dani. I had always loved the look of dainty tattoos, but knew I could never commit to the real thing, and I knew my parents would kill me if I got a tattoo (I also knew that so many girls must have that same conflict). Starting INKED by Dani was a no-brainer.
What's a day in the life like? What inspires your creative process?
I usually work at least 12 hours a day, and most weeks I work at least one day of the weekend. I am constantly traveling for retail appointments and to our production facilities, and I work on weekends at tradeshows across the country. I also have my hands in all areas of the business, including design, merchandising, production, sales, and marketing. I am inspired by so many things- designs I want as real tattoos, trends I see in the art/fashion/and beauty world, and by tattoos in the celebrity/pop culture world.
What's been your biggest milestone/accomplishment to date?
My greatest achievement is building a fast-growing, profitable brand that has allowed me to leverage my artistic expertise and passion in an unprecedented way. In a competitive and crowded art world, I’ve been able to carve out a niche for my fine art designs, utilizing a non-traditional medium, temporary tattoos.
Was starting your own business something you always wanted to do? What did you want to be when you were younger?
Starting a business wasn’t always the game plan, but I did always know I wanted to be doing something artistic and creative. When I was younger, I wanted to be painter!
What are some of the biggest challenges you've had in starting your business? Was there ever a moment you thought about giving up?
Packaging used to be a challenge for us! When we were starting off, we had high demand to jump into the retail space, and I definitely jumped the gun a bit on packaging so we could deliver product to the retailers when they wanted it. Our packaging started off with a label that just said INKED by Dani — no mention of temporary tattoos, and no depiction of what was even inside…. I look back and definitely laugh at that! Since then, we’ve completely revamped the packaging into something upscale and unique that reflects what the brand is all about. Our product packaging is always called out as being one of our retailers’ and customers’ favorite parts of our product! It’s so important to invest time in customer experience- and in how customers view and interact with your product. The packaging is just as important as the actual product inside!
I haven’t thought about giving up because I am constantly inspired by creating a way for people to express themselves, commitment-free.
Do you have a daily ritual or system for staying organized? Are there any apps or task management tools you swear by?
Our ERP system is vital to staying organized! In addition to that, we use google docs/spreadsheets, and a task management tool monday.com! It’s amazing to keep all of our projections organized.
What are your favorite spots to eat, shop, explore in NYC?
Eat: So many! Lil Frankies, 12 Chairs, Yuba Sushi, Sauce,
Shop: Soho - since it’s closest to my apartment!
Explore: I absolutely love strolling around central park!
In moments of self-doubt, how do you build yourself back up? What keeps you grounded?
I love remembering my favorite quote, “Passion is energy. Feel the power that comes from focusing on what excites you.” — Oprah Winfrey. I’ve always been passionate about art; and this passion keeps me grounded for sure!
What were your initial marketing strategies for getting your business off the ground? What tactics have you found most successful in growing your brand?
It started off with word-of-mouth. There was a lot of positive feedback from my college friends on INKED by Dani and I did as much as I could to get the brand’s name out there. I went to other sororities and dorms, door to door. The next step was setting up our website and our Instagram page, which received a lot of traction, and after getting picked up by our first major retailers, we achieved a multitude of press mentions and recognition. We also partner with influencers to spread the word about our brand and showcase it digitally. I’d recommend a mix of marketing tactics along with pertinent trade shows to get a brand out into the spotlight!
What podcasts/books are you loving right now?
How I Built This! It so fascinating to hear from other founders on their journey through building their brand.
Which tattoo design is your favorite? Is there one that is especially meaningful to you?
I could never pick a favorite, BUT - one that has a special meaning would be our butterfly design. I created it from a huge oil painting I made during my senior year of college!
What does "following your bliss" mean to you?
Turning a passion and a dream into a reality. For me, that meant turning my love for art into a creative business that could become a career for me!
What's the best piece of advice you would give to someone looking to start their own business?
- Create a positive and inspiring work environment. Happy people are more likely to deliver great work, so develop a work setting that people are excited to come to every day.
- Get to know and understand the people that you work with. Not everyone works at the same pace, or the same way, or has the same personality. Learn about your employees’ interests and work styles to develop a thriving team.
What's next for Inked by Dani? Where do you see your company in the next 5 years?
We’re constantly evolving INKED by Dani with the varying trends in tattoos, beauty and fashion. We’re always collaborating with new brands and bringing our tattoo designs to new experiential platforms. In the same vein of the collaborations we’ve launched in the past (we’ve developed home decor with Dormify, activewear with Terez, etc.), we are continuing to explore how our designs resonate on varying products!
What are your favorite pieces by f.y.b?
Connect with Dani!