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InteriorsLife & Business

Starting Small with Shannon Maldonado

by Quelcy Kogel

This past spring, I’ve been falling asleep to the hum of a timer, which turns on a set of fluorescent lights promptly at 9 am. This corner of the bedroom is temporary “nursery,” with baby basils and kales sprouting their lovely green leaves. Other corners of our apartment are filled with props, waiting to be packed or unpacked from my styling gigs. Blurring that line between a workplace and home life is very familiar to me, but it’s comforting to see I’m not alone in this. Shannon Maldonado, the owner of the online shop , is someone who blurs that home/work line, and she makes it look so stylish in the process.

Shannon grew up in a creative household in Philadelphia, PA. Her mother taught her how to sew at age 10, and from that moment, she knew she wanted to pursue a career in fashion. That conviction led her to attend FIT for Fashion Design, which landed her jobs with some of the most recognizable names in the industry like Tommy Hilfiger and Ralph Lauren. She later settled into a role with American Eagle Outfitters, which equipped her with established examples for starting her own business.

“These experiences were so valuable to launching Yowie, and I tried to think like a larger company when making decisions even though I am a little guy in the market. These brands taught me how to create a brand that resonates with people, keep the focus on products and to cultivate a unique customer experience. AEO was my version of business school.”

As her day job became more predictable, Shannon sought a creative outlet to keep her engaged in the design world, so the framework for Yowie began to take shape. “When I first began planning, it felt like a more in-depth Pinterest Board that grew a few pages every night. When I began to feel some momentum build, I started to show a few friends and family my growing notebook and they encouraged me that I might be onto something. I’ve always done ‘the right thing’ in my career, so the thought of quitting my job to pursue a new career path and dip into trying freelance was completely terrifying.”

Shannon faced her fears, moved from New York to Philly, and picked up freelance work with for the security and flexibility she needed to focus on properly launching . Her home, the home of , is in the neighborhood, which Shannon muses, “offers a mix of nostalgia and new blood.” Below, Shannon shares her business advice for starting small, an approach which has paid off. She is excited to announce that a brick-and-mortar location is on the horizon, which means a trip to Philly is on my horizon, as is a hearty basil and kale salad. —

Photography of Shannon’s apartment by  | Photography of the by . 

Image Above: The living room in Shannon Maldonado’s Philadelphia apartment. She tries to shoot as much content for Yowie’s Instagram account as possible, so she nestles the scraps of seamless paper in the living room in case an idea strikes. “I like that they add another touch of color to my space.”

1/13

“Set small weekly goals: The first page in my notebook was a list of goals for the month such as ‘Email five artists,’ or ‘Build moodboard for logo typeface by Friday.’ Since is just me, these small goals and deadlines keep me focused.”

Shannon gave this shelf new life with a coat of cobalt paint. The Mickey Mouse mask is something she picked up on her first trip abroad in college. “I found it in a dollar store in Milan, Italy, and it’s moved to every apartment I’ve had ever since.” 

Squiggle Vase (CtCk Ceramics), Torso Art Object (Urban Outfitters), )

2/13

“Spend time (and not always money) taking good photos: Since is based online, I knew that I needed unique photos to stand out from the growing pack of online shops. I worked with one of my oldest friends and an up-and-coming stylist to create our first images on a shoestring budget. After our initial shoot, I continued to build our social media following via iPhone photos in the same style. Instagram and Pinterest are the greatest free marketing tools, and they’re right in your pocket.”

In this living room corner, Shannon explains, “I’ve always loved old movies and this Dracula poster is one of my favorites pieces that I own. I love the pop of pink mixed with the beachy feeling of this print by .”

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Shannon styles and shoots a vignette for Instagram in her home studio. “We’re such a visual culture these days and when I think of my early days of fashion, I remember being obsessed with editorials and brand campaigns. I’ve always been inspired [by] how one image could say so much more and transport a girl in South Philly, like me, to anywhere in the world. I try to create images that get people excited about the objects in our shop.”

4/13

“Give yourself a break: Working on your business can be addictive and all consuming, so don’t forget to make time for your loved ones, friends, and in my case, true crime TV. Sometimes it’s hard to step away, but you need to give yourself a break to relax, reset and turn off your brain. Sometimes I have to close my studio door to remind myself that office hours are over.”

Shannon’s living room also functions as her dining room, and sometimes a place where she wraps and weighs online orders. “ was one of the first objects I test drove at home and brought into Yowie’s first collection. I’m currently living with these candles to see if I want to bring them [to my shop] for fall.”

5/13

“Choose space and lower rent over flashy features: Being in my ‘studio’ (aka second bedroom) makes me so happy. It’s where I do everything from connect with the product, to write copy for the site, ship packages, create content, write emails and brainstorm the next stages for my brand. The moodboard is a mix of inspiring imagery and upcoming milestones and goals for us such [as] photo shoots, marketing, and soon our storefront opening! I love looking at everything in progress on one big page. It helps keep me motivated and whenever I think of a new goal or challenge for us (which is very often), I just slap up another neon Post-It.”

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“Be Different: It’s very easy to get caught in the wave of trends, and once you launch, many people will offer suggestions on what you should do with your brand. You should always follow your gut and vision and make sure that you’re offering something different in your area or market. When you find an audience, they return to you knowing that they can only find these items with you.

7/13

“Be friendly and treat every customer like a friend: I love seeing my brand evolve as I start the beginning of year two. The color palettes are to remind me of a turning point in designing my site. I was having trouble creating a palette that I felt was unique enough, and these came to me in a 2 am moment of clarity. I keep all of the Thank You notes and encouraging messages that I get from the artists I work with and a polaroid of when I had adult braces to keep myself humbled. The pizza postcard and the army bag are some mementos from my time in New York that make me smile when I’m working at my desk into the wee hours.”

8/13

“Tell the stories of your products: Since I am selling the work of other artists, I take great care to tell our customers about their stories and where things are made. I’m very proud of the items we carry and want our customers to love them as much as I do. It brings a personal story to the object and gives even more context to why you should be taking it home with you.”

9/13

“Organized shelves are your friends: I pack up most orders between the hours of 7 am and 8:15 am (before my freelance job), so having an organized studio is key. I once shipped the wrong order and ever since then, I make a point to unpack new shipments and get them in order as soon as I can.”

When Shannon saw this , she knew it would make her shipping station complete.

10/13

“Have an inner circle: I don’t have any partners in , but my best friend Katie, who is also a business owner, is my number one source for advice. Her brand, , is a line of beautiful size-free clothing. Since we’re in different sectors of the market, her advice is always objective, and she usually she sees things from a different angle. My mother, sister, friend Sarah and (my head of creative visuals) round out my inner circle. When I need to tie-break bigger ideas, I’ll send stuff to a group of about 10 friends. Working on anything in a silo isn’t healthy so when I’m unsure I always reach out. Think of it as your Who Wants to be a Millionaire? lifeline.”

11/13

Shannon gained a lot of momentum for through running several pop-up shops. This is the first fixture that she designed with her visual partner, Tim. “He fabricated this in under a week and blew me away with how he captured my initial vision and added to it in perfect ways. I wanted our first pop-up to be something greater than just objects on a center table, and for the fixture to feel more interactive within the space. The shelf was a modular system, so swapping compartments could make the display feel new for future events. I remember feeling so excited when the first pop-up guests arrived and began to take photos of what we had created.”

12/13

When it comes to making the most of creating a pop-up, Shannon says, “Promote, Promote, Promote: When working on our pop-ups, at times it felt like I was putting on a small Broadway show. There’s a very long list of things to do, people to follow-up with, and lots of promotion. People have a short attention span, so be sure to take lots of photos to get people excited, or make a few versions of your event flyer to post in the weeks and days leading up to event. Telling someone once is simply not enough. Even posting a story an hour before the event has been a great way to remind someone to come check us out!” This pop-up was in collaboration with , an iconic men’s clothing and sneaker store in Philadelphia.

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This was another scene from ‘s pop-up at , but soon Shannon will be opening the doors to ‘s new brick-and-mortar home: 600 square feet in the Queen Village section of South Philadelphia called Fabric Row. “My mother and I shopped for fabrics here as a child and it feels crazy to know that over twenty years later, I am opening my own space down the street.”

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