Dani Roche interview
Dani Roche is Toronto’s internet-era design queen
Words— Ben Kriz
You may have come across Dani Roche on Instagram, with her on-point style, colourful backdrops, and generally tasteful aesthetic. But don’t mistake her for a mere influencer.
Back when Instagram was but a glimmer in Kevin Systrom’s eye, Dani Roche was a 16 year old with her own ecommerce site – selling reworked vintage clothing with a friend. With the advent of Instagram and social media, Roche used her savvy eye to influence for brands. But as an immensely creative talent with an entrepreneurial spirit that won’t quit, she’s moved on to opening her own creative studio Kastor & Pollux, that employs an incredible roster of mostly female talent. Together, they've dreamed up all kinds of creative projects clients and brands such as Bumble, Lululemon, and Fujifilm.
I chatted with Roche about pushing herself beyond influencing, being businesswoman and a self-described introvert at the same time, working with friends, and how she’s managed to apply her interests into work.
So you’ve been very “online” for most of your life. You started your own web shop in a pre-Shopify world and then got into the influencer game a bit. What are your general thoughts on social media in 2018?
With my first business - an e-commerce website - my then-business partner and I were hand-coding each item and product page and manually uploading everything to our website (which was just basic HTML). I look back and see how much I struggled with the idea of entrepreneurship and getting other people to respect or understand what I was doing just because it was so unconventional and unheard of–especially at my age. I remember documenting my first outfits for the fashion community I was a part of and going outside or downtown to do a quote-unquote street-style picture. And everybody was looking at me like, what are you doing? Now we can walk down any street and see someone trying grab some kind of content -- no matter how old they are or what their job is. It’s just the way the world has moved.
So in that way, I wouldn't trade my experience online for the world as it’s really humbled me and has given me a greater appreciation for the opportunities and increased acceptance that I’ve received over the years.
So with that said do you ever feel the need to disconnect now and then?
A year ago I took off my email notifications and I’ve just been trying to focus on being in the moment instead of being constantly distracted by my phone. I don’t think it’s part of my job to be connected. As long as I’m aware and present in my day to day life that will positively impact my work.
I think I get confused a lot about what is actually work and what is defined as play. With Instagram Stories everyone is sharing what they’re doing. You don’t need to be considered an “influencer” to share updates about your life. Everyone has just accepted that as reality so everybody is updating and everybody is sharing. So for me, I honestly try to not go on social media or Instagram as much as I would have in the past. I think it’s important for me to try and separate the experiences I have in my life when hanging with friends and when I need to work. The work I’ve always done has always been reflective of who I am as a person.
Kastor & Pollux created a dynamic photo boot for a recent Bumble event – the ideal client for Roche's mostly-female agency.
Kastor & Pollux started as more of an ecomm and a blog, but you pivoted to something more service based. What inspired you to take that leap?
I’m naturally somebody who prefers to be behind the scenes. I’ve always identified as somebody who is creative and enjoys graphic design and solving problems. I saw the opportunity to take a platform that already had a following and a community and interest into something I could basically sell from a service perspective. Having started as a fashion blog centred around who I was and what I was wearing, it was probably a weird transition for my audience to suddenly see service-based [graphic design work] that had nothing to do with me. I think that was a really interesting challenge when trying to transition from point A to point B in a seamless way.
I think that when I started out with this new direction in 2015 I couldn’t have anticipated it having gone this well. One of the first things I had to do was email all of my connections and be like, "Hey I know that you guys hired me for influencer campaigns but I’m wondering if I could plan an event for you?" And they’d say “You know how to plan an event?” And I’d say yeah sure! I had never planned an event before. So that trust and that relationship was so helpful and I am pretty shocked that it worked out this way but I’m grateful for it.
I saw your presentation at Dynamic/MLT last year and you describe yourself as introverted. Is it difficult for you to get out there and talk up your business?
As a business owner, the expectation is that you always need to be present and show face but I think that my energy is better suited to one-on-one meetings with people I want to build relationships with versus going to all the parties and events and just hanging out.
Personally, that doesn't work for me because I get really stressed out and anxious. Because I’m a naturally empathetic person–as a business owner, I definitely use a lot of emotional energy trying to manage a team because I am not only constantly worried about the projects that we’re doing but I’m also concerned about the people who I’m working with and their well-being [because I work with a lot of my friends]. Sometimes I do wish I was more naturally inclined to be super sociable and not so anxious, but I've figured out good coping systems.
Working with friends – people always say you shouldn’t do that. You’ve chosen to ignore this unwarranted advice?
My entire career I’ve always hired and worked with friends. And, yeah, there are a lot of opinions surrounding that – but I realised very quickly that the best thing I could do if I chose to work with friends is to be as honest as possible, to be as transparent as possible with the projects and the work. If they don't feel comfortable trusting me with a work problem or if they are unable to separate the work-friend dynamic then I can do my best to drive them through that but at the end of the day if it’s not going to work it’s not going to work. I think that’s still one of the hardest things I struggle with. I’m trying to be the best boss and person I can be and make sure my employees and collaborators know that at the end of the day we’re still friends and whatever happens at work isn’t indicative of our friendship.
The things you wear and the fashion you’re into–what role does that play in how you present yourself to the world?
When I was first starting out on the internet [laughs], I didn’t understand what style really was. I thought that reading Vogue and know what was going on on Style.com was reflective of what my role or participation in the fashion space was or could look like. I didn't understand how to develop my own style that was practical for my life and the place that I lived. It was more so just trying to look as extra as possible to emulate what I saw as fashion. I’ve learned to be comfortable in what I’m comfortable in. I stopped putting pressure on myself to be “a fashionable person” to always live up to the standard of what other people think “fashion” means. So right now I dress for comfort, I know what I like, and I know what I don’t like. I know what looks good on me and I know what doesn't look good on me. I don’t need to try and adjust that to live up to expectations as a fashion influencer.
I still love dressing up so if I need to go to an event I get really excited. But my day-to-day style is pretty lowkey and not very flashy. I like a good pair of trousers or jeans and a t-shirt and I think right now what I’m spending money on is investment pieces. Things I know I will like in the future–so shoes or accessories because I feel like those things can amplify a very simple look and it still feels very me but doesn’t feel like I’m going to feel self-conscious when I’m out.
What do you fail at all the time and what do you no longer fail at?
Waking up early! Also, just having good conversations. I'm a naturally curious person, but my social anxiety used to get the best of me. Over the years I've learned how to be more comfortable in social situations, and now I can usually converse with anybody about anything.
And what did that teach you?
That I just need to be more confident. In order to be more confident, I just needed to know my shit better. If I’m able to really understand who I am and what I offer and what I can speak about then I can’t second guess that in conversation.
What is your definition of the good life?
The good life is feeling like you know what your purpose is in the world and being able to work towards that while being kind and having people who support you around you.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity. If you enjoyed our sit down with with Dani Roche, check out some of our other interviews.