Dreaming in Digital: A Conversation with Dani Roche
The digital world provides young people with a wealth of knowledge at their disposal. For some, the internet is a place for exploration, but for Dani Roche, it proves so much more. Acting as a catalyst for her creative career, the internet helped the multi-disciplinary designer-turned entrepreneur find her niche. Roche's career charts back to her early days when she began hard-coding her fashion blog and graphic designing, but today, she runs her own successful creative agency, Kastor and Pollux. Most recently Dani launched Biannual Brand, a vibrant unisex outerwear brand carried by Opening Ceremony. Dani is a force within the creative industry and continues to shift the paradigm of what leading women in this realm are able to do. We spoke with the young entrepreneur to hear more about her creative process, her love for Toronto and what’s to come in 2018.
Photography by Mariah Hamilton.
Niki Frias: For those unfamiliar, can you tell us about yourself and what you do?
Dani Roche: My name is Dani Roche and I'm a Creative Director + Designer living in Toronto, Canada. I've been immersed in online communities since I was a wee child in the suburbs, and as a result, I've fostered an entrepreneurial spirit (and a lack of adversity to meeting strangers online).
Currently, I am the owner of Kastor & Pollux—a female-driven creative studio, the creative director of Biannual, a gender-fluid outerwear brand, and the co-owner of SCHOOL, an online learning platform geared towards creative entrepreneurs. I am also a design professor teaching at my alma mater.
NF: You work alongside an incredibly talented team at Kastor & Pollux. What have been some of the most fulfilling parts of creating your own company?
There are many things that I love about working with strong, intelligent women, but having the flexibility to change and adapt the nature of our work as we all learn and grow together is amazing—there's never a dull moment because our projects are so varied. Additionally, having the ability to hire and give opportunities to my friends and young creatives looking for a foot in the door is incredibly rewarding and important to me. That, inherently, disrupts a very regimented agency space.
Seeing how Kastor & Pollux has been able to slowly infiltrate a very traditional industry is very exciting to me, as a woman of colour, especially.
NF: What have been some of the greatest challenges? Do you have any advice for creatives and entrepreneurs hoping to branch out?
Every day is a mixed bag of new challenges. This is difficult, because being emotionally stable and mentally focused is a necessity. However, the unpredictable nature of my job really gives me endless opportunities to thrive. I'm constantly forced to find innovative ways to problem solve and move forward. One of the most challenging parts of owning a business is the lack of separation of personal and business relationships, and not knowing which lane I'm meant to stay in. However, over the years I've learned that over-communicating is better than not, and being honest will always trump internalizing for fear of conflict. As a result, I've been able to really fight for what I want and believe in, and I've been able to grow as a creative, as a leader, and as a friend as well.
On that note, my best piece of advice is to communicate your needs, and stay humble. You're always going to be your worst critic, so don't strive for perfection on the first go. Persevere and allow yourself to be emotional and to express those emotions.
NF: The internet offers us a wealth of inspiration at our fingertips. For you, how has it been a catalyst in your creative endeavors?
Growing up on the Internet and observing the possibilities and potential of a burgeoning space definitely emboldened me to take risks. In ways, I feel like I was also able to use naivety [in a new space] to my benefit. Because building businesses and careers via the Internet was kind of uncharted territory, being experimental with my endeavours and my positioning was welcomed and had a really obvious pay-off. Needless to say, the landscape continues to change and evolve, so I'm never stagnant. The Internet focuses me to continue to experiment and challenge myself.
NF: How did you translate your online presence into a full-time job?
I had the privilege of having a couple of amazing full-time jobs right out of school, and in ways, I always assumed that my "online presence" would be subsidiary income to my 9-5. In 2015, four years after starting Kastor & Pollux, and 7 years since starting my first business (an online vintage shop), I surprised myself by quitting my full-time job to pursue K&P. It was definitely a rocky transition with a slow start, but once I got into the groove of things, I was able to relax a little and fall into the process. I knew things wouldn't happen overnight and accepted that I would need to put in a lot of work to create a sustainable business model.
Taking the first step to pursue your own business ideas is difficult, and in ways, it forces you into a "fight or flight" headspace. For me, even when things felt difficult, I knew I couldn't give up...so I did whatever I needed to do to make it work. While I value my "online presence" and the brand that I've built for myself over the past 10 years, I know my ideas and work are only as good as the people who I surround myself with. I've been fortunate enough to work with a handful of amazing and talented individuals who have really supported my journey. As a business owner, I'm always going to be in the driver's seat, but I recognize to get to where I'm going I need a good navigator and a support system in the back seat.
NF: In addition to your work at Kastor & Pollux, you’ve also created an incredible clothing line, Biannual. When did you first realize your interest in art and design could extend to clothing?
Working on Biannual has been an extension of all the things I've ever loved: personal style, branding, and collaboration with other artists. While clothes are the catalyst, Biannual stands for so much more than just a piece of outerwear. Through working on the identity and marketing, I've been able to connect with a completely new audience even though I'm using the same language and platforms I've been using for the past decade.
NF: How do you view Toronto's fashion scene compared to what you've seen elsewhere?
Toronto is diverse and inclusive, but it also has the tendency to feel like a small town even though it's a big city. I spend the majority of my time in the Queen West/Dundas West area, which is where a lot of the artist/creative types hang out. In this area, it's impossible to walk down the street without seeing a familiar face, but it's also clear that there is a distinct "look" that's difficult to pin down in words but very evident to see in party pictures.
NF: Canadian cities, especially Toronto, have been leaders in inclusivity and supporting their creators. For you, what differentiates Toronto as a creative hub from other places?
There's so many talented and creative folk from Toronto: emerging musicians, artists, designers, tech entrepreneurs...the list goes on. These creatives all have such a magnetic energy, and they're all so humble! As a city, we should be striving to ALWAYS put these creators on. Their potential is bursting at the seams, and we need to support them instead of always talking about Drake (lol).
Generally, there's a handful of spaces, groups, and institutions that give creators the space to convene and speak to people who are aspiring to take the next steps in their creative careers. The Toronto offices for huge brands also do a pretty good job engaging with upcoming talent to support their work and collaborate for new work, too.
NF: Where can we find you hanging out in Toronto? What are some of your favorite shops, sights and tastes in the city?
We've got a lot of great vintage shops (Mama Loves You is one of my favourites) and well-curated boutiques (such as Ease on Dundas West). Most importantly, though, we've got so much great food. Bar Isabel, Odd Seoul, and Imanishi are a few of my favourites to eat, and Rhum Corner is always a cute place to grab a drink (such as a Pina Colada slushie). Also wanted to give a shout out to my hair salon Good Day Hair Shop (in Kensington Market), and Kim Nails and Spa (at Queen & Dufferin). I can't be away from Toronto too long because I don't want to book appointments anywhere else.
NF: What can we anticipate next for Kastor & Pollux?
I'm working on a new project called SCHOOL, that is an online learning platform created for the new generation. SCHOOL challenges what we know about traditional learning institutions, and enlists self-made creators + entrepreneurs to teach audiences tangible skills about building businesses, navigating freelance careers, and beyond.
Additionally, a huge part of SCHOOL's business is centered around accessibility: we plan on optimizing a one-for-one model that will provide free access to courses for at-risk communities. We will also donate 15% of all course sales to The Kick Back Project - a non-profit that elevates and support youth.
I'm really excited about this new project because it's a new business with a new set of challenges I haven't faced before. However, even though it's challenging, I think the pay-off will be amazing. We're planning on launching in July, so sign up for the mailing list for updates :)