Emma Holland Denvir
LH: Emma, can you tell us a little about yourself?
EHD: Sure! I am a woodworker + designer + artist living in Los Angeles. I moved here three years ago to pursue design from Washington D.C., where I lived my entire life before moving here. For the past two years I was a furniture & fixtures designer at Bishop Pass, an interior architecture and design firm. I left in May to pursue my brand full time.
LH: That is INCREDIBLE! Congratulations!
EHD: Thank you! I probably need to get another part time job for a little while it takes off. But I was able to dedicate the past few months to my brand with no distractions which has been great and something I've never done.
LH: That's amazing and something that sadly, a lot of small business owners don't get the opportunity to say. So, kudos to you!
LH: Have you always known you wanted to be a designer/wood worker?
EHD: I've always been interested in art, for sure, and I guess product design without knowing it. I used to make frames, CD holders, bud vases [chugging Sprites, opening the tops dangerously with can openers, cutting my fingers accidentally, painting them], etc., out of household objects since I was around 6 years old. I also used to take all of the cardboard boxes around my house growing up and turn them into model homes, designing the interiors, and building them out with paper.
LH: That's so fun! So you've always been a do-er and a maker.
EHD: I didn't really know that product design or woodworking was an option. I studied art history at Georgetown and knew that I didn't want to work in a gallery. My oldest brother saw an 3D design assignment of mine and suggested I look at industrial design, but I didn't know anything about it. I ignored his suggestion for a year or so, and then finally, after college, decided I should build a portfolio for architecture or product design. I found classes in both at University of Maryland, and hated the architecture classes immediately. I was really lucky and found a class in 3D that was taught by a wood sculptor, Foon Sham, and I fell in love with woodworking and he immediately became my mentor. I studied sculpture for one year and then taught myself furniture making under his guidance for the following year. Then moved out here to go to grad school at Art Center, and dropped out ASAP! Also at UMD I started casting and welding. So I built a pretty solid portfolio in two years and made my own grad program.
LH: Wow! That's so interesting. I love your hustle. So bad ass and extremely beautiful.
LH: Can I ask why you chose to drop out of grad school?
EHD: It was actually great that I attended Art Center. It taught me that I wanted to be a maker and in the woodshop primarily, not on a computer. I didn't really jive with their design sense there, it is very polished and modern. I initially planned to transfer to Cranbrook or RISD. After I sent in my applications I realized it wasn't only the school that was the problem, but also that I did not want to go back to school. And that I had a super strong portfolio and could figure it out with that. Then I stumbled along the job at Bishop Pass and they took a chance on me, having no formal design training and definitely no formal interior design training. I grew there very quickly, starting 3 days a week as an intern to basically intermediate designer by the time I left.
LH: It's great to hear that you believed in yourself enough to take a chance and put yourself out there. Something I know a lot of Lady Hustlers have trouble doing.
LH: What's your favorite 90's snack?
EHD: Dunkaroos, I believe! But Fruit by the Foot, Fruit Roll-Up, and Gushers all follow closely behind. AND Twinkies. They used to be really good and I remember they changed the filling, and I stopped eating them…I was devastated.
LH: Fruit by the foot! Totally forgot about that!
LH: So having left your job to invest in yourself, what would you say has been the most challenging part about this?
EHD: A few things. I have good time management, but I do find not having to leave my house to work makes it a little hard to stay motivated. While I was at my job I actually really liked having to wake up before work to do my own work, working after work and on weekends. I like being insanely busy, I am the most productive then. It's also nice to be surrounded by people. When you go off on your own, if you are the only person, you are not necessarily seeing people everyday. So for that reason, and trying to start a business alone, it can all be a bit lonely, even though I have great friends and family that support me.
Also not having a steady/predictable paycheck. Drives me nuts. Which is why I am actually looking for part time work outside of design, in retail. So I can continue to focus on my business but make money in a steady manner until everything smoothes out.
Freelance is not my thing, I've learned.
LH: It is very difficult to work alone and not have steady income. I think it's fantastic that you're being realistic and fair to your hustle.
EHD: Thank you! I want my creative energy and all of my hustle to be devoted to my brand. And freelancing really detracts from that.
LH: Freelance isn't for everyone but I'm glad people like you and I had the opportunity to figure that out. It's much more rewarding than having to think "Man, I wonder what would've happened if I had tried freelancing."
LH: Speaking of rewards, what would you say has been the most rewarding part about leaving your job to invest in your brand?
EHD: I think seeing what can happen when I focus on it has been pretty cool. I love designing and making new things, so having the time to do that almost constantly has been rewarding and getting a lot of positive feedback on everything. Since leaving my job in May, I have designed and made a new jewelry line and two lines of home goods. And photographed them. While that is all a bit tiring, it's cool to see it happen quickly and basically recreate my brand in a few months.
LH: Wow, it sounds like you do a lot, and it does sound tiring.. rewarding but tiring. That leads us to my next question: What are ways that you take time for yourself and disconnect from the hustle? I'm sure at your previous job, it's easier to leave work there because you physically leave. At home or in your home office, your work lives with you. Have you found that your work suffers if you don't check out? If you do take time for yourself, have you found that it's easier to function?
EHD: At first I was awful at it. I saw that I had so much to do, so I would wake up, work, and keep working until midnight. Then I finally got to a stopping point and realized I could have taken a few more days and not skipped yoga to work around the clock! So now I am trying to be better, no matter what my workload is, to go to yoga, run, hike, get coffee or drinks with friends. Sometimes I use work as an excuse to be a hermit, but that always ends up biting me in the butt and being social is actually good!
I'm also extremely impatient. So given that I do all of everything right now, I do it really quickly, even though I am making my own deadlines for the most part. Just because I want to see it done ASAP. I like seeing the finished product. Another reason architecture was not meant for me!
LH: I think a lot of us can relate to wanting to see things done right away!
LH: What's your current favorite song?
EHD: Anything by Girlpool!
LH: Ooo! We have to check them out.
LH: So Emma, what does "Lady Hustle" mean to you?
EHD: Hmmm well I just went to this panel by Worthy Women, so its great timing to be speaking with you today!
EHD: I think it means pursuing what you want to pursue, while juggling a ton of things, and getting shit done.
LH: Love that!
EHD: One of the women last night spoke of someone, I can't remember who, who said the difference about becoming a director was that she started to make decisions, not just throw out ideas.
LH: That's so good! -- Speaking of other Lady Hustlers, who are some Lady Hustlers that inspire you?
EHD: Moving out to LA has been very inspiring for me. All of my friends are paving their own paths and doing really cool stuff.
I look up to Kelly Wearstler a lot. Our design sense is very different, but she has created an amazingly successful business in the same vein of what I am trying to create.
LH: We'll have to check her out. It's always so nice to hear women praising other women's hustles.
LH: Your work is very clean, beautiful, and everything you create is it's own individual work of art. What inspires this?
EHD: Thank you! Primarily architecture & bridges & underpasses! But often architecture in construction phases. I love angles and I beams. It's really cool seeing these simple forms that support buildings and bridges. Recently, I've been getting more inspired by experimental fashion, and brands like Chromat and Zana Bayne. I wasn't aware of much of that before moving out here.
They are also inspiration for really cool fashion lines that are successful and broke the mold of what came before. Which is what I feel like I am doing with statement wood jewelry, and it's super hard breaking into something new. So seeing their brands is awesome and keeps me going.
LH: That's beautiful!
LH: What advice would you give Lady Hustlers who are trying to invest in their brand, but aren't really sure whether or not they should leave their nine to fives. And what advice would you give Lady Hustlers in general?
EHD: I'd say, you know you are ready to leave when you do not want to be sitting at your job, and feel like you are wasting your time and their time by being there. If your head isn't in it, it's not really worth being there. So listen to yourself and don't make yourself miserable. Even if you aren't financially ready to make that leap, if you can find other work that frees you up to focus on your brand, maybe that is the answer. There are tons of ways to pursue your passion while still working.
Generally, to not give up. This is something I honestly think about everyday for a second, sometimes longer. Persistence is key. If you want to be successful, a lot of it is persistence. Not letting everything get to you is important. Which is really hard, and I have trouble with it. But so many people will give up, but if you stick with it and continue to make your voice stronger, you will stand out even more a few years down the line.
I always think,"Wouldn't it be easier if I wanted to have a day job and just make stuff on the side for myself." But then I remember, NO, that's not what I want. I want to have a super successful business that is mine!
LH: Amen! Love that.
LH: What are your hustle dreams for the next two to three years?
EHD: Before that, ideally, to have my own woodshop and a small production team that produces in house. To have my jewelry on the runway at NYFW.
LH: We totally believe it's going to happen. Your work is stunning!
EHD: Thanks, lady!
EHD: I also would like to open my own coffee shop/cocktail lounge. The firm I was at focused on restaurant design and I would love to design and operate my own. Hire architect friends of mine to build it.
LH: That's so awesome! When that happens, we'll be some of the firsts to visit, both your woodshop and your coffee shop.
LH: Lastly, name four things you can't live without.
EHD: That's tough.... 1) Friends & Family & my kitten, Arrow 2) Woodworking 3) Caffeine 4) Sleep
LH: Emma thank you so much for chatting with us! We are so excited to follow your journey and see what other magical pieces you create!