Toronto-based designer, business owner, and all around bad bish Dani Roche is about to be your new girl crush. The young entrepreneur has gone through quite the transformation--from a kid pawning off Looney Tunes sketches under her kitchen table to a teenager hawking vintage clothing online and now a bonafide boss, running her own creative agency as well as an outerwear line. Did we mention that her personal style is also bomb? We recently caught up with the Canadian creative to chat about the importance of keeping an open mind, taming social anxiety through online friendships, and finding your confidence through style. Check out the interview below.
As the Owner and Director of full-service creative agency Kastor & Pollux, you're a certified girl boss running a company that puts out some pretty rad content. Can you tell us how this agency came to be and what some of your favorite projects have been so far?
Kastor & Pollux as a brand actually turns six years old this year, which is so wild to think about. I launched it with Bianca Venerayan--my business partner at the time--as an e-commerce website selling clothing and accessories. From 2011-2013, we produced biannual collections in our parents' suburban basements, and promoted the products via personal style content published to the K&P blog and platforms like Lookbook.nu. Much to my surprise, we got a lot of traction with our style content and the blog content began to take precedent over the products we were creating.
In 2015, Bianca and I parted ways as co-owners of the company, and slowly phased out the way in which we portrayed ourselves--in alignment with the brand. While to many this seemed like a preemptive change, I knew that the social media landscape was changing. For the first time, I had no partner to fall back on. I had to make decisions as a sole business owner.
This sense of urgency meant that I spent the greater part of 2016 trying to restructure the way that Kastor & Pollux spoke to the consumer. Instead of elevating two girls as the singular voices of a company, I flipped the switch and opened up the conversation to effectively encompass our generation's need for proactive and strong voices.
Kastor & Pollux as an agency now looks to represent voices of female millennial culture through empowerment and thought-provoking content. It's important to me that I continue to offer services through visual storytelling, all the while defying a traditional agency model. For the sake of my team, I don't want the scope of Kastor & Pollux's work to be reliant on pushing pixels around. For progress and change, content requires more than that.
We'd love to hear a bit about your background, growing up, and how you got to where you are today.
I grew up in the suburbs as a really shy and sheltered kid. I had one best friend who I shared every aspect of my life with, and as a result, found myself pretty uncomfortable in most social scenarios outside of this friendship. When I was 12 years old, I started getting into online communities via Neopets.com, and this brought me outside my insular reality. I was fascinated by the idea that I could connect with kids from across the world and build meaningful rapports without having to actually physically interact with them. As a result, I threw myself into as many different communities as possible, building my skill sets and teaching myself how to code and design with the support of internet friend groups.
My unwavering curiosity has undoubtedly elevated my work and my own perception of my work. I am not ashamed to ask questions and approach problems a little unconventionally, and I am not afraid of career tangents or exploring uncomfortable territory. I've always been interested in art and fashion, but I don't let these interests dictate the scope of my work. I think it's incredibly important to be open-minded and not let yourself be boxed in by expectations--rather discovering how art, design, and fashion can promote relevant messages and ideas.
“My unwavering curiosity has undoubtedly elevated my work and my own perception of my work. I am not ashamed to ask questions and approach problems a little unconventionally..."
You were included in Marketing Magazine's "30 Under 30 List" a few months ago, but your hustle began at the age of sixteen when you started using your social profiles to sell vintage clothing online. What inspired you to get into e-commerce?
Starting an e-commerce business wasn't a super intentional decision. Rather, it seemed like a natural progression from the work I was doing and a seamless extension of what was happening online at the time.
Before I really knew what "being an entrepreneur" was, I was sitting underneath my parent's dining room table trying to pawn off Looney Tunes drawings for toonies. I understand that commodifying art and design always comes with controversy: however, the rise of e-commerce opened up so many doors for creative people who grew up with the idea that "struggling artist" was the only viable job title.
Through my first e-commerce endeavor in 2008, I learned about self-discipline, multi-tasking, and sifting through thrift store racks really quickly (lol). Digital spaces were vastly different than they are today, but that experience was critical to the path that I'm on now.
In addition to K&P, you are also the Creative Director behind Biannual, outwear for men and women that's launching in F/W 17. Can you tell us more?
After K&P stopped designing/producing collections under our house clothing and accessories line in 2014, I was certain that I would never dip my toes back into the fashion industry again. However, it's hard to miss something that you were never without. When we stopped producing collections under Kastor & Pollux, I realized how much I liked seeing products and ideas manifest in real life. So much of my work only exists digitally and I've always craved the chance to create something physical.
When I was approached with the opportunity to be the Creative Director of a new outerwear brand in 2016, I didn't think twice. With the help of Dani Reynolds--who is one of my oldest collaborators, and the Creative Producer of Biannual--I have been able to take on this project. Out of our Toronto studio, we continue to build out the brand's identity with a very streamlined purpose: consciousness and self-improvement.
How important is creative freedom to you when partnering with a brand?
I've been fortunate to work with a roster of clients who are highly collaborative and trusting of my vision. There are obviously brand requirements that I have to stick to as a designer, but I've come to realize that one of the most valuable things I can bring to the table is a critical mind.
My process starts with an interview: what are your objectives, who are you trying to reach, what problems are you trying to solve, AND, most importantly: why are you coming to Kastor & Pollux with this project?
You obviously have a keen eye for fashion and styling--having just been featured in The Coveteur for the second time this year--and have a knack for perfectly pairing up designer and vintage pieces. Can you share three personal styling tips for putting together an outfit?
I used to describe myself as a "maximalist"--I would go all out with pattern mixing and color-blocking; wearing elaborate outfits impractical for everyday use. However, over the years I've realized that having good style isn't always about making a statement. Most days, my outfit consists of jeans and a t-shirt: it's a tried-but-true uniform. To personalize it, I opt for statement outerwear, crazy shoes, and an unconventional bag.
I've learned that style should give you confidence. Just because I have a close proximity to the fashion industry, I shouldn't be pressured to wear outfits that don't make me feel like myself.
To find your own personal style, remove all concepts about what you think it means to be "fashionable." Trends don't last forever. Figure out what YOUR uniform is, and then decipher what makes you feel confident.
You were recently in NYC and got some matching ink with friends! Can you tell us about the new tattoos and the story behind them?
Funnily enough, that was my first tattoo and it happened completely on a whim. The tattoo is modeled after a traditional Sailor Jerry mom heart, except instead of "mom" it says "me."
I've been clocking overtime hours since I was sixteen--and at the end of 2016, I finally reached a breaking point: I had burnt myself out. This tattoo represents my ongoing quest for self-love. Through all disappointing relationships--business and personal--I realized I needed to start prioritizing myself instead of putting other people's needs and wants before my own. Desiring collaboration and partnership can be completely positive things; however, they should coexist and not replace your own personal needs.
Anyway, my friends and I were having drinks one night and on a whim we started talking about tattoos. I mentioned the design that I had been considering getting, and the girls were super enthusiastic. A couple of days later, we were with Evan from West 4 Tattoo permeating our friendship through shared reminders that we're strong with other people but we're strong on our own as well.
Just this year, K&P created and sold limited edition tote bags with all proceeds going to the ACLU; you were also featured in the campaign for Kiehl's Canada collection that supports the Tegan & Sara Foundation--all proceeds were donated to support economic justice, health, and representation for LGBTQ youth. Supporting others seems to be a big deal to you, can you tell us about these experiences and why you chose to take part?
The word "influencers" is thrown around so often it almost seems like a joke: what exactly constitutes influence? And furthermore, how can we actually use this "influence" to talk about something positive or important? I used to find myself offended when people called me an influencer--the term is so commonplace it feels taboo. However, I realized that if I'm going to continue to upload content to these platforms, I am perpetuating this notion--so I might as well use it as a vehicle for change and information.
Through these projects, I look to promote messages that positively influence or inform my followers. If someone is going to label you as an "influencer," take it in strides and use your voice effectively.
What can we look out for from you in 2017?
To be honest, every day is completely different. I'm constantly working on new projects that each come with a completely different set of problems to overcome. While I love the challenges that come with unpredictable projects, I also desire stability. This year, I want to continue to push myself to be a more strategic designer and learn more about the world at large. Like all millennials (lol), I am fearful of becoming stagnant. However, I believe that stagnancy is a direct result of being comfortable and jaded--and I am extremely uncomfortable all of the time, and extremely self-aware.
As for what to expect? I am working on a bunch of different things across a bunch of different mediums. (Spoiler alert: A Kastor & Pollux shop is in the works, as well as a bunch of print publication projects).
What does MISSBISH mean to you and who's your MISSBISH?
MISSBISH is empowering. It's so important to continue to highlight strong women--females and female-identifying--in a cultural landscape increasingly conscious of the power of GIRLS.
My entire team of Kastor & Pollux collaborators are so inspiring to me--they're all my MISSBISHes. They motivate me to be better and stronger and more loving and supportive. I am fortunate to be able to work with them on the daily and watch as they empower the community around them.
Photographer: Nathalia Allen