Dreamer and doer Brandi Shigley has been motivating and transforming the Denver fashion community since 2004, when she founded Fashion Denver, a local organization that supports aspiring designers to grow their businesses. Shigley is a strong believer in “Do What You Love, Love What You Do,” which has been her number one motto throughout her creative life.
Adopted from the Philippines, Shigley grew up in Colorado in an entrepreneurial family. After graduating from Metropolitan State University of Denver with a degree in communications, she started her first business at the age 23, designing custom handbags under her label “b.shigley design,” which led to her success both locally and internationally. Shigley has been featured in 5280 Magazine, HERLIFE Magazine, Denver Business Journal, CNN Money and Lucky Magazine.
Irma Laliashvili: You are the founder of Fashion Denver – a local fashion community that helps young designers to pursue their dreams. Could you tell me more about what services you offer at your company?
Brandi Shigley: I feel like Fashion Denver’s role over the past 11 years that I’ve been in business has really been about connecting designers and giving them a platform to shine. As a semi-retired handbag designer, I really understand the importance of the ins and outs of being an independent designer and I want to be able to provide those services to local designers. Those services include one on one business consulting and connecting them with resources within our community to help them grow their businesses. I also do a lot of business development as well like: logo, brand development, web development, public relations and marketing. But really, Fashion Denver is about connecting and providing that platform for designers to shine.
IL: What motivated you to start Fashion Denver?
BS: I was motivated to start Fashion Denver after I moved back here from Southern California. In California I was going up to LA and San Francisco, doing different fashion markets. I didn’t see anything like that here in Denver, and this was back in 2004. There was fashion industry happening, but I wanted to bring it together even more to take those experiences from LA and San Francisco and apply them here in Denver. That’s really what motivated me to create Fashion Denver.
IL: Fashion wise, would you say Denver is the next New York, Milan or Paris?
BS: I would like to say that Denver is not the next New York, Milan or Paris. Denver is Denver. For me, being from Denver, I think it’s important that we keep our culture, and don’t try to be something that we’re not. As far as the fashion industry in New York and Milan, those places are growing. Yes, we are growing, but I want Denver to stay Denver.
IL: In 2012 you gave a TED Talk about starting your first business of designing custom handbags under the label “b. shigley designs” right out of college, which led to your success both locally and internationally. At what point did you realize you wanted to be a businesswoman?
BS: I’ve never labeled myself a businesswoman. I grew up in an entrepreneurial family. At a very early age, all I knew was entrepreneurship. I only knew family owned and operated businesses. I think it’s just been instilled in me on how to be a business person. I never really was like, “I want to be a businesswoman!” It was more about doing what I needed to do, which from an outside prospective, it is a business woman, but from the inside prospective, I’m just doing what needs to be done.
IL: What is the most challenging thing about your job?
BS: I think the most challenging can be balancing life with business, because so much of what I do is who I am. For example, this year has been kind of a crazy year for me. I traveled back to my birth country. I visited the orphanage where I came from. That was pretty heavy. I’ve just reconnected with my foster sister, who met her biological sister this weekend. A friend that I traveled to the Philippines with died of a tragic motor cycle accident last month.
I think that because I’m an entrepreneur, I create my own hours. If I don’t feel like working, because I’m depressed and sad, I don’t work, which is often not a good thing, because I need to keep income coming in. I think that that’s the hardest part, making sure that I’m working enough and that I am living life enough. Oftentimes those two things cross over and sometimes it’s hard to balance that.
IL: When you went back to the Philippines, how did that experience inspire you?
BS: That experience inspired me to really understand where I come from. I grew up American. My parents are white. I’m a total white girl in a Filipino body. When I went back to the Philippines, specifically when we flew into the island of Tacloban, which is where 10,000 people were killed in a typhoon a couple of years ago - as soon as I landed and got off the airplane, I physically and soulfully felt very connected. I was like “I’m home! This is where I’m from.” That experience has really led me to want to get in touch more with my roots. Now I’m kind of on a journey to find my biological parents. With my foster sister meeting her biological sister this weekend here in Denver, and seeing those two connect, there was nothing like it. That’s one thing. As an adoptee, it might be hard for other people to understand. But I want to physically belong to somebody. I want to know “Wow! This is my blood. We share the same chromosomes.” I don’t have that. It used to not bother me, I used to be like, “Oh, you know, it’s okay, I’m my own chromosome. I’m creating my roots.” But now I want to find my chromosomes. I want to connect with my biological family. That’s been a huge life changing thing for me. Huge. I just need to make sure I stay connected to my roots and keep remembering and thinking about it and putting energy into finding them.
IL: What is your greatest aspiration?
BS: I’ve been teaching my workshop, “Do What You Love, Love What You Do,” for years. But after going back to the Philippines and going back to these villages that have nothing but seeing how rich they are in family and culture and in so many other things that we aren’t as rich, I’ve realized now that life is about doing what you love and loving what you do. Even more so, it’s about understanding what your gift is and giving it back into the world. I think my aspiration in life is in the bigger scheme of things, to be able to affect more people in a positive way to spread their light. Whether that’s through Fashion Denver, teaching “Do What You Love, Love What You Do workshop,” or traveling and volunteering. I just want to be able to keep spreading hope, encouragement and happiness.
Last Tuesday my band, I have band, called “Piper Club” and we played a concert for the homeless community and it was amazing. Just seeing, you don’t have to travel the world and go on these big missions to be able to spread your light. We can do it just through having compassion with people we pass every day. I think that often times, we as a society look away and we don’t engage, because we’re like “Ugh!” “What do you think when you see a homeless person?” “What do you think when you see something that doesn’t feel good?” “Do you have compassion or do you just turn away?” I’m really learning how not to turn away and how to have more compassion and have conversation. I think my biggest aspiration is to be a light in dark places. In whatever way that is, if it’s just striking up a conversation with a homeless person and telling him “Life is good. There is good out there,” then that’s good.
IL: What piece of advice would you give to someone considering a career in the fashion industry?
BS: I would say to find people that are doing what you love. Talking to them and interviewing them and seeing what the ins and outs are of their business. Volunteering is a huge way to get involved and to see if the industry that you want to be part of is something that you really do want to be a part of. Also, think locally. You don’t have to fly away to LA or New York. We have fashion going on here. I’m a big proponent of “If you don’t see something happening, make something happen.” I’m very big on the idea of don’t wait for an opportunity, create the opportunity. I would say, for the most part, Denver is very supportive and we have an amazing fashion community. I love talking to people when I can. I love being able to inspire people to just see like, yeah, we have fashion here, “Stay here! Let’s build it here!” Also, researching all the different parts of the fashion industry. There are many different things, from actual design to fashion show production, to marketing, to business, to journalism and really just getting involved.