10 Years and Counting!

Ten whole entire years have flown by since I started Dupenny in the attic bedroom of my parent's house. The name (one of my mother's nicknames) was a temporary choice that stuck. My plan was simple; I would make the world smile, one wall at a time. I sat in my quiet loft space doodling vintage pinups, burlesque dancers, zombies, vampires and the like... People laughed and told me no-one would buy my designs. Some even thought I should be "ashamed" of myself. One day around that time I discovered my favourite ever quote:

“Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary.” - Cecil Beaton.

Everyone said it wouldn't work, but I knew better than to listen to those who lacked imagination. I had zero business training and no clue what I was doing, but I did have a vision and a drive to be reckoned with. I knew how to have fun and get attention. Somehow I just knew I could make it work... whatever it was.

Zombie Art Print by Dupenny

In those days the internet was like the Wild West, still waiting to be discovered. My first website was literally a static page - it was beyond awful! My folks would help me cut up HUGE reels of wallpaper on the floor of their hallway. I'd spend my nights screen-printing lengths of wallpaper by hand at Print Club London because it was the only time the shared studio was empty enough to print my wallpapers!

Artist Emily Dupen screenprinting her Wallpapers

I spent most of my first year preparing my stand for 100% Design, where I officially unleashed Dupenny into the big wide world. I applied for one of 5 newcomer bursary grants towards show costs and was told by the organisers I had no chance. Amazingly, I won the grant, had the press booths smothered in my wallpapers and was nominated for an Elle Decoration British Design Award - it was a lot to take in! I've been so fortunate that running Dupenny has been my full-time job since those crazy 5 days.

Dupenny Wallpapers First Promo Shot - Retro 50s Housewives Wallpaper

The past 10 years have been non-stop. I won't sugar-coat it, it's been pretty stressful at times. I've made every mistake in the book and more. I was severely naive to the constant bullsh*t that comes with the day-to-day running of my own little business; what ghastly monster of a horror show have I created?! I'm sure most small creative business owners can relate! I tell you, it's no joke, and if it wasn't for the good stuff I would have given up long ago.

So, about the good stuff ... I am so grateful for my amazing customers and clients, big and small. And to every single person who likes, comments or engages on my social media, or spreads word of my brand. The encouragement and support from total strangers has always blown me away and is the main reason I keep doing what I do.

I'm thankful for all the far, wide and wonderful places my little dream has taken me, and the clients and friends I've built trusting relationships with in every corner of the world. I'm forever in debt to all who've supported my journey - the ones who helped me get started, those who've tirelessly lugged suitcases of my wallpapers around the globe, anyone who's ever found themselves stuck on a ridiculous "adventure" for the sake of my work, and those who still stick with me despite it all. Honestly, I often to wonder why anyone puts up my sh*t!
Basically, if it wasn't for other people none of this would have been possible.

DuPenny X ModCloth Collection Neon Boneyard Las Vegas

Some of my favourite highlights include my wallpapers exhibiting alongside famous works by masters of controversy, Vivienne Westwood, Alexander McQueen and Damien Hirst, and my '50s Housewives' and 'Call Girls' designs being added to the V&A Museum Archives. I've created my very own Dupenny Boudoir at Brighton's infamous Hotel Pelirocco, collaborated on my own retro fashion range with ModCloth, been slammed by the Daily Mail on more than one occasion, and the '50s Housewives' have even starred alongside Hollywood royalty, Richard Gere!!! Yes, you heard it the first time.

To celebrate a decade of business I've revamped my iconic 'Burlesque' Wallpaper to include scarlet red lips. We've printed a limited number of rolls, which are already proving super popular, so if you like what you see, you know what to do!

Burlesque Limited Edition Wallpaper with Red Lips by Dupenny

One thing that's always astonished me on this journey is just how willing small, creative businesses are to support each other and offer advice. I get asked a lot of questions and I've made every possible mistake over the years, so I thought I'd put together a list of 10 valuable lessons my journey has taught me so far. I hope this advice can help other small creatives who want to carve a similar career for themselves...

10 business lessons for creatives:

1. Find your niche and own it. Even the most saturated markets have room for something new - a fresh perspective. Don't bend to suit the market, make the market fit around you. - When the world was still drowning in "vanilla" wallpapers people used to tell me no-one would pay for my wacky designs, "especially at that price". All I can say is, they were very wrong. People will pay good money for something different.

2. Create your own hype, don't wait for others to do it for you. Fake it 'til you make it. - This came naturally to me from day one. It's not rocket science. Get attention, get attention, get attention. The rest will follow. If you don't believe in yourself, others will see straight through you.

3. Don't worry about what others think - really don't. It's a waste of your time, not to mention none of their business. - If I had a penny for every time someone's been offended by my work I'd own my Jaguar E-Type already ... The only person you need to impress is yourself.

4. There will NEVER be enough time, so buy time. - 10 years on and I still can't accept that I'll never catch my tail! Figure out where your time is most valuable and outsource all other tasks to someone else. It's difficult to let go of control, but it will be worth it eventually when you can spend your time on ONLY the things you love, instead of juggling a million jobs you never bargained for.

5. Stay true to your morals. You are in control of what your brand represents. Set the standard. From the start I've aimed to use sustainable methods, materials and packaging. Try sourcing those things 10 years ago! Luckily the world is slowly catching on and such alternatives are more readily available/affordable. Your personal values should be reflected in your brand. Be the change you wish to see.

6. Your "competitors" are your friends, use them to your advantage. They get it. - I cannot stress how valuable my fellow designers have been over the years. We discuss Photoshop tricks, supplier issues, which shows are worth doing, and everything in between. It took me a while to realise that by staying true to yourself, nobody can compete with you. Plus it's not a competition!

7. You don't need a "big break" and there's no need to sell your soul! - If big commercial projects are what you want/need, then by all means go get 'em! Personally, I find them no different to working for someone else. I realise I'm happy doing my thing without the pressure of compromising my creative freedom or soul. I answer to no-one and that to me is worth more than any paycheque.

8. Don't compare your success to others. - This is your story. Theirs is theirs and you don't know what they did to get there. If they're doing well then good for them, they're doing something right! Figure out what it is and do it in your own way. Stay focused on YOUR dream, not someone else's.

9. Make time for yourself. - All guns blazin' eventually takes its toll both physically and mentally, and makes you less productive in the long-run. Nowadays I'm constantly pushing to improve my work/life balance, because what's the point in all of this otherwise?

10. Be adaptable. - Technology moves fast! 10 years ago many of today's most successful businesses didn't exist, and some of yesterday's biggest companies have since evaporated. A lot changes in 10 years. You either evolve with the times or you get left behind. Harsh but true. You never know what's around the corner, so stay on your toes. Make yourself anti-fragile and you will stand the test of time.

And the biggest lesson? Always stay humble and appreciate your customers. It's not difficult to treat people with respect and appreciation, especially if they pay the bills. Without happy customers you don't stand a chance, so treat them with the royal service they rightly deserve!

Toodles Poodles