Danielle Robay, 26
TV Host + Entertainment Journalist
Danielle Robay, the youngest on-air host in Chicago, navigated the competitive entertainment industry as a young woman in her early twenties under a constant stream of scrutiny. Rising through the ranks, she was soon to realize that she had to work harder than her male counterparts, and would routinely be met with judgement regarding her appearance. “As a TV host you have to walk into meetings dressed up,” she says. “Makeup, hair, heels, the whole thing. I can see the look in their eyes, it’s a ‘here comes another one’ kind of look. And you feel like you have to overcompensate just to start on equal footing.
1. What made you choose this career path? What has been your greatest achievement?
I chose to become a journalist because I love talking to people and more so, I love asking questions. I’m passionately curious about who you are, what you’re in love with, what you’ve overcome, and what makes you tick. Also, I’m really driven by amazing women. I was raised by one, named after two (Robay is created from my two grandmother’s names Rodi + Barbara) and constantly inspired by the women I meet. I am determined to help tell their stories
My greatest professional achievement is my current role as co-host of WCIU’s The Jam. I’m the youngest TV Host in Chicago- my hometown- and I truly look forward to waking up in the morning to go to work. And with a 2:30AM wake up call, you must really love your job! And I do; my co-hosts make me laugh every day, I’m constantly learning about the world and different people (one day I get to interview David Yarrow one of the world’s foremost wildlife photographers about traveling to some of the world’s most dangerous places, and the next I’m interviewing Sarah O’Hagan the CEO of Flywheel on her career or Mo’nique about feminism).
Aside from pure professional achievement, I’m most proud of the community of amazing girls and women that has developed on my Instagram. I get tons of messages every day from women of all ages sharing advice, asking for advice, recommending great books, asking for book recs. It’s incredible!
2. What’s the biggest criticism/stereotype/judgement you’ve faced in your career?
It’s been tough being a young woman and being taken seriously. As a TV Host you have to walk into meetings dressed up, makeup, hair heels, the whole thing. I can see the look in their eyes, it’s a “here comes another one” kind of look.
3. How did you #SWAAYthenarrative? What was the reaction by those who told you you “couldn’t” do it?
As a woman I have to do the same job as a man and more just to be taken seriously. At first it angered me, there are moments when it still does, but I’ve really learned to accept it (for now) and know that the extra hard work will make me even better at my craft, more resilient, more creative, and hopefully more impactful when the time comes to tackle the next adventure!
I didn’t always feel that way…some of the judgments used to upset me, and I think I used to overcompensate for them- especially the young/”cute” girl stereotype instead of being seen as professional or as a skilled broadcaster. But when I started this morning show I made a conscious decision to stop caring about what other people think or to try to prove a thing. It sounds so obvious but much harder in practice; it set me free. As women, we get to be ‘and’s’ not ‘or’s’. We can be pretty and smart. Just like men get to be handsome and accomplished.
Also, I learned early on in my career that when meeting someone for the first time I don’t take a meeting outside of someone’s office or past 6pm. If they are serious about what we are meeting about, they will invite me to their office during the day.
4. What did you learn through your personal journey?
I truly tuned them out- the words went in one ear and out the other. Every time someone said “there are so many people who want those few jobs” I thought “Yep- and I’m going to be one of the few who get them”. When you know your purpose, in your gut, nothing can sway your narrative.
5. What’s your number one piece of advice to women discouraged by preconceived notions and society’s limitations?
Whatever you think your limitations are, they all have a corresponding strength. And, they are what make you unique. For instance:
Naive -> Positive
Disorganized -> Creative
Shy -> Reflective
Don’t hide from your weaknesses. Embrace them, talk about them (super important to talk about them and not shame them), leverage them. Your weakness may just be your competitive edge. There has never been a better time to be an ambitious woman. We got this.
I have always been in love with all things art- I was obsessed with drawing and painting before I was even walking. In high school, I started a career selling art through various gallery art shows and on Etsy. I then went on to study fine arts at the University of Southern California, with an emphasis in painting, but took classes in ceramics, printmaking, cinema and architecture to get a really well-rounded education on all sorts of art.
During my senior year of college, my career path went through a huge transition; I started my own temporary tattoo brand, INKED by Dani, which is a brand of temporary tattoos based on my hand-drawn fine art designs.
The idea for the brand came one night after a themed party at college. My friends, knowing how much I loved drawing, asked me to cover them in hand-drawn doodles using eyeliner. The feedback from that night was overwhelming, everyone my friends saw that night was obsessed with the designs. In that moment, a lightbulb went off in my head... I could do some completely unique here and create chic temporary tattoos with an art-driven aesthetic, unlike anything else on the market. Other temporary tattoo brands were targeted to kids or lacked a sleek and millennial-driven look. It was a perfect pivot; I could utilize my fine arts training and tattoos as a new art medium to create a completely innovative brand.
Using the money I made from selling my artwork throughout high school and college, I funded the launch of INKED by Dani. I had always loved the look of dainty tattoos, but knew I could never commit to the real thing, and I knew my parents would kill me if I got a tattoo (I also knew that so many girls must have that same conflict). Starting INKED by Dani was a no-brainer.
I started off with a collection of about only 10 designs and sold them at sorority houses around USC. Our unique concept for on-trend and fashion-forward tattoos was spreading through word of mouth, and we quickly started growing an Instagram following. I was hustling all day from my room, cold calling retailers, sending blind samples and tons of emails, and trying to open up as many opportunities as I could.
Now, we're sold at over 10,000 retail locations (retailers include Target, Walmart, Urban Outfitters, Forever 21 and Hot Topic), and we've transformed temporary tattoos into a whole new form of wearable art.
My 4 best tips for starting your own business are:
- Just go with your gut! You'll never know what works until you try it. Go day by day and do everything in your power to work toward your goals. Be bold, but be sure to be thoughtful in your actions.
- Research your competitors and other successful brands in your category to determine how you can make your product stand out. Figure out where there is a need or hole in the market that your new offering or approach can fill.
- Don't spread yourself too thin. Delegate where possible, and stay focused each day on doing the best and most you can. Don't get too caught up in your end goal or the big picture to a point where it overwhelms or freezes you. You're already making a bold move to start something new, so try to prioritize what's important! I started off in the beginning hand packing every single tattoo pack that we sold and shipped. If I wanted to scale to align with the level of demand we were receiving, I needed to make the pivot to mass produce and relinquish the control of doing every step myself. I am a total perfectionist, so that was definitely hard! From that point on, overseeing production has been a huge part of my daily schedule, but by doing so I've been able to free up more time to focus on design, merchandising, and sales, allowing me to really focus on growing the business.
- Prioritize great product packaging and branding. It's so important to invest time in customer experience- how customers view and interact with your product. The packaging is just as important as the actual product inside! When we were starting off, we had high demand, and I definitely jumped the gun a bit on packaging so we could deliver product to the retailers when they wanted it. Since then, we've completely revamped the packaging into something upscale and unique that reflects what the brand is all about. Our product packaging is always called out as being one of our retailers' and customers' favorite part of our product!