In the 80s my father, an expert on terrorism, spent a number of years tracking American white supremacist groups for the US Government. Even 30 years ago the heavily armed extremists militia white supremacist and neo-Nazi organizations in Idaho and Montana were viewed as a significant internal threat to many of our national interests.
I was too young to know the details of his work, but I remember how I felt when I came home from school in our Washington D.C. neighborhood, thousands of miles away from those people, and found an axe at our front door. Even then, these people were scary and their networks and tactics of fear extended far and wide.
Extremist white supremacist groups have persisted in the US certainly for most of the 20th century. It's a short leap from the terrorist KKK groups responsible for lynching and other unspeakable crimes, to white supremacist groups proliferating and organizing today. It's easy to forget the Oklahoma City bomber was a radicalized white supremacist who viewed government as the enemy. And of course, nearly every mass shooting in recent years has been a white male with ties to white nationalist groups. The roots of violent white nationalism are deep and wide. After the horrific terrorist act in New Zealand, it's certainly the right time to be looking more closely here at home. Could a New Zealand like attack happen here? Of course, it has over and over again.
When I wrote my book, Crossing the Thinnest Line two years ago, my thesis was that white Americans have never been asked to seriously confront our racism and the deep-seated biases that have been part of our identity as a nation since its founding. We reinforce a constant narrative that institutional racism is a thing of our past. That the Civil Right movement won. That we have moved on. WE have failed to come to terms with the fact that America remains deeply segregated. Since the 1990s, progress on school integration nationwide has reversed. Most Americans live in totally homogenous communities, cut off from real connections with or the opportunity to learn from people different from ourselves. Too few Americans have the tools or the experience to recognize their own biases. White Americans largely deny we even have them.
This denial and unwillingness to seriously face our demons, our lack of commitment to fostering serious dialogue and understanding is exactly the vacuum in which white supremacy has been able to persist and now fester. Aided and amplified by social media and the internet age, abetted and mainstreamed by the Trump doctrine of us versus them, legitimized by him and by Laura Ingram, Tucker Carlson and others who peddle the idea that difference is the enemy. It's easy to see New Zealand, or Pittsburgh or Charleston as far away. But those places are now everywhere. There is nowhere that this hate needs not be confronted.
This denial and unwillingness to seriously face our demons, our lack of commitment to fostering serious dialogue and understanding is exactly the vacuum in which white supremacy has been able to persist and now fester.
There is a real and imminent danger to all of us if we cannot have a serious national discussion about the cause of hate which is isolation, persistent segregation in schools, universities, businesses and faith-based organizations who run from rather than engage in the real work of building deeper understanding across lines of difference. All of our institutions need to seriously confront this existential threat. As we move toward becoming a minority majority nation how will we prepare to capitalize on this diversity to be the great social and economic asset it truly is? Are we doomed to divide into entrenched camps of us and them? No. It is possible to show more Americans a path away from hate but it takes a willingness to be honest about how serious the problem is and commitment to fostering understanding and confronting the cancer of hate eating away at so many.
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!