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Daej Hamilton is building her business with passion
Running a business

Daej Hamilton is building her business with passion

In honor of Women’s History Month, we’re celebrating the stories of the amazing women in small business that are conquering male-dominated industries and working to #breakthebias.

Name: Daej Hamilton

Location: Toronto, Ontario

Business: Daej Designs

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What does your business do? 

My business is focused on sustainably made, wooden furniture, kitchenware and home decor.

Why did you decide to start your own business? How did you get started? 

I decided to start this business after realizing the design firm I used to work for didn’t want me to elevate within the company. After months of being underpaid and overworked, I decided to resign and start my own thing.

What is the biggest lesson you learned in the first year? 

The biggest lesson I learned was that this is more than just making things and selling them. I will need to wear a lot of hats in order to run the business successfully.

What was the most surprising thing about becoming a business owner? 

I think the most surprising thing for me was how important word of mouth really is. I knew it was important but the impact of people simply “spreading the word” is phenomenal and almost vital to the success of a business.

What is an aspect of running a business that you needed to learn more about when you started? How did you learn about it?

I definitely needed to learn more about marketing. And learning about marketing for me was trial and error. I realized that the best marketing is to just be yourself, especially online. Most folks want to know that the business they are buying from can relate to them. They want the owner and employees to be personable. Once they see that, they will want to root for you and your business always because you’re just like them.

How does running your own business make you feel?

Running a business makes me feel unstoppable. Growing up I didn’t have the representation of a black, queer woman making furniture and starting a business in this field. Starting this business has allowed me to be that representation for others.

What are some of the challenges you’ve overcome or are working to overcome as a business owner? 

My biggest challenge that I work to overcome daily is imposter syndrome. Sometimes I don’t always feel qualified to do what I do, or to give advice to those just starting out. It can sometimes be terrifying to tell my story because for the most part I just hoped for the best and winged a lot of this. But, I constantly remind myself that folks wouldn’t be coming to me if they felt I wasn’t qualified, or up for the challenge. The reminder that I in fact can do this and that I have been running this business successfully for a few years is what really keeps me going.

What are your proudest moments? 

My proudest moment was when I sold my first wall sculpture. Selling that piece really solidified my joy and passion for woodworking. To see how excited my clients were to just own something I made—the feeling was honestly priceless.

What are the next big plans you have for your business?

My next big plan for my business is to design and build another collection. Earlier this year, I had the opportunity to showcase my very first collection of furniture. The response to it was amazing and I hope I recreate those moments with the new collection.

What are three things that you feel have contributed to your success as a business owner?

Three things that have contributed to the success of my business would be staying true to who I am as a person, taking my time to do things the way I want them to be done, and not giving in to the dirtiness of capitalism to make a quick buck.

These three things have allowed me to build an honest, more personable business. People don’t come to me for furniture because it’s cheap, they come to me because of what I stand for and because I have a passion for my craft.

What challenges do you feel are unique to female small business owners?

I can’t speak for all but, a unique challenge I’ve faced would be other women speaking down to me because they feel my line of work is for men. I’ve embraced that challenge and have changed some folks' minds about that. But I must say, it certainly wasn't a challenge I was expecting.

As women, we need to lift each other up at all times. It’s the least we can do for each other. And doing so helps motivate our young girls to get into fields that may not look like it’s meant for them.

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I’m contributing to a new narrative that women can do things just as well, if not better than men, and we don’t need their approval to do so.

What is it like working in an industry that some might see as traditionally male-dominated? Have you come up against any bias? 

Working in a more male-dominated field certainly has its challenges. I’ve been belittled, unwanted, pushed pass, and discriminated against many times. But even through all that, I kept going and I keep going because I know how important it is to be in such a field. And again, it’s just me constantly reminding myself that I’m meant to be here regardless of what the naysayers think. I’m contributing to a new narrative that women can do things just as well, if not better than men, and we don’t need their approval to do so.

Is there anything you want other women to know about working in your industry?

One thing I want women to know about this field is that it is extremely rewarding. The skills you pick up can be transferred and used throughout your lives. All the lessons learned are invaluable and truly unique to us as individuals. And most importantly, you don’t have to be the best at anything to be in this field. You really do learn as you go, and that is honestly the most exciting part of being a furniture maker—you’re just constantly learning. 

What advice would you give to other women starting their own business? 

My advice is to just be yourself. I’ve seen women try to be things they weren’t in this field and not succeed. Being yourself will get you farther than anything or anyone else ever could.

When you’re having a tough day, who or what inspires you to keep going? 

On tough days, I like to be surrounded by people who’ve been rooting for me from the start. Whether that’s friends who admire what I’ve accomplished, or my mom who saw something in me before I saw it in myself. Those people will forever have my back and uplift to continue doing great things.

How can female business owners support one another and their community? 

By spreading the word about each other’s businesses, buying something from each other’s businesses, collaborating with each other’s businesses. All things that are not hard to do. The more we uplift each other the more we inspire others in the community to do the same.

What’s your “power song” and why? 

“After The Storm” by Kali Uchis ft. Tyler The Creator. In the song, she says “If you need a hero, just look in the mirror,” and I think everyone needs to be reminded of the greatness they hold on the inside. Everything you want to accomplish is all within you. You’re capable of accomplishing it all.

To learn more about Daej Designs and support the business, visit their website or check out Daej’s work on Instagram.

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