Women in Business Q&A: Danielle Rollins

12/29/2017 06:11 am ET

Danielle Rollins is a nationally known lifestyle expert, author of “Soiree Entertaining With Style”, contributing editor for VERANDA, where her ugly duckling to beautiful swan transformation can be seen in the current issue. She is the creative force behind Danielle Rollins Interiors, a full service boutique interior and garden design firm and has recently launched a capsule clothing collection of exquisitely made pieces with couture detailing based on her own well honed sense of style. Her website Danielle Rollins Gracious Living and Stylish Entertaining is the perfect outlet for sharing her love of all things design related as well as a thriving e-commerce site with her clothing and curated interior pieces. She lives in Atlanta with her 3 children and goddaughter.

How has your life experience shaped who you are today?

I think I have always been a very determined “if at first you don’t succeed try & try again” kind person and that attitude breeds resilience. I have not had a particularly “easy” life and it has been filled with more than my fair share of trials, tribulations and tragedies but I have always had faith in myself and an unwavering inner strength to persevere. I have friends who have teased me that I would have made an great pioneer woman. I am grateful for my experiences, even the bad ones, because they have given me the grace to be where and who I am now.

How has your life experience inspired your new business?

Launching a capsule clothing collection was a natural extension of my lifestyle brand following the success of my bestselling book “Soiree Entertaining with Style” and founding my own boutique design firm DANIELLE ROLLINS INTERIORS. Due to the repeated interest in what I was wearing and my own my personal style, I created clothing I wanted but couldn’t find, interchangeable and buildable background pieces, items impeccably made with couture detailing that were as beautiful on the inside as the outside, that could be worn forever and personalized with individualized accessories that allowed a wearer to stand out and could be worn forever.  The collection started with stylish ball skirts, and easy hostess dresses, then built upon those items in many variations, adding the additional pieces to build upon, tops, pants, shorts and jackets designed to make a woman look great and feel confident at any age and size.  

 I have had exposure to many beautiful people, places and things throughout my life and those experiences have educated my eye, which has influenced my opinions and shaped my personal style. Age gives one the confidence to formulate opinion & I think true style comes from a confident perspective as much as anything. 

What have the highlights and challenges been so far?

When my first book “Soiree Entertaining with Style” launched, my ex & his mother attempted to discredit my efforts, which wounded me to the soul.  Once I got past that hurt and the self doubt it created it infuriated me; the anger propelled me to work harder, to challenge myself creatively, recognize and acknowledge my talent, push myself to learn the business skills I needed to know to dismiss & disarm their negative influences on my life. A divorce teaches you who your real friends are and what matters, and loosing some of the former because of their values on the latter gave me the motivation to rebuild my life. I put all of my creative energy, focus and drive into rebuilding my life into something my children would be proud of. The irony of trying to do a book tour speaking about “Gracious Living and Stylish Entertaining” while living in a rental of a recently deceased woman’s heavily decorated (in an alphabet soup mix of design, including a year round Christmas village) home without even owning paper plates certainly wasn’t lost on me. I spoke with an authentic voice about my love of entertaining and the emotional experiences entertaining brings, and realized I could do the entire environment as easily as could do a tabletop which lead to the opening of my own design firm. My first published project is my own home, which is out in this month's issue of Veranda is a proud moment for me - six years later I have a completely different life but it’s one I built and one of which I have control.

What advice can you offer to women who want a career in your industry?

You don’t get where you want to go by wishing for what you want, you get it by working for what you want. I am still an outlier in my industry, I am self taught and self trained, but I knew while I had a good work ethic and plenty of creative talent, I would have to work harder to prove myself. Rather than resent it, I accepted that and took advantage of every opportunity I could, accepted every speaking engagement I was asked to do, worked for whatever exposure I could get and I just figured things out as I went. I know everyone talks about social media numbers being important but at the end of the day you still have to have the substance and there is no substitute for work.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career to date?

Sometimes you have to take being called a bitch as a compliment. I had to do a lot of toughening up, retraining my emotional response of feeling hurt or guilty for standing up or leaving my children, to no longer accept being shamed by the manipulation of others, and to be much more forceful than I am comfortable being. It’s still a struggle for me but running my own business has built a “don’t mess with this mama bear” type confidence that I didn’t know I had. I can have an authoritative voice now based on confidence and competence.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?

I don’t think it’s possible to maintain a balance, in the sense that it’s something you can do one way or another to keep everything in even, measured and level parts resulting in an equation where you can have it all. Something or someone is always going to get less, go without or just plain old go missing. I am a single mother with a lot of responsibilities and pressures, constantly juggling things to keep it all afloat but something always has to give in order to keep that level which means an ebb and flow of what gets the most of your attention, constant reprioritizing, rigorous scheduling and having flexibility on your expectations. I try to ascribe to a “functioning perfectionist” philosophy, but then again, I don’t really date and have no social life to speak of, so maybe it’s just age and the shift of what you value.

What do you think is the biggest issue for women in the workplace?

The perception that we have equality. I think the recent exposure of Harvey Weinstein’s allegations of sexual abuse shows the glaring inequality women have always been faced with. Because more and more women are opening up, it shows just how widespread the issue really is. Women have long made decisions of keeping a silence as a self protective measure. There is and has always been a patriarchal cloud that permeates our society and there’s not a woman I know who hasn’t had to stuff some kind of abuse down, making the “smart” decision over the moral one, in order to get what they need in and out of this life and that takes a toll. My hope is that more and more women start speaking out against these types of abuses so the behavior behind the abuse cannot be normalized and will being about change. I want better for my daughter.

How has mentorship made a difference in your professional and personal life?

There have been a number of female designers & industry professionals who have given me invaluable advice, encouragement and support as well as shared their sources and services. I think good people are not afraid to help good people, rather than fear their presence. A mark of a true leader is building other leaders.

Which other female leaders do you admire and why?

My favorite question yet.  I feel that there are moments and people in your life that shape you and your current state in such a way that you aspire to influence others in the same way. I admire Oprah Winfrey, Jane Fonda, Nina Campbell and Diana Vreeland to name a few. Jane Fonda for her unwavering commitment to activism. Oprah for her continuing leadership.  Nina Campbell for her influence on me as a woman and design as much as a woman running her own business. Diana Vreeland because of the influence on women in fearless pursuit of originality.

What is the most important lesson you’ve learned in your career to date?

Sometimes you have to take being called a bitch as a compliment. I had to do a lot of toughening up, retraining my emotional response of feeling hurt or guilty for standing up or leaving my children to no longer accept being shamed by the manipulation of others, and to be much more forceful than I am comfortable being. It’s still a struggle for me but running my own business has built a don’t "mess with this mama bear,” type confidence that I didn’t know I had. I can have an authoritative voice now based on confidence and competence.

What do you want the Danielle Rollins brand to accomplish in the next year? 

I’m still figuring a lot of that out. The most challenging aspects of running my own business and being able to accomplish what I’d like to do have been the funding. I haven’t wanted to give up control so decided to self fund - this has meant growing the business slowly while focusing on keeping my overhead low, service and quality high so that I would have long term consumer loyalty. I've been teaching myself the necessary aspects of product licensing, as it's where I'd like to take the brand. I have a collection of china and fabrics and wallpaper in the works, so hopefully supporting products will continue to follow. I would love to eventually do TV that could be entertaining without conflict and have substance that's not dumbed down. I’m passionate about attainable style and would love to do collaborations that focused on craftsmanship to revive that industry, and I'd love to continue to share the tips, tricks, shortcuts and solutions for having a stylish life.

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