Dayka Robinson joins a new breed of entrepreneurs who are on a mission to define success on their own terms. In 2006, after buying a fixer-upper, she stumbled upon a career in interior design. “With a B.A. in sociology from Spelman College I can honestly tell you, I didn’t set out to be an interior designer—15 years ago you couldn’t have told me that law school wasn’t in my future!” said Robinson.
Although Robinson didn’t have the benefit of learning the ropes from working at design firms, after only two years of launching Dayka Robinson Designs, her work was published in The Design Cookbook: Recipes for a Stylish Home, a coffee-table book. She was featured in the 2014 Atlanta Homes & Lifestyles 15 Under 40 list as a “Tastemaker who’s shaping the future of culture & design in Atlanta.” This year, she appeared on live TV with Al Roker as a design expert for his nationally televised morning show, Wake Up With Al.
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Then in the midst of her success, she privately took on a new challenge—vitiligo, a chronic, unpredictable disease causing a loss of skin color in patches. “It is shocking, frightening, and depressing to see something visibly take hold of your body that you can’t control,” said Robinson.” But authenticity and vulnerability breed success. With unwavering transparency and determination she embraced more twists and turns than she could have imagined and shared her story with the world. Black Enterprise caught up with the fearless trailblazer to learn more about her story.
Tell us a bit about the history of your career.
After college, I worked a series of administrative jobs and found myself working for Kroger on the corporate side in 2003. I met some great people but hated the job. I remember dreading Sundays because it brought me one day closer to Monday, when I would have to go back to work, which was such an energy drain. After two years of that routine I realized I couldn’t live the rest of my life like that—that there had to be more for me. I was 24. I knew I liked design but aside from my hobby of refinishing and selling vintage furniture, I didn’t know this path was available to me because I didn’t know any successful African American interior designers.
Purchasing my fixer-upper home in 2006 led me to the world of design. I started a blog and Dayka Robinson Designs grew out of reader requests for my design services. If I had to describe my business growth in one word, it would be “organic.”
I’ve worked as a design assistant on TBS’ Movie and a Makeover, owned an online store selling furniture and accessories, co-founded a now-defunct nonprofit that organized local designers to redesign shelters around the metropolitan Atlanta area, had my work published and recognized nationally, and also designed projects for an Atlanta-based multimedia production company.
While I don’t believe in luck, I often say I feel lucky because I am enjoying the fruits of a life I never asked or planned for.
Describe a moment on your entrepreneurial journey, when you felt like giving up. How did you get over the hurdle?
I didn’t have the benefit of starting out at a design firm to learn the ropes–and while it’s definitely something to be proud of, it hasn’t been without its challenges. When the momentum initially started picking up, there came a point where I felt as if there was more information out there that I didn’t know than what I did know. Interior design is mostly an unregulated industry, so there really isn’t a standard blueprint on how to run your business. If you don’t learn under someone else, you learn on your own.
I’m a recovering perfectionist. So during those times when I realized how much I didn’t know, it drained my energy and I became paralyzed because I was so worried about how things looked (or didn’t look).
But here’s the thing about allowing yourself to be stuck in one place–nothing in your life flows right, including money. What helped was doing a self check-in, reflecting on why I was in business and remembering that as long as I stayed focused on the work and what I’m truly passionate about, my gifts will make room for me. My life and career are truly evidence of this.
What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to an aspiring interior designer?
As with any business, think about your USP—unique selling proposition—what differentiates you from others in your field. I didn’t know my long-term goals up front so my business has taken a few unexpected turns which have ultimately worked out in my favor…but I wouldn’t suggest you follow that model!
• Take time to map out your big, audacious goals, but don’t be a slave to them. Keep in mind that you will change as your business grows and what you want now may look different in four years–and that’s totally OK.
• Stay open to the possibilities — many new opportunities will come your way that you can’t even imagine. So commit to being consistent, start a blog, and develop an online space where you’re creating your own content and getting your perspective out in the world.
• Use the Internet to your benefit. Brands will come calling, especially as a woman of color in design, because we still aren’t well represented in this space. If you don’t have enough clients for a full gallery of portfolio images, don’t be afraid to use the homes of your friends and family to create vignettes that speak to your aesthetic, which will familiarize potential clients with your design eye.
• Attend local design events, stay abreast of what’s happening in your design community, and always spend more to hire the best interiors photographer you can afford—always. Great photography is everything in this world.
Do you find it hard to run a business and have a personal life?
Thankfully, I don’t. My work is my life—it’s an extension of who I am—so there is a lot of overlap between those spaces. I have 14-hour days and four-hour days, but it always seems to even out in the end. I believe in mental health and try to guard that space fiercely especially because of my vitiligo (stress is a trigger).