By Sofia Lynch
For Ericka Vonyea, a 30-year-old Washtenaw Community College student and fashion entrepreneur, the idea that would shape her career came to her while daydreaming company names in her medical assisting class.
“I hate to admit it that way, but that’s when my best idea came to me, and I’m glad I didn’t ignore it,” said Vonyea.
Vonyea cited her two-year-old daughter, Halaena, as her driving force for wanting to immerse herself in entrepreneurship as soon as she could.
“She’s the main reason I hit the ground running to really create a business,” Vonyea said. “I just wanted to create something that I could leave for her and something she could inherit.”
So when the idea for her online fashion boutique company, Dantoir, came to her that one fateful class period, she didn’t hesitate. Immediately after, Vonyea bought her domain name and then registered for her LLC.
At that point, Vonyea’s inspiration continued flowing, but she wasn’t sure what the next step for her business would be. That is when she discovered the WCC Entrepreneurship Center. She called before the center had even opened its doors and was soon involved as a weekly volunteer.
Vonyea began helping out around the center by doing research for her own business. Kristin Gapske, mentor to Vonyea and the Entrepreneurship Center Manager, said she has volunteers do this so that they can help their own business knowledge while they’re providing quality information for the center and its future entrepreneurs.
“I was able to meet with one of the mentors there, and he actually told me a lot about tradeshows,” Vonyea said. “He had me thinking about things I really didn’t consider going into fashion.”
“I was just so impressed that she had a business idea and that she wanted to get involved, knowing that it would be important for what she wanted to do,” Gapske said.
Vonyea had been planning to attend a tradeshow in New York in late April, but had a change of heart after a Lake FX Summit she attended in Chicago. Prior to the Lake FX Summit, a conference for practicing artists and creative professionals, Vonyea was looking to purchase pieces for her boutique’s fashion line from the tradeshow. However, bumping elbows with those in the fashion industry left her inspired to change her company’s direction. Since the summit in Chicago, Vonyea has decided to take on designing her own clothes.
“Although the tradeshow would have been much easier at the time, I think it’s more important for my brand for me to create as my own and come out as Dantoir,” Vonyea said.
Another thing she discovered at the summit was that most designers start with designing and go into business later. Vonyea has gone about it a little differently. She’s honing in on all the business aspects first to build a foundation so she can then focus on design.
“I also learned it’s not about ‘Who is your target audience?’ It’s about ‘Who can I see representing Dantoir? Who do I want the Dantoir woman to be?’ So I’m just going to focus and design everything based off of that,” Vonyea explained.
So, who is the Dantoir woman?
“I want the Dantoir woman to be able to go to work, look great, maybe throw on a pair of jeans with the look she already has on and go out and enjoy herself,” Vonyea said. “I just want the Dantoir woman to be able to jump in and out and be versatile.”
“To me, she embodies that Dantoir image – the image of what her business is going to be about. She just has a presence,” Gapske said. “So much about the branding of a business is your personality — especially if you’re an independent entrepreneur. You have to have that passion for that thing – in this case, you’re living it – and it just seemed like, to me, she just came so set with that.”
About a year ago, Vonyea deactivated her personal Facebook page for the purposes of relaunching again as her company in the fall.
“I wanted to detach myself away from people that know me,” Vonyea said. “I don’t want them to be like, ‘Oh, okay, I’m just going to buy from her because this is Ericka Vonyea’s stuff.’ I want you to focus on the brand. Do you like it, or do you not like it? What is your honest opinion?”
As for what is next for Vonyea and Dantoir, her goal is to launch the company by October and eventually have a prototype made that she can bring to manufacturers. Another thing she wants to achieve is having pop-up shops down the road as her customer base expands.
She also has fellow WCC student, design major Sophia Adalaine Zhou, working on a logo for Dantoir. She plans on employing Zhou down the line to photograph models wearing her designs.
“It’s nerve wracking but, man, at the same time I can’t believe all this is happening. I can’t believe I’m going to meetings about my business,” Vonyea said. “This is the beginning of something beautiful. Look out and listen out for Dantoir.”
For those interested in following a similar path in fashion, Vonyea offers this advice:
“Don’t do away with the business side of things first; definitely make that your foundation, and build off of that,” Vonyea said. “You’re going to always be creative, but if you’re extremely serious about it, I would say go to resources like the Entrepreneurship Center where people can help you, give you advice and to teach you how to do it the right way.”
Ericka Vonyea, 30, Ypsilanti, Pre-law
What is your fashion philosophy? I personally change up a lot. I don’t feel like I have one particular style. If I like it, I’ll buy it, and then I’ll mix it together with something else. So that’s how I want the women who buy my items to feel: that they can just switch it up.
What is your favorite trend? I’m a bohemian type. I like anything with a nice heel, nothing too high, and I like formfitting pants.
What’s your favorite pattern? I would say solid colors because I can mix them together.
Do you have a fashion icon? Actually I don’t. That’s so weird. I’ll pull inspiration from everyone, but I think the person I like the most – and I can just say “Oh my goodness, everything she wears is just so cute”– would probably be Rihanna. She’s edgy, but she can be really classy.
What is your favorite season of fashion? I love spring and summer because you can, like … shorts! The thing about the winter is, like, you think about the boots – that’s what most women are excited about. But in the summertime, you can wear whatever you want. You can be a little more creative and a little brighter.
What is your favorite style of shoe? I like wedges, but I also like the gladiator shoes.
What’s your favorite go-to piece? My favorite go-to would be what I have on now. Like, it’s not too dressy, but it’s somewhat casual.