Dani Simone is a custom wedding dress designer, entrepreneur, and Hartford advocate. She recently spoke with MetroHartford Alliance Content Manager Nan Price about her business, By Dani Simone Studio, and her plans to open a bridal shop called The Hartford Bride LLC.
NAN PRICE: Have you always wanted to own your own business?
DANI SIMONE: I’ve been interested in design since I was a little girl. When I was five years old, my aunt randomly gave me a sewing machine for Christmas. I didn’t even know what it was, but it set a path that got me interested in fashion. I started sketching when I was nine years old. I used to look at wedding dress magazines and then draw wedding dresses. So, early on my desire was to become a wedding dress designer.
I went to fashion school in Los Angeles and worked in the L.A. garment district for a couple of years. Then around 2004, I moved back east to work in the New York fashion district. When the housing crash hit in 2008, a lot of folks ended up moving back to where they’re from. I was no exception. I came back to Connecticut.
All along, I had in my mind that I wanted to design wedding dresses because I’ve always loved the personal touch—getting to know brides and learning about what makes them unique.
So, when I decided to start my own business. I knew two things: It needed to be wedding dresses and it needed to be in Hartford. When I moved back to Hartford, I immediately started designing wedding dresses and getting custom orders, which helped me build a name for myself as a designer locally. I also attended shows in New York City and charity events and things like that all around Connecticut.
NAN: Why Hartford?
DANI: To me, Hartford has always been home. I’m from here, originally. We went to church in Hartford. We have a lot of family here. My aunt used to own a hair salon in Hartford for about 30 years. So, I have deep roots here and I always wanted to settle here.
I would love to see Hartford become a destination for weddings. We have beautiful historic architecture and landmarks. We’re perfectly situated between Boston and New York City, where wedding industry professionals come to attend Bridal Market week , which is like Fashion Week for wedding dress designers. Why not bring people here to Hartford and make ourselves known as the bridal destination?
NAN: Why open your business in Hartford?
DANI: My business is By Dani Simone Studio. The Hartford Bride will be the name of the bridal shop I plan to open. I joined the Hartford Chamber of Commerce after I had a conversation with Executive Director Julio Concepción, who told me about the Hart Lift program. I had identified a space but it recently fell through so we’re looking for other options.
NAN: In what other ways are you involved in the Hartford community?
DANI: I have a part-time job as the communications Advocacy Coordinator for the Healthy Hartford Hub’s Community Action Task Force (HHH/CATF), which is a community group focused on building a grocery store at the intersections of Albany Avenue and Main Street. We’re also working on other health-promoting services in the Arrowhead area of Hartford, which is across the street from Dunkin’ Donuts Park.
We’re also supporting the creation of a Puerto Rican diaspora museum in that area, which is going to be the first national museum for the Puerto Rican diaspora. And, we’re working on building an entrepreneurship hub or a way to serve entrepreneurs, provide them with space.
I’m committed to helping empower the community through economic development and entrepreneurship. And I feel like this is the best way I can serve. I can use my talents and show others that fashion can be lucrative and fulfilling.
NAN: What are your future goals?
DANI: I volunteered with AmeriCorps in 2017/2018. I was involved with educational working groups and projects as well as economic development. Through that, I met with some local leaders in economic development—city planners, the mayor, and chief of staff. That really impressed upon me that I could come up with a way to serve my community, teach them a valuable skill, and then push forward with the idea of employee ownership or cooperative ownership.
My mission is to train Black, Indigenous, people of color (BIPOC) and members of my historically disinvested community in Hartford in sewn trades and fashion tech, including digital illustration as well as digital marketing and communications.
Another one of my goals is to highlight other designers. I’m founder of a Facebook group called BLKINBRIDAL Black Bridal Designer’s Collective, which is planning the first Black Bridal Fashion Week. The collective includes more than 200 bridal designers from all over the world. Once I open my physical shop, I’d love to sell their dresses there as well.
NAN: You mentioned your commitment to entrepreneurship. Tell us a little more.
DANI: I participated in the Tech Talent South technical training program because I’m inspired by technology and how it can impact our future—especially in the fashion industry. I see the fashion world shifting into 3D modeling with 3D closets where you can try on things. That’s why I heavily rely on digital illustrations. It’s much more sustainable. Shortening our supply chain and cutting down on the amount of things we’re creating would be so good for the carbon footprint of the fashion world.
I was also accepted into Inner City Capital Connections (ICCC), which is an executive leadership training program for entrepreneurs and small business owners. You receive coaching and learn about things like how to achieve your funding goals. It was absolutely awesome and changed my way of thinking. It helped me realize a lot of things can happen with the right strategy. I think that’s the most important part. You have to think of that big goal and then all the little steps it takes to get there.