Pardon My Fro founder Dana Bly is the woman behind those colorful empowered designs of Black women that you see on shower curtains, tote bags, prints and more. And yes, her successful business started as a hobby. “I was working in the corporate world in finance, and I really didn’t like it,” she tells EBONY with a laugh. “But I was always doing something on the side and making new innovations.” Bly began creating digital images of Black women celebrating their crowns, and did three digital imprints of the blogger Brown Sugar.  “She told me you've really got something here, so I decided to start a company where I was designing women, all skin tones and body shapes, that was really about their hair and the  sisterhood and loving each other.”

With major sales on HSN and the recently launched Pardon My Fro’s new hair care line available at Walmart, Bly has five tips for turning your hobby into a successful and lucrative business.

Tap into your passion

“I was a military brat. That contributed to my creativity, learning about other cultures and adapting to new surroundings. With the natural hair movement back in 2009, I had my big chop and that inspired me to go through this journey. I actually taught myself how to digitally illustrate. I took classes at night using Skillshare. My illustrations are actually called 'dolls.' I wanted my dolls to represent what you like, what my mom and Auntie look like and what my ancestor looked like, along with inspiration from Black women on social media and fashion bloggers, I built my illustrations on that. And I wanted a name that made people stop and check it out. It took me about maybe two weeks to find the name, and then I started an LLC and the rest is history.”

Don’t be afraid to expand

 “When I started Pardon My Fro, I was just making prints. I went to a convention and was told that it's wearable art, and I really need to start expanding, my designs could be on a t-shirt or a travel bag. That did mean putting more money into the brand, but I learned how to manufacture textiles and how to make kimonos and travel bags, that’s how I expanded. One of my shower curtains went viral on Facebook and I thought, ok if people are my digging shower curtains, they might like bedding. I realized that Pardon My Fro could lifestyle brand where people could see it in their homes and on the wall, but it could also be in the streets and be fashionable. So I kept growing and trying. Some things I tried didn’t work, and some things did."

Consider a partnership

“Before COVID, I was introduced to an investment company that said, “We're not your demographic and we don't understand the culture, but we dig your artwork.” I was 10 years in, and I was thinking maybe it's time for me to elevate this plan. But I wasn't trustful because this partnership offer came out of nowhere and I would have to give up part of the company. With COVID when things slowed down, it allowed me to refresh, step back, take a break and say, “Where do you want to be next?” The investors reached out to me again and said, “If we can get you on HSN in good faith, will you partner with us?” I said sure and two weeks later they called me back and said HSN wants to see your lookbook. I didn’t think I was ready for HSN customers, but they told me that the customer has changed: she’s a Black woman in her mid-40s and she is going to dig your work. I started out with blankets and pillows. They forecasted 14,000 sales, we ended up doing 90,000."

Accept help

"Get help. I will say that again. You can't do everything by yourself. When you're building a brand, you have to be humble and br able to have people help. My friends would always offer to help stuff your prints in tubes for events and at first, I was ashamed. But when I realized that the help was helping me build my business, and I knew it was something I needed. So accept the help if you can. I have my team and I could not have built this brand without them."

Stay authentic (and do the work!)

"Your style is your style, so don't try to compare yourself to anyone else’s. If you know that you have a niche for your artwork or whatever may be your thing, I say hone in on that. In the beginning with social media, I was comparing to what other people have achieved, not knowing that I was just in a different lane. I was still learning and teaching myself and I wasn't on their level yet. I had to teach myself that they put in the work, so I have to put in the work."

Have fun with it!

"When you’re building a brand, it gets stressful sometimes. So you don't drive yourself insane, you've got to add some fun in there!"