Greyhound Grad Breanna Smith is the owner and creative force behind Digital Vibes, an online shop offering a variety of New Mexico-themed apparel, accessories and more.
Breanna, who graduated from Eastern New Mexico University in spring 2019 with a bachelor's degree in fine arts with an emphasis in graphic design and a minor in business, discusses how her time at ENMU prepared her to start her own business.
Describe Digital Vibes and what your role as owner of the company entails. What inspired you to create the business, especially in terms of the focus on New Mexico/southwest-themed designs?
While attending ENMU, a couple of my graphic design friends (Karina Dozal and Chloe Barrick) and I were raising money to study abroad in Europe. We thought it would be fun to design shirts and sell them. I realized during that time how much I liked designing t-shirts, so I decided that it would be a fun little hobby to make some extra money and still do something I could enjoy while being creative. I started to design and print t-shirts out of my garage, and I was so shocked at the amount of support I gained from it. I still had no idea that this was something I wanted to do long-term.
After I graduated from ENMU, I moved to Albuquerque, New Mexico. There weren't any graphic design jobs that interested me, so the only way to keep making money and support myself was through Digital Vibes. Having already graduated, I was able to pursue my business full-time. I started making goals for myself, and I kind of just went for it. I wasn't sure how well it was going to work out in the beginning, but it ended up being the best decision I have ever made for myself.
I still design and print shirts, but I have recently added a lot of new things that have really helped it grow. With these new additions, I have been able to broaden my clientele and expand my vision for my business. I now sell hand-painted products along with wood burned art and many other things. I decided to learn how to do those things in order for my customers to have a variety of products to buy from. One of my most popular items, along with my t-shirts, are my handmade clay earrings. It has helped me greatly as a creative by learning how to design multiple products instead of just sticking to one thing. Once something starts getting too repetitive, I get really bored with it, so I wanted to keep my work exciting by challenging myself to add new unique products. All of my stuff is southwest/New Mexico themed, which was not something I was planning to continue to do at first. During my first year, I struggled with trying to make a “brand” for myself, which is very crucial when starting a business. Once I realized how important it was to have a constant theme and niche for my business, I stuck with the southwest vibe, and it has made everything much easier to sell and expand.
What is your creative process?
I can honestly say my creative process is pretty hectic. I don't have a consistent method for adding new products or designs. Sometimes I'll just be at the grocery store, and a new idea will randomly pop in my head for a new product that I want to try to make. I constantly try to think of new things to add to my product list, but I don't ever force myself to create something if I'm not feeling it.
What have been some of your favorite launches?
One of my favorite launches I have done is my clay earrings. I wasn't expecting them to be so popular with my customers. They started out as a fun project I wanted to try out, and I ended up enjoying it more than I thought I would. This created a great alternative to only designing t-shirts. The most recent shirt I designed was my Land of Enchantment t-shirt, and I was so shocked by the feedback I received from everyone. I printed and sold over 300 shirts in about two to three weeks, which was crazy and very new to me. I was so overwhelmed with the number of people that were willing to support me, and it made me realize how blessed I am.
What are your short- and long-term goals for the company?
I think about business goals constantly but not necessarily long-term goals. I kind of take everything day by day. I don't keep stock, so everything is pretty much first come first serve. It all just depends on how well my stuff sells that week. A short-term goal that I have been thinking about is starting to attend retail markets and festivals in New Mexico, where I can set up a little booth and sell my products that way. My business is solely online, so I think it would be a great experience to sell to customers in person for a change. My goal is to start planning something like that in the next one to two years, as I am still adjusting to how fast my business is growing online.
What is the most rewarding part of being a business owner?
I feel like I could go on all day about how rewarding it is to own a successful business at 23 years old. My customers are simply amazing. The amount of support I receive from them is something that I still can't get over. For people to show so much love and appreciation for all of the hard work I put into my products is so fulfilling. Digital Vibes has opened up many opportunities where I have gotten to work with other businesses to make designs and do freelance work for them on the side. I also think one of the most satisfying things about owning my own business is being my own boss. I love getting the opportunity to go out and enjoy things without worrying about asking for time off and things like that.
What advice would you give to a student interested in starting a business?
I have been asked this question a handful of times, and the most simple yet powerful piece of advice I can give a student is to just start and try. I was so terrified to start designing t-shirts because I was afraid people wouldn't buy them. I kept asking myself, “what if this doesn't even work out” or “what if I'm just wasting my time by trying to be a full-time artist?” If I had listened to those thoughts, I wouldn't be where I am today. I still have no idea how successful my business will be in the future, but for now, I will continue to work towards succeeding. When I moved to Albuquerque, I didn't think I could support myself completely with my business alone. I kept thinking I needed to find a part-time job or completely forget about Digital Vibes and find a full-time job somewhere else. I would have never realized that I could fully support myself with my art if I didn't try. So, to anyone that is wanting to open up any kind of business, just start. You don't know what that business could look like a year from now.
How did ENMU prepare you for your role as a business owner?
When I was receiving my minor in business, Digital Vibes did not cross my mind at all. At the time, it was still just a fun hobby for me. I only wanted to take business classes to strengthen my knowledge for any career I ended up working in. I can say now that I am very glad I randomly decided to take on that minor in business. I look back on things I learned in my marketing and management classes a lot. One of the biggest things I remember learning about is customer relations. Since I do not interact face to face with my customers, how I handle and control situations online with them is crucial. It is something I try to stay very aware of in my business. To have a customer buy a product from me, then have them repeatedly come back to buy more products is what I consider an accomplishment. I never thought I would obtain so many loyal customers. I also quickly realized that while running a business, so many things can go wrong. I fail so many times, but how I handle those situations ultimately makes the difference in my achievements. My customers' satisfaction is my main goal. They are the reason why I am so successful.
How can people order from Digital Vibes?
Digital Vibes is all online. I post all of my updates for new products and sales on my social media accounts. I have a Facebook and Instagram page where I traffic all of my sales from. I do pre-orders for all of my t-shirts because I don't keep them in stock. I try to do one to two designs a month; then I give a timeframe of a couple of days for people to put in their pre-orders. Then throughout the week, I will do earring, keychain and painting launches, which are also first come first serve. Most of my products sell out very quickly, so I try and advertise it repetitively throughout the week. At the end of the week, I launch all of my products at a specific time in the day in order to give everyone a fair chance to go online and order.
Tell us about your family and background.
I am from Clovis, New Mexico. My family owns a couple of small businesses there, which is something I have had the opportunity to grow up around. They are very supportive of my business and my goals, which has been one of the best and most fortunate things in my life. I would not be where I am today if I had not been surrounded by people who know how to build things from the ground up and succeed while doing it. My family never once questioned me when I was thinking of starting Digital Vibes, they supported me and pushed me to start, and I will never forget it.