Do What You Love: Designer Deirdre Zahl

In celebration of the Month of Love, we’re profiling inspirational Charlestonians who have followed their dreams to pursue work in the industries they love.

Name: Deirdre Zahl
Location: Charleston, SC
Current Title: Designer and Founder of Candy Shop Vintage
Educational Background: Art and English, Skidmore College

“There are a lot more twists and turns and ups and downs before you find your niche. It’s not a straight line. Relax; enjoy the process!” – Deirdre Zahl

Following 10 years of fashion and design work experience in The Big Apple, designer Deirdre Zahl founded Candy Shop Vintage, a charming boutique featuring a curated collection of vintage jewelry. The one-of-a-kind pieces from her collection have been featured in various magazines, including Vanity Fair and InStyle, national blogs, and the hit television show Mad Men. Following the success of her curated collection, Deidre launched the Candy Shop Collection, which features her own unique designs, including the ever-so-popular Charleston Rice Beads.

How did you break into the fashion and design industry?
Following my college graduation, I landed an internship with a New York City-based fashion media company who produced videos and web content for luxury brands. I originally wanted to pursue editorial work in the magazine industry, but my bosses were really great and we worked with amazing brands, including MAC Cosmetics and CHANEL, so when I was offered a full time job post-internship, I accepted! My portfolio grew with mainly fashion and beauty clients, so when I launched my own business, I knew how to be a brand architect – build an online presence, make it appeal to consumers, and have a consistent language.

What challenges did you face along the way, and what did you learn from them?
I struggled with sourcing jewelry manufacturing when I first started my business. I had no experience with the world of 3D design and manufacturing takes patience, a fair amount of money, and a thick skin. As a woman operating a small business by myself, I often felt outnumbered and intimidated (manufacturing tends to be a man’s world). Over the past few years, I have put together a production chain of people who I trust and respect, and who do great work! Your manufacturing can make or break your business and almost nothing works on the first try.

Where do you find inspiration for your work?
Elements of vintage pieces that I love! There was recently a huge New York auction at socialite Bunny Mellon’s estate, where I came across a martini charm bracelet with all the ingredients and accoutrements hanging from it as tiny charms. I imagined this as my own version – the French 75 Cocktail Bracelet – which has been really popular and has spurred so many fun conversations!

What is your favorite piece from the Candy Shop Collection?
Our Charleston Rice Beads. I instinctively felt they were going to be a signature product, done in a way that was going to connect with my customers. They had so much momentum right off the bat – from our launch luncheon hosted at The George Gallery to the way they triggered memories of people wearing their mother’s and grandmother’s beads. They are a wonderful combination of old and new and everything my brand was meant to be – vintage done in a modern way, fashionable, nostalgic, meaningful, and collectible.

What advice do you have for others dreaming of starting their own business?
Apprentice. Too many people want to jump into being entrepreneurs – into being “the boss” without really understanding an industry. The responsibilities can be very difficult and very stressful. You have to have a thick skin to run a business successfully, and be willing to work incredibly hard at unconventional hours. Add that to no experience in a particular industry and it can be an impossible situation. It’s very important to first take the time to learn from people who are already doing what you want to do. I adhere to the Malcom Gladwell “10,000 hour rule,” from his book Outliers, where he states that is the magic number of hours it truly takes to master a trade and be really good at what you do.

If you could tell your 21-year-old self one thing, what would it be?
Relax! When I was in my late teens and early twenties, I was so anxious about becoming an adult, finding my career path, and succeeding as quickly as I could. The reality is that there are a lot more twists and turns and ups and downs before you find your niche. It’s not a straight line. Enjoy the process!

Fun Facts From Deirdre:
Three words I’d use to describe Charleston are: Colorful, sophisticated, friendly
My favorite place to shop in Charleston is: Hampden Clothing
My favorite Charleston meal is: Oysters and a White Lady cocktail at The Ordinary
My fashion muse is: Daphne Guinness

Don’t head off just yet! Place your Candy Shop Vintage order and check out more of the Charleston shopping scene.

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