Peter Densborn is not your average streetwear creator. When he launched the brand DALIS, he launched it along with its own fantastical backstory: a tale of an alien-human brainchild programmed during the USSR’s reign and unleashed for world domination. And how would such a plan be executed? DALIS proves to be that answer, offering a collection of provoking t-shirts, minimalistic sweats and scallop printed hats.
I sat down with Densborn to hear about his views on streetwear and what we can expect to see from him at Pattern’s StreetExpo on June 18.
Brielle Saggese: Please describe the motive or message behind your brand.
Peter Densborn: We’re kind of an underground secret society, an anti-mainstream, cultish kind of brand. I mean that in a positive way. We’re against the grain, alternative thinking. It’s this conspiracy theory, this whole reality we’ve created. There’s a lot of alien conspiracy and illuminati conspiracy that influences our palette.
BS: What prompted you to share this idea through your business?
PD: I’ve always been interested in streetwear in general. A few years ago, there were a few brands that I started following and watched their rise like Mishka. I watched them rise from nothing into this really well-known brand, a king of the underground. If you’re in this vein of underground thinking, everyone knows who Mishka is. I watched that happen and I thought I’d be interested in doing it someday. I got familiar with the industry, familiar with how the business process worked and got some business advisors. That’s kind of how I got going and then the rest is history.
BS: What are some of the main challenges you face as an entrepreneur?
PD: There are countless. The biggest challenge as a small business is being under-resourced. There are only a few hands here and we’re doing everything from design to making the product to sales to marketing. If we were in a further stage of growth, it would be easier because there would be more people helping to grow the brand. It’s just difficult getting a business off the ground and spending time to execute.
BS: What is the biggest reward you experience as an entrepreneur?
PD: It’s really rewarding to create. I do a lot of creative work but most of it’s digital. Creating a physical product that people can wear and use as an expression of themselves, it’s really a form of communication and I enjoy that. Being able to communicate visually is really a rewarding experience that I’ve never had the chance to do in a professional capacity. Being creative and then creating a final product that people can actually relate to is pretty cool. When you see someone you don’t really know (wearing your clothes,) it’s cool to see that your ideas in the backroom, in the basement or in the boardroom play out in real life.
BS: What do you think Indianapolis can do to support more local brands?
PD: There’s a resistance to support local brands. Indianapolis has always had a reputation for being haters of each other’s stuff instead of coming together. There were several local brands that we had relationships with when we created this brand and we were hoping that some of them would create room for us in their store. Besides Pattern, there weren’t any local stores willing to pick up our brand, which was quality stuff. We got the cold shoulder. We expected people to step up and there was no love for your fellow local.
BS: Describe the kind of person who would wear your product.
PD: Our target audience is a little bit smarter than the average streetwear buyers, more minimal, probably a little less hood. Streetwear has a lot of different avenues and we are more subdued, more beneath the surface and more deeper meaning than we are flashy or loud. Compared to a lot of streetwear, we are pretty minimal and we try to keep it simply in terms with our message. If you look at the streetwear demographic it’s between hip hop and skaterwear and there’s blends everywhere. There’s high fashion streetwear, hip hop streetwear and skater steetwear. We’re closer to the high fashion streetwear, the bitchy, model chick-type more than we are the totally ghetto.
BS: Who is one person you’d love to see in your brand?
PD: We’ve done a lot of influencer stuff where we ship stuff out to other people who have a lot of followers and lifestyle blogs. But really, anyone with big market influence would be exciting. We don’t really have any celebrity idols. We don’t say, we designed this with the Biebs in mind. It’s not like who is the one person, it’s like who the network of people are.
BS: What advice would you give to aspiring entrepreneurs?
PD: I would tell an entrepreneur particularly in streetwear to study the industry, know what you’re doing before you get into it. It’s funny because I think I’ve built a brand that’s pretty impressive. I think a lot of people want their own brand but they just have no idea how difficult it is. When I started, it was so challenging and that’s why I did it, for the challenge. You can’t do it with no money. It’s very difficult to do anything without some seed money. You can’t start with $0 and think you’re going to build an empire. That’s the biggest lesson: cash and cash flow are the biggest resource to your company.
BS: How do you hope your brand will evolve in future years?
PD: The brand is kind of fluid. At this point, it’s what we want it to be. There’s no pressure on us to create anything but what we would want to wear. We’re looking at a big line of hats and skipping clothes for a while, just kind of playing with the market. We’re trying to find a niche to find a receptive audience. You know your message and you know the audience is out there, but you have to build a bridge to them with your clothes. We’re very fluid in not trying to adhere to any best practices, we’re just going to make clothes and when we sell them, we’re going to make more clothes. In the short term, we’re really just trying to find our audience and grow our audience before we make any big leaps to the next level.
BS: How do you think celebrity-endorsed streetwear is influencing modern street style?
PD: It’s almost become too much. Influencer marketing is on the decline in a lot of ways. The people are just getting tired of being sold to by their celebrities and they’re aware of it. It doesn’t necessarily translate to sales. When we started the business, we thought influencer marketing really revolutionized how we sell streetwear but really when you look at the numbers, it’s not as strong as it used to be because now everyone has a brand and it’s not as easy as people think. There’s too many failed celebrity brands. I think about it all of the time, all these celebrities 10 years ago who started a brand. What are they doing now? You never hear about those brands because they die out quietly because somebody replaces them like Justin Bieber. Those brands only go so far. If I were Justin Bieber I would start a brand too, but it cheapens it for people who have a real passion for it.