Shannon Maldonado is the founder and Creative Director of YOWIE, a creative platform and design studio founded in 2016. YOWIE works to showcase emerging artists and design and curate spaces that evoke emotion and discovery. Shannon sits on the board of directors at Fleisher Art Memorial and seeks to build an intersection between art and community. In 2021, YOWIE is evolving into a multi-floor platform for creativity, bringing hospitality, design, retail, and community engagement into one interconnected space. Past collaborators include The Philadelphia Museum of Art, CB2, Fleisher Art Memorial, Ubiq, ICA Philadelphia, The Wing, Ethel’s Club, and The Deacon.
When you came up with the idea for YOWIE, what were the first steps you took? I always tell people YOWIE started as a few Pinterest boards. It was very abstract in the beginning and I mainly wanted to start something that I could have creative ownership of after years of working in-house for a few large brands. I also immediately bought a notebook to jot down all of my random thoughts and ideas around the project. In the beginning, it felt like something I just had a big crush on so I was constantly just thinking and dreaming about it.
How did YOWIE start? What was the moment you realized that you could build it into something bigger? I officially launched YOWIE in May 2016 as a webshop with twelve products. It immediately felt different than all of the work I had done before and there was such a beauty in the learning curve of not quite knowing what I was doing and having no guard rails. I first realized it could be something bigger when we had a very successful month-long residency at a men's shop here in Philly. I thought "If we can get dudes excited about ceramics I think I am onto something!". The second time was after I completed our first Interior Design project. I started to see us as more of a lifestyle brand and design studio.
What has been the greatest challenge in building YOWIE? What has been the most rewarding? I think the biggest challenge is often feeling like you're swimming upstream as a small business owner. With every win comes a new challenge or something to learn along the way (which is also what keeps it exciting) but running your own things requires a thick skin and lots of patience. The most rewarding thing is seeing how many people are inspired by and support our brand. We have the sweetest most supportive community, and I am so grateful for them every day. They keep me going on the bad days.
What role has your community played in helping you build YOWIE? Our community is everything to be honest. They are the number one thing that keeps me going, outside of my absolute love of design. We've created this amazing ecosystem where we can amplify and support artists and creatives and have collaborated with people from our community. We also share resources and hold workshops together. I genuinely enjoy connecting with them. We recently announced a new space we wanted to open, but needed to hire our first employee to get to the next phase. Our community helped us raise over $75,000 to bring on this person. They believe in what we are building and they’re there every step of the way!
What advice would you give to other young women out there looking to start their own brands? Find a support system. Whether it's your family, an old teacher, or a few close friends, you're going to need emotional support, as creating and growing a brand has many highs and many lows. You'll want to be able to call them when you're feeling indecisive or having a down day. I wouldn't be able to do YOWIE without my friend’s sounding board, who helps me make tough decisions or lets me know when I'm spiraling. I'd also say work to create something different than what is already out there.
What core values have shaped YOWIE? I want my brand to be known for being both innovative and inclusive. From day one, I have looked to challenge what a concept shop can offer or be known for. We're more than just pretty products, and we’re constantly evolving our community offerings. Inclusivity and sharing opportunities are also very important to me. The design world, especially interiors, can feel very old fashioned -- like there are so many barriers of entry and I want to challenge that! I curate work from people with decades of experience, and I place their work next to artists who have been working for a few months. Both of these works are valid and deserve to be celebrated.
What has been your favorite product/piece to source and see come to life? A year into YOWIE, we started commissioning t-shirts from artists. I had always wanted to make a Heaven's Gate inspired tee. I have always been fascinated by cults, so I asked artist Jeremy Dean to design a work inspired by their unique history and teachings. The t-shirt came out so cool and was one of our best sellers to date. I loved that 99% of those who purchased it had no idea what the graphics were inspired by. I love hiding easter eggs of my interests in our work.