How This Illustrator Turned Her Passion Into An Emerging Brand
Welcome to Selfmade Stories, our series featuring emerging entrepreneurs from our Selfmade virtual business course. We're partnering with Office Depot to spotlight the lessons these founders have learned while launching their businesses. Ready for some inspiration? First up, Dingding Hu, founder of Hu is Hungry, a commercial art brand (she also sells colorful food-inspired merch!), who has some great advice for getting a creative brand off the ground, including first knowing your WHY.
B + C: Hu is Hungry is committed to spreading joy through humor and positivity. What inspired you to start the company? (Great name, btw!)
Dingding: So glad you like the name and thank you! Hu is Hungry was born as a tumblr account for me to post personal work. I love food so naturally I want to draw it. However, I was often asked if my last name is "who," and I was awkward about it. Hu is Hungry is the perfect solution, where I embraced my last name and amplified my passion. Gradually it grew into my identity and I changed my studio name to Hu is Hungry. Nowadays it both represents my studio, as well as my illustration merch line.
B + C: Did you always know illustration was what you wanted to do?
I always loved drawing but never thought I could make a living with it. My original plan was to become an art director in the advertising industry back in Shanghai. However the decision to pursue a master's degree in the U.S. ultimately led me to discover illustration. I took a risk and enrolled in the MFA Illustration Program at Maryland Institute College of Art, and from there I started to connect with my true calling.
B + C: How have you been able to balance the creative with the business side of entrepreneurship?
Dingding: It is definitely a challenge and I'm still trying to get better at it everyday. One thing that really helped me is to dedicate different days of the week to focus on different areas of my life. For example, I will usually do some bookkeeping on Monday, and then I focus on making art from Tuesday to Thursday, after that I spend Friday planning out other aspects of my business, such as social media.
B + C: How have you been able to evolve your brand and get the word out?
Dingding: I think the evolution of a brand/an artist is unavoidable, because we are always changing and so is the market. My personal strategy comes from three aspects: learning from the best of the industry, exploring personal identity, as well as studying the market and trends. In addition, growing with like-minded people is also super helpful, you receive new perspectives as well as inspiration in unexpected ways.
I am a visual artist, so Instagram is where I spend most time and energy. In addition to that, Behance and Linkedin are also great platforms to get discovered. Design blogs and shout-outs by other accounts are also effective ways to get the word out! Last but not least, you need to show up with a consistent message and be dedicated to it.
B + C: What was your most valuable takeaway from Selfmade?
Dingding: The session with Shiza Shahid, founder of Our Place, gave me the biggest impact. As an immigrant myself, learning everything that she has achieved truly opened a door for me to be willing to try more things and go further than where I am right now. It has also inspired me to be more outspoken for my own community. The branding class by Emily Heyward from Red Antler was also game-changing for me and I can now see what I do from a whole new perspective! Last but not least, the support from Brit herself as well as the Selfmade community is something I've never experienced before!
B + C: How do you stay motivated? Who inspires you?
Dingding: I get to do what I'm truly passionate about, and I think that is the best motivation. It is really important to know the WHY behind what you do, hence it is worth it to spend time digging deep on this topic! I also love affirmations, and I have an app that will pop out encouraging words on my phone every other hour to keep me in the good flow. Working out is also really helpful when you feel truly stuck, you gotta shake it off!
Right now I am most inspired by all the badass women founders out there. I didn't know too much about female entrepreneurs before I joined Selfmade. It is so encouraging to know that there are so many of them out there leading the way. It is also very inspiring to learn about all the struggles as well as resilience, which reminds me that I am not in this alone.
B + C: What's one piece of advice you would give to female creative entrepreneurs on the brink of starting?
You don't need to leave everything behind in order to pursue entrepreneurship, and you don't need to have all the answers. However, you do need to get going and keep moving forward with an open mind.
B + C: How did you hear about the Office Depot scholarship?
I learned about it from a former Selfmade alumni Poy, the owner of Summer Space Studio.
B + C: What has receiving the scholarship to Selfmade done to help you grow your business?
The course itself has helped change my mindset, leverage my brand message as well as gain new confidence. The community has set a great example of how women can support each other, and we are all in this together.
B + C: How have Office Depot services/products helped you accomplish more in your business?
I like to buy office supplies in bulk, so I don't need to think about it for a long time, and Office Depot offers that! I have sticky notes and highlighters stocked for years and they make me worry-free and happy.
B + C: What's next for Hu is Hungry?
I am working on a book that is coming out in 2022, and I hope to create more products around it as I go!
Thanks Dingding! You can follow Dingding Hu @HuIsHungry.
Knowing your WHY is an important part of being a successful entrepreneur. Along your business journey, let Office Depot OfficeMax help you stay organized & save time with a suite of business services to help you accomplish more - from signs, posters & banners to get your business noticed to marketing materials to help bring your brand vision to life. With Office Depot OfficeMax by your side, we know you can be your best.
Head to Office Depot's Selfmade page to check out even more amazing business resources (and discounts!) to help you accomplish more on your entrepreneurial journey. These offers are available for a limited time only, so be sure to take advantage of all this goodness while supplies last. Want to join the next Selfmade cohort? Check out all of the scholarship details right here.
Theresa Gonzalez is a content creator based in San Francisco and the author of Sunday Sews. She's a lover of all things design and spends most of her days momming her little one Matilda.