How One Artist Created a Chic Tattoo Brand Out of Her Dorm Room
While many of us were busy ordering Seamless from our phones at 3am, occasionally sleeping through our 8am classes, and worrying about what the future beyond our dorm walls would hold, Dani Egna already had her own business up and running. INKED by Dani started pretty much by accident during her senior year at the University of Southern California—Egna became the designated tattoo artist to doodle on friends’ arms, hands, or faces with liquid eyeliner for any themed party, festival, or concert. From there, demand grew and her side hustle became a full-blown, Instagram-verified hustle. We chatted with her to hear more about her favorite moments in creating the brand so far and her tips for starting and believing in your own unique brand.
Brit+Co: What was your creative inspiration for starting the brand?
Dani Egna: I’ve been an artist my whole life; I was pretty much painting at age two, before I was even speaking. Throughout school, I did traditional fine arts like drawing and painting, and then in college, I was a Fine Arts major with an emphasis in painting. While I was there, I took classes in everything from ceramics, to printmaking, to cinema architecture, but painting and drawing were what I loved most.
I started doodling these kinds of tattoo designs as early as middle school — in class, I was always drawing fun little tattoos on myself. I would come out at the end of class covered in pen or marker in doodles on my skin. My notebooks and tests were always filled with doodles too — it was my form of relaxing.
B+C: Who were some of your first customers?
DE: My friends would always to come to me as an artist to draw fun stuff on them for themed parties, concerts, or whatever the event was, so I was initially just drawing on them with all different colors of liquid eyeliner. We had a really fun themed party one night where I had drawn tattoos on all my friends, and they came back to me at the end of the night with comments from tons of people wondering where the tattoos came from. They told people that they were Dani’s designs, and it sparked a light bulb in me. I have always loved doodling designs, and there’s such a big trend in tattoos, but there was no one really doing it while bringing in a fine arts background, with a more minimal, chic, wearable aesthetic to them. I thought I could really do something cool and different here.
B+C: Did you intend on creating a business from there, or was it more of a happy accident?
DE: Total happy accident, from that first night — [there was an] overwhelming amount of feedback, and we thought, okay, maybe I have something here. I started really hustling from my dorm room, going to sororities, and going door to door. The next step was setting up our website and our Instagram, which was huge for us, and it really started snowballing from there.
But what really secured this, while I was still in college, was when huge retailers were reaching out to me, having found the brand through Instagram or our website. Then, while I was still in college, living just off campus, we launched with all of the first customers. We started with Brandy Melville, and soon after, we had NastyGal, American Eagle, and Zumiez.
B+C: Have you ever thought of designing permanent tattoos after all the positive feedback on the temporary ones?
DE: Initially, the part that captured me was giving people the option to express themselves with art, with whatever your mood is that day, but totally commitment-free. We see it as wearable art, in a way that art and a beauty look merges; you can switch it up any time you want. Because the product is temporary, it makes us a huge hit with kids and people of all ages. We also can be a part of events, fun collaborations, and promotions with brands. It’s a really accessible way to express yourself, no matter your age, your style, and your budget.
I do have people come to me and ask me to draw their real tattoo designs. I’ve done a little bit of that, but just for friends. We even get DMs on Instagram where people send us their real tattoos that they’ve gotten after trying out our tattoo designs and falling in love with them. People get excited because they can try it on their wrist for a week, or on their ankle, so it’s that perfect test run to really make sure that what you’re putting on your body you want there forever.
B+C: What have been the most memorable brand collaborations you’ve done?
DE: One of the most memorable was working with Fifth Harmony to create custom designs to help them launch one of the last tours that they did together. They sent out our tattoos with an announcement for the tour launch to all their friends, other artists, and more. Watching all of their people post about it on Instagram, we were definitely a little starstruck. Knowing that all these people have had their eyes and hands on our product is a really cool feeling.
We did something great with American Express for their Pride campaign, as well as an amazing collaboration with the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville. Events are also a huge part of how we collaborate with brands — we went to Facebook’s headquarters, have worked with Bergdorf Goodman, Nordstrom, Saks, J. Crew, and recently with Live Nation in their New York City headquarters on events. Those are just a few of the standouts.
B+C: How has social media affected the way the brand has grown?
DE: It is crazy to see: Instagram really got popular my freshman year of college, and now it’s absolutely integral to every brand’s marketing platform, especially ours. It’s the most Instagrammable product ever — and our customer base is the core of who’s on Instagram daily, so it’s super important for us. Most of our retailer inquiries actually come from Instagram, and the press we get there is constantly bringing in retailers. It’s a public platform where anyone can discover you, so it’s a great place to grow our business and the customer base as well.
B+C: What kinds of projects are you most excited to work on next?
DE: Because our designs are temporary, we can constantly change and evolve with varying trends, in the tattoo world and the beauty and fashion world. We are always collaborating with new brands, bringing our designs to new experiential platforms, and pushing the limit of where we can bring these in to add and enhance other experiences. We’ve actually done a home décor collection with Dormify and an activewear collection with Terez, so we definitely want to continue exploring how our designs resonate on different products. There’s definitely a ton of opportunity to continue to grow and branch out with other product lines.
Brands are realizing that they need activations that are experiential and engaging, and we fall so perfectly with all of that. We have the opportunity to make items that are custom and exclusive for that brand, so it’s just such a home run. For example, we’re working with Bloomingdale’s on their in-store campaign for Pride Month this June, doing tattoo bars as an experiential pop-up in certain stores, where shoppers can come, try on tattoos, and purchase their favorite ones. These companies know that they can print tattoos anywhere, but they come to us because they want me to design something that they know is going to be cool and that the customer is going to want to wear.
B+C: What’s an important business lesson you’ve learned that you would like to pass on to other young women who might want to start their own businesses?
DE: Some advice that I would give other girls is just to really be prepared to live, breathe, and sleep your brand. You always have to be aggressive — not in a bad way — but in making yourself known, seen, and heard, and showing everyone why what you’re doing is super unique. Beauty and accessories can be a crowded space, but I think it’s super important to really get in front of the people that you want to work with. That’s a huge thing for us. Yes, tattoos have been around for a while, but any time we get the chance to get someone’s eyes on the product, they get that this is different and cool. It’s all about creating opportunities for yourself.