Designer Profile: Blaise Danio, Founder of BUHLAIXE - Phoenix, Arizona
Hi Blaise. Thanks for sharing your story. Tell us about yourself.
My entire family is in Los Angeles but I moved to Miami with mother when I was only a few months old. She met my step father there when I was really young so they raised me together.
Miami always sounds glamorous but its a city where you need a car to get everywhere. So really it was, drive to school, drive home, drive to a friends house. Pretty monotonous. I was really lucky my parents fostered my creativity. They recognized from an early age I was artistically gifted so they enrolled me in tons of art classes - From the time I could hold a pencil, they encouraged me to go to art school too. I think they realized that I couldn't do anything else.
I was young for my class, so I left home for Boston when I was 17. I went to the Museum School. It’s a really liberal, conceptual art school. My experiences there were invaluable, the friends I made, the people who challenged my ideas and work. I took a semester to study at The New School in Paris too. That really helped push my work to another level. It was challenging navigating being an artist in a foreign community.
I ended up in Phoenix based on intuition. I was living in Boston at the time but was here on a layover for work, and just sitting in the window of my hotel room I looked into downtown and was overcome by this feeling, almost a physical reaction. I remember saying to myself I really like this place. There is something pulling me here and I will be back. I didn’t leave my room on that layover because it was so short but I knew there was something for me here. I came back a few more times and explored, I kept experiencing the same feeling. I was single at the time and using Tinder, I saw this beautiful boy and something immediately clicked in my head. We made contact and went on a date a few months later. We fell deeply in love the moment we met and that was all I needed to pack up my bags and move here! The energy of the city and his energy were pulling me here. It was absolutely fate!
What does Buhlaixe mean?
Buhlaixe is a play off of my real name, Blaise. I didn't want to call the brand by my namesake but wanted a unique nod to it. I’m a visual person so I wanted something that looked eye catching. I thought about the pronunciation later, whoops! Metaphorically for me Buhlaixe means the freedom to be confident. I never had the confidence to put my work out into the world. I’m a self critical Virgo so nothing I made was ever good enough. But now with the brand it almost legitimizes my creativity and proves that I have a voice. I can proudly say, Hey, I made this. This is my heart and soul and I am proud!
Share your design process.
I start with a concept that I write out on paper, almost like a compositional wish list. I look at some inspiration for color concepts that work together and then draw the design digitally. I mostly use a Wacom in illustrator. I tend to design in batches, too. I’ll make a group concept of maybe 10 designs, then whittle them down and pick my favorites. I rely on my friends for critique. I’ll send the designs out to people I trust and say circle the ones you like best... What do you think of these colors? What material would you use? My products comes from suggestions, too. Someone will say I could really use a blanket or some art in my shop! From there I try to make it and see how it goes. I love getting request for new product the best. It’s like a homework assignment. It gives me direction to push a design in a way I may not have otherwise considered. I work fairly quickly. I’ll have a concept started and a week later the first run will be in production!
Tell us about the creative community in Phoenix, AZ. Who are some women in your community that inspire you? Are you planting roots?
This place is amazing! And the rest of the country doesn’t know! They are really missing out. Phoenix has been the most supportive creative community I have ever come across. It’s starved for independent and stylish businesses, so when someone says they want to start something it really feels like the whole community gets behind them to support it. I’ve experienced zero competition here, only support and love.
I’ve made good friends with a number of business owners who understand the struggles of starting a business and sticking to your guns when it comes to quality and integrity. We all collaborate. The women at Gather really gave me my first shot at showing my work. We started our businesses at the same time, so naturally we all formed a strong, sisterly bond. We’ve been holding each other up ever since. I collaborate a lot with Abloom Salon too. Those women are hair magicians, they make you feel so seen and heard when you are with them. There is also a female driven community surrounding shops like Local Nomad and Noons. The owners of the stores are powerhouses for bringing like minded people together.
I have big plans for the future here, but will always have wanderlust. I think Phoenix will remain a hub for me for sure, but I probably won't be here year round. It’s where I want my business based for now, and I see myself buying property in the near future. Europe is always calling me. I feel most at home when I’m walking the streets of Madrid or London. I’ve been thinking A LOT about Portugal lately.
What inspires your designs and illustrations?
I’ve always been an architecture nut. I adopted it from my parents. We would drive for hours looking at houses. Traveling influence everything I do. I’ve always felt most at home and relaxed in nature. I’m trying to incorporate design elements of my new home into my work; colors and shapes. I have a specific image that I always go back to in my head that I use when I meditate, it’s white sand being illuminated in the moonlight, with a soft breeze gently shifting it around. I get such a deep and relaxing feeling when I think of it, I want to be able to translate that so others can feel it too.
Tell us about the Female Not Factory x Buhlaixe design collaboration of the Womankind Scarf.
That was such a pleasure to work on the Womankind Scarf! It was a real collaboration between the two of us. We really wanted to create something beautiful, representing every type of woman who could wear it while remaining minimalist.
Tell us the impact you have on other small businesses.
I love that in the short time that I’ve had this business I have learned so much and made so many connections. I feel like I am able to help other small business owners who are just getting started. My door is always open to talk SEO, marketing, creative blocks and just general self worth in a small but thriving industry of makers. I want to be that beacon of light that says,”Hey I did this! You can too!”
How do you define success?
Did I accomplish my goals? Am I happy? Did I have fun along the way? That’s success to me. Life is 100% about the journey and not the destination.
We love seeing your company grow and branch out into home decor and jewelry. What’s next?
I have so many items I want to make, but I need to take a moment to make sure I’m consistent with my brand and sticking to my values. I could scale up but I want to make sure I’m doing that in a way that is ethical and staying as handmade as possible. What manufacturers am I working with? Are they using fair labor practices? Are they local? Those kinds of things are really important to me. I’d like to expand the textile department to blankets, pillows, rugs, towels and wearables. I’m also hoping to add a minimalist wardrobe for women who work from home. I’ll be adding more designs, too. I don't like to make one pattern and then repeat it on every item. I want each piece to feel unique and special. Another idea that is a few years in the future is designing interior spaces too.
Have you seen your designs in the wild? If so, describe what it feels like to see your work being worn.
On occasion I’ll see someone walking around with a scarf or I get tagged in a post. The funniest is when I’m wearing my own design and someone asks me “Is that a Buhlaixe design?” It’s thrilling to know that even though I’m doing this for me, other people are really loving my work. I’m making an impact in my community. There is one woman, and I don’t know who she is, but she buys every single one of my designs from one of our local shops. That really means a lot to me!
Your designs nod to past decades with a 60’s and 70’s aesthetic. Do you gravitate towards vintage pieces, certain era’s or tend to fuse modern shapes with vintage patterns?
I strictly wore vintage and secondhand for years. It was a way for me to make sure my wardrobe was as uniquely personal as possible. There weren’t many independent designers available then but now I have to admit most of my current wardrobe consists of fairly new pieces. Now whenever I travel I can pop into an independent boutique and pick up something from a local designer.
What’s your favorite design?
How do you choose from your children? Haha! I’ve had reasons for making certain designs. Appealing to specific markets and clients versus making pieces strictly for my own enjoyment. I think my favorite has to be the ones I haven't even made yet but are just floating around in my head. There is a freedom in that kind of unknown and what will be, like looking into the future of the brand and being the sole determiner of what that future is.
What’s the hardest part juggling working full-time for American airline and running a small business?
Getting back into business mode after a trip. When I leave it’s like time stops for me even through it’s continuing for everyone else back at home. I miss a lot of events and sometimes have to cancel plans. It’s really hard for me to switch back into a creative mode after a trip because I’m so burnt out, all I want to do is lay around with my pets.
How does being a flight attendant influence your scarf designs?
Not the flying per say. But definitely the places that I travel to. I actually don’t think of myself as a flight attendant. I’m an artist first and foremost. Flying is just something I do to quell my travel bug and give me a steady stream of income. I work as much or as little as I want, so sometimes I can take 2 months off from flying and just focus on design work.
Can you share the best and worst experiences to date?
Haha oh gosh, well I will tell you this, sometimes people take a little too much Xanax for their flying anxiety. I’ve had grown men completely take their pants off and have no clue what they were doing. My best experiences are when I fly to a city in another country that I’ve never been to before and meet a local on my flight who is willing to show me and the crew around.
Do you have any rituals that help with work/life balance?
I love rituals but have a really hard time maintaining them. I almost never wake up or go to bed at the same time. I’m not even sleeping in my own bed half of the time.
What does Female Not Factory mean to you?
It’s realizing the power of the female hand and mind. Historically we’ve been the ones baking bread, weaving baskets, sewing clothing and keeping the entire village together. We went through this cultural lull with the boom of the industrial revolution and for quite some time, forgot the value of the handicraft. We also forgot the value of the matriarchs and wise women. Female not Factory is reclaiming that position in a society where we are valuable for so much more than our looks. We are creating culture and in turn shifting societies values.
What’s most challenging about running a business?
Getting through lulls and self doubt. There are weeks where I might not get an order or I feel really uninspired to create. I try to find the positive in the lulls though by using that time to reevaluate my direction and make sure I’m staying true to my goals. That what I am creating is still making me feel good.
In your words, what do you think are the biggest opportunities for women-owned businesses?
Community. There was this really icky period where media portrayed women as catty and self serving, so that behavior was mimicked in real life with female competition. If women are busy fighting one another they can’t fight against oppression and misogyny. But I think we are moving past that, at a really fast pace. Women are remembering the value of true community and support. I’ve seen so many amazing groups popping up recently with the sole purpose of creating a thriving community, especially for small business owners and entrepreneurs.
If you could change one aspect of your business, what would it be?
Starting a business on your own with almost no start up cash is extremely difficult! Some brands have allocated funds to begin with so they are able to really plan everything out ahead of time before launching. They hire web designers, marketing teams, branding strategists and photographers. Starting this company from scratch out of my living room means it’s going to take me 3x as long to look and feel as professional as they would right off the bat. I wish I would have had the funds to be more prepared. But if I waited forever for those funds to arrive I never would have gotten started. At some point you just look at what tools and have available and find a way to make it work.