"I stopped becoming concerned at all with the bullying, because my mom really gave me that confidence, she would always say, the more confident you are — and this is at a really, really young age — she would say the more confident you are, the less you’ll notice that they’re bullying you. She'd say, test it out, try it. I got to an age where I’d see other kids in school being bullied and I was sticking up for them. She just taught me how to be a leader."
In an industry where most startups go up, down, and disappear, Danielle Guizio is a New York-based fashion designer on Forbes’s 30 under 30 list. If you think of the biggest celebrities on the style pages today, you’re likely to find a photo of them wearing her designs. She describes the line – which shares her name, Danielle Guizio – as “celebrating the modern-day woman who aims to deviate from the traditional and push boundaries in all aspects of life.” She has even revived the corset, which Ariana Grande wore in black satin on the set of her music video for “7 Rings.” Because of her age, one might assume Danielle came to her success in a straight line. But as we hear in her interview with host Kevin Burke, Danielle’s coming of age was more jagged and uncertain, filled with experiences that brought her face-to-face with some scary and ugly sides of life. Out of all this, she placed her big bet on designing clothes that make young women like her, as she says, feel confident and strong.
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Ariana Grande – “7 Rings” (2019)
Britney Spears – “Lucky” (2000)
Whitney Houston – “How Will I Know” (1985)
Nirvana – “Smells Like Teen Spirit” (1991)
Lady Gaga – “The Edge of Glory” (2011)
“Kylie Jenner Hits the Met Gala in a showgirl inspired dress” (Daily Mail YouTube Clip, 2019)
Original Composition: Sterling Steffen
Illustrations – Nick Gregg
Walt Whitman, “Song of Myself,” Part 52, Leaves of Grass (1855)
“I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love, If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.
“You will hardly know who I am or what I mean, But I shall be good health to you nevertheless, And filter and fibre your blood.
“Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged, Missing me one place search another, I stop somewhere waiting for you.”
A special thanks, too, to our co-presenter on this special New York City feature series, the Museum of the City of New York.
S1E6: Danielle Guizio –New Jersey/Manhattan
April 13, 2021
Intro: Kevin Burke (Voiceover narration): This episode is part of a special feature series on New York City and is a co-presentation with the Museum of the City of New York, with generous support from the Rockefeller Brothers Fund. Find us at yourhometown.org or on your favorite podcast app.
Danielle Guizio: When I was in community college, I wanted to start a brand. I was going to start it with my friend and someone who was advising us on the project said to me, “Well, this is actually a perfect combination because she’s the brains and you’re the beauty.” And I was like, “No. Why can’t I be both? Why can’t we both be both?”
Kevin (Voiceover narration): “Where did you grow up?” is a question we’re all asked — a lot. But the answer is never as simple as a place on a map, is it? It’s about the kid inside of us and what happened to them there before we met the world and the world met us. I’m Kevin Burke and this is Your Hometown.
Danielle Guizio caught my attention when she made the Forbes 30 Under 30 list, their hot picks of young talent going places. And her business is fashion, where most startups, they go up, they go down, they disappear. Her label uses her own name, Danielle Guizio, and she describes the line as, “Celebrating the modern-day woman who aims to deviate from the traditional and push boundaries in all aspects of life.” Now think of the biggest celebrities on the style pages today and you’re likely to find a photo somewhere of them wearing a Danielle Guizio — from jeans, to hoodies, to turtlenecks that cut above the belly button. She’s even revived the corset. Yes, the corset, which Ariana Grande wore in black satin on the set of her music video [of] the song, “7 Rings.”
[we hear a sample of Ariana Grande’s “7 Rings” (2019)]
And you should hear the way her online fans gush when they open up a hall of Danielle’s clothes. Take the Hess Twins, for example, here on their YouTube channel.
[we hear a clip from Ash and Kat Hess’s YouTube channel, @AshXKat:] “Next up, we have this Danielle Guizio set. We’ve been dying for this white corduroy set. Actually, only the top was left in our size on her website. So, we had to order the pants from Revolve. So we’ll show you guys that. All right, so together we have an outfit.” “We’re huge fans of Danielle Guizio, too. We’ve been wearing herself for, what, like three years now?” “Yeah honestly, from the start.” “We’ve been like huge fans, [we] love to support her. She’s just so cool.” “She’s like such a cool girl. And for her to be so young and to have such a wildly successful business, it’s just so admirable. And she really understands women’s bodies. There’s not one design that I could improve myself. I’m like she gets it.”]
Kevin: Now what I wanted to get was how did she do it? If you look at her website, she’s a bit of a mystery. I mean, I knew she was young and so I assumed she’d come to her success in a straight line, like the zippers on her cropped sweaters. What I found out, though, was that that was anything but the case. No, Danielle’s coming of age had been more jagged and uncertain. It was filled with experiences that had brought her face-to-face with some pretty scary and ugly sides of life — out of which she placed her big bet on designing clothes that would make young women like her, as she says, feel confident and strong. Now, Danielle is a dual citizen of Manhattan, with a passport that’s also stamped by a childhood that began in a small town in New Jersey called Fairfield. It’s about 25 miles outside of the city, which is about as far from Midtown as the outer edges of Staten Island—in the orbit of New York, but a world away.
Danielle: I grew up in a very small home with my two brothers, my sister, my mom and my dad. It was like a small little white house. And it pretty much just fit us. We didn’t come from much. The upper floor was like an attic. And it was me, my mom, my dad and my little brother all living up [there], like all together.
Danielle: Oh, yeah. Yeah. My little brother and I, we shared a bed for like years. It’s funny to look back in those times, I’m like oh my gosh, that was fucking — oops.
Kevin: No, it’s okay.
Danielle: I’m like that was crazy and [is] such a big part of my story.
Kevin: How did you start to separate and think, here’s who I am, this is me as distinct from my family, from the group I’m in.
Danielle: I remember we had an extra room, it had like a computer in it and it always had like clutter — which also reflects on who I am today. You go into my apartment, there’s no clutter. There’s nothing because that’s something I always wanted for myself. I hated being around clutter. And so now I’m very minimalistic. And I could finally do things my way. So when I was younger, I remember being in that room a lot. And I would have a little pair of white shorts and a little pair of Hanes white top [that] I would sew beads onto it. That was like my own creative – put on music –when I was little.
Kevin: What did you like to listen to?
Danielle: When I was little, I remember I used to listen to like 98 Degrees and Britney Spears, like obsessed. And then I would go outside with — like at the time it was a CD Walkman — I sound old.
Kevin: Not to me [laughing].
Danielle: I would just be like vibing on my own. I remember in my small house setting up a lawn chair in the front yard — we didn’t have a pool, we didn’t have any of that. And it was summer. And I was listening to a Britney Spears song on repeat.
Kevin: What was the song, do you remember?
[we hear Britney Spears’ “Lucky” (2000)]
Danielle: I had magazines. I loved looking at magazines — very visual. I was just listening and in my front yard in the grass, or I would put on my mom’s heels and do a fashion show in the kitchen. And my mom thought it was the funniest thing. She would make me do it over and over again, like she would show my dad.
[we hear Britney Spears’ “Lucky” (2000)]
Danielle: We had an aunt and she had a beautiful house, and it was always spotless. She had a pool, she had amazing cars. Those were my cousins, too. And I would go into her closet and I would be like, “Wow.” We were living in this little house and then we would escape and go to my aunt’s, which was in Parsippany, very close. That was everything. That’s what I wanted. I wanted that life. I wished my family was like that. That had a huge play and this life. This better life that I always dreamt of, that I wanted to build, that I wanted to make our own. I wanted it to come into fruition at such a young age. I wanted that. So then after that, my dad finally had an opportunity to start his own business.
Kevin: And what was the business that he was in?
Danielle: He’s a radiologist.
Danielle: Yeah. So he started a mobile radiology company. As his business was growing, he was becoming more successful. At that point, we were able to get — like the house was just way too small, so we were able to knock it down and build a new house
Kevin: On the same site?
Kevin: That’s interesting because you didn’t move, but you recreated home. On the same parcel. That’s amazing. What did it impress upon you to watch your father try to build something like that, his own business?
Danielle: I learned so, so much and I’m so grateful for everything that I’ve learned. Even from when we were little — not having much. There would be — my mom always hates when I say this — but, there were like bugs in the little house and it was disgusting. Like there were termites every day. To see him work so hard and also, when we had nothing, to give us food, clothes, and whatever.
Kevin: Was he putting himself through school at that time?
Danielle: Yeah, I know he went to college and then he was working at the hospital and building his way up there. He started from waxing the floors to —
Danielle: Yeah in the hospital, he used to wax the floors. And then he went to school and earned his stripes, pretty much. Throughout that time my whole family, we picked up and moved into a hotel, into the Hampton Inn and Suites. That’s also funny because I think about those days and I’m like, wow, that played such a huge part in my story. I forget about that. I’m like my entire family, we lived in one hotel room together for two and a half years. I loved living in the hotel when I was little because I was really close with my brothers. And living in a hotel, that’s every kid’s dream — there was a pool and it was just a classic Hampton Inn and Suites. There was a buffet every day. One of our cousins would always come over. Everyone would want to come over because we had a pool. I was probably pretty much used [laughing]. Even my school bus would drop me off at the hotel and all the kids would make fun of me because, I don’t know, it just wasn’t normal.
Kevin: Yeah, it [a hotel] is not usually a stop at all.
Danielle: Yeah. And I would be so embarrassed, I would want them to drop me off by a restaurant and I would just run over to the hotel. Sometimes when my mom couldn’t drive me to school in the mornings, the hotel van would come because I was —
Kevin: The shuttle?
Danielle: Yeah, the shuttle and I was literally humiliated. My mom was like, “Get on the shuttle” — because everyone would stare.
Kevin: What was the culture of Fairfield like?
Danielle: Everything was built on sports and athletics. Everyone was very casually dressed, but very sporty, [like] the aesthetic of coming back from football practice or cheerleading practice. Once I started really getting into music, going to concerts, going to shows, and just finding my love for music, which also came from my sister. [She] had grown up [in] Upstate New York but she was listening to Nirvana.
Kevin: That was huge when I was in high school, grunge music was big in the ’90s.
Danielle: Yeah. She was dying her hair bleached blond, wearing crazy like –. And I saw that and I was like, whoa, that’s so cool. She looks different from everyone that I know. She’s listening to different music than everyone that I see. And she was just so authentically herself. She was partying and stuff and I was like okay I like this.
[we hear Nirvana’s “Smell Like Teen Spirit” (1991)]
Kevin: And other than your sister, would you say [with] your parents and the vibe and energy of your household, were fashion and music important or were they your thing?
Danielle: Definitely not fashion. My mom always says, she’s like, “I don’t know where you got this from.” But music, I remember my mom always playing Earth, Wind and Fire, Whitney Houston, all playing records in the house.
[we hear opening sound to Whitney Houston’s “How Will I Know” (1985)]
Danielle: So music was definitely big for my mom. And my dad was pretty much a lot about business. My dad always jokes, he’s like “I wasn’t even listening to music when I was younger.” I’m like okay, “That’s depressing” [laughing].
I would go to school and I would see everyone wearing the newest Abercrombie and the newest Limited Too and I was like I want that, I want to dress like that.
Kevin: How were you dressing at the time?
Danielle: We always shopped at Kmart, like random stuff. There’s this one store we used to shop at, very similar to a Kmart, like off brand, but still, it was heaven to go to. Heaven. Oh my gosh.
Kevin: You enjoyed that experience.
Danielle: Yeah. Oh my gosh.
Kevin: Tell me about that.
Danielle: When my dad was becoming a little bit more successful, when we still lived in the little house, I would beg him on my knees, “Dad, please take me to the mall.” “Please take me,” like “I want to go to Limited Too, I want to see what’s going on here.” I negotiated with him this whole system where if I got an A, lowest I think was B+, on spelling bees and on tests, in return, I would get to buy one thing. I was just studying my ass off.
Kevin: That’s the carrot, the incentive.
Danielle: I’m like I’m a sicko. Even back then I was negotiating. When I got older, like more [around] 15, that’s when I really started distressing things, ripping things up, spray painting lyrics on things, fully customizing things. That’s when I got into ironing letters.
Kevin: What was the spark for that?
Danielle: Music, for sure. And just hanging around — I finally found friends that were like me, a little bit edgy. And we liked the same things, we had the same humor, we watched the same shows.
Kevin: Tell me about that, because I know you went to West Essex High School, which is in North Caldwell, New Jersey, [and] is not too far from Fairfield. And if you could set the scene, let’s say you could take me to your high school one day and we’re walking down the halls together. What are we seeing? What do we sing in your school? What’s it like?
Danielle: Seeing a lot of preppy looks, everyone coming out of their uniforms, like in half uniforms with just slides and socks on.
Kevin: Where did you feel like you most belonged and where did you feel like you least belonged in your school?
Danielle: Kids would always make fun of me, but it was more so like they would always say, “Oh your lips are so big.” Or, “your nose is kind of weird?” I would ask my mom like “how can we make my lips smaller, can we cut them off? Like what’s going on?” [laughing].
But my mom would just tell me, like she would just ingrain in me — I remember, she was doing laundry and I was like, “Oh someone said something about my nose and I like the way it looks better when it’s like that.” She would be like “No, you’re beautiful.” She would make me look in the mirror and be like, “Say it out loud.” And I would hate it. She’d be like, “Say it right now, you’re beautiful.” And she always told me, “Wherever you’re walking, even if you’re alone on the street, never walk with your head down. Always walk with your head up.”
So I stopped becoming concerned at all with the bullying because my mom really gave me that confidence. She would always say, the more confident you are — and this is at a really, really young age — she would be like the more confident you are, the less you’ll notice that they’re bullying you. And she would be like, “Test it out, try it.” I got to an age where I [would] see other kids in school being bullied and I was sticking up for them. She just taught me how to be a leader.
Kevin: What’s also interesting about your coming-of-age years is that you were going into high school and growing up at a time when the Internet was new. How did that provide another dimension or outlet in school when you were kind of coming-of-age in Fairfield?
Danielle: It was my secret, hidden weapon. I was like, “You guys barely even know what the Internet is and I’m like a whiz at it.” It’s all like the jocks and stuff. I had a full grasp of the Internet and how to work it. When I was getting into my teenage years, like early teenage years, [I knew] how to edit my Myspace where I was getting likes and comments, showing my outfits, and expressing my personality through imagery. I just really loved dressing myself. And that was something, too, I used to get made fun of all the time. I used to wear vintage Levi’s, combat boots, and a little T-shirt to school. And I would get hell for it.
Danielle: Yeah, I would always get teased for how I dressed, but that’s when I was older. I was on Myspace and I had older friends and we were going to cool parties — not cool parties, but like what I thought was cool, [and] from other towns. So I was like, “You guys can make fun of me all you want. I’m living my life. You guys are stuck in your little town.”
Kevin (voiceover): New York City was Danielle’s green light. It had been since she was a kid, taking the short ride into Manhattan with her dad.
Danielle: I just loved always coming to the city. Once I got a little bit older, I would look around and see everyone was very — they were their own unique self and everyone was different. I think that’s what really opened up my eyes, rather than seeing this repeating pattern every day in my small town. It was a whole new world.
Kevin (voiceover): Danielle’s plan was to escape Fairfield, which she did, when at the age of 17, she went to fashion school. Actually, the business of fashion school at the Laboratory Institute of Merchandising, L-I-M College, right in the heart of Midtown. But as she quickly learned, the fantasy of New York is very different from the day to day reality of living in New York. And feeling like an outsider somewhere else doesn’t mean you won’t feel like an outsider here. And in Danielle’s case, that feeling was most intense in the place that was supposed to be her ticket to ride. Before long, all kinds of doubts crept in.
Danielle: I wasn’t enjoying the girls at school. It was feeling a little pretentious. And again, back into the designer thing, I never liked the pressure to wear designer. I always wanted to do it on my own terms. I just didn’t enjoy my time there. I wish I did. I wish I listened in class more. When I tell people I left LIM, I’m like don’t do that.
Kevin: You left after a year.
Danielle: Yeah, I left after a year. I’d never advise anyone to just up and go, because there were times I was like, oh I wish I did listen in my sales class. I wish I was present, but I was almost like an angsty teenager and I was a little bit upset and lonely living away from my family. And the city has a way of — you have to be really strong to live here. It definitely tends to chew you up, and you have to be strong enough to survive those times.
Danielle: It’s a lonely place. And then also seeing my classmates doing really well, getting A’s [while] I was struggling really bad. I was starting to get a sense of, “Oh, shit, what if I don’t make it in life?” I would look at my other classmates and be like, “Oh, no. They’re getting internships and I haven’t gotten one and I’m not getting hired for things.” That really started to eat away at me because I didn’t want to let my parents down.
Kevin (voiceover): Especially at a time when her parents were struggling, too, making it harder and harder for her to justify the cost of living in the city.
Danielle: It was expensive and I didn’t have a job at the time because I was full time in school. And at the time, my dad was going through a cancer scare. I just remember being like, “Let’s stop the apartment.” I was so upset to leave my apartment, to leave that freedom, to leave that sense of having my own space. But at the same time, I didn’t mind. I was always the type — like my dad and I have a really strong bond. And I was willing to take one for the team. So I was like, “You know what? We’re leaving. I’m leaving this school.” And then I started getting a feeling of, “Okay, well what if fashion isn’t for me?” I didn’t like the energy. It was very pretentious. I just got a bad taste of it in the beginning.
Kevin (voiceover): That bad taste led her back to her own beginnings in Fairfield, her hometown, where she moved in with her parents, enrolled in community college, and took a job commuting into the city, where she worked on the front line at a downtown clothing store called The Hundreds.
Danielle: I was taking the bus back and forth and that was the best experience. I’m so happy that I worked retail prior to any of this. It was about all cultures coming together, like skate culture, streetwear culture, everyone was authentically themselves. That’s when I started getting into sales and realizing that I was really good at selling things and understanding like the human mind and the process of sales. You learn so much, [from] the everyday interaction with a human, face-to-face, and customer service issues. And if a customer isn’t happy with their product, if there’s a size that isn’t in stock, how else can you tend to them?
Kevin (voiceover): For a while there, it seemed like Danielle’s life was getting back on track, but then an altogether different kind of customer came knocking: her own body.
Danielle: One night I had a crazy pain in my back and it was totally unrelated. It was just like an infection that could be kicked. But they pulled my parents aside [and] were like, “Oh, well, we ran all these tests and we see that she has growths all on her kidneys and gallbladder.” That’s pretty much when life really hit me hard. I was like, “Let’s go.” And [they were] like, “We have to immediately operate on you.”
Danielle: We had to book the appointment a week after. They told me the repercussions or what could happen next, and potentially if things didn’t go a certain way [with] my treatment and all that. And that’s when I was like, “Wow, okay, yeah, I’m officially an adult. I’m officially — life has begun.” I had just started dating my boyfriend at the time, and he was so supportive.
Kevin: And your father had been through something too, you mentioned before, so you’d seen that you can get through.
Danielle: Yeah. So then I had surgery and everything. I was in a wheelchair [and] a walker because it was all on my stomach. I got all [these] scars on my stomach and they took half of my liver out, they took my gallbladder out, literally a few other things.
Kevin: Wow, that’s intense.
Danielle: I couldn’t walk for weeks and I was in the hospital, recovering, and was kind of there alone a lot of the time. Next to me in the hospital bed – I shared a room with an old woman who had brain cancer. Every day the priest would come in and bless her. And one day I was sitting in the chair and I couldn’t move, the nurse had to help me into my chair and everything. [The old woman] fell out of her — and her head was at my feet, like this, I was sitting like this.
Danielle: But because of my stomach, I couldn’t move.
Kevin: Oh, my goodness.
Danielle: So she’s yelling all this because she had brain cancer. She’s yelling all these things and I couldn’t understand her. And it was absolutely traumatizing. I even remember down to the smell of the nurse’s breath. It’s like the most insane — especially being, I wasn’t sheltered, but I grew up really, really fast, just from that.
Kevin: And that’s another corner of New York. Was it Sloan Kettering that you were at?
Kevin: So that’s like another neighborhood in New York, right? It’s its own separate world. And when you’re in a hospital, it really is its own paradigm. You’re in it, and you forget what life outside is like. And then you realize the people outside forget what life in a hospital is like, but you’re in it.
Danielle: That’s kind of the beauty [in] that circumstance that I was in. It completely changed my vision of the world and myself, and how important and beautiful life is.
Kevin: Even its dark and scary parts are part of the fullness of that.
Danielle: The trauma [with] not even being able to walk and thinking in those times like, oh my gosh, I really took — those were days where I really did take for granted everything, because obviously I didn’t know better. The nurse had to wash my ass because I couldn’t move, wash my private parts. And I’m standing there, and a stranger is rubbing you down with soap. And I’ll never forget those times. And then after, I remember I was healing and was finally able to go home. I’d gotten a call that everything was fine. And yeah, thank God. That was the first time I ever cried of happiness.
Kevin (voiceover): With her scars feeling healed in one way, Danielle still had to find her way back to life outside the hospital. And that meant more community school classes and working the counter at a jewelry store in her hometown. To her, though, it felt more like a fishbowl. While she was trying to sell to her customers, they had a way of making her feel judged. In one especially bizarre visit, she found herself talking to a nun. Yes, a nun in a jewelry store. I’m not sure what she was doing there. And somehow the conversation went from bracelets or whatever to the meaning of salvation.
Danielle: She was in a full nun’s outfit. And I was like, “I’m going to pick your brain about something. I was baptized but I never had a christening.” I was like, “So am I going to hell?” And she goes, “Absolutely.” And this is — I just got back from my surgery and I was thinking a lot about death. I was thinking about how strong I was, I had all these scars on my stomach, and how I came out of that with a positive attitude. And I was like, “Really?” I said to her, “Well, I’m a good person. I’m a good daughter. I’m a good friend. I help people.” And she was just like, “No, you’re going to hell.” And I was like, “Okay.”
Kevin (voiceover): And a very short time after that, another customer walked into the store: a guy with a business card and a very different proposition than the nun.
Danielle: I think a week after that, someone else had come in and asked me if I wanted to start doing adult films.
Danielle: Yeah, or like something. Yeah, like a weird prostitution thing. I was selling him a watch and he was like, “You’re so beautiful. I think you’d be perfect for this.” And in that moment, that was a moment I remember being like, “I’m worth so much more than that.” Not that there’s — at the same time, if that’s your profession, there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. But just the fact that he just based my entire life and everything I had just gone through off of my looks. And he told me what he thought, like where I, he would find me best. And it felt — I really needed to make something of myself, it’s now or never. And so, I quit the jewelry job. And I was like, “Life is too short. I don’t want to go another day where I’m not feeling inspired. Life is too precious.”
Kevin (voiceover): Okay, she was about 23 now. And the question was, after going through the last few rounds, what could she do to make that change?
Danielle: I was feeling like lost at that time and not in control. I wanted to gain that control back. And I definitely, yeah, I felt a lot of empowerment. I was talking to my boyfriend and his sister at the time and they were like, “Well, what’s holding you back?” And I was like, “You’re right. Nothing.” And my boyfriend’s sister, who is my best friend, Kelly, she was like, she’s a graphic designer. She works for Beyoncé. She’s so talented. So we’re sitting on her couch. She goes, “Let’s start now.” And I was like, “Okay.” That’s their personality. They’re very strong and “Let’s get to it.” And sometimes I need that. Like have all the rest, but it’s like I just need that little push sometimes. And especially when I was younger. And yeah, she was like, “Let’s sit down. Let’s do it right now.”
Kevin (voiceover): She started small, very small, with $400 and an office that was free — her parents’ basement.
Danielle: I had just saved my tax return from working retail. I just saved it in the bank, as I was obviously broke. I was like, “Okay, I’m becoming an adult, I need to start saving something.” I used my tax return to go to my first invoice. And I started with a few graphic tees and they sold out. I was just kind of flipping it and flipping it, and because my profit margins on my graphic tees were amazing, so, luckily, I was able to get a really great foundation going. And at the time, I was doing customer service, like I said — packing, shipping, everything.
Kevin: From the basement?
Danielle: Yeah, from the basement. My website. I put like a little photo studio in there. We were shooting product [and] inventory was down there. All the inventory was laid out on a pool table. And the inventory is everywhere, on every single corner. And I had now turned my dad’s basement, [where] you would hang out and stuff, into a full-on warehouse. There came a time where he was like, “Okay, Danielle this is getting out of control, like you need to move out of the basement.” [Laughing] It’s really annoying.
Kevin (voiceover): Just as in high school, the Internet became Danielle’s secret weapon. Here’s how it worked: from the basement, she would box up her clothes and ship them off as gifts to people she thought could help her get a following online. She didn’t think small. In fact, she took a shot at the Kardashian-Jenners, Bella Hadid, Priyanka Chopra, and Lady Gaga. And it worked.
[we hear Lady Gaga’s “The Edge of Glory” (2011)]
Danielle: I was gifting it to bloggers and honestly at the time it had a really great success rate. Like a return on investment, I guess you could say.
Kevin: Bloggers and fashion.
Danielle: Yeah. Influencers, bloggers. And then I got one of my pieces to Kylie Jenner and just seeing once she wore it, I didn’t even know she was going to wear it or anything like that.
Kevin: This was a surprise to you, it was not a conversation. You send it out into the world and then there’s a picture of her in it.
Kevin: What is that like?
Danielle: That was crazy. That was a huge point in my career.
[35:30 we hear paparazzi shouting to Kylie Jenner at the 2019 Met Gala.]
Kevin: So you send Kylie Jenner a graphic tee. She wears it. People out there try to figure out “What’s she wearing?” How do they find their way to you? And then what are you observing from that basement on the computer? Is the phone off the hook? Is it that you’re seeing thing, your own account? What are you seeing?
Danielle: It was blowing up like in my Instagram, Twitter.
Kevin: People find you.
Danielle: Yeah, yeah.
Kevin: I’m just trying to figure out how they even figure you out. So, they see Kylie in this graphic tee. How do they know that’s a Danielle Guizio?
Danielle: Her fans are very great at finding — they’re very resourceful. They all just found my website.
Kevin: And they were starting to order.
Kevin: They want to wear that, too. So you’re now, “Oh my goodness. I can’t keep up. The demand is soaring. I’m in this basement.”
Danielle: Of my parents’ house. It was just me. And then I asked my brother, my younger brother, who was living with me, so he was helping me ship and all that because I got to a point where I couldn’t do it on my own. You’re rolling with the motions and you’re trying to keep up with your own company. Looking back on it, it was really hard, but in the moment, it was just really fun and like a rush.
Kevin (voiceover): Danielle did T-shirts, sweatshirts, sweatpants. She had to work her way to socks and then to corsets – really, like updating Jane Austen Pride and Prejudice corsets, with things like balloon sleeves and adjustable lacing. Creatively, the pressure was always on to feed that marketplace, and Danielle was giving women a full range of styles to choose from. Before she knew it, her parents’ basement was stuffed to the gills.
Danielle: My dad was like, “You have to get all the inventory out of it. It’s a friggin disaster.” So I literally moved into a doctor’s office that was like $400 a month in Clifton, New Jersey.
Kevin: In Clifton, so still in Jersey.
Danielle: Even celebrities were like, “Can I come into your showroom?” I was working out of the doctor’s office and I was like, “Oh I think we’re all booked up.” I felt very secluded being at a doctor’s office in Clifton, in the suburbs, every day, working. That was definitely a sense where I was like, “Damn, I need to get to New York. I need to get back to New York, connect with the youth.”
Kevin (voiceover): Did you catch that? The youth. That’s another pressure in Danielle’s business. Fashion designers age like the rest of us, but age categories don’t. And at a certain point, for all of us, young people become research. And where do they want to be? Danielle knew from her own experience: New York City, which also happens to be one of the fashion capitals of the world.
Danielle: I started to go out for Fashion Week and my friends, who are big designers now, were getting into the mix, getting their feet wet essentially at that time. I was like, “I want to be around them more, I want to be around designers, I want to be around my customers.” I felt very secluded, you know, being in a doctor’s office in Clifton, in the suburbs, every day, working. That’s why we went back to the city, my boyfriend and I both, because we were both feeling that way where we wanted that connection back.
Kevin (voiceover): This time, Danielle wasn’t moving to New York to study at a fashion school. For her fans, she is the school. And then, taking a second bite at the Big Apple, she was sinking her teeth in on her own terms, at least as a businesswoman with customers all over the world trying on her designs.
Danielle: I mean, I know it sounds so cliché, but it’s like if you can make it in New York, you can make it anywhere. When you get past that really, really tough period of time where you’re struggling in New York, when you can’t pay rent, can’t fulfill your dreams and, [are] being knocked down —
Kevin: Punched every day.
Danielle: Literally on the subway after having the worst day, just getting knocked into.
It’s really not easy here. But once you get past that and you really find not just success, but you [find] yourself, what you came here to do, and have a sense of that you have achieved it. Even [now], I pass by Sloan and I say a prayer for everyone inside. I’m walking on the street, I’m having a good day and have a coffee in my hands. I look up at any hospital and I am like, “Please, God.” I’m thinking about those people in the hospital. And I always make a point to remember where I am, looking into where I once was.
Kevin: That portal.
Danielle: Yeah. New York suddenly becomes — you start to love it again and you create a better relationship with it.
Kevin: One of my favorite New Yorkers of all time is Walt Whitman, who is the poet from Brooklyn, and he used to ride the omnibuses through the city — this is the 1850s — and just stare at everyone.
And he wrote “Song of Myself” in Leaves of Grass, his famous book in 1855. It was all about what he was observing and it was beautiful. Anyway, I like to end every interview with my favorite passage from Walt Whitman’s Leaves of Grass, which is from “Song of Myself.” And then I want to ask you a question about it. So, he says this:
“I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love/If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles//You will hardly know who I am or what I mean/But I shall be good health to you nevertheless/And filter and fibre your blood//Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged/Missing me one place search another/I stop somewhere waiting for you.”
And that’s him speaking to us across time. Look for him under our bootsoles. I was thinking about your own hometown journey, your own story of New York and just thinking, you’re building this brand now and you’re still so young. But if you can project out 50, 100, 200 years from now, if someone comes along and they discover Danielle Guizio, they want to know you, they want to commune with you, and get a sense of who you are by going to the places that you lived, where should they look for you in your New York?
Danielle: Hmmm, that’s a really, really, really good question. I think it’s a few different places, so one would be at the library. I spend the whole day there looking at — they have an entire archive of every single magazine you could ever think of. They have Vogue like 1930. Just craziness. Definitely sitting by the water on the East River. The back of Emilio’s restaurant, that’s where I spent a lot of my time after hours. You have all different types of New Yorkers come in and out. I sit there a lot of nights just hearing people’s stories of all ages, all cultures. I feel like in New York we have restaurants, but they turn into our hangout spots. They turn into [your] favorite bar, your favorite place to relax with friends, your home base. I think all of those places build up what my life is, my lifestyle in New York.
Kevin (voiceover): That lifestyle is based on Danielle’s fierce commitment to her work in the city. And at the time I recorded this interview last summer, I could tell that that commitment wasn’t without its costs, and she was working through them.
Danielle: It’s weird because I don’t feel a sense of loneliness anymore, but I do feel a sense of alone, where I can’t really relate to a lot of people anymore. There are a lot of times where I am out at those places I just spoke about and I am looking around the room and I’m just feeling alone. And no one is really — especially, being among people my age, I tend to feel a lot more alone. I see a lot of people with a lot of friends, and I have a lot of friends, but sometimes I have a hard time connecting with people because I work so hard and sacrifice a lot. I miss a lot of birthdays. I miss a lot of quality time with my best friends. And I’m so thankful that I have a really strong relationship with my boyfriend and his sister, who is my best friend. They’re the most beautiful people.
Throughout this road to success, you do find that — I’m sure you feel the same way — the more success you have, the more alone you could feel in certain ways. I don’t feel alone with love. I feel alone with my thoughts sometimes. As you can probably understand, I’m very self-critical. I’m very self-conscious. I’m very confident. I’m very internal. And a lot of the time, someone says something to me and that upsets and gets me, but it’s more so how hard I am on myself.
Kevin: You contain the confidence and insecurity. That’s what being human — it’s like those conflicts in the heart, which are what being alive is about.
Danielle: Yeah, for sure. At the end of day, money isn’t everything. Let your success be self-fulfillment, like determination, inspiration. What makes me feel the most fulfilled is when I get a DM [direct message] from someone and they’re like you inspired me to start my brand. I’ll literally start crying. That kind of stuff is true success.
Kevin: This has been amazing. I wanted to thank you so much for taking me to your hometown. It’s been a wonderful experience.
Danielle: Of course.
Kevin: I learned so much.
Danielle: Thank you.
Kevin: And it’s been a true pleasure having you.
Danielle: Thank you, no, I’m so grateful to be here. Our conversation was the most beautiful conversation I’ve had. And it’s so crazy, it’s so weird, because I’ve been thinking, I’m going to go to therapy [Laughing] so I can talk about why I don’t talk about it. So much is under the rug. Sometimes I don’t understand why. And like I told you, I’ve been trying to understand, but today has helped me so much. This is the first time I’ve dug that deep and I’m just grateful for this experience. And you’ve been such a pleasure to talk to.
Kevin: Same here.
Danielle: So I appreciate it.
Kevin: Thank you so much.
Danielle: Thank you.
Kevin (voiceover outro): Your Hometown is a Kevin Burke Production. For more, please visit our website at yourhometown.org. You can also follow us wherever podcasts are available, and on our social media channels YouTube, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
Also, be sure to look up the show’s New York City series page, including information on live events and the Museum of the City of New York’s website at MCNY.org/yourhometown-podcast.
When you’re on our site or on the Museum’s, also be sure to watch the live video conversation Danielle and I just recorded on April 8 to catch up on how she’s doing, her reflections on the episode, and what her perspective is on life, work, and her city now.
Now, I’d like to thank the team that works with me on Your Hometown, beginning with our executive producer, Robert Krulwich. Our art director, Nick Gregg; editor and sound designer, Otis Streeter; composer and performer Sterling Steffen; and our researcher Shakila Khan.
On this one, I also have to say thanks, a huge thanks, to Hazel Streeter and my wife Anna. Their input meant a lot.
Our branding and website design is by Tama Creative, and our social media team is led by CURE and Jessica Sain-Baird.
A special thanks too, to our partners this season, the Museum of the City of New York. I also can’t possibly thank enough the Rockefeller Brothers Fund and our other financial supporters for their belief in this series.
Until next time. Thanks so much for taking this ride with me. And remember, everyone’s from someplace and everywhere is somewhere.
New York City
Local engagement is vital to the mission of Your Hometown, with the series aspiring to visit a variety of iconic cities and towns for a deeper dive on each place as a hometown. This model is being launched through a first-season focus on New York City, and is a co-presentation with the Museum of the City of New York. Many think of New York as a place where people move to in order to realize their dreams, but it is critical to remember that it is also a place where young people grow up – a series of hometowns within the larger metropolis that shape rising generations through the day-to-day texture and details of family, neighborhoods, schools, and boroughs that will become the origin stories of their lives, creativity, work, and contributions to society as a whole. That is the New York this series seeks to illuminate and reveal.