Before starting her transition into the world of art, Debbie Dannheisser was a manager with a consulting company and also worked in hotel management. After meeting her husband, Dan, she moved from Atlanta to Sarasota and worked part-time to be able to spend more time with her step kids. As Dannheisser shared, the challenges of step-parenting are what drove her to discover art as a passion, a form of therapy and ultimately, as a way to make a living.
"At the time, my step kids were five and six," she said. "I really wanted a relationship with them, but it wasn't as easy as I thought it was going to be. I decided to visit a therapist and she gave me some great advice. She said, 'You have to get your hands on something...literally'. I took her advice and signed up for a panting class. I loved it and art quickly became my therapy. It really helped to heal that part of me that was upset that I couldn't be the mom I wanted to be."
Over time, Dannheisser's therapy became her profession. Her paintings evolved and her popularity and reputation grew throughout the community. The more paintings she sold, the more confidence she gained. Dannheisser expanded beyond paintings to include apparel and accessories. Using a process called sublimation, she's able to reproduce her paintings on pillows, tote bags and clothing. When Dannheisser’s daughter, Nicole, unexpectedly passed away in March 2018, the focus of her business shifted and, in some ways, took on a life of its own.
“When our daughter passed away, I wanted to wear something of hers,” Dannheisser said. “I put a painting I did for her on a pair of leggings. When I wore them to yoga, all my friends were really excited about it and encouraged me to start doing this as part of my business. A portion of my healing process was staying up late at night and looking at different paintings to see what they’d look like on leggings. I've never been involved in fashion and I didn't really know what I was doing, but after I discovered a print-on-demand business to work with, I started doing these leggings. Before I knew it, people were buying them."
It didn’t take long for the community to take notice of Dannheisser’s new line. She was interviewed by Sarasota Magazine and featured on ABC 7s Suncoast View. She started doing pop-ups around town and established partnerships with local businesses, such as Studio South and Fleet Feet, to stock her leggings. She did, and still does, art shows and built out her website to showcase and sell her new products.
"Along the way, I also decided that I wanted to dedicate this portion of my business to our daughter," Dannheisser said. "I want to honor her memory and do things that stand for women's expression. We work with a number of charities in the community and give a percentage of our profits. We especially love to support charities that help young women develop self esteem, something our daughter struggled with."
Dannheisser, who describes her business as feeling, "rich with purpose", loves the connections she makes with her customers. She also loves bringing her unique creativity to life and watching what happens. She's learned to allow herself to make mistakes and try new things. Looking ahead, Dannheisser's goal is to build the business while staying connected to art, family and her heart. "I never imagined any of this happening," she said. "The answer of where the business is going will be revealed to me as I go. All I can do is get out of its way."
What advice does Dannheisser have for aspiring entrepreneurs? "Get ready for a ride," she said. "Along the way, allow yourself to make mistakes and learn to pick yourself right back up. Also, utilize local resources and ask questions from people that have been successful in business."