Convertible dresses are everything. Nerdy fashion is everything. Danielle Ward combines both so beautifully in her company, Little Petal. Not only is she one of my favorite neighbors (yay Bushwick!), Danielle is a super cool person with a rad company. Read along with our interview, fall in love with her dresses, and pick one up for yourself!
How did Little Petal get started?
Little Petal originally started as a custom alternative wedding dress company with color accents and fabric manipulation that represented characters. I switched to convertible dresses when the violinist in World/ Inferno Friendship Society asked me to make her a solid navy one to wear on stage every couple nights so she could pack less. After making it, I thought, “this would be a lot more fun if it were Wonder Woman.” I made a post on Facebook that I wanted to create dresses based on Wonder Woman, Batman, TARDIS, Wolverine, Sailor Moon, She-Hulk, and Harley Quinn (for myself). Within hours, I sold those plus 8 more designs. I took all of the photos in my backyard in Brooklyn with my camera phone, which were featured on ThinkGeek, The Mary Sue, IO9, Daily Dot, Ain’t It Cool, and every other nerdy website out there. An extremely generous lifelong photographer friend told me my photos were embarrassing and took over doing my photos at his studio for years. Hilariously, my professional photos haven’t been featured since then.
When did you really know you wanted to do what you do?
I started designing women’s clothing based on comic book characters when I was in college with lingerie and high end clothing lines for both Harley Quinn and the Green Lantern Corps- and made the GLC line my senior thesis for the runway show. Instead of trying to get a job in the fashion industry, I worked random retail jobs after college. I ended up at a job in a high end men’s suit store with an extremely mentally abusive boss. I reached a point where life didn’t seem worth it anymore so I convinced myself to quit and follow my favorite band on tour across the country. I then laid around in a depressed and drunk haze for months pretending I was going to start my company but not doing anything. It took going sober to be able to see clearly, and I completely threw myself into working about 16 hours a day- almost five years ago. (I finally tapered that back a bit.) I say all this because I’m a true believer that nothing worth doing is easy, everyone has their own set of issues, and life is too short to work a job that makes you hate your existence. It will take time, but find something worthy of your life.
What’s your favorite part of your process?
I have a lot of favorite parts- most being customer reactions. I love delivering dresses for the moments after a customer puts it on for the first time. Without fail, every one makes a squeaky happy noise, twirls, and (if they got pockets) puts their hands in the pockets and yells “OMG I FORGOT ABOUT POCKETS”. Another favorite is at conventions, seeing the way everyone falls in love to the point where they almost seem frustrated by the concept of choosing one. And then they want to hug me or Leanna- my partner in crime- for showing models of all sizes. Another is the absurdly sweet emails I am sent or posts made about my company (especially if it includes customer photos in their dresses- those mean the whole world to me. I literally scream at my phone). Another is just figuring out the specifics of how I need to design each dress to make it both look like a character but also a pretty convertible dress at the same time. Everything is color blocking pattern pieced together- not printed on fabric so it is a lot of math in my head to fit them together properly and fit the customer properly. But maybe my favorite is the times during photoshoots when my customers tell me how much it means to them that they got to model their dress, because they’ve always wanted to model but never had the opportunity and never thought they would. That always hits me hard. Also they’re all so darn cute, of course I want them to model.
What surprised you the most about the geeky fashion business?
The majority of the women in it really support each other… which is a bit different than how competitive the rest of the fashion world can be. My graduating classmates all want each other to succeed, but that’s not always the case. I am endlessly heart warmed that I found this niche. I think the nerd world has the advantage of, well, being nerds. And if there is one thing nerds love- it is finding someone like themselves to geek out with. I refer to most of my customers as friends pretty quickly- I almost always say yes to going to after parties when invited at conventions because I genuinely love getting to know the women I am creating something for. And I basically fall immediately platonically in love with every lady business owner that I meet to the point where I worry that I will annoy them.
Can you show us one of your favorite dresses?
I think the fan favorite is my Ursula dress- which is essentially two floor-length skirts that sit on top of each other. The black layer is cut to resemble tentacles. Both layers can be hooked up at the waistband to become a knee-length bubble skirt (something I am particularly proud of inventing with these). After finishing this dress, I thought “I will never impress anyone again.”
Then I made the Buzz Lightyear dress- which EVERYONE nerds out over. I wrapped it in a way that looks like his wings- which meant paying a lot of attention to the specifics in the design to make sure the placement was correct with the color blocking. Right before the photoshoot, I cut out and appliqued the customer’s name to the underneath of the right side of the dress, which is purple like the soles of Buzz’s boots. This way it would be like the “ANDY” underneath his toys’ shoes. She flipped out in excitement. I was real relieved that wasn’t too nerdy.
MY personal favorite dress though (sorry I have A LOT of designs), is actually the Superman dress. It’s really simple comparatively, but to me, it looks very elegant despite how vibrant it is. It is also the first high-low convertible dress that I made, and I am a sucker for that style. When you walk with one on, they flare out in the back like a cape. The best way to describe it is in Leanna’s words: “When you walk in a room with this dress, YOU have arrived.”
Who would win a fight between Harley Quinn and Catwoman?
I have a hard time answering this because I view both as feminists who would rather team-up and boost each others self esteem than fight each other. Harley is easily swayed by beautiful women who compliment her strengthens- and Catwoman is always looking for someone to take under her claw. Also both women care deeply about animals and are obviously acrobats! But if I had to choose, I would say, Catwoman is cunning, extremely smart, and skilled- but Harley has enhanced agility and strength. She often holds back in her fights (as evident by how she takes the Joker’s abuse other than a few examples such as Batman: Harley Quinn where she beats him within an inch of his life then stops because he apologizes). She is manic, so she is unpredictable and feels high off of adrenaline. So, Harley, but due to “fight or flight” not because she would actively want to.
What do you nerd out on the most?
Everything that I like, I like too much. A running joke made about me is “Is it tattooed on her body yet?” because the majority of my canvas is covered in nerd culture art (Twilight Zone, Green Lantern, Harley Quinn, Cereal Monsters, Nightmare Before Christmas…). I also nerd out on music a lot. I would probably shrivel up and die if I could not dance like a fool at shows. In 2015, I went to shows approximately 1/5 of the days of the year. I also recently got very very into podcasts. The Arkham Sessions and Beautiful/ Anonymous being my two favorites. Anything related to discussing mental illness/ health is very beautiful to me.
What’s your favorite show to binge watch?
Futurama. Hands down. I have this problem where I repeatedly watch the episodes that feature a sentimental song at the end, that really pull at the heartstrings. Jurassic Bark, Leela’s Homeworld, Luck of the Fryish, Lethal Inspection. Time Keeps On Slippin’, and Fear of a Bot World are my two favorites.
Where do you like to hang out online / where can we find you?
Mainly on Instagram- Facebook and Twitter as well. My customers and I jokingly refer to Little Petal as (the cutest) cult because whenever they see each other in public, they fangirl to each other and become friends- so I would really love to start an online community where that could also happen.
Thanks, Danielle! Make sure to follow Little Petal on Instagram to see her latest designs and look out for her booth at your next con!
P.S. Find out about more super cool people here.