Rohan Misra (Aka SILLYRO) is the 19 year old owner of the independent fashion brand Dollymix Studios. Since the start of the brand in 2017 it has grown into an incredibly popular streetwear company, worn by the likes of Anastasia Karanikolaou; each new drop selling out in seconds. I interviewed Rohan to get an understanding of how he started the brand, the inspiration behind it, and to ask for any advice he'd give to people wanting to follow in his footsteps.
Tell me about yourself, how did you personally get into fashion and how would you describe your personal style?
My first experience with fashion business was when me and two mates decided to set up a clothing brand called ‘ABSTRKT Clothing’ as a summer project when we were 14. It was such good fun and I certainly took a lot of lessons away from it when starting Dollymix (such as the importance of marketing). However I’d say this was more of a ‘business’ experience than a ‘fashion’ experience. I became interested in fashion the same way I think a lot people did, which is when I was introduced to skate culture and streetwear. I became obsessed with the classic brands like Thrasher and HUF followed by ‘hype’ brands like Supreme and Palace, where I became interested in resale culture.
The things I like to wear generally have themes of irony. This can be seen in Dollymix with its ‘ironically childish’ paradoxical take on things such as Haribo sweets, Peppa Pig and the Ugly Duckling (nursery rhyme). Of course, irony is quite a big macro trend in the streetwear scene (dad shoes, bootleg culture, workwear) which I’ve always been a big fan of (Virgil explains this well in his Harvard lecture). I used to be into quite colourful and ‘busy’ clothes (like Dolly bottoms), but more recently I like to wear more simple, oversized clothes that are accented by things like jewellery and a single standout graphic.
You are currently studying mechanical engineering, how do you juggle this with running Dollymix?
It’s actually not as hard as it may seem. During first year I’d spend about an hour and a half, 3 days a week updating the social media, playing around with designs and communicating with suppliers. Everyone has at least a few hours to spare in the week where they don’t have anything on, especially during first year. Fortunately (and this is probably why people think I’d be so busy at uni), my family are kind enough to send out the orders from home that come in throughout the week, allowing me to focus more on the growth side of the business.
Do you feel like the two fields (fashion and engineering) link in any way?
One link that I've noticed between the two fields is that they both make you realise that we take a lot of everyday design for granted. When my first cut and sew supplier asked me for measurements for a t-shirt I wanted I had no idea: ‘Urm, just like a normal medium size?’ So when I took a ruler and started to take measurements of different T-shirts I owned, it really made me think about how one would take raw cotton, make it into a piece of fabric, cut it into a pattern and produce a T-shirt. Similarly, when I started my engineering course, one thing we looked at was a toilet flush mechanism (sound fun right!), something we use multiple times a day, yet it took me over an hour to understand how it actually worked. Getting a closer insight to both of these fields has given me a greater appreciation for design which we take for granted.
Obviously the most iconic thing about your brand is the ‘dolly’ influenced by your band Dolly and the Dinosaur. How did you come up with the dolly logo and what inspired you to start making clothes with this on?
When we were originally coming up with the band name, I said from the outset I wanted it to have ‘dinosaur’ in the name as I had this picture in my head of a simple dinosaur outline which I thought would look really cool. My younger sister eventually suggested the name ‘Dolly and the Dinosaur’ as she had heard the reference from Peppa Pig (“Let's play Dollys and Dinosaurs!"). Since the band featured the dinosaur logo, I thought it would be cool to feature the dolly in the clothing. It has a similar design language to the dinosaur logo (a simple, hand drawn outline).
You recently started Dollymix projects with a business partner from school, could you explain what it is and what you plan to do with it?
Ironically Elliot and I didn’t really know each other when we were at school together, it was only after we both went to uni in Nottingham, and heard we had similar interests through mutual friends, that we started chatting about a potential project together. The initial intention of the project was for it to be a creative output for us where we could make more niche, expensive and small-run clothing pieces (compared to Dollymix). Since we are both DJs, we also had a desire to throw events and agreed there was some sort of gap in the Nottingham scene for an event with the music we enjoyed along with some cool marketing/visuals to go with it. We threw an event called ‘Year 6 Disco’ under this new sub brand Dollymix Projects; it was super fun as it allowed us to be quite free with our creative output and the event turned out to be a success! We plan on doing a monthly(ish) event starting next year along with one off clothing/accessory projects.
Following on from this, your first Dollymix project piece has just been released – the Black lives matter ‘Read Their Names’ shirt. I love this idea, do you feel that brands have a responsibility to stand up for important issues like this?
Yes, I think it’s right for brands to use their platform to try and tackle issues like this if they can, especially as various aspects of this industry (music + fashion) is heavily influenced/derived from Black Culture. Some brands did a really good job of standing for the cause; from smaller brands such as Les Gens to larger brands like Brain Dead.
What would you say is the most rewarding part of running Dollymix? It must’ve been an amazing feeling to see Kylie Jenner’s best friend Anastasia Karanikolaou (AKA Stassiebaby) wearing your joggers, how did that come about?
Anastasia actually messaged Dollymix via Instagram DM in the early days of the brand! It was so exciting that someone with [then] about 3m followers had messaged me showing interest in my clothes. I showed some of my mates and was told she was Kylie’s best friend - this made the experience even more surreal.
One of the parts I enjoy the most about running the brand is the people I meet through the process. This could be influencers such as Stassie, other creatives who I can work and share interests with or people I can help by giving advice about their brand.
Sustainability is becoming an increasingly talked about issue in fashion, how important is this to you? You mention on your Instagram that you are in the process of switching to a more sustainable supplier, could you describe what it is that you look for in a supplier when it comes to sustainability?
Sustainability wasn’t something that I used to consider (or was really aware of) when it came to clothing. A few years ago we had a customer DM us asking about the sustainability of the clothes and I didn’t really know the answer! They then pointed me in the right direction with some helpful articles which opened my eyes to the issue. Some things we’d generally look for in a supplier include close geographical location (for reduced carbon emissions); recycled/biodegradable packaging options, and a higher quality garment to increase its lifetime (and reduce waste).
From what I can tell your background isn’t necessarily rooted in fashion (please correct me if I’m wrong). Would you say that the fashion industry is relatively accessible to people without a background in it?
Yes definitely. I never really showed any interest in what I wore until about Year 10 after I was introduced to skate culture, where I became attracted to brands like Thrasher and Supreme. I still have little knowledge on fashion design, can’t draw to save my life (and still don’t even dress that well lol). I gained a fairly good knowledge of the mainstream streetwear market by simply browsing instagram and became fascinated by the marketing principles and the consumer irrationalities due to ‘hype’, which allowed me to discover gaps in the market. I’d say a lot of people actually subconsciously gain a good understanding of this marketing simply through their social media consumption - so this can be an easy way into the fashion industry whether it be on the front end (design, visuals etc.) or the back end (marketing, analysis).
Following on from this, you started this brand at age 16, that’s incredible. What advice would you give to people wanting to do the same who may feel that their age/lack of investment/lack of industry knowledge might be a barrier to them?
In terms of funds, I believe it’s possible to start a brand with almost zero pounds to your name- mainly due to the emergence of ‘T-shirt Dropship’ companies. These companies (e.g. Shirtmonkey, Teemill etc.) allow you to create clothing that is made on demand and shipped straight to the consumer, eliminating upfront investment. Of course, you’d need to pay for an e-commerce platform such as Shopify so you can have an online checkout (however there probably is a free, more basic alternative nowadays). You can then market them on instagram to your customers.
As I said in the previous answer, a lot of younger people probably don’t realise that they already have at least a decent understanding of how clothing businesses work- especially the ‘Supreme kids’ and vintage resellers. Whilst reselling is generally frowned upon, a lot of these people as young as 13 naturally become very knowledgeable about supply/demand, trends, negotiation and hustle culture.
Finally, what are your plans for Dollymix and where would you like to take it in future? I know you ran a very successful pop up shop in 2019, would you like to do more of these/own permanent high street shops in future?
Lockdown has given me a lot of time to think about the next steps for the brand. One big step that I’m planning on taking is splitting the brand into menswear and womenswear. This would allow the menswear side of the business to grow (currently we have about 80% female audience) and would allow us to make highly requested womenswear pieces, such as crop tops.
On the business side of things, Ben Francis (Gymshark) heavily preaches that if you want to make it big with your brand, then you need to ‘make yourself redundant’ and outsource as many operations as possible using people who are better than you in their respective field. Whilst this was a bit daunting at first, it made complete sense why it was the next logical step to take. Further, with 2nd year of university approaching, this will mean that hopefully the brand will be able to have some natural momentum, even on days where I am too busy to do any Dollymix work. I am currently looking at outsourcing the graphics/design department, customer service and getting a helping hand on the marketing side.
The Pop Up Shop was an amazing experience and I’m looking to do another one perhaps in Summer 2021 but make it more of an event (influencer guests, DJ sets, bigger venue). I don’t intend on opening a permanent store in the foreseeable future, but would love to open pop up shops around the world when we are big enough and potentially look at getting our clothes stocked in retails stores such as Urban Outfitters.
Hopefully my interview with Rohan has shown you that starting brands isn't as daunting and expensive as it seems. Rohan mentioned dropshipping companies and I'm in agreement that this is the best and most inexpensive way to get into fashion; especially with all the options available today. So if this is something you're interested in then definitely check it out. Aside from that even if you have no interest in starting a company, I hope you found it as interesting as I did to hear about the inspiration behind Dollymix and how it began. If you enjoyed this interview then subscribe to the website to be updated with new articles, I'll also post about them on our brand instagram @psych.apparel. If you have any suggestions for who you'd like to hear from next (could have any involvement in the fashion industry, not just brand owners) send us a DM or comment on this post.
Instagram (Dollymix): https://www.instagram.com/dollymixstudios/
Instagram (Rohan): https://www.instagram.com/sillyrohan/