Back in July, you were probably scrolling through your TikTok feed and stumbled on a montage of doodles. As flashes of familiar tattoos and tanned skin popped up, you might’ve pieced together who the graphic designer was illustrating. This TikTok showcasing a portrait of Harry Styles was viewed 365K times and launched Gabi Rodriguez, the creator, into starting her own small business.
Gabi started a secondary Instagram account (@graphics.by.gabi) to share her graphic design work earlier this year and started a TikTok account for it during quarantine. Her extraordinary talent didn’t go unnoticed; she quickly reached 4K followers on Instagram and 20K followers on TikTok. This heavy traffic on her content made her seriously consider turning her designs into products.
“When I started getting a good reception from my posts, I was like ‘let’s do it’ because a lot of people were commenting that if I made my designs into a sticker or poster they would buy it. I was like, ‘You know what? There’s no time like the present.’ I’m doing nothing and stuck in quarantine.” Gabi decided to open her online shop to sell her work as stickers and posters shortly after.
Singlehandedly operating a small business hasn’t been all sunshine and rainbows. Gabi does everything herself from start to finish: researching trends, spending up to 12 hours on new designs and commission work, sampling a variety of new products, updating her website, advertising, responding to customer inquiries and packaging each and every order by hand. Doing all of this with a full graduate school workload and a busy social life might seem overwhelming, and it is at times, but this isn’t the most challenging part of being a small business owner. For Gabi and many other artists, the hardest part is balancing what she is inspired to create and what the customers want.
“It can be kind of difficult when I’m here trying to be inspired and get creative and come up with my own unique designs, which is a lot of work by the way, and then have to compete with all of the people telling me what I should be drawing and what they want to see from me. It can feel like sometimes I’m letting my customers down because I’m not giving them what they want, but at the end of the day, I can’t compromise my own artistic integrity to please other people.”
Since the first launch of her Harry Styles products, Gabi has received dozens of requests to release more designs featuring the other One Direction boys. While there are multiple small businesses out there that tailor their merchandise towards fan groups, Graphics by Gabi is not one of those shops: “as an artist, I want to do more than just Harry Styles.”
One thing is absolutely clear when scrolling through Gabi’s accounts: she designs what inspires her. Gabi’s shop is a culmination of all of her unique styles and passions, and that’s why she’s proven to be so successful. Even though she loves Harry Styles and his music, that’s not her or her shop’s entire identity.
Looking towards the future, Gabi is aiming to expand the designs and products available in her shop. She wants to keep selling her well-loved stickers and prints and later introduce hoodies, t-shirts, posters and keychains: “around the holidays is when I plan to do all the research, testing and sampling and the start of 2021 is when I would like to launch new products.”
Her business aspirations don’t end with Graphics by Gabi, however. “One thing I’ve always dreamed of, and I don’t know if this will happen because it’s so ambitious but I’m still putting it out into the universe, is having my own magazine. I think it would be really fun to combine my love for writing and reporting and interviewing with my love of art and graphic design… at first, my dream was to be the CEO of Cosmo, but then I was like, ‘no, I want to make the next Cosmo.’”