This month, Dylan Lauren celebrates the 16th anniversary of her boutique candy shop chain Dylan’s Candy Bar. Here, she shares what inspired her to become an entrepreneur and offers advice for young women starting their careers.
I’ve always been a leader. I was class president in high school, and I would execute and run whatever project I was doing. I think the ability to lead something you’re either born with or not, but you can certainly be inspired by it. Watching my dad grow his business from a tie [company] into a full-fledged lifestyle brand was really motivating—it made me believe that I could do something creative and turn it into a business one day.
The idea for Dylan’s Candy Bar first came to me when I was about 6 years old, after watching Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory. I loved the set designs; I loved the idea of living in a candy factory—the chocolate river and the lollipop trees. Those visuals stuck in my head. From that point on, everywhere I went, I would collect different types of candy and use them to make mosaics and picture frames. To me, candy was art, not unlike fashion. Opening the first store in Manhattan was definitely a risk. Putting myself out there with my name on the door was a lot of pressure, but I believed in the concept. And had a good support system.
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Most of the candy industry is comprised of men, but, fortunately for me, I’ve never experienced anything other than support from people in my field. I try to surround myself with positive, inspiring women. Oprah Winfrey and Martha Stewart have always been inspirations to me—they both have built lifestyle brands across different industries, whether it's magazines, television, art, or philanthropy. Anyone who is doing multiple things I find very inspiring—Jessica Alba, Cindy Crawford, Gwen Stefani—all of those women started out doing something different. They’re not afraid to push boundaries.
It’s important to recognize the people that get you and support you and distance yourself from any person, male or female, who does not care whether you’re successful. Surround yourself with supportive people and people who have strengths that you may not have. Put the word out there, and other people will speak out on your behalf. Don’t be scared—be confident. And always follow your gut. My biggest setbacks came when I didn’t trust my own intuition and compromised my vision to avoid hurting other people’s feelings.
But being a female entrepreneur definitely has its challenges. The best lesson someone told me is the importance of time. Waking up an hour earlier makes such a difference. Time management is really hard and I struggle with balance and trying to make everyone happy. But then you have to ask: “Am I happy?” I have to consciously remind myself to find time to do the things that I love. Today, I’m going to go for a run because it’s nice out, and I know it will de-stress me. Sometimes, we can get so worked up over a particular thing that the only way to get past it is to literally change the channel, do something else, and come back to it with a new perspective.
The state of the world today is pretty sad. At the end of the day, I feel fortunate to be in the candy industry because it makes people feel good. It’s not just about candy—it’s about making people happy. Like a kid in a candy store.
—As told to Claire Stern.