"Today we’d like to introduce you to Ben Paladino.
Thanks for sharing your story with us Ben. So, let’s start at the beginning and we can move on from there.
I grew up in Little Rock, AR in a very large family. I have an identical twin and my little siblings are triplets. The funny part is that my twin, Thomas, was always the artistic kid growing up and I was the science and politics kid. You know, growing up gay in Little Rock wasn’t the easiest childhood. I went to an all-boys Catholic high school and coming out as myself was never a real option. In fact, the school would’ve actually expelled me. I believe that this gave me a certain perspective that has been particularly helpful in how I view the world today. As I often tell people in jest, it made for a wonderful college application essay.
When I graduated high school, I came down to Dallas to live with my godparents. That summer, I started painting as a way to relieve stress. For me, I found that painting is an amazing way to “fly away” to a happier and relaxed place. This is where the inspiration for the company was born. My godparents and I started out by just printing a couple of my bowtie painting on cards for personal use, and we loved them so much that we thought they would be an amazing product to try to put out in the world. Being able to share my art is incredible because I get to share what makes me happy with so many people.
The first store to carry our cards was Talulah & Hess, a Lakewood, Dallas classic. They’ve always been one of our favorite Dallas Boutiques, and I was so honored to have my initial stationery in their store. From there, we’ve expanded our product line to include candles and soaps that complement the art and I am thrilled to say my art is in stores across the country!
I am now a junior at Stanford University. I’m majoring in Public Policy (government and economics) and taking art classes where I can fit them into my academic schedule. I like to say Fly Away Style is my side hustle, but as anyone with a small business knows, your business is your life. I pour my heart and soul into making art and products that people will enjoy. And it’s paid off! We’ve got a huge catalog of designs, all based on my watercolor images, and our products are in stores in 20+ states around the country!
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
As with any small business, getting it off the ground can be challenging. There have been lots of ideas that I thought were amazing but simply weren’t. Creating products that consumers actually want to purchase isn’t nearly as easy as it might seem. I believe it is especially difficult as an artist because by putting your art out there, you are inherently putting a part of yourself out into the world in a lot of ways. Because of this, rejection as a young artist can be particularly stinging. The good news is that this hasn’t often been the case. So many people love our products and the art, which is absolutely incredible to me. We’ve even had retail partners that at first weren’t interested in our products, but now are some of our best fans!
So far, the COVID-19 crisis has been our biggest challenge to our company. As the city has shut down, retail has really been hit particularly hard. Like a lot of small businesses, we are trying to figure out how to make sure that we can make it through the economic crisis. As a 21-year-old college student, being responsible for the well-being of 2 employees is quite the responsibility to manage and weathering this challenge has been eye-opening for me. From working through the bureaucracy of the Small Business Administration and the Payroll Protection Program, managing closures in our supply chain drops in demand, and most importantly, keeping our team healthy, it’s been quite the learning experience. That being said, I believe we have been doing quite well. This is a challenging time for so many of us in Dallas, but I know that Fly Away Style will still be strong on the other side. I also know that our city will make a great comeback if we all remember that we’re in this together.
Please tell us about Fly Away Style.
Our company is based on the belief that art on everyday objects makes life better. For every product we sell, from paper products to candles, each features an original watercolor I’ve painted. We hope our products help people “fly away” to a happier place every time they send a letter to a dear friend or colleague, or smell one of our candles or soaps that is perfectly paired to the art.
If you had to go back in time and start over, would you have done anything differently?
I started Fly Away Style when I was just 19. To put it mildly, there was a ton of stuff that I was naive about. From who to source from, how to work a trade show, and even what people would want to purchase, there was so much that I didn’t know. But, at the end of the day, it’s been a fantastic learning experience for me. In a lot of ways, I have learned more about the real world through Fly Away Style that I have in some of my classes at Stanford.
I think that if I could go back and talk to myself at 19, I’d just brief myself that not everything is exciting. There are some days where you’ll spend uncountable hours packaging product or dealing with spreadsheets. But, in the end, it’ll be so worth it.
- Candles – $25
- Card Boxes – $19
- Notepads – $5
- Porcelain Coaster Sets – $29