With so many new companies swirling around our saturated solar system of screens and stimulus, the process of starting your own brand might feel downright discouraging. It’s a long and winding road for entrepreneurs who are creating, sharing, and monetizing their art. No doubt, you have to love what you do if you expect to make it–plus, you better be ready to work, relentlessly. 

Anyone who’s been in the game will tell you, expect a hundred “no’s” before a single “yes” and while you’re at it, be ready to hurdle a high stack of obstacles along the way. Mentally, physically, logistically, financially…it’s a lot.

While the road is long for creatives building their own brand, it’s not all perils and pessimism. If you have the stamina to push through, entrepreneurs can enjoy a lifestyle that is completely bespoke: setting your own hours, being your own boss, and the innate satisfaction of bringing to life a completely unique vision. It’s a path paved just for you, by you.

Maybe it’s that New York grit that keeps Iman Nuñez tenacious along his journey. As a musical artist and founder of a popular streetwear brand, he’s had a fair share of proverbial doors slammed in his face before breaking into the scene and shaking the room. I caught up with the young entrepreneur at this year’s SXSW in Austin, Texas, (a long way from his home in Yonkers, New York), where he was invited to take the stage in a new artist showcase featuring some of the nation’s most promising up-and-coming talent. Iman talked to us about balancing his work as a performing artist with his evolving role as a clothing designer, and the challenges of staying energized as a creative. With an ear to the streets and a pulse on the culture, he shared some of his tools for carving out his niche in a saturated digital market. 

1. How has where you’re from shaped your artistry and work ethic?

Since young I always felt like I had a chip on my shoulder because I wasn’t really good at anything. I had to work ten times harder to do something. Being from Yonkers, it’s constantly overlooked and I can relate to that. I always do what I can to make my mark and add value to my name, so with all this created a work ethic that got me where I am today.

2. Tell us about the Rosedale brand. How is it connected to your identity as an artist?

Rosedale is home to me. Starting Rosedale New York was a way to extend my invitation to a piece of me, a way to welcome you over to my home. I get so excited seeing everyone in the Rosedale clothing all over the states. Being able to create my last project Rosedale was so special because I was able to pull the curtain back and add more vulnerability to my music.

3. You’ve developed a fanbase that is so personal and authentic. What are some of the keys to creating a niche following?

I think everyone’s keys are different but what has worked for me is understanding that we are all human beings. I have conversations with people, I learn their stories, their names, etc. It’s a lot to take in and handle all at once but I really feel strong about the community God has blessed me with. It will only get bigger as time has shown.

4. You’re constantly surrounded by friends who are also artists and/or entrepreneurs developing their own brands. Do you all work together? How has supporting one another made a difference?

Most of us work together or have been in talks about working together. It’s always great to surround yourself with likeminded people because you are a support system to one another. I know so many talented individuals that deserve a light on them but it’s all about timing.

5. What’s been the hardest part of evolving as a brand/artist? How are you overcoming it? 

The hardest part of evolving as an artist is getting out of my comfort zone. I am not a fan of doing a lot of the same stuff. It’s not easy to get out of it but I’m so determined on my goal of wanting to be a legend in this industry, I’m always willing to do the work and push for that.

6. What piece of advice would you give to artists and entrepreneurs who feel discouraged as they struggle to push forward in their craft?

Do not compare yourself to other people. We all have different stories and journeys but that does not mean we won’t be at the finish line together nor does that not mean we won’t be in the same rooms or a phone call away throughout the process. Everyone’s time is different, just focus on walking the path that’s paved for you.

7. What can we expect from Iman in the near future?

You can expect a lot of new music, new clothes, more shows and a lot of noise very soon.

8. Where can people learn more about you?

A great spot is GREY Journal! Other than this, in my music, or you can follow me on Instagram @onlyoneiman or look up YouTube views for Iman Nunez.

9. From my conversation with Iman, I pulled out four pillars for success when building a brand:

  • Build authentic relationships with the people and communities around you. This is something that can easily be lost in the hustle and bustle of big cities. Listen to the stories people share, and find a way to connect them to your own. 
  • Surround yourself with a passionate peergroup. Work alongside friends and colleagues who are ambitious and out of the box; people who will feed your tenacity and inspire you with their own vision. Then, collaborate!
  • Take opportunities to get out of your comfort zone. Go to that event alone. Do a shameless plug in front of an audience. Whatever it is, let your mission be your motivation and do the work!
  • Don’t compare yourself to anyone else. Social media tends to be a thief of joy as we constantly see the highlight reels of other people’s lives. Your journey is completely unique. Stay focused and celebrate progress at your own pace–there’s enough room for everyone.

The only things we truly have in this world are the things we create. If you want to build a brand, gracefully taking the good with the bad is essential. Thanks, Iman, for giving us a window into your journey!