Founder, 19 Fifty Three
I’m going to go ahead and say that Darin has the secret sauce for doing it all. In our conversation, “curiosity,” “tornado,” “community,” “badass-ery” and “creativity” were popular words thrown around various points in the story of her career.
Darin is the founder of 19 Fifty Three and the co-owner of Artfarm, among other creative pursuits. 19 Fifty Three is an Annapolis-based design studio that brings creative solutions to life. The studio is responsible for the creative design and production of projects such as Annapolis Art Week, Our Rhythm Our Blues, and Artfarm. Artfarm is Darin’s other, along with her co-owner Alison, Annapolis-based studio that hosts a plethora of art exhibitions, classes, and even a retail store.
A dedicated creative, mother, and entrepreneur, Darin knows how to tell a good story, and she has quite the story to tell. Spoiler alert, I left the conversation with some major smile lines. This woman’s energy and curiosity is infectious, and it just might encourage you, reader, to take that hobby of yours to the next level.
Once she graduated from Fairleigh Dickinson University with a double major in painting and graphic design, Darin was obsessed with streetwear brands. So, she put her artistic diploma to work and immediately launched her own t-shirt brand.
I left school and was just kind of like f--- it, if you don't try it, it's not going to happen!
After traveling up and down the East coast with her boyfriend, now husband, the steps to her creative career growth began to take form once she noticed a shift in her personal style: “I was maturing, and I was at that point where I wanted what I was doing to mature with me.”
“I had this idea for a couple of years of a company called 19 Fifty Three, and it would basically be the grownup version of what I was doing, like two parallels: this kind of, first love, initial aesthetic, and then the woman that I was becoming.
“I started 19 Fifty Three with making clothing, but I didn't tell anyone that it was me. I put it out there, and it started gaining a little bit of trajectory. I got a business consultant, and he told me to do everything, do whatever you want! So, I put it under one name, and knew the foundation would always be good design.”
From there, Darin began spreading out her creative commerce fingers:
“19 Fifty Three initially started as commerce with clothing, and it grew into partnering. There were products I wanted to make, but I didn't have the skill to make them. I wanted to make jewelry, but I don't know anything about making jewelry. So I would find a jeweler. And I would say, ‘Hey, can we collaborate on a piece if I gave you direction on what I think could look good based on your style, can you do that?’ That opened up crazy doors. I created a coffee, a small line of ceramics, and always giving credit. I believe in paing people upfront; artwork is work- exposure doesn’t pay the bills. If you want people to look out for you, you gotta look out for people.
If you want people to look out for you, you gotta look out for people.
“I would have these artists come and say, hey, will you do graphic design? I need help. And so I'm like, oh wait, I need a new website. I need a brand and logo. That led me into intertwining this kind of retail merchandise design into brand and storytelling.”
19 Fifty Three opened more doors than Darin could imagine, including the one to her role as co-owner at Artfarm.
“I made this digital abstract art to be put on clothing. I found a brand that I'm obsessed with, Alternative Apparel, so I contacted them and I went to one of their trade shows, and ended up using their wholesale brand.
“At the time, there was a little shop called Artfarm on West street in Annapolis. I contacted one of the girls, and I said, ‘Hey, I did this collection, can I use your space? I would really love to launch it in an art studio.’ They said, yeah, free reign, do whatever you want. So I was like, ‘Whoa, what? Okay.’ 1200 square feet. I can do whatever I want done. So I came in, did it, set it up, it was awesome.”
After a successful show, and after impressing the Artfarm owners with her setup, Darin continued to rent out the space for a few years. One day, they invited her to lunch.
“They told me that Stacy, one of the Artfarm co-owners, was leaving to pursue her art full-time. Alison needed a new partner and she wanted me. And I'm like, yeah. Okay. Of course! Me, impulsive and wanting to do everything. I was just like, give me a couple of days, but I said, yes.”
The first couple of weeks were spent asking a lot of questions and “drinking a lot of whiskey,” but Artfarm grew into a come one-come all creative space for the cultivation of the arts, and the cultivation of community. It began as an art studio, and quickly spread into a classroom, event space, retail store, concert venue, and office space.
“I believe that if I didn't take this chance on 19 Fifty Three, it wouldn't have led me down all these paths. It started literally as t-shirts, and it has kind of changed the rest of my life.”
The beginning of Darin’s career started with a passion, and with every leap she was matched with an outstretched hand. Her hustle, grind, and dedication to the arts weaves a common thread throughout each opportunity granted through her work. What began as a knack for designing and networking into creating t-shirts has grown into a metropolis of community and creativity. Darin’s story is a prime example of the laws of attraction: if you work for your wins, then you are bound to be met with ample rewards.
I believe in the idea of creating yourself and creating a brand, but you never rise alone...
“I would say [community] is the most important part of my work. I love collaboration, and at Artfarm, our tagline is cultivating the arts and cultivating community...I come from a big family, and we always work together for the greater good. I believe in the idea of creating yourself and creating a brand, but you never rise alone, no matter what anybody says. Somebody else is always a part of your story, which is actually why my company is named 19 Fifty Three– it’s the year my mom was born. I like to think, what is indoctrinated in me? And what's woven inside of me started with her and her encouragement.”
“I think that as creatives and as artists, we have such an opportunity to create and document the times, bring people together, or challenge people's perception. We need each other to do that, and we need to help each other build...but it's better to collaborate for leverage and respect for each other or ones craft"”
“My favorite designer is Benny Gold and, Benny Gold, if you’re reading this: I just want to collaborate with you on something because of the respect I have for you, but also because of leverage. Let's build a community. Let's come together. Let's create a storyline together. I think things are just better when they're together.”
So, what is Darin’s secret-sauce to her whirlwind of creative hustles?
“I'm curious. When it comes to creating and business, I can't think of something and not try it. It's like getting a tattoo and you realize you can handle the pain. So you want another one. Right? My friend, Lacey, always says: sometimes you have to knit the parachute while you're jumping. I jumped and knitted, and landed just fine. Sometimes, I've jumped and my parachute did not come together and I fell flat on my face.
“I'm a lifelong student of life. I love people. I love interacting. I love creating. Some people love the rush and excitement of jumping out of an airplane, and for me, it's the equivalent of ‘can I do this?’ I'm so inspired by other people and seeing what they have done and how they jumped. And I just wonder, can I do that? Can I handle that? That's my motivation to do so much.
“Oh, and coffee.”
“Where's the value when you put people first?
“I feel like people will work better, harder, more efficiently doing something that's more beneficial for their life. If it's already in line with it, like sometimes you gotta get a job just to get a job. But if you have a choice, right? I mean, I've been a server and worked at little cafes and stuff like that just to get by. People's faces when you just ask them, ‘what do you want to do?’ are shocked, because that's not a normal thing that we value.
“I always joke that my generation was half analog and half digital. I remember when AOL messenger and Facebook were created. [Younger generations] get a lot of crap, but you guys are standing up and saying, ‘This shit makes no sense. Y'all are forcing us into college, pushing us out with debt and then want to know why we're not married, pregnant and have our own business!’”
Darin tells me that her youthful prime was the nineties– a time when Nirvana was traveling all around the country to gain publicity. Nowadays, all an artist needs is a few million streams on Youtube or a few thousand followers on Instagram to get famous. These immense cultural shifts are markers of each generation, and the fast shift into a digital age seems to polarize generations more than unite.
“I think when we recognize that it's just cultural shifts, it's the same way that people in their fifties look at the hippies of the sixties. It's the same way that people in the seventies and eighties looked at the grungy movements of the nineties, right? The last generation is always going to tell the new generation they suck without acknowledging that they're just working in a different way.”
I think when we recognize that it's just cultural shifts, it's the same way that people in their fifties look at the hippies of the sixties. It's the same way that people in the seventies and eighties looked at the grungy movements of the nineties, right? The last generation is always going to tell the new generation they suck without acknowledging that they're just working in a different way.
As a nineties kid working in 2020, Darin acknowledges that much can be said for recent shifts in content creation, social presence, and modern conversations.
“Now, more people are paying attention and people are interested in not just what you do, but why and who you are. That has really changed how I thought about how we present ourselves, our individual brands. How do we stay true to ourselves, but reshape the visual brand? What's happening now, this eruption around social justice and change, is because people are slowed down. This shit’s always been happening. People just have the time to pay attention and soak it in.
This shit’s always been happening. People just have the time to pay attention and soak it in.
“The same goes for business. At Artfarm we get a lot of positive feedback, but it really wasn't until recently when people slowed down and were like, ‘Oh, hold on. What's the story? Because now I have time to care. It's not that I didn't care before, but now I actually have the time to expand’– and that doesn't offend me cause I'm a mom, I mean, I can't even answer text messages sometimes for three days.
“At Artfarm, we always say that we want to be a clubhouse for the arts. we want people to feel comfortable. We want them to come in and express ideas and show their work and share who they are and share their stories. And we want to be able to create the community around that so that it's heard. There are people who want to create and don't want to sell. They don't want to show and that's fine.
“But, there's some people who are aching to get their story and their vision out to the world. I feel like that's one thing that pulls me: somebody gave me an opportunity, so how do we continue to give those opportunities for the person under us, like the younger generation?”