Just like Rent the Runway’s co-founders, there are a ton of women who have leapt into the uncharted, often-insane world of entrepreneurship. We’re inviting these risk-takers to be part of a community we’re calling The Real Runway: a collection of voices to motivate and inspire your own runway, whatever that may be.
It all started with... a night out.
Lani Nguyen has always been a music-maker. After befriending an acclaimed DJ one night out in Brookyln, she became his apprentice until Lani Love (her stage name) could carry herself solo. For the next four years, she DJ’d in New York City, before relocating to Chicago in 2011. Lani has since earned residencies at Virgin Hotel and Soho House, and has been voted “Best DJ” by the readers of Chicago magazine. Find out how this woman took advantage of kismet and turned it into a career.
Clutch, Inge Christopher; Necklace, Jules Smith; Earrings, Sarah Magid; Dress, Matthew Williamson
Can you describe your transition from being in advertising to becoming a DJ full-time?
I left my full-time job in June of 2014, but I had been DJing actively since about 2009. It was a gradual change. I’m a realistic and responsible person. I like being able to pay bills and the benefits that come with a traditional job, like health insurance. So I really held back. There are so many DJs —hundreds, if not thousands, in any metropolitan area. Plus, it’s a really fickle business. You have to actively keep a pulse on what’s happening in the city. It’s risky. But I noticed that with each month, I was adding more and more gigs to my calendar. When I first started, I had one a month — maybe two if I was lucky. But I was DJing between three to five times a month and turning down a handful of gigs. That’s when I realized I had the momentum to make this a full-time job.
What’s the benefit of working for yourself?
I have such a strong grasp on my business and my own growth. I am really selective about the clients and the projects that I take on. I think it’s really important to only take on the work that you like. The client can sense my excitement, too, in our correspondence, in meetings, and then the amount of enthusiasm I have when I play.
Establish what your point of view and goals are. Being clear with a vision ultimately leads to a translating it into reality.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
One of my first bosses told me, “With each new paycheck, save six months pay and then go do whatever you want.” I since learned this is called a “freedom fund,” but I found this advice so helpful. I thought — If I can save on my cost of living for six months or more, I could comfortably leave a full-time job and pursue something that has a little more risk.
When you really want something to happen, how do you not take “no” for an answer?
I’m really persistent. And on the more hippie side of things, I have faith in the universe — things will work themselves out. If something is meant to be, it will happen. And if not, that’s okay. I’ve been to venues before where I thought, “Man, if I could play here, that would really set me up for success.” But they turned me down and later, a newer venue opened up and it was way cooler. I try to be somewhat proactive in putting myself out there, but I’m not pushy. I don’t cold-call or make “sales calls.” I’m just actively DJing and on the scene, and that’s how I get a lot of my work.
Understand that ‘no’s are part of the process.
What has your experience been as a woman in the industry?
I’ve met quite a few other lady DJs, so I don’t feel like I’m super special. However, I am aware that I’m a female Asian DJ and in that way, undeniably different from others. But that’s not what I want people to remember about me. I want them to remember that I’m an awesome DJ who plays an amazing range of music and I gave them the best night of their life. Knowing that it’s harder for girls to get started in this industry — which is the biggest barrier — I try to give them any advice I can.
Clutch, Inge Christopher; Cuff, Giles & Brother; Ring, Nineteen Pieces
You’re known for both your music and personal style. Can you describe how style factors in for you?
When I make mixtapes or create DJ sets, I envision a mood and fashion is part of that. Picking what I wear is something that I enjoy so much. I don’t ever shy away from my personal taste — it’s incorporated into every outfit. I’ll dress for the setting sometimes like a nerd. At a pool party, for instance, I’ll wear a palm-print skirt with a mesh crop top and swimsuit. If I’m a feature on stage, I’ll be more colorful and playful. If I’m lugging my gear around and know I’ll be on my feet for five hours, I’m in sneakers and dress around a specific pair I want to wear. I think about style practically, but also want to look cute.
Dress, Cushnie Et Ochs; Jacket, Rebecca Minkoff
Can you take us back to a great payoff moment?
I did a random event for Microsoft for 23,000 people. I remember I got on stage and I just saw a sea of dudes — and so many blank stares. I felt like these people were there because they didn’t have anywhere else to be. But they set me up beautifully on stage with six jumbotrons and three cameras around me. It was a huge production. So during the first song, I still had a lot of mean mugs out there. Three songs in, I could see some dancing. By the end of my set, people were full-on raging, jumping, and fist-pumping. And I thought, “This is why I do what I do.” I’m good at it! If I can play to this crowd, I can play to any crowd.
In college, I had an imaginary archetype of what success looked like. I started to realize that success comes in many different forms that aren’t always what I expect. But I’ve never been let down by working hard.