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... sneakers.
Since Jenny Abrams was a kid, she used the Internet to learn about the world and meet people who shared her interests. She became an avid sneaker collector and sponge for hip-hop culture, scrolling through online forums to bond with others virtually. She leveraged her hip-hop passion into a part-time DJing job in high school and college. But she craved a different creative outlet. One day on a sneaker forum, she developed a friendship with a female photographer, who inspired her to turn her photography hobby into a career. So she trained herself, refined her eye and started working under her Hebrew name, Shayna Batya. Today, Shayna’s raw, photojournalism-like aesthetic has earned her big-time clients like Google (and Rent the Runway) and a loyal social following. Here's how swapping one creative activity for another inspired Shayna to dream big.
Wide Bangle, Eddie Borgo; Thin Bangle, Eddie Borgo; Cuff, Elizabeth and James
How did you go from DJ to photographer?
I was the kid in school having film developed at Walgreens, back when they were like $0.05 each. I have hundreds and hundreds of printed photos. It was just a hobby, but I eventually wanted to learn the technical side of it. I met a photographer through a sneaker forum online and we were going to do a little “trade” — I’d teach her how to DJ and she’d teach me more about photography. Sadly, she passed away and my first camera arrived literally the day before her funeral. It oddly felt as if she had handed me the camera. From there I took it into full force and taught myself everything. I didn’t enjoy DJing for money; I hated being in the nightlife industry. But I liked the idea of photography being my job. You meet a lot of cool people, and every day is different.
When you’re on your own, you have to put in 100% all the time in order to get any sort of reward. You have to find the strength within you in order to keep going.
Jumpsuit, Trina Turk; Jacket, Rebecca Minkoff
What’s it like running your own business?
I studied public relations and marketing in addition to art history. It taught me a lot about business, how to work with people, and how to negotiate — all things that usually are not a creative person’s strength. My dad is also self-employed and he’s always given me that extra push when I was struggling. He taught me, “Knock on 100 doors. Don’t be scared if they all turn you away, because one person might remember you later. You never know what that might lead to.” That’s networking. I used to post ads on Craigslist multiple times a day and email people I hadn’t spoken to in months just to check in. People respond to you being engaged, knowing their names and recognizing them. Being a personable human works. And social media just makes it that much easier.
How did you know how to brand yourself?
My brand is everything — from my website, to my logo, to how I present myself at jobs. I grew up with the Internet and I understand the language of social media, which has been a great tool for me. It’s not just social media that drives my business, though. And it’s not just my business that makes me do so well on social media. It’s definitely 50/50. I also chose to go by my Hebrew name professionally, so it’s less about me, and more about my photos.
Social media can be a double-edged sword — the industry may be a little more saturated today, but I see positivity. The visual arts have become a language that everybody speaks. You don’t need to verbally speak the same language to look at the same thing.
Does style factor into your brand?
Absolutely. Style is the canvas of the human body, right? It’s self-expression. I’m definitely into a flowy, bohemian look, but then I’ll add very funky loud jewelry that I’ve picked up on my travels. And I always add something sporty; I wear sneakers for comfort, but they have to be sleek and modern. I love when I throw on a pair of sneakers and my friends say, “That’s so you.”
Being a photographer sounds like a dream job. Do you have crappy days?
Running your own business makes you self-critical. Sometimes I worry, “Did I sound ok? I hope I came off alright.” And a lot of people think if you’re just one person, they can take advantage of you. I’ve learned a lot from past mistakes, especially when it comes to putting my foot down and fighting for myself. If my energy is really off, I’ll take the loss and move on.
You can’t always be perfect. You’re going to have some bad days. But my bad days aren’t as bad as a lot of other people’s, so I try not to let it bother me too much.
Male photographers are a dime a dozen. What’s it like being a female photographer?
We’re all human — there’s no male and female. But I am one of the few photographers out there who runs their business. And because I’m young and I’m a woman, people don’t expect me to handle it well. I’ve found that being a powerful, strong-minded woman intimidates people. But I try not to let that energy affect my work and I definitely make sure I work with both men and women.
Jacket, Rebecca Minkoff
What keeps you going? Why is hustling worth it?
It sounds crazy, but what are the odds that we’re here and not in some third-world country? That thought makes me feel like I need to do something with my life. I feel so fortunate to live in America where I can really pave a road for myself. A lot of my photography’s subject matter comes from realizing how blessed I am. But there is a bigger picture in my mind — the opportunity to travel for a month, work at some nonprofits and tell stories that need to be told about the people I meet. That dream fuels my work.
I do something I love for a living. I’m very fortunate to be able to do that — that’s not the case around the world. The universe has shown me compassion, and I’m not going to let my opportunities waste away.