Hoya Highlight: Deanna Blackwell (C’14)

Owner & Founder, Gloria Becca

Career Reflections

What is the origin of your company’s name?
Gloria Becca is named for women from both sides of my family. My maternal great-grandmother Rebecca was a seamstress who gave me my first taste of fashion: I spent time with her in her basement while she sewed and would allow me to use fabric pieces to make clothes for my dolls. My maternal grandmother was also named Rebecca. She was also from the south and maintained that looking good was a symbol of confidence and pride. Lastly, my paternal grandmother is named Gloria. I’d play dress up in her closet with my sisters as a child and loved exploring her makeup and perfume collection. These women all dressed in elegant ways that we don’t see anymore. Part of their daily routine was making sure they looked their absolute best before they stepped outside into the world. That pride in appearance and elegance has been a huge inspiration to me, and I feel I’m paying homage to my family through my company.

What’s the best career advice you’ve ever received?
My older sister works in HR and has her MBA. I remember her saying “it’s not who you know, but who knows you.” This struck me as being profound because it’s true – it’s all about who is thinking of your business and your brand and what you’re producing. When people are talking about wedding dress companies, I want them to be talking about Gloria Becca!

What career advice do you have to share with others?
This comes from my grandfather, who was also an entrepreneur: “As long as you know there will be a point when you’re not always going to get it right, and as long as you know there will be moments of failure, you’ll be fine. You won’t have unrealistic expectations of always getting it right.”

What has been the most rewarding moment of your career?
Being in the custom clothing world and in bridal specifically, I’ve gotten to create gowns for weddings and incredibly special moments in peoples’ lives. I feel a strong sense of reward when someone really loves their gown.

We service most of our brides remotely through technology, and it’s a pretty techy process! We create 3D avatars of shapes and sizes of brides’ bodies, and we mail their dresses to them. I don’t always get to see the faces of my brides when they first put on their dresses, but when I do, it’s really awesome!

What’s the hardest thing you’ve done professionally?
Deciding to become an entrepreneur and start a business! Fashion is not an easy field to get into – it’s really hard and it takes a lot of energy, patience, trial, and error. It’s a test of will and strength. The initial startup phase is incredibly hard and the overall entrepreneur lifespan is really short. Knowing that businesses often crash within the first couple of years is scary, and the competition is fierce.

One thing I learned quickly is that you have to show your face and personality more instead of hiding behind your computer. Clients don’t want to connect with a computer; they want to connect with you. So, I make a point to get out and socialize in the community and network often. Authenticity shines through, and you can’t be afraid to introduce yourself to strangers!

Your Time on the Hilltop

Who was your favorite Georgetown professor?
My favorite professor—Gwendolyn Mikell—changed my life. She is truly a gem on the Hilltop! She’s the first African American to receive tenure on Georgetown’s main campus and the work she’s done over time is incredible! She encouraged me to major in Anthropology, and instilled a strong sense of self-confidence in me. She made it ok for me to explore, to study the African diaspora, and to think about the use of Anthropology in the arts and in fashion. She helped me look at fashion in a totally new way: it’s not just fabric, thread, and style…fashion is the reflection of culture.

What is your favorite Georgetown memory?
During the warmer months of the year, my friends and I loved to bring out blankets and laptops onto Copley Lawn to enjoy the weather (even though wifi didn’t reach that far!). These outdoor “study sessions” usually devolved into just hanging out and socializing with friends, playing music, and having a great time.

How has Georgetown shaped you?
Georgetown instilled a strong sense of confidence and “you can do it” attitude in me. Coming from Georgetown you feel like you can do anything! You can have a crazy idea, and people from Georgetown will support you. Through Jesuit values, contemplation in action, and focusing on social aspects of life, my education encouraged me to think about how I can contribute to the greater good and make a difference in society. Georgetown really makes you feel like you can do anything as long as you are grounded in values and have the drive to keep going.

Something really important to me when I started my company was how we were going to give back and how we were going to make a change in the world. In the fashion industry, there’s gross abuse of resources, abuse of labor, and lots of waste. All of our dresses are made in the USA and our labor force is local people who are here in Philadelphia. We strive to meet standards of sustainability and responsible resource management.

A Day in the Life

What is on your desk right now?
I work from home preparing the designs and patterns before sending them to our amazing dressmakers. Usually you’ll find me working at my dining table. There I have my laptop, my sewing machine, sewing supplies, sketchbooks, and a cup of tea. My workspace is not conventional: I’m surrounded by supplies, big rolls of muslin and silk fabrics, and a Swarovski crystal chart that I have handy to reference at all times. Even when I’m not sketching or working on a dress design, I sit at my table. It feels good to always be in a space of creativity!

Sewing machine with pin cushion and scissors . dress sketch with pencil and pen

What is one part of your daily routine you couldn’t live without?
My husband Jordan (also a Hoya) says “make sure you’re doing a life-giving activity every day.” I love fashion, and being in this world was a life-giving activity before it became my job. Now that it’s my job, it’s turned into something different, so I need to find other things that are life-giving so that I continue to love my work. I love to run, walk, garden, and cook, and it’s important to do something that I love that’s not fashion-related. If you do too much work-related stuff, you’ll burn out and get tired.

I also try to stick to a schedule so that I can spend time with my husband and my friends, watch TV, relax, etc. There’s this perception that entrepreneurs have to be working 24/7, and I try not to do that by giving my day designated start and end times as much as possible.

Who or what is a source of inspiration in your life?
God first and foremost. Work is tough, but when you feel passionate about something and you put in the effort, and you see things eventually lining up, it’s proof that God is working on your behalf.

Who is your favorite author?
Toni Morrison.

Words to live by?
“Work is a form of worshipping God.” Remember that, and you’ll always put out your very best.