A Young Designer Makes Her Mark In Uganda

A Young Designer Makes Her Mark In UgandaAt the age of 18, Zoë Calahan embarked on an ambitious journey—starting a not-for-profit company. Hoping to incorporate her love for design and helping others, she formed DBZ (Designs by Zoë), a decorative throw-pillow business, directing her profits across the globe to Uganda. Fast forward two years, and Calahan’s partnership with the Ugandan community and her business have grown exponentially.

Talk about your relationship with the Ugandan community and how it has evolved. 

My initial concept was a “pillow for a pillow,” utilizing profits from my sales to provide the necessary materials for Ugandan seamstresses to produce sleeping pillows. Since I started the program, the needs of our partners have grown, and we are now expanding our reach into leadership education, women’s health and school uniforms. To date, we have provided our partners in Uganda with more than $10,000 worth of material, time and training. 

How did you start your business? 

My mother, Lauren Calahan, funded my start-up, and I had help from Westport designer Cherie Greene. She has been such an inspiration and has a fabulous eye for design. I have a great workroom based in Fairfield. 

You are currently enrolled at Parsons in NYC. What do you plan to do when you graduate? 

I am in the interior design program and hope to go on to run my own interior design company, which I have already started to do, in addition to my pillow line. I love decorating—I think there is something very special about creating a place where people come together. I grew up around interior decorators, surrounded by fabrics, color and furniture. I took my first college internship as an interior designer’s assistant and fell in love with the world of interior design. I have not looked back since. 

What’s next for DBZ? 

The business has expanded; I now offer personalized print pillows. They are made to order and can be printed with any image or saying on them, in any color—the possibilities are endless. In addition to selling to local shops, we just launched our online store—dbzinteriors.com. In the future, I hope to create more global partnerships so that we can have an impact on multiple communities simultaneously. 

A version of this article appeared in the October 2017 issue of CTC&G (Connecticut Cottages & Gardens) with the headline: Pillow Talk.