You’ve probably seen their logo around town — an impossible-to-miss hot pink ice cream cone with an eyeball on top. The weirdly flashy insignia is meant to represent “eye candy,” and it belongs to DNA Imagery, a full-service design and lifestyle brand born in downtown Santa Barbara. Over the past six and a half years, DNA has carved out a neat little niche for itself, offering everything from photo and video production to web and graphic design to app development and event planning.
Newlyweds and founders Derren and Ana Ohanian both attended Santa Barbara High School but didn’t meet until 2006, two years after graduation. College wasn’t really in the plans for either Derren or Ana, they explained last month from DNA’s Gutierrez Street headquarters. Instead, the pair dove headfirst into what interested them most: photography. They bought a Sony Cyber-shot and joined the Photoshop craze, offering to shoot for free around town to build up their clientele. But the prospect of being young entrepreneurs in an affluent community posed problems from the start.
“It was very intimidating,” Derren said. “I didn’t know how to do taxes. I didn’t go to college. I’m all self-taught. It really came down to a personal will and determination.”
Still, the clients slowly started rolling in. Derren recalls a Jill Johnson fashion show at EOS Lounge as the catalyst for DNA’s first round of success. After that, he says, he and Ana started photographing events once a week, posting their snaps online for party goers to peruse the next day.
“We would get paid $50 bucks for the night. I would shoot there for hours and then go home and edit for hours,” Derren said. “I didn’t have to do that, we didn’t have to do that, but we were passionate about it.”
And their attention to detail showed. Working off the slogan “Love, passion, photos,” the pair started making their presence known amongst Santa Barbara’s active nightlife scene.
“It went from absolutely nothing to shooting six night clubs in Santa Barbara,” Derren said. “We had 500,000 hits coming to our website every month.”
DNA’s new motto became, “Work hard, party harder.”
But the site quickly became the opposite of DNA’s original vision; instead of promoting creativity, the Ohanians were promoting a party scene, and they wanted out.
“I felt like we kind of lost our core essence and what my soul was screaming at me to do. I looked back on everything and thought, ‘What is the message that we’re putting out here to the masses?’” Derren said.
They got out of Santa Barbara and moved to the Philippines, and after some time to clear their minds and restructure their vision, they returned to the West Coast.
But why back to Santa Barbara?
“It’s an inspiring situation in itself, the people and the connections we had here. We knew how important and wonderful the community is in Santa Barbara, and we wanted to stay,” Ana said. “I knew that if we were going to stay here that I wanted to do something positive.”
In 2011, the couple moved back, bought a gallery space, and started to rebrand. The first step was a new slogan: “Don’t hate, create.”
Next up: growing DNA’s scope. Upon returning, the Ohanians started to recruit friends and artists who offered services like screen printing and iPhone app development under the DNA umbrella. (The company’s first app, Photo Candy, allows users to manipulate pictures on their mobile devices.) They also added another branch to DNA’s company, The DNA Life, which encourages creativity by showcasing artists, fashion, music, and photography from around the world through events and promotion.
“We want to focus on just building this lifestyle brand, getting people to be more creative, and to think outside of the box,” Derren said.
They’ve amped up their presence in S.B., too. In addition to holding art openings at the DNA Studio, you can now find DNA at the Downtown Organization’s monthly First Thursday art walks. They’ve also paired up with Youth Interactive, a Santa Barbara-based nonprofit that aids students by teaching them about technology, entrepreneurship, and working in the arts.
“Something that Ana and I are passionate about is that we want to instill in the youth that there are other options out there where you can actually invest in yourself right now,” said Derren.
They’ve also started throwing their own parties, which they’re calling “Hautebox” and marketing as a collaboration of fashion designers, deejays, local bands, food, and drink. And as far as the future of DNA, Ana and Derren agree that this is just the beginning.
“I think the future is definitely very bright — our influence and reach is only going to get larger,” Derren said. “We’re really going to focus on catering to building creative products for creative people.”
To find out more about DNA and their projects, visit thednalife.net.