From small festivals to brick-and-mortar

DW Designs opens with music, dignitaries, locally-themed merchandise

A box of T-shirts at a small county festival — that’s how Dan and Dawn Wilson stuck their toes into the world of retail.

But last Friday they were center stage at their own grand-opening ribbon cutting for their real-life, brick-and-mortar store, DW Designs, 145 West End Ave.

The Wilsons had their 5-year-old daughter and 20-month-old son with them as they celebrated with family, friends, live music, the Pedal Java guy selling coffee off his bike, and dignitaries including state Rep. Jason Zachary [R-District 14] and Knox County Mayor Tim Burchett.

They unveiled the DW Designs store, which in many ways is their first child. The business specializes in original Tennessee-themed T-shirts and home décor with graphics designed by Dan Wilson. Two of their most popular T-shirts feature the state image and the words “This is Home,” and a bear with a three-star circle and the word “Native.” The store has an industrial-rustic look with a 1920s’ warehouse door, upcycled pallet wood flooring and displays made of metal pipe.

“This past year, we were able to raise close to $30,000 with our “Smoky Mtn. Strong” t-shirts for the Gatlinburg Relief Fund for fire victims in Sevier County,” Dan Wilson said. “We hope the store will allow us to continue to make a difference in the community.”

“Dan originally designed a T-shirt saying 'Born & Raised' for a little festival in his hometown of Englewood [McMinn County],” Dawn Wilson said. “We took a box of 25 T-shirts and a print he had designed of the town. That was in 2014. We posted on social media and after the festival everybody was texting us saying ‘I want one.’ Meanwhile, we both still worked 40 hours a week at our day jobs — he was graphic designer at First Baptist Concord and I worked there as an administrative assistant.”

For two years they ran the business out of their home.

“One day I had 20 boxes of inventory sitting around our living room,” Dawn said. “I said, ‘This isn’t going to work.’ We did some renovations to our garage and turned it into our warehouse-shipping headquarters, if you will. Our inventory started in a box, then we moved to a closet, then we turned our garage into our warehouse and now we have a store. It’s pretty crazy.

“In 2015, we got our first wholesale account at Gigi’s Boutique in Cookeville. We’re currently in nine states and in around 30 different stores. We design for other states, and a chunk of our wholesale business is through Alumni Hall.”

They have a website, but Dawn Wilson said social media — Instagram, Facebook and Twitter —are what have helped them grow.

This past August, Dan Wilson quit his job at the church. Dawn Wilson resigned her day job three weeks ago and they’ve been busy setting up shop.

“We’ve built a kids’ area in the back of our store,” she said. “Our son will be there a couple of days a week with us. Our daughter loves to box shipments and put labels on. She comes after kindergarten to the store with us."

The couple met at Middle Tennessee State University in 2004. She graduated with a degree in public relations and marketing and he has a degree in broadcast journalism.

“This will be the third time we’ve worked for the same company,” Dawn Wilson said, “but it’s the first time to work for our own company. Dan and I just play off of each other pretty well. We complement each other pretty well in areas where we’re strong and weak.

“The reason we even opened a store is because our customers at barn sales and pop-up shops kept asking us, ‘Where’s your store?’ We have really loyal customers and lots of support from our family and friends. That’s how we are where we are today. It’s really humbling. We’re super-excited to offer this in Farragut. We think it’s something really fun, unique and special we can offer.”

The store will open from 10 6 p.m., Tuesday through Friday, and from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Saturday. To see the original designs, visit For more information, call 865-288-7008.