Brandi Silver, 38, Designer Creator
Brandi Silver has a secret weapon. She knows how to translate the cultural zeitgeist into the perfect enamel pin or greeting card.
There’s the Queen B card to help your friend get over a breakup. A One Year Closer to Granny Panties Birthday card. Pins featuring Tupac, Nipsey Hussle and Kamala Harris. There are also buttons, stickers, masks, and more – all with Brandi’s distinct brand of humor and pop cultural know-how.
What started as this apparel professional’s creative outlet years ago is now Pin & Proper, an Etsy shop of her mini masterpieces that has gotten the attention of national media and Target.
Since childhood, this Rocky Mount native was always crafting. She’s got the hot glue gun scar on her thumb to prove it.
“When I was a kid, my mom complained that I used my allowance on arts and crafts. At least now I’ve turned it into a business.” Brandi says.
She moved to Greensboro to attend NC A&T to study Fashion Merchandising & Design.
After graduation, she landed her first professional job in Product Development for Hanesbrands. She’s designed clothes for all ages. Working on large brands like Hanes, Champion, Birkenstock, HUE, No Nonsense, Wrangler & Lee. She loves seeing the project from concept to production.
She went on to work for a various manufacturers, including VF Corporation, now Kontoor. During her tenure at VF Corporation, she designed the back pockets for Riders by Lee jeans. She was also part of the team to help pilot the company’s 3D Design initiative. There was an art to designing the back pocket embroidery and picking the perfect thread colors to accentuate the jeans and the woman. She still sees people wearing those jeans to this day.
She taught herself Adobe illustrator and Photoshop when the industry was moving into digital design – a skill that turned out to be very important years later.
In her personal life, she was still an avid creator and crafter. She handmade cards that people cherished. They’d get upset when she purchased them a birthday card instead of handmaking one.
“My family would be so disappointed.”
In 2015, Brandi’s Dad passed away. The grief had her looking for things to keep busy. She wound up with an enamel pin collection.
“I was finding really cool pins. Sometimes I would purchase two – one to wear and one to keep,” she says.
She started to hunt for a very specific pin: An image of the late rapper Tupac Shakur with lyrics from his hit “Keep Ya Head Up.”
The song was playing while Brandi rode to her dad’s funeral. Its message comforted her. A pin would be a perfect reminder and keepsake to keep her head up while she struggled through the grieving process. After scouring the internet, she found some Tupac pins, but the designs were laughable.
“I said to myself, ‘Who is buying these?’ It made me think, it must not take a lot to make a pin,” Brandi says.
She jumped into research mode, tracking down a manufacturer and learning that she could use her Illustrator skills to design the pin she wanted.
In order to manufacture her pin, she needed to buy a minimum of 100 pins. She wasn’t really sure what she was going to do with the other 99.
That’s how her Etsy shop was born. She soon realized one pin wasn’t enough inventory, so she launched her card line. Only this time, the cards were designed digitally and printed instead of handmade. It seemed like a good bet, knowing how important cards were to her friends and family.
Stickers, mugs and other items now fill out the shop.
Brandi regularly pops out new designs, following her instincts about messages and images that are near and dear to her. A “Future is Female” button. A sticker with Chuck Taylor sneakers and pearls, in honor of Vice President Kamala Harris’ signature style.
“I create a lot of things with emphasis on feminism, body positivity, the Black Lives Matter movement and my love for R&B and hip hop,” Brandi says. “I like to make things that I would like to find in a store.”
She loves a pun. Most of the cards have a distinct sense of humor. She’s had people frame them.
A Father’s Day card with the simple message, “I promise to let you pick your own nursing home.” A Lizzo Bridesmaid invitation saying “I’m 100% that bride. Will you be 100% the bridesmaid?” A card with a pic of actress Fran Drescher and the phrase, “Hey, Best Fran.”
Brandi’s not sure how it happened, but Buzzfeed featured that card on a list of top funny Valentine’s Day cards. She was baffled.
“To me, it was just a card to say ‘hey’ to your best friend during quarantine,” she says. “Everyone likes to get something in the mail. Why not something fun saying, ‘Hey, I am checking in on you.’?
Before the pandemic hit, she was laid off when her position was eliminated in her full-time fashion gig. She spent months looking for work. She was getting very discouraged by the lack of a job prospects. Then the pandemic hit. All the events she’d planned were cancelled due to COVID-19. Her pin manufacturer was shut down indefinitely while working on a huge pin order. With so much uncertainty and people losing their jobs, there was no way Pin & Proper could survive. Who would be buying pins and cards now? Not only did Pin & Proper survive, the business thrived! 2020 was its biggest year to date.
January 2021 rolled around, sales slowed down after the holidays, and she started to wonder was next.
Then she got a message from Target, asking her to be a part of its 2021 Black History Month showcase.
“I’m like, this is a prank. Target is my favorite store,” she says. “It took me a minute to decide it is real.”
Pin & Proper was showcased during the store’s virtual Black History Month presentation. An opportunity she’s forever grateful for.
Now she’s back in the apparel industry doing what she loves. But she’s still pumping out designs for Pin & Proper.