I'm here today with today with Dylan Lauren. Dylan is the CEO and founder of Dylan’s Candy Bar, the giant candy emporium. The Dylan’s Candy Bar store in New York City alone is fifteen thousand square feet, and three stories, and gets two million visits a year. Dylan has opened more than twenty locations in airports to freestanding stores. She’s launched a lifestyle brand with apparel, cosmetics, home design, strollers, and more. In fact, Dylan’s Candy Bar just had a super fun sweet sixteen party to celebrate being in business for sixteen years. She recently starred in the TV reality competition show The Toy Box, which by the way my kids were obsessed with and watched every single time. Last but not least she has written a book, which is why she's here today, called Dylan’s Candy Bar: Unwrap Your Sweet Life. A graduate of Duke University, Dylan and her husband live in New York City with their three-year-old twins who she calls her twinkies. Welcome to Dylan.
Dylan Lauren: Thank you. Thanks for having me.
Zibby: I watched your CBS interview from this Valentine’s Day and heard that you wrote your entire book while on your BlackBerry on a stepmill at the gym. Is that really true?
Dylan: First of all, I love the BlackBerry. I hope it stays around forever because it’s super easy to type on. Yes, I tend to love, it’s the stairmill or stepmill. It’s three rotating steps that you feel you're hiking, but you don't have to be in the wilderness. I'm on my BlackBerry. I can focus more somehow on work than I can just sitting at a desk. Yes, I wrote my whole book on that. Somehow when I'm exercising, whether it’s on the stairmill or running, good thoughts come to mind more so than trying hard to get something out. That was the best method for me. Plus, it was great aerobic exercise because I used my arms too. I didn’t hold on. [laughs] It was good.
Zibby: How did the idea for the book come about?
Dylan: I have retail stores. I felt like that's one way of getting people to see this retailtainment fantasyland that I always enjoy. My mission is to merge fashion, art, and pop culture with candy. I felt that the book would allow me to show that, showing art made out of candy, gifts made out of candy, celebrating holidays with tabletops that you set with candy, centerpieces of candy, fashion week with dresses made out of candy. In the store, it’s Easter, it’s Christmas, it’s Halloween, it’s everchanging. We take a photo of that. It’s not great. It’s not as easy to capture. I wanted a medium where I could really show a beautiful photo of what was in my head or a beautiful display shot by a professional that was a coffee table keeper sake.
Zibby: The photography is insane. It’s amazing in this book. It’s hard to not be happy looking through this book.
Dylan: When I was thinking of doing this book, some book companies were like, “It should be more of a beach read.” I was like, “That's so not what this is.” This is about how I see candy and how I want the world to really be enveloped in the colors of candy. It has to be a coffee table book. With the book industry and some struggles of the scale of coffee table books, the cost of photography, that was a bone of contention firstly. After presenting these beautiful photos -- people don't usually see candy the way I see it -- they were like, “Oh, my god. This is an art book.” It’s not just a read about candy and living a sweet life about happiness. It’s really about beauty and aesthetics of confections.
Zibby: You say in the book a lot that candy, for you, is like art. It’s a true visual medium and how that has been running in your family forever. Can you tell me more about that and how you see it more as an art form?
Dylan: I'm flipping through the book now. There's a hardcover available too.
Zibby: I have that too. I have both.
Dylan: I look at these candies. I hand-selected probably five hundred candies in this book from every season out of seven thousand candies from around the world that I thought represented the beauty of candy. When you look at the saturated colors, you look at the translucency of a gummy candy, or the patterns on a starlight mint, or a unicorn pop, or a whirly pop, they're really beautiful. For me, it really excites me when I see them. Most people when they look at a red, juicy apple or a red piece of steak or red gummy candy, the color really can move you. I see that in candy. It’s like art. When we assemble different candies together, they pop off each other. To me, that's what the art is. It’s the creation and the assembly too.
Zibby: You had said in the book that one influence had been seeing all the different fabrics growing up.
Dylan: My dad, Ralph Lauren, definitely inspired me to appreciate color and design. I think I said it’s synesthesia where I looked at the fabrics in his jars of -- actually, they have candy jars of fabric. I wanted to eat them. I thought it was candy. I've looked at beads, and I thought they were candy. I see color. It’s so beautiful. Being in a fashion family with a lot of people like my grandfather was an artist. My cousin’s an artist. My dad is a designer. My brother’s a filmmaker. Everybody’s in the arts. My mom does photography. It all made me very tuned in to candy and its beauty.
Zibby: I didn’t realize until I read your book that the original launch of Dylan’s Candy Bar was right after 9/11. In the book you say you debated not even opening the store because as you said, I'm going to quote here, “New Yorkers who had lost someone in the towers came up to me in tears saying, ‘Thank you for creating such a happy haven.’” You obviously went ahead and did the launch. Can you tell me more about the stress of that time, the decision making?
Dylan: I forgot what I wrote. It wasn’t that I didn’t think I should open the store. It was September 11th. We were supposed to open literally September 13th. I wasn’t sure if that was appropriate. Why of all times to open a candy store? It sounds so frivolous, candy. We opened in October, which was a better time because you start paying rent and everything. I also knew that that was a time where people were looking for an escape. It was a very depressing time. As you know, people were getting out of the city. No one was coming to the city. It was terrible.
What I noticed with opening around that time was there was a need for new, exciting, happy things, and nostalgic things. Things that were like that in New York were the things that kept people going. I felt like our store quickly became a tourist attraction because of that. It’s a happy escape. I still get that to this day. People come in from the hospital nearby. People come from Make A Wish. They're brought in for all different reasons. They're like, “I just want to sit in your store. I want to listen to the candy songs. I want to look at them. I'm not even going to eat the candy.” It’s really just about the environment. I feel good about that.
Zibby: You say in your book, to what you were just saying, “Wouldn't it be wonderful to be a kid forever, to just live in the moment every moment, to not think about work or worries or calories or cavities? Eating candy can help you do that. If you're depressed, bored, frustrated, or frazzled, I swear it is the savior and agent and antidote to what ails you.” Then you said, “For me, candy provides a magical escape back to my past, back to a simpler time when life was all sweet and stress-free.”
Does this always work for you? Do you turn to candy yourself in times, a nostalgia vibe going back?
Dylan: I feel like what I wrote there has been true my whole life. I've been really into gumballs lately. One of my first forays into candy stores was going to a gumball machine outside the store and trying to get the red gumball. My recent enjoyment of gumballs has been this nostalgic feeling of how excited I was to get the red one, how sweet it was. Chewing on it alleviated some stress. It does now. I was recently thinking about that, same with Circus Peanuts, the marshmallow-y ones. Lately that's been my thing. It’s subconscious, some of it. It is obviously a sugar-high. It’s more than that. I am immediately taken back to a time. I'm not a lollipop person, but if I smell a grape lollipop I think of my first candy at the doctor’s office. That was not a great thing. [laughs] I’ll have a tootsie roll, and I’ll think of my best times at camp with candy canteen. It’s a weird, subconscious thing that in my adult life gets me through.
Zibby: Has there been a time that you can remember where you were too upset, that candy didn’t help you at all?
Dylan: Definitely. Sometimes when someone passes away, and you just can't eat, and you have no appetite. There have been times I've eaten way too much candy and I don't feel good. Everything in moderation.
Zibby: Do you think that consumer’s interest in candy and visiting your store is this hope for regression? Do you think that feeling more like a kid helps people confront life today? Do you think that helps?
Dylan: There's many reasons people like Dylan’s Candy Bar. It’s not just about the candy. We are selling lifestyle products. It’s the enjoyment first and foremost of color, whether it’s the candy patterns on the clothing we sell or the candy jewelry. It’s the music. We play over two hundred songs from “I Want Candy” to “Candy Shop.” People feel like they're in a good mood. There's candy smells in there that are nostalgic. All the senses are awoken. There's not a lot of retail stores that do that. They're all slatwall. You're surround by giant lollipop trees and candy cane columns. It’s being immersed in an environment that transports you, which I always loved Disneyland for doing. There's a lot of candy stores that do nothing for me. I'm not even hungry when I walk in. It’s that. I do think the childhood memories is something that people from around the world can relate to. Our average customer’s in their late thirties. They're people who still love candy. They have a sweet tooth. Then there's the people who love salty things. We have something for them. We also serve food in our café. We serve candy cocktails.
Zibby: The ice cream is amazing.
Dylan: Thank you. There's something for everyone. We get the woman who can normally wear her fur coat to walk in in her jeans and be like, “I just want some gummy bears.” It brings out that in people.
Zibby: I know you get asked this all the time, how you stay so trim despite your obsession with candy. I know you're a huge workout addict. I remember the one time we did the water aerobics. Tell me about, if you don’t mind, your workout routine now and how you feel that offsets your eating in moderation.
Dylan: The irony is that as much as I love candy, I have tons of books on nutrition. I also wanted to be a gym instructor. When I graduated, I got my certificate to teach classes. I was very big into sports. I love athletics. I have a lot of energy. Naturally, I do like to work out. It’s an outlet for me as much as it is to burn calories from eating things. My routine is I try to do running, which I think is really good, the stairmill, spin classes, boxing, those kind of things maybe three to four times a week. What I don't like as much, but I definitely do, is weight training about three times a week. I notice that weight training, as much as it’s not really -- that’s more for me knowing that in my future I need my muscle tone for women and the bones. I know it’s really important. I also find that has been really good with getting rid of water retention. That would be my workout routine.
I definitely eat really healthy. I don't like complicated food. I like very simple, very healthy vegetables and salads and protein. I used to literally eat just candy, but I know I have to have the balance, especially protein, knowing that the candy is the carbohydrate. That ratio has to be right. Your blood sugar can spike if you don't have the healthy salmon with the good fats and the good protein and the salad, and then candy in moderation. I don't believe in all or nothing. It’s never worked for me. You’ve got to pick your favorite things and pick your dates whether it’s a handful here or there, on the weekends, whatever it is. The all or nothing, unless it’s something really -- if you shouldn't have sugar, if you shouldn't have nuts, that's a different story.
Zibby: This sounds like one of these cliché questions. How do you balance it all? Really, do you have anything that particularly helps you get through the fact that you're managing this growing empire of retailtainment, your twins, your workouts?
Dylan: That's the question I have. Your podcast, actually, is something I'm excited to listen to more. It’s really learning from other people who are not just not working. It’s women who work, who have a passion for something, who also are trying to balance it all. We have kids. I have my dog. I have my husband. I have my own family who I'm close with, a lot of responsibilities. It’s really hard. I don't know. I'm looking at a journal you have. It says, “Hold on, let me overthink this.” That's hilarious. That's the story of my life. It’s great to have a partner, my husband, who’s a little more like, “Don't overthink things. Go with your emotion, and then schedule it.”
Luckily being an entrepreneur, I can schedule my time so that I make sure I get my really quality time in with him, my husband, my dog who’s my other child, my kids, my own family. That's something I like. It’s really hard. I really love what I do. This is my hobby. I've always collected candy on my travels. I go into my stores. There's tons of stress that comes with it. That's with every job. My core passion is the designing and being in the stores. The managing of people is definitely hard. Working out for me is a great outlet, travelling, being in nature, which is something I think is really key. I'm starting to learn more about where I should be. I don't spend enough time in nature, being in New York and running from one store to another store. I did take up transcendental meditation, which has helped. It’s really just quality time and trying to focus where you're focusing and knowing it’s 80/20 rule.
Zibby: The overthink-it book that I got, I feel like particularly with logistics -- I don't know if that’s one of your big issues. For me, the management of, “I'm going to go to this birthday party,” then, “Who can pick up this kid if I'm going to go to this birthday party?” --
Dylan: -- You are very inspiring to me.
Zibby: You're so sweet.
Dylan: Seriously. I only have two kids.
Zibby: There is no “only.”
Dylan: Well, it’s hard. You're very organized. I'm learning to be more tech savvy with spreadsheets. There's some apps with calendars. I don't really use them. Spreadsheets help me a lot, more with work and some of my own personal stuff. Everyone has a system. What I'm even doing this weekend is stepping back. My kids are now going to real school -- whatever it’s called -- the next school, not the playgroup anymore. It’s like the new year for me. Even though we’re all out of school, I want to think of the summer and the new school year as a new year for me, really sitting back and saying, “What works for me?” Should my weekends be when I'm in nature? Should they be when I'm in the city? Should it be when I'm taking my kids to a class? What is it that makes me happy and when? When do I have the energy for that? When am I pushing myself? Really thinking about it versus just going in every week like a chicken with the head cut off, which is what happens.
Zibby: That is me.
Dylan: Someone sent me one of those memes of Kermit the Frog with their head spinning. I was like, “Oh, my god.” Everybody, no matter if they work or don't work, they have a phase where it gets really hectic. I can't believe I made it through phases like moving apartments. That was one. Every phase you're like, “How did I get through it?” Massage helps too.
Zibby: The key point that I just took away from that is you're saying be more deliberate about it. Think it through. Analyze it and then do it. It’s so easy just to flow into another weekend. Should we go see Peppa Pig or not, versus what is actually going to make all of us happy?
Dylan: Yes. For me, some things that don't make me happy are getting -- I'm waking up way too early just to get a workout class in. Do I really have to work out first thing in the morning? I want to work out. I know it’s good for me. Can I do it later in the day? How does that affect it versus going through every week in the book?
Zibby: Will you tell me a little more, I know you have all these passions with your nonprofits too, and animals, and your love of bunnies.
Dylan: You remember my bunnies!
Zibby: Can you tell me a little more about that?
Dylan: When I was younger, I had two pet bunnies, Chocolate and Vanilla, who you know about. I also currently still have a collection of over three thousand rabbit stuffed animals. I have a passion for rabbits and always animals. I now have a dog who’s six years old who’s a rescue from Puerto Rico through a shelter, MCSPCA in Jersey. In the process of adopting Jersey, and through my love of animals, and through understanding that having something bigger than you or your business -- I wanted to start a foundation that I personally was passionate about. My parents are very philanthropic. They have causes. They also love animals.
For me, I started Dylan’s Candy Barn, which is my company’s foundation and my foundation with the focus to change the stigma of adopting a pet versus going to a pet store breeder. I've done a lot of research on it. The animals that are adopted are really of the same caliber. If anything, I do believe people who have adopted do see that the dog is very grateful. There's something very special about it. It’s to get these dogs out of shelters and into homes and also to get rid of the abuse of animals. There's a lot of countries that do not believe that dogs are pets. They shoot them. Jersey came from a country that actually was abusive to animals. They don't spay or neuter, so there's an overpopulation. Kids are throwing rocks at them.
Dylan’s Candy Barn is something I'm strongly passionate about it. We have partnered with Humane Society, ASPCA, Best Friends. Throughout our stores we are doing adoption events where we’ll have about twenty-five dogs or cats or rabbits lined up with the shelter. People can actually play with the animals. They don't have to go to a shelter, which some people don't feel comfortable doing. They can adopt on the spot. We’re doing something in Chicago with PAWS. We had forty dogs adopted literally that day. You can take them home. These shelters are amazing. It’s a great feeling. I feel strongly about it.
Zibby: That's so great that you're doing that. What is coming next for you? I know you're expanding the Candy Bar. You keep going into all these different areas and merchandise. What's next?
Dylan: We launched two things. We launched a baby collection with aden and anias, which is muslins with candy patterns which is coming out now. We just launched -- it’s actually coming out soon -- Williams-Sonoma dinnerware, party -- you would like it -- cake stands; those two partnerships. We have coming out, a partnership with Grease for their fortieth anniversary. It’s always pop culture.
Zibby: You have a Mean Girls line now?
Dylan: Yes. Mean Girls, we had actually out a few years ago. We relaunched it because of the play. You can buy a Kälteen bar. On Wednesdays we wear pink clothing. There's those items and partnerships. Then there is in our chocolate, we are launching a very high-end collection called Gold Collection for real connoisseurs. For people who are health-conscious, we have a very healthy Treat Yourself collection which is somewhat vegan, nut-free, allergen-free candies, which we sell to Whole Foods. It’s been extremely successful. We’re doing that.
In terms of stores, we are reopening East Hampton for the summer, which has great ice cream and has great candy. We’re opening hopefully Hawaii, Dubai, and looking at London. Those are the focuses. We’re on the lookout for flagships in major cities. San Francisco, we still don't have a store, smaller cities like Boston. We don't want to be all over the country. We want to be in select cosmopolitan areas with a lot of foot traffic. I'm also doing other projects. I would like to come out with a different book, which we can talk about. I've been approached to do several big picture projects that are in the works. It keeps me busy. I can't remember what else we’re doing. Those are big.
Zibby: I think that's enough. How you keep it all straight, that's really impressive.
Dylan: Thank you. Like you probably with writing and the podcast, it’s to me the outlet for my real life. If I'm designing a store and saying, “Should I put candy cane columns on this fixture, or lollipop columns, or jelly beans?” it’s so fun. It’s my form of art. I don't think it’s work sometimes, which is good.
Zibby: I was talking to my mom yesterday. I was upset. This week has been particularly difficult. She's like, “Do you think this is the wrong time to be doing a podcast and trying to write a book?” I wanted to say, “That is what's getting me through this time. That's not making this time hard.” It’s hard having four kids and all the different issues that come with it. Writing for me, and candy and color and all this for you, if you have an outlet -- or exercise or whatever -- being too in it, you need some sort of escape.
Dylan: Totally. Honestly this weather, I literally can only count three days that it was good this spring.
Zibby: It’s horrible. I can't even face it. I can't.
Dylan: I don't think anyone's been in a good mood. You're not alone. On the other thing, I do love astrology and that kind of outer-world thinking. I do believe there's an energy. It’s not just about politics or your personal thing. So many people are saying the same thing about certain times a year. You're not alone. You should feel better.
Zibby: Thank you. [laughs] Dylan, thank you so much for taking the time. I know you're so busy. It’s so sweet to get a chance to talk to you in this format.
Dylan: That was fun.
Zibby: Thanks so much.