Dagne Dover co-founders, Melissa Mash (CEO), Deepa Gandhi (COO) and Jessy Dover (Creative Director), have succeeded at designing a world-renowned lifestyle brand with stylish and functional handbags. It’s been five years since these three women took a chance on an idea and one another. Not only have they transformed as leaders, their brand has transitioned as well.
“We started a brand and built it to the best it could possibly be,” Gandhi shares. “Five years later it’s really cool to see that what we set out to do we’re actually doing.” Dagne started as an e-commerce model and how has now transitioned to brick and mortar. In less than two weeks Dagne handbags will be featured in 21 Nordstrom stores.
The idea for Dagne emerged while Mash was working for a high-end fashion handbag brand. “Everyone talked about the handbag problem,” Mash proclaimed. “The one where a water bottle spills in it or losing their keys. There was an opportunity for a more modern brand; a classic design that complements our outfit. A design that works for us for work and play.”
Mash has known Gandhi since 2007. “Melissa invited me to her first focus group on handbags,” Gandhi smiles. Gandhi’s experience involves both fashion and finance. While working on Wall Street she watched the peak of the market and watched the demise of the market. “I began to reflect on ‘is this what I really wanted to do?’” she states. “On the analytical side, I was most excited about retail stocks. I wanted to explore what a career in fashion and retail would look like.” She transitioned from the financial industry to retail.
As Mash began to develop the brand she wanted partners that had the same values and work ethic as she did. “What she was good in, I was not,” Gandhi states. “And, what I had deeper strengths in she was looking for in a business partner.” As they continued hosting focus groups and working on a business model, Mash was still in need of a designer. “I worked with a few designers,” Mash explains, “but no one was the right fit. I saw that Jessy [Dover] had won the Coach Design competition as a student at Parsons. She understood the process of running a business. We started working together. Her designs were far better than I had ever seen, and we worked really well together.”
The trio started designing the brand: from the name of the company to the colors of the bags to designs of the first two handbag styles. “Dagne means ‘a new dawn,’” Dover smiles, “and Dover is my last name.” They also took into consideration many different factors, such as fundraising methods, a press strategy, and internal and external stakeholders, when launching the brand. Over the past five years, they’ve learned that they don’t have to check every box of the startup to-do list in order to create a product.
“We all had experiences in the corporate world which we found to be imperfect,” Mash explains. “We learned valuable skills, and made great relationships but there was a lot of room left for company culture. It was important to us that we build a company that was reflective of what values matter most to us. We’re a millennial company. We want to make sure everyone is having fun and is highly motivated by what we do.”
Gandhi continues, “we’re building an environment that is like a family and not like the corporate vehicle that is only thinking about the bottom line. From the beginning, we worked really hard to think about the balance and respect between the creative and business, and consciously think about how we build out a process and a team. What roles maybe are necessary that are a part of traditional retail so that Jessy’s world and my world can work symbiotically versus having continuous friction.”
As the company has evolved, one of the biggest lessons they’ve learned is how to let go. “I’ve learned to give myself a break when things haven’t been perfect,” Dover expresses. “This was a major transitional point for me. I accepted that making mistakes is normal. I do believe that one should do their best, I understand that it’s impossible to have a perfect track record.”
They have learned how to translate their passion into something positive. They have each gone through a transition individually and as a team. Now they understand each other and through what lens the other sees the world.
Although they each have learned different lessons through both their personal and collective pivots, they agree on the following ideas that help make a pivot successful:
- Figure out if you’re intrinsically or extrinsically motivated. That’s going to craft your path. If you’re motivated by external validation, the excitement may fade quicker.
- Look at your future path as a long-term investment. The entrepreneurial path is a marathon, not a sprint.
- Seize the opportunity. There’s never going to be a perfect time to start.
As the company grows, more and more brands strive to replicate their model. “It’s cool seeing other products that were inspired by ours,” Dover smiles. “It’s flattering!” They are working on adding another collection and are building niche product lines that continue to address his or her lifestyle.
Gandhi emphasizes that one of Dagne’s core values is that “everyone should be responsible for the energy they bring into the office.”