IF YOU CALLED Melissa Mash a “bag lady,” it wouldn’t be an insult. Mash has been a force to be reckoned with in the handbag industry for the past few years. The Wharton alum began her bag journey at Coach, working both in NYC and London. After leaving the Coach conglomerate, Mash teamed up with Jessy Dover and Deepa Gandhi to create Dagne Dover, the handbag that takes women from 7am to 10pm. Dagne Dover’s mission is to prevent women from doing what Mash refers to as the “two-bag schlep,” by creating a chic bag with organized, safe compartments for everything — like an interior laptop sleeve and a cup holder for your coffee. Mash, the CEO & co-founder, spoke with Lady Clever about moving from the corporate world to the realm of accessories startups, and gave us tips on how to create the life you want to live.
What inspired you to start Dagne Dover?
While I was working for Coach in London I had the opportunity to speak with customers every day, and it was clear that women had a lot of handbag problems: they couldn’t find a handbag with a laptop sleeve, their water bottle spilled all over and ruined their papers and tech in their bag, their keys scratched their laptop, they couldn’t ever find their keys, wallet, etc.
Then, during business school, I watched my peers who put so much effort into looking perfectly put together for interviews, do the unglamorous “two-bag schlep” to campus, where they would rifle through their black-hole bags for their resumes. Add on the politics of wearing bags that were “too casual to be taken seriously” or “too flashy to be professional…” Combining what I had seen while I was at Coach, along with my personal struggles and those I observed, I saw a huge opportunity for a fashion brand that nailed smart interior design to keep women organized.
How do you balance your creative duties with the business side of your company? Does one side tend to overtake the other?
Jessy, Deepa and I all come from different parts of the retail industry. Jessy’s background is in product design from Coach and Armani Exchange. Deepa’s is in finance and merchandise planning at Club Monaco, and mine is in domestic and international wholesale and retail store management from Coach. The companies that we came from varied on the spectrum of super creativity-driven to super business-driven. When we came together as a founding team it was really important to each of us to create a brand that successfully balanced left-brain strategy with right-brain creativity.
What has been Dagne Dover’s biggest success to date?
Expanding our product assortment and being able to offer new materials and designs — such as floral, turquoise calf hair and python-printed leather this past season — has been huge.
What lessons did you take from working at a large corporation like Coach and apply to a start-up?
First, I am a huge proponent of building a foundation of knowledge in a particular industry before trying to start a business in that industry. Learn as much as you can and touch as many parts of the business as you can. While I was at Coach I managed brick-and-mortar wholesale accounts. Then I helped launch the wholesale e-commerce channel. Then I got international, managerial and in-store operations experience while working in London. I went from managing hundreds of Coach locations to just one really important travel-retail destination. These experiences showed me how there is never one way to look at a business or to operate a business. You have to be open-minded and nimble.
Dagne Dover’s website features the quote, “Life isn’t about finding yourself. Life is about creating yourself.” Can you give us a tip for creating a successful life that you’ve used yourself?
If you want something, it’s up to you to make it happen. When I was 24, I wanted international work experience and managerial experience. I quit my job to move to London with no back-up plan. That decision was the beginning of how I started to create myself and what led me to Dagne Dover. Live by conviction, pursue your passions, know what you value and actively create a life that supports those values.
Can you go a little deeper into your “You are what you carry” philosophy?
In the emotional sense, if your handbag is a disorganized mess, you feel like a disorganized mess. Doesn’t matter how perfectly you’ve done your makeup or how awesome your outfit is. At the same time, if your handbag is perfectly organized, you feel like you can take on the world.
What was the one non-negotiable feature/space you had to have in the totes that you refused to give up?
They are all hard decisions for our design team. We weigh functionality, usage, design, cost and weight and try to find the perfect balance. But if I (and our customers) had to say one thing that has been fundamentally life-changing, it would be the water bottle holder. No more crying over spilled milk (or coffee)!
Aside from Dagne Dover being the bag that has it all and a place for it all, 10% of the purchase from each handbag is donated to one of nine organizations chosen by nine influencers, ranging from Pencils of Promise to Generation W. Purses + philanthropy = perfection.
Check out Dagne Dover’s collection here. Follow them on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest for the latest trends in functional and fashionable handbags, and keep up with Melissa on Twitter and Instagram for more inspiring words of biz wiz.