New Kids on the Block
The It Bag: Reinvented
It’s a return to home base of sorts; both NYU graduates, Dagne Dover CEO Melissa Mash and I wedge ourselves in the crowded Think Coffee on Mercer Street. New York Fashion Week is far behind us, but it’s hard to notice with the warm autumn weather. I’m probably sipping on a latté; it is always my drink of choice, enough milk to cover the espresso shot but containing the necessary jolt to jumpstart my brain.
Both of us have our respective Dagne Dover totes, bringing us to the core of the day’s discussion—entrepreneurship.
After almost three years working at Coach, Mash enrolled at University of Pennsylvania for an MBA. Being in a graduate school environment differs from the undergraduate mentality; there is no rolling out of bed minutes before class, only to grab a textbook and pencil. Instead, the whole day is planned—carrying all the necessities in a handbag that literally weighs one side of you down.
It became apparent to Mash and her future cofounders, including fellow Penn alum Deepa Gandhi, that the handbag was a problem needing a solution. Ideation and design firms will tell you that a gut feeling isn’t enough—proof and validation is necessary. Surveying both men and women, the wants and needs became apparent: men loved a bag in which they didn’t have to rummage through, and women loved a bag that was functional and a staple. The resulting prototype was a waxed canvas handbag, compartmentalized neatly for business cards, trinkets, water bottle, papers, and a chain for house keys.
Despite the investment being mostly a boys’ club, men understood. After all, how many of them had female friends, girlfriends and wives who’d ask them to dig through a tote in a dimly lit bar for something? Probably all of them, at least on one occasion.
Funding is one part of the equation of a business. Where does one go from a prototype and seed money? The answer is to consider the long game: textile and material sourcing moved out of New York’s garment district on account of scalability; ensure the brand image was well-honed before taking the leap to wholesale; maintain the goal to educate investors and potential customers on the product’s unique qualities.
As for competition, how do you compete with other handbag brands within the same price range? Find the point of difference. Customer service, which seems so simple, was the answer. Engaging consumers on social networking sites was the way to go; other brands had their fans but they didn’t have the dedicated level of interaction.
The conversation ends up weaving in and out personal and business over the course of two hours before either of us checks our phones for the time (I’ve since bought a Leonard & Church watch to replace the need of whipping out my obnoxious iPhone). My paper cup has long since been emptied, with cold drips of foam sitting at the bottom. The sun is still out but we each have our own errands and work to finish before calling it a day. We both leave Mercer Street and take our respective paths.
In case you wonder what the mighty mini tote can pack, all these goodies filled up the New York Fashion Week bags with room for more!
Main photo credit: Levo League