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Nine years ago, when CEO Melissa Mash and COO Deepa Gandhi set out to launch their accessories brand, Dagne Dover, they made sure to do things their way. That included being thoughtful about the makeup of their founding team, which also includes chief creative officer Jessy Dover, and getting the brand off the ground before bringing in outside investors.
“We didn’t see ourselves reflected in management. [Retail] was and continues to be a very male-dominated industry, despite who they’re selling to and who the products are made for and who actually works at these companies,” Mash said on the latest Glossy Podcast. “So we wanted to create a place that felt like it was made for us and was run with a different type of energy than we’ve seen in our previous experiences working in retail.”
She added, “It was also really important that we had [financial, operational and design] skills represented on the founding team, so that we could move quickly and move longer without having to raise money immediately. We [could instead spend time] testing it out and making sure we did have product-market fit.”
That independence from industry norms has stayed with Dagne Dover since its launch. For example, though the brand is digitally native, the founders haven’t hesitated to strategically expand its sales channels to select retailers, including Nordstrom. They opened the first permanent Dagne Dover store, in NYC, in 2020.
“In many ways, we often run more like a traditional retail brand, but with the efficiencies of tech and of the modern times,” Mash said.
Below are additional highlights from the conversation, which have been lightly edited for clarity.
Running a product-first company
Gandhi: “We have, from day one, turned a profit on almost every [customer] acquisition, if not every acquisition, we have ever made – which is unique if you look at our peer group and a lot of the other brands that launched almost 10 years ago. And we fundamentally believe that it’s had to do with not just our collective skill sets and the balance that we have, but also [the fact that] we’re a product-first company. And when you make great product, word of mouth happens. People want to come back to you. They want to stay loyal – and [that prevents us from] just paying for an acquisition at any cost. And it’s been phenomenal to watch Jessy [Dover] and her team continue to create and innovate year after year. We started with this perfect work tote. But the business has grown tenfold, in terms of assortment beyond that. And it’s turned into a lifestyle, as a result. So what made a customer love us on day one, because of that perfect tote that we created, still has them loving us when we launch the perfect fanny pack or the perfect baby diaper backpack. And it’s because we have that balance that we believe we’re able to continue the magic that got us to where we are today. And that will continue to allow us to build and grow as we move forward.”
Navigating supply chain obstacles
Gandhi: “We produce all of our inventory, from a factory perspective, in China and the Philippines. And our raw material vendors are global. And so we are getting hit with all of the supply chain challenges, delays, increased costs, etc. that everybody’s experiencing. What’s great is that we have amazing factory partners and we’re working together. The reality is that we have had to place our orders months ahead of when we normally would have had to, to ensure that we have product when we need it and that we stay in stock. Things are only getting longer, they’re not getting shorter. And so it’s [about] proactive planning and really partnering with all of our factories and vendors and saying, ‘How do we make sure we do this together? How do we accept how the world has shifted and changed, from a supply chain perspective, and then work that into our plans? But it’s been tough and, to be frank, it’s not getting better. It’s just that, now, my team basically is like, ‘OK, let’s just assume this is how it’s going to be, or that maybe it’s going to be even worse.’ And we can plan for that, we can be proactive. But things are taking anywhere from two to three to six months to arrive from a port, when it used to take one to two months, max. So it’s a whole different ball game. It’s a whole different financing strategy. It’s complicated, but we have a really good team working on it.”
First-mover advantage on social platforms
Gandhi: “One thing the Dagne team has been very successful with is growing rapidly on new social platforms. So years ago, we grew on Instagram — now it feels like ages ago. But when our advertising first went live, we moved quickly on it, and we had this amazing content that was very organic to your feed. And we saw amazing returns on it. And back in 2017, Instagram did a case study on us, saying, ‘They’re seeing 13-times ROI on ad spend,’ because we were quick to move on it. This was when Instagram was a very efficient channel. But also, we believe it was because of the organic, authentic nature of our content that we resonated. And so, how do we fuel more of that? In the past year, we’ve seen a very similar success rate on TikTok, and we’ve grown. We have almost 150,000 followers, and that’s been very quick, rapid growth. A lot of comparable brands are still trying to figure out their TikTok strategy, and we’ve been there. And so, what do we need to fuel that channel? We need more content. So [that means] lots of content creators and lots of digital creators, and we’re building out our ops team — we need to scale, and so you need to kind of have the power there. And then we also [need to] continue to fund product innovation. So our PD and design teams are growing rapidly, because product is still always No. 1 for us.”