In Conversation With: Melissa Shin Mash
CEO Dagne Dover
Melissa Shin Mash is the CEO and co-founder of the handbag company Dagne Dover. Dagne Dover’s philosophy is “you are what you carry” and they manufacture what is known as the “perfect” work tote. This tote is not only stylish, but it is also perfectly sized and structured so that it fits everything you would need, from 7 am to 10 pm, in an organized manner. Melissa told me she was inspired to start Dagne Dover while she was at business school at Wharton, where she saw her friends struggling to carry all of their daily essentials. Eventually, Melissa partnered with her fellow Wharton classmate Deepa Gandhi and designer Jessy Dover and together they founded Dagne Dover!
Dagne Dover launched their first pre-sale collection in March 2013 and since then they have quickly gained a following. Their handbags have been featured in high-profile publications like Forbes, People, and Oprah Mag. And high-profile women like Gayle King have become fans.
Melissa has had a long-term love affair with handbags. She tried her hand at making one herself at age 15. She told me, “[that handbag] was boxy like the iconic black Kate Spade bag that put the brand on the map in the 90s, but it was dark red velvet with embellishments.” Melissa humorously recounted,”It was allll class.”
At age 18, Melissa moved to the Big Apple where she studied Metropolitan Studies at New York University (NYU). Although she liked her classes, her passion for fashion remained and since she couldn’t take fashion courses at NYU, Melissa started interning at various fashion brands to stay engaged with the industry. After completing a bunch of fashion internships, Melissa realized she wanted to work for a corporate fashion company with a formalized internship program. Melissa was given the opportunity to intern with Coach and after completing the internship she continued working with the company after graduating from college. After her successful career with Coach, Melissa enrolled in business school at Wharton.
Nowadays, even though Melissa is busy developing and expanding Dagne Dover, she makes time for some fun personal hobbies. She told me, “I enjoy pup-spotting, walking through new neighborhoods and cities and surprising my friends with pressies.” Read on to learn more about this savvy #GirlBoss who believes fashion is just as important as functionality.
Who is the Dagne Dover girl?
“The Dagne Dover woman has a busy, on-the-go lifestyle. She balances career, friends, family and activities that make her feel balanced and complete. She’s constantly looking to improve herself.”
Tell me about the name Dagne Dover?
“Dagne is a Nordic word for “new dawn” and Dover is Jessy’s last name! We wanted Dagne Dover to be a new dawn for handbags — to change what women expect out of their handbags.”
How did you get connected with your two other co-founders Jessy Dover and Deepa Gandhi?
“While I was working on the business, I was looking for a talented designer that “got” the aesthetic I wanted to create (but obviously didn’t have the skills to do!). I had heard of Jessy since she had won the Coach Accessories Design Competition in 2011, and after we started working together, I saw that she was the designer to bring the Dagne Dover brand to life.
I’ve known Deepa since 2007! She has a background in the more operational, financial end of retail from her time at Club Monaco. When she was in her first year at Wharton and I was in my second year, I was running focus groups for Dagne Dover, and Deepa was hooked. I knew she was a fantastic fit for Dagne Dover based on her expertise and my relationship with her.”
What is your design process?
“Market research has always been a big part of our process. It’s the reason why our original tote has been so successful. Feedback guides the product assortment strategy, and then Jessy incorporates the feedback into her designs. We really listen to our customers and encourage them to tell us what they want to see next!”
How challenging is it to make your handbags functional AND fashionable?
“Practicality and style do not have to be mutually exclusive. We know that our bag has to solve our customers’ needs, but that the bag also has to be beautiful. As a result, we’re excited to introduce more printed leather styles and colors this year.”
Tell me about the factory in Vietnam that you work with? How did you choose this location?
“We scour the world for the highest quality materials and manufacturing partners. Our factory in Vietnam works with other large, American luxury brands.”
How does one become an Asian #GirlBoss like you?
“Like any minority, it’s important to work harder, do better and show the utmost dedication to your work. Make yourself irreplaceable. Every position I’ve ever had has been created for me. Standing out, with a career completely different from my peers has definitely influenced my career.
The truth is that there is opportunity everywhere if you are self-motivated, hard-working and persistent. If you show that you are complacent in a role, you will be treated with complacence. If you show that you want to constantly grow, that you crave feedback and constructive criticism and that you can take on additional ownership, people will respect you and treat you as a leader. They will invest their time in you and groom you for that next level. Show you have a fire to succeed, and you will be noticed.”
What is the hardest part of running a start-up fashion brand? Do you have any advice for young entrepreneurs?
“Focus. It’s incredibly important to remain focused and not be swept up in every opportunity.
Build a committee of personal friends, start-up friends, mentors, etc. who you can speak candidly with and who can give you advice. You’re not going to have every single answer, and that’s ok. Surround yourself with people who can guide your decision-making.”
Which designers do you like? Which ones inspire you?
“We, and Jessy in particular, love Sandro’s clean lines. In general, Jessy’s designs are inspired by menswear and utilitarian chic design. We definitely subscribe to the belief that less is more.”
Favorite part of your job?
“The favorite part of my job is seeing how what we do changes people’s lives. Hearing a customer say how much she loves her bag and how it has changed her day-to-day is so rewarding. I want to change what people expect from their bags, from themselves and from the world, through great product. If we can change how our society values smart design, we can change the world. And what can be cooler than that!?”
What can we expect from Dagne Dover in the coming months?
“You will see a lot of new colors, fabrications and silhouettes coming out this year! If you want to be the first to know when we launch new colors — sign up for our waitlist!
We are starting to partner with boutiques around the country. If you’re in NYC, you can check out product at Darling Boutique. If you would like to see us in another city or at a particular event, let us know!”
Check out Dagne Dover’s handbag collection here and follow them @dagnedover.
Nisha Choksi is the Managing Editor of Universal Mirror. She is working on completing her Master’s degree in Public Policy and Administration (MPPA) from Northwestern University, focusing on issues related to education and economic development. Nisha is an active dancer who enjoys traveling and is obsessed with all things beauty