Before Melissa Mash was CEO of up-and-coming DTC handbag company Dagne Dover, she’d spent a surprising amount of time in retail. As a college undergrad, she found internships with a clothing and bedding designer, and with the jewelry company Henri Bendel.
But it was in her first professional role at Coach that the idea for Dagne Dover began to form. Mash worked in a variety of positions in a variety of departments at Coach, from wholesale to account management, and spent a lot of time thinking about handbags.
Thinking about them – and talking about them with customers. It was during that time Mash learned two things. The first was that people love handbags, and particularly favor models that are designed around function. No one likes the experience of rummaging through their bag as though they are on an “archeological expedition” for their car keys or chapstick.
The second thing she learned was that while there were a lot of near-functional handbag designs on the market, consumers were just as often disappointed by their purses as they were delighted by them. Looking cool is a good start, and compartmentalizing the interior is a great second. But offering a purse that actually endeared itself to its owner meant building something that actually added to the experience of carrying it.
“It’s not just about having a bunch of pockets on the inside, which some brands do,” Mash said. “It’s about making sure the pockets are so intuitive to the consumer that she doesn’t have to think twice. Or course, that’s the sunglasses pocket. Of course, that’s the laptop sleeve.”
And so, along with Co-founders Deepa Gandhi and Jessy Dover, Mash rolled out their line of bags to combat those issues. Their extensive offerings cover the ever-popular handbags category, along with tote bags, backpacks, travel bags, fanny packs, wallets, toiletry bags, pouches and card cases.
What all of those bags have in common, Mash noted, is that no matter what size they are, they are highly compartmentalized and designed for ultimate efficiency and organization.
“I saw that there was a huge opportunity for a new brand that was digitally native, that was well-priced, performance-oriented in terms of being an awesome aesthetic but also with a ton of really organized, thoughtful pockets,” Mash said, noting that at base, the brand was founded on the idea that no one wants to tip out the entire contents of their bag to locate their phone, wallet or sunglasses.
No matter how nice it looks, she noted, a bag is only as useful as it is navigable, and any bag that has turned into “an endless abyss” is probably not living up to its most useful potential.
Dagne Dover was intended to start – and remain – a digital DTC brand. Mash said that it was never really the firm’s intention to take on physical stores and sales, but over time the expressed needs of their customer base persuaded them that it was time to take a broader approach to retail.
“It’s less expensive and less resource-draining for a new brand to at least start out as a totally digital online business,” Co-founder and Creative Director Jessy Dover told Glossy. “But what we realized through our social network is that our customer really wants to see things in person. Seeing something on a flat, two-dimensional screen is not the same. We realized we needed to bring brick-and-mortar into our strategy in a big way.”
However, that “big way” still involved the brand’s baked-in cautious approach to expansions and additions – meaning they started their physical retail endeavors with a “toe-in” approach that has become popular with up-and-coming brands thinking about going physical: a pop-up shop.
That experiment officially launched late last year in Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood. The longer-term goal, depending on the success of the pop-up, will be to open a full-time physical boutique for their bags and accessories.
“Slow and steady wins the race. We need a lot of time to create things to our standard of quality,” Dover noted. “The only way to speed things up is to skip steps, and we are not comfortable with that. That’s why we like to dip our toes. It’s less risky, but we also have time. We don’t need to race to the finish line.”