Boss Babes: Melissa, Deepa, and Jessy, Founders of Dagne Dover

As a company created by two women, we know how important it is to celebrate women who are trailblazers in their respective fields. That’s why we’ve started our Boss Babes series. Each month we’ll highlight one woman who’s leading the way and is absolutely crushing it, in business and in life. Here, they’ll answer questions on everything from how they started out and advice they think every woman should know, plus their beauty routines and how they take care of themselves. This month: Melissa Mash, Jessy Dover, and Deepa Ghandi, co-founders of Dagne Dover.

If you’ve spent cumulative hours of your life searching through your handbag — for keys, wallet, lip balm, whatever — then you likely understand the wild appeal of Dagne Dover (that is, if you don’t already own one of their smart, thoughtful designs yourself). The brainchild of three female founders who wanted to streamline bags for women everywhere, Dagne Dover is known for its huge variety, from laptop bags to fanny packs, and rainbow of soft colors and chic patterns. Spills and scratches are no match for the neoprene material, while cleverly-designed pockets allow for easy organizing. Think of it as handbags optimized for real life, which is why the brand’s huge following should come as no surprise.

To celebrate our recent collaboration with Dagne Dover, we talked to founders Melissa, Deepa, and Jessy about how they met one another, how female entrepreneurs can succeed, and (of course) what beauty means to them.

How did you three meet?

Melissa Mash: Deepa and I have known each other socially since 2007! I had met Jessy while I was looking for the right design co-founder to bring into what was starting to take form as Dagne Dover. I had seen her impressive resume and portfolio, and given that she had won the Coach Accessories Competition while she was a student at Parsons, I had a lot of faith that she had a solid understanding for how to make bags that are not only beautiful, but that will also sell.

How did that connection lead to the start of Dagne Dover?

Melissa: When I was in my second year of business school, Deepa was in her first year at the same school. She was in one of my first focus groups, and given that she had come from the retail industry, she understood the potential for a brand like Dagne Dover that could nail smart, organized design, while marrying it with streamlined aesthetics and performance materials. At the same time, Jessy was a designer at a big company where she felt very…limited as a creative. She wanted to create her own brand, and so when I approached her with this opportunity, it was pretty perfect timing for her to take a plunge and seize the opportunity.

Jessy Dover: I met Melissa at a coffee shop in the East Village. We hit it off completely, and when I met Deepa shortly after, it solidified our friendship right away. We immediately respected each other, and connected through our work ethic, excitement, intensity, and love for design. We all like group dynamics and have a lot of friends etc., which made it natural for us to create Dagne Dover as a collaborative effort.

Deepa Gandhi: I had come to business school with a different business idea but after attending Mel’s first focus group for what would become Dagne Dover, I called her that night and told her I was IN. Soon after, I met Jessy and was thoroughly impressed so that was the beginning of a great friendship and partnership. The rest is history!

What makes DD so unique?

Melissa: Our thoughtful approach to everything we do. There is a lot of heart in every decision we make. We don’t make decisions based on one dimension (financial) or another (design). Every decision for what we design, how we communicate something, etc. is always heavily considered.

Jessy: Our emphasis on partnership & collaboration. We respect each other, and all of our team members greatly. Because of this, we are able to make smart decisions, work together effectively, and enjoy the time we spend creating our brand, it’s not just a job to anyone, it’s a lifestyle. We know that none of the amazing things we create and do  would be possible without the hard working, passionate, energetic people behind the scenes making things happen!

Deepa: Our culture. Dagne is so much more than a brand that sells bags. We are a family that cares about each other and respects each other– we work through the good and the bad together. We have found a unique way to balance the creative and business sides of our brand which I believe is what makes us special and fosters a culture that we take pride in.

What do each of you bring to the table for the brand?

Melissa: I’m definitely not a typical business person and I am definitely not a true creative. I live between both worlds, with a background in social sciences (eg: people) and the arts. Across the three of us, together we provide a lot of balance to how we run the company and make decisions. The leadership of very few organizations is as balanced as it is at our company, and it’s one of the biggest reasons why we believe we’ve been so successful to date. 

Jessy: My role at Dagne is to design our products, define our creative brand vision, and passionately lead our team as a founder. Being a creator, I look at the full picture of how things will be built whether it be a product, website, or team, and act as a guide to make sure we have all of the pieces that we need in order to execute on our vision! I genuinely love people, especially the ones that I work with, so I also make an effort to try to ensure that our team is “in flow” as much as possible. 

Deepa: As our COO (and sometimes CFO) I focus on all things growth, operations, and finance. I like to think that my team and I focus on ensuring that the amazing things that our team creates are properly executed on, brought to market and each day more and more people know about them.

What’s it like working in a business started by three women? How do you all support each other? Are there any particular challenges? How do you make decisions on things when you might not agree? 

Melissa: I think it’s really friggin awesome. We have different points of view, but we are aligned enough and respect each other enough to lean on each other for certain decisions and to be able to move nimbly. We also aren’t hesitant to talk about our feelings, to over communicate with each other and with our team, and that helps ensure very few things go unsaid or fall between the cracks. Often the best answer isn’t “being right” it’s moving forward. There isn’t really ever a situation in which one of us isn’t willing to move on, even if they may disagree with a decision. We go for 80% perfect because we have a business to run.  

Jessy: It’s AMAZING! I am single, and I always refer to Mel & Deepa as my founderwives. We make all of our decisions together, and have grown to have a deep understanding and trust of one another that allows us to navigate any situation we are faced with effectively. We do have our disagreements and misunderstandings just like anyone else, but at the end of the day, our goal is the same, and we trust each other to make the right decisions.

Deepa: It’s the best! As Jessy said, we are founderwives which means we are more than just business partners. We work together tirelessly to build and run Dagne but we also care about each other on a personal level. When we do see things differently, we hear each other out and respect each other’s thoughts but in the end we try to lean on the expert on that topic. Each day I consider myself lucky to have such amazing co-founders.

Is there a specific real life example you can give on how you overcame a disagreement or solved a particular problem?

Deepa: I can’t think of a specific example but I can tell you when we do, we always work it out by either talking it through ourselves with a focus on what an expert on that specific situation thinks. Sometimes that’s one of us, sometimes is someone else but we know who to trust which always helps.

via @dagnedover/Instagram

What’s your advice for women looking to start their own business?

Deepa: Spend enough time thinking about your long-term goal and then work backwards into how to get there so that the decisions you make, funding you bring in and people you bring into your business are the right ones to get you there. If you have co-founders, focus on founder alignment early on as well. Being aligned is invaluable to long-term success.

Many times, people think female co-workers are in competition with each other. This idea that in order to succeed as a women in business, you have to compete and put down other women. What do you say to that? 

Melissa: It sucks to be “the only one” in the room — whether it’s as a woman, a minority, an LGBTQ person, etc. I think this competition problem arises when an individual is “the only one” and there is not a culture in place to recognize and celebrate those differences, and instead, the lack of representation highlights those differences. We are almost a completely female team, and we are not competitive with each other. We are supportive of what amazing work each person does for the brand.

Jessy: It is important to consider that what we say and how we act are directly impacting the environments that we are in. We always say, “be responsible for the energy that you bring”, because we believe that culture is delicate, important, and that our office is a sacred space. It’s just not true that there isn’t room for everyone to be successful together. We need to get rid of that belief all together as a society.

Deepa: It’s all about the culture of where you are and culture comes from the top. As female leaders, we truly believe in this so we have built our teams to ensure that everyone is working towards one collective goal vs goals that put each other at odds. If you want to stop internal competition you have to build a culture that does not allow that in.

What should women in the workplace be doing to help support their fellow females?

Deepa: We have to be there for each other. We have to listen to each other. Being not just a co-worker but a friend that you know you can lean on when things get tough is the most important. Also championing other women is always key. We have to raise each other up rather than fighting each other. We’re in this together!

What has the biggest challenge been with the brand? What has your proudest moment been?

Deepa: Tough question but to be honest the current environment is the most challenging since there is so much that we cannot control and uncertainty so the decisions we make are focused on business continuity rather than growth which is a major shift for us. Proudest moment to date would be the launch of our baby collection last September. We got all of it right and the only reason was because we had so much experience under our belt. The team really came together to bring this collection to life and our customers can feel that, resulting in a very successful launch.

What beauty secrets and tips have you shared with each other that you all now swear by?

Deepa: Threading! My mom taught me how to thread in high school, and I swear by it. You can do it anywhere, it’s cost effective and eco-friendly. When Jessy and I were in Vietnam visiting factories in our first year of Dagne, she was trying to figure out how to manage her eyebrows and I jumped at the opportunity to teach her how to thread.

Melissa: At night I wash my face since I want to take off makeup and dirt that accumulated during the day, but ever since I started not washing my face in the mornings, my skin has been much happier with its natural oils. Of course, summertime heat is a little bit of a different story, but I have chosen to trust my body and how it regulates itself.

Jessy: Face oil AM & PM after washing! I know skin experts always tell you to use retinol and vitamin c for anti-aging, but my skin is much happier with a super moisturizing oil and maintains its moisture all day long. After I use it, I always feel like my skin is extra smooth, plump and happy!


Dagne Dover x Glow Recipe

Avo + Glow Set