Three bold women founded handbag startup Dagne Dover

Founders of Dagne Dover: Deepa Gandhi, Melissa Shin Mash and Jessy Dover

Founders of Dagne Dover: Deepa Gandhi, Melissa Shin Mash and Jessy Dover

First off, thank you for stepping up as a Visionary sponsor for November’s “A Call to Adventure: The Inside Story of Women Leaders” and thereby fueling UN Women programs for gender equality worldwide. 

Dagne Dover’s origin story has three incredible female leaders. What was your “call to adventure” – that moment that propelled you on your journey as entrepreneurs?

Jessy, Deepa and I had less-than-awesome experiences in our corporate lives which left us feeling that leadership could better serve its employees. Leadership didn’t have to be fear-driven or hierarchical, and it didn’t have to be punitive for people who had families and other responsibilities outside of work. We were propelled by what we saw as much-needed improvement in the corporate environment, and in the world.

How did you decide to join forces as three co-founders?

I never wanted to be a solo founder. There are so many important decisions to make on a daily basis, and decision-making fatigue is real. I wanted two strong co-founders where we could lean on each other’s areas of expertise to make the best decisions. I needed a co-founder who could be the face of the brand as a designer, and who could connect with customers on a personal level. Most traditional bag brands are run by older men who are frankly not the demographic they’re selling to. I wanted us to reflect our young, modern customer base. I knew the other co-founder had to be someone a lot more analytical and operationally-minded than me. As someone who has always been surrounded by people with those strengths, it was essential to have that on the business side to complement my own skill sets. Jessy, Deepa and I started working together in early 2012 and have been partners since!

What have been your moments of challenge as entrepreneurs, and how did you overcome them? What experiences are specific to being female founders?

I think our generation of digitally native brand founders is trying to change workplace culture and leadership. At the same time, most of our role models of CEOs and other C-Suite executives have traditionally been white men -- so for the early years of the business we were defining culture and trying to figure out “what does that look and feel like for us?”. Leadership doesn’t have to be hard, or loud, or masculine -- it can be soft, and focused on listening and people -- not just numbers. It took us time to learn that we could rewrite all the rules and all of the norms. We didn’t need to conform to what anyone thought we should be -- we could 100% create it ourselves.

Tell us about your support network – do you have go-to advisors assembled for their wisdom, advice, support and encouragement in this entrepreneurial journey?

We really lean on our founder network to get outside opinions about how we should approach problems. We have a fantastic group of investors, some of whom are founders, who also come from consumer goods and understand many of the challenges that we face. We’ve been very thoughtful about building our network in a way where we have aligned investors and advisors.

You’ve just launched a “Baby Capsule” focused on bags for parents. We love the messaging towards all parents, regardless of gender. What was the driver for this direction?

We always wanted to create a baby bag capsule -- it was just a matter of putting one foot ahead of the other and making sure we had the proper amount of time and resources to test and build it the right way. We make products that evolve with the lifestyle of our customer. Our customer has been asking for baby bags for a while, and we knew it was important to build a collection that supported equal parenting and a modern aesthetic. Most parents don’t want to carry a baby bag that screams “baby.” They want to carry a product that matches with the rest of their style. People like to take pride in what they wear and carry. This collection is meant to flex from work, to a day around town with your babe, to a flight across the country with your fam -- just in the way that so many of our other products do.

In 2020 the UN marks 25 years since the 1995 Women’s World Conference in Beijing, where 50 thousand people converged to create unified goals on women’s equal participation.  That’s a generation ago. Today, no country has yet achieved gender equality. Obstacles remain in law and in culture. Women remain undervalued, work more, earn less, and experience violence. UN Women just launched the “Generation Equality” campaign to spark a global conversation on progress and needed action.


How do you relate to previous and future generations of women leaders? What advice do you give young women entrepreneurs, and is there someone who inspired your path as a businesswoman?

We are so inspired by the future generation of young people who are growing up in a high-stakes digital age, among school violence and so many real consequences and concerns. Their ability to see how previous generations have prioritized other values over the health of the earth, and prioritized opulence instead of personal health and sustainability—is really inspiring. We’re hopeful that those growing up in the middle of the #METOO movement are not only seeing how pervasive discriminatory practices have been, both culturally and in law, but that they’re also having conversations around consent and what is unacceptable behavior, in a way that hasn’t happened in previous generations. I hope this generation of young people who are just starting their careers won’t tolerate unjust and discriminatory practices that have been accepted for decades. If I were to give advice to this group, it would be to advocate for your peers. One person’s voice against an authority doesn’t have the weight or urgency to be addressed as much as when people stick up for each other and come together to fix behavior and policies. 

As female founders, do you feel a unique responsibility in securing a better future for women, our culture and planet?

We definitely feel a responsibility to use our platform and clout to be able to create a conversation around each of these topics. One of the reasons why we wanted to support UN Women for International Women’s Day is because we’re acutely aware of how privileged our position is in the world, and how our experiences as women can be so different from those of so many around the world.

Why is giving back important to you and why UN Women USA NY?

At this point in our lives, we find ourselves as very privileged women living in NYC, who get to do what we do for work and have supportive families and a platform so that people actually listen. We were not always these women, and there are so many who don’t have a voice or a way out of their circumstances. Two of us are parents as well, and we can’t imagine being able to do anything we do without our supportive partners and greater ecosystems. There are a lot of moving pieces that make our lives possible and we are extremely sympathetic to people who deal with familial, socioeconomic and patriarchal issues around the world -- not to mention the various pressures and expectations women face simply because they are women. Women around the globe need to support each other, but more importantly, women who are in more fortunate circumstances need to bring to light the challenges of those who don’t have the privilege of having that voice. 

What’s next for Dagne Dover – how do you define future success?

We will continue to come out with products that serve our customers’ evolving needs so that they feel they can take on whatever the day throws at them. More importantly, I hope we can be a model for what future corporate America looks and feels like so that it’s a more collaborative, inclusive and family-friendly environment. I define success as being a leader in the products we produce, as well as in how we manage our company and team culture. I define personal success as being happy and grateful, always.

Jenn N