Keep reading to learn more about the brands.
When their 9-to-5 clothing couldn’t keep up, they created their own.
When Dorie Smith and Emelyn Northway met in business school—they realized their closet couldn’t keep up with their 9-to-5-and-then-some lifestyle. Clothes would get wrinkled too quickly, wouldn’t hold up season-to-season, and couldn’t transition from the office to happy hour as stylishly as they wanted. So, they decided to do it themselves by starting Of Mercer, a workwear line that women would actually want to wear. We chatted with Dorie Smith, who co-founded Of Mercer, to learn how they got started.
SF: What inspired the two of you to create your brand?
Dorie Smith: We both came from conservative business backgrounds, I was in consulting, Emelyn in finance, and we felt like there was no brand that was really catering to our needs—which weren’t all that demanding. We wanted high-quality, stylish clothes that were also appropriate for work and made us feel our best. While we had two or three go-to outfits for big presentations, we knew that we deserved to have a whole closet full of clothes that would help us feel like our best selves. As a consultant, I was traveling so much—getting on and off flights and trying to squeeze in drinks with my girlfriends or a date with my boyfriend. Finding a wardrobe that fit my lifestyle was impossible. Emelyn and I felt like we were the right people to solve this problem since we had been in our customers’ shoes.
SF: Who do you go to for advice as you’ve built Of Mercer?
DS: We’re lucky to have built up a network filled with other female entrepreneurs who are going through similar experiences, who support us through the lows and celebrate with us during the highs. Personally, having a co-founder in Emelyn has been incredibly important too. She’s really good at looking at a problem very deeply and thinking through every detail, while I conversely will make a thousand decisions every hour and often go with my gut. We really balance each other out.
SF: If you could describe the Of Mercer woman, what would she be like?
DS: The Of Mercer woman is multi-faceted, busy, ambitious—but also fun and social. She embodies the work hard, play hard mentality and understands the value of looking good and feeling better.
SF: We know it might be hard to pick just one, but if you had to choose a favorite piece, what would it be?
DS: The Riverside dress. It’s machine-washable, has pockets, and a belt that makes it super flattering. In the winter, I’ll style it with tights, a blazer and black booties. In the summer, I wear it with gladiator sandals and bright statement earrings.
Tired of rifling through her bag, she created one Swiss Army Knife of a purse company.
Founded from the frustration of having to rifle through your entire purse just to find a set of keys or lipgloss, co-founders, Melissa Mash, Deepa Gandhi and Jessy Dover banded together to create their own brand of ultra-functional and equally stylish handbags. We spoke to CEO Melissa Mash on her experience, from fundraising (it was hard) to her favorite Dagne Dover bags that make life as an entrepreneur and mother just a little bit easier.
SF: What inspired you to create the brand?
Melissa Mash: Prior to founding Dagne Dover, I had worked at Coach and was tasked with re-introducing the brand to the European market and setting up their first store in the UK. But when women came looking for a new handbag, they were really wanting a bag that would help them feel organized. Women would come into the store and rifle through their bag as they looked for their wallet to buy a new bag, their keys would scratch their phones—it was an unending list of problems they had with their bags. They were looking for handbags that were stylish, but still had practical elements, well-priced and almost as intuitive as an iPhone, where you know exactly where everything is—like your Metro Card, sunglasses, phone and keys.
SF: Much like our founder, Katrina Lake, you fundraised to get Dagne Dover off the ground. What was that like?
MM: My two other co-founders and I were making prototypes of the bag before we started to fundraise and while myself and one of my co-founders was in business school, we won a $10,000 grant through our school that helped cover our initial start-up costs as we continued to fund it as scrappily as we could. It was really hard to fundraise. One prospective investor asked us, “are fashionable women really going to want to carry a functional bag?” We thought it was a ridiculous thing to ask because, for us, those things didn’t have to be mutually exclusive. The first amount of capital came from our friends and family, but as people started to see the bag, that’s when it really started to take off. We had a pre-sale in 2013 where we sold out of everything that we produced for that year. We then raised money in 2014 from an angel investor, who really believed in us and led that round. It just takes one person to really believe in you and help you grow.
SF: As you went through fundraising, who in your life kept you motivated?
MM: I’ve had some really amazing role models in my life. The women on my mom’s side of the family were never afraid to be the first of anything in their era. My great-grandmother was in the first class of women to graduate from college in Korea and her sister was a very famous Italian opera singer in Korea, both of which weren’t common in Korea back then. My parents too really inspired me with their teamwork over the years, as they took turns being the breadwinners of the family as I was growing up. Being present for my child and future children (I hope to have more) also kept me motivated. I dreamed of having a job where I could be present for my family, so I knew that I had to start my own. I didn’t want to miss out on field trips, plays or all of the small moments that make work worthwhile.
SF: Who have you gone to for support and advice along the way?
MM: My husband has been there since the beginning of Dagne Dover, from when I called him with the idea to actually getting it started. He’s always been able to provide an outside and largely independent perspective on whatever I’m dealing with. And he really just believes in me. It’s really important as an entrepreneur to have someone on your side and understand that starting a business is a long game.
SF: What’s the Dagne Dover woman like?
MM: The women who carry our bags are the type who like to feel prepared. She might be running from work to school pick-up, to then workout—she’s doing a lot of stuff. She’s always trying to improve herself and likes feeling put-together.
SF: We know it might be hard to pick just one, but if you had to pick a favorite product, which would it be?
MM: There are two, but my number one would have to be the Dakota backpack. I can bring it anywhere—from work to a hike, or on a plane with a Dr. Seuss book inside—and the pockets keep me organized for whatever the day has in store. I also love the Ace fanny pack. Now that I’m a mom, I need to be hands-free and it’s perfect for carrying all the essentials.
Eye-catching accessories that look great and do good.
Brooklyn-based Mercado Global does more than create the perfect bags to have slung around your shoulders. Aside from being an accessories brand, they’re also a non-profit that helps rural Latin American women create their own local weaving businesses that financially empower women and their families for years to come. We spoke with Executive Director and founder, Ruth DeGolia, to learn about how the brand came to be and the incredible women they’ve empowered along the way.
SF: What inspired you to create your brand?
RD: Mercado Global was born in the early 2000s when I was a senior at Yale, finishing up my thesis but also volunteering in Guatemala. While I was there, I worked with the national Asociación Mayalan, where I met many women who survived the country’s brutal 36-years-long civil war. Most of them were facing extreme economic hardship—some of the women couldn’t afford to send their children to school or even feed their families. But I learned that many of these women were incredibly talented weavers and artisans who made jewelry, bags and woven scarves. So I packed my bags with their creations and headed back to school, where I then sold enough of their goods to provide income for 30 artisans for an entire month, and send 10 of their daughters to school for the rest of the year. This made me realize that there was something special about building a bridge between rural craftspeople and retailers in the global marketplace, so I drafted up a business plan and here we are!
SF: That’s incredible! As you continued to build the brand, who kept you motivated along the way?
RD: For us, the courageous women of Guatemala always keep us motivated as Mercado Global continues to grow. Rebeca Samines Ajtzij, for me, is a shining example of how our work has empowered women along the way, not just now but for years to come. After partnering with us, she’s been able to build up a savings account with her income from her work. For the future, she told us, “What I hope to do is generate my own resources and further on, build my own home so others can see what I did with all my hard work and effort.”
SF: What’s the Mercado Global woman like?
RD: For us, she’s multi-faceted, from being a vibrant urbanite to a thriving jet setter, she’s independent, curious, ambitious and dynamic.
SF: We’ve been asking all founders this, but if you had to pick a favorite product, which would it be?
RD: It would be the Rosario Crossbody. It’s my go-to, everyday bag that holds everything that I need for the day and can go anywhere—from biking to work, to taking a meeting with a client, or going out with friends. It’s so comfortable and versatile since I can tuck the strap into the back pocket to make it an evening clutch.
SF: Mercado Global is such a special company!
RD: We really are a brand and a non-profit that has a mission to transform the lives of women. We create beautiful and thoughtfully designed accessories that not only have the ability to transform an outfit, but they can also empower an entire community of indigenous women. We’re lucky to be building a brand with our customers, donors, partners and retailers who are collectively making an impact on the lives of rural indigenous women and their communities in Guatemala.
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