Ashley Cook and Danielle Dankner graduated together from Washington University in 2008. Both found themselves in a tough job market and had trouble breaking into the competitive acting industry in New York City. Instead of giving up or getting depressed about the situation they did the next best thing…they started a company.
Ash&Dans was born and quickly has become a known name in the fashion industry with features in things like Teen Vogue, Lucky Magazine and the Wall Street Journal . It took hard work and a lot of motivation but the duo is pushing forward and expanding their brand as we speak.
You have an amazing private label clothing line, you started from your dorm rooms. What gave you the courage to move across the country to New York and how did you fund the business?
Thank you, Matt. We actually did not start ash&dans in college; we came up with the idea shortly after graduation. Danielle was born in New York City and moved back in hopes of finding a job. Ashley, born in Colorado, moved to New York to pursue an acting career. While Ashley had some luck breaking into the industry, Danielle was not so lucky. As the hiring freezes started, she struggled along with many other recent graduates. However, when things started slowing down for Ashley, and she saw her best friend frustrated with the fruitless job search, Ashley, an entrepreneur and optimist at heart, decided it was time to take action. She knew that we had the work ethic, will power and creative edge to start a business together. When Ashley brought up the idea at first, it seemed to good to be true. But the more seriously we thought about it, discussed and planned, we realized it was going to become a reality. From the day Ashley brought up the idea of starting a company, we have put our all into the brand and have been enjoying success ever since.
ash&dans did not start up with the help of investors. The reason we were able to make things work was because we were extremely prudent with our money ever since day one. We each invested a small amount of our personal savings into a joint business bank account and used that money to grow our business. At the start, we kept our costs down to a minimum- we borrowed a sewing machine from a friend and cut and sewed old t-shirts and sweaters to make the prototypes. Once we had the prototype, we bought just enough fabric and trim to make them professionally. Because we were so careful with our buying, we were able to cover our costs by selling our product and keeping very little inventory
So you started with nothing but fabric and scissors, how did you drum up your first clients?
We were creative and confident. Once we put together our Fall ’08 collection, a few samples of each style, we carried them in a garment bag around the city and walked into boutiques that we thought would be a good fit for our product. We introduced ourselves and our brand to the people in the store and asked if we could speak with the buyer or manager. If they said yes, we would show them our samples and line sheets and pitch them our collection, right then and there. Of course, it took guts and charisma, but it worked out for the best. We got into our first store this way- a cute boutique on the Upper East Side of NYC.
Roommates in college and now business partners–do you ever get sick of each other? Describe the details of your partnership.
No, it’s a wonderful thing. We spend most hours of the week together but do not get sick of each other. We even still spend our free time on the weekends together, too. Our personalities are different, but we balance each other well, in business and friendship.
So many creative people, designers and artists have trouble with the business side of things. What advice can you provide for people who have a creative product to sell but don’t know how to turn it into a business?
Educate yourselves constantly and surround yourselves with people who know more than you do. Never be afraid to ask questions or take risks. It is amazing how much we have developed our business savvy since the inception of ash&dans. Even Ashley, who was a business major in the Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis, believes she has learned infinitely more from her day to day experiences running her own business than she could have learned in a classroom. We learn something new everyday. We enjoy both the business side and the creative side and fill each day with a equal amounts of both.
Have any celebrities been spotted wearing your line and if so, how did you take advantage of this marketing strategy?
Yes, some celebrities have been spotted wearing ash&dans. Gossip Girl’s Jessica Szohr and Leighton Meester have both been photographed wearing our product and Catherine Zeta-Jones and Judy Dench were seen buying ash&dans at Henri Bendels in NYC.
You’ve been featured in Cosmo Girl, Teen Vogue, the Wall Street Journal and inTouch Magazine how did you land the press?
Sometimes we reach out to magazines and sometimes they reach out to us. At the beginning, we found contacts at various fashion publications and emailed them with an intro to our company and images of our collection. Teen Vogue was the first company to respond to our buzz. They had heard of us and were eager to run a story on the up-and-coming brand. We enjoyed doing the interview and the interviewer loved our line. People responded positively to that article, including DailyCandy, who featured us in their New York Weekend segment. Jessica Szohr mentioned to Lucky Magazine that ash&dans was her favorite scarf of 2009. This began a snowball effect- the more people read the interviews, the more people wanted to write about us. The more people wrote about us, the more stores became interested in our line. The more stores picked up our line, the more magazines were interested in doing a write up. And so on and so forth.
How does your distribution strategy work? Are you guys packing boxes and delivering your scarves across NYC and what are your plans for expansion?
We run and manage all aspects of the business, which includes distribution. We pack boxes and use shipping services to send our scarves to various stores in the city, as well as across the country and overseas.
Your scarf was seen in the presence of Jersey Shore’s Snooki, what does this say about your clientele and how obsessed are you guys with the hit MTV series?
Oh, the Snooki picture. We never expected it to draw so much attention but appreciate that you have visited our Facebook page’s “Spotted” album. We love the Jersey Shore and hope that Snooki is obsessed with ash&dans, too. Our friend (left) sent us that picture after a work meeting with her. Although the scarf isn’t on Snooki, we thought people would enjoy the photo because she is such a character right now.
What’s the most difficult part of scaling a business like this and what are you most looking forward to in the future?
Everyday we wake up thankful for having our own business at such a young age and grateful for being able to spend our days together. We look forward to growing our brand, continually challenging ourselves and coming up with innovative designs.
Category: Entrepreneur Interviews