Danielle DiFerdinando of Danielle Nicole
Danielle DiFerdinando’s college budget proved difficult to afford her designer couture handbags, so she put her creativity to the test and made her own. Friends and family were always intrigued with her stellar accessories, and she knew this hobby could become a profitable business. Thus began her path to launching Danielle Nicole.
Danielle went from designing and creating handbags in her dorm room to meeting Oprah and having her bag selected for Oprah’s O You. Not bad for the 25-year-old Founder and Creative Director of Danielle Nicole. Her designs originally graced the shelves of Bergdorf Goodman and Neiman Marcus, but as the economy underwent major changes, so did Danielle’s company. “Consumers spending habits were changing, so I wanted to create products that maintained a luxurious look and feel, but at a lower price point.” Danielle Nicole handbags are now found at Nordstrom, Macy’s, and nation-wide boutiques. These covetable purses are usually under $100, but look like a million bucks. With determination, focus, and true talent, it's no wonder Danielle DiFerdinando is fashion's brightest young star.
Year you launched Danielle Nicole: 2008
Current title/Company: Founder and Creative Director of Danielle Nicole
Educational background: FIT (Fashion Merchandising & Accessory Design)
You began creating your own personal handbags at the age of 18. When did you realize this hobby could turn into a career?
I have always loved designer couture, especially handbags. As a college student I couldn’t afford it, so I took matters into my own hands and started making my own bags. I continually received compliments on my designs from my friends, family members and peers. That’s when it hit me; if everyone around me liked what I was creating, then maybe this hobby I started in my dorm could potentially be something bigger.
How did you land your internship at Bergdorf Goodman?
I landed my internship at Bergdorf Goodman through the internship program at FIT. As a college student , its not the easiest task to find an internship for a company that I was so passionate about. The resources and guidance that FIT provided me with were extremely beneficial in helping score my dream internship
Tell us about the process of launching your first collection. How did you have samples made, find a manufacturer, and promote your bags?
My first collection began with just a few silhouettes. I focused on three key shapes that I believed were unique and different from what was in the marketplace. I found my partners through close personal contacts. Through different leather and hardware suppliers I was able to find my manufacturer. The manufacturer ended up being based right here in New York, in Long Island City !
Finally after having product, I'd make sure to do as many personal appearances as possible to promote my brand. It’s so important to get instant feedback and recommendations from my consumers to help grow the brand.
Did you always know you wanted to be a designer?
Yes, ever since I was a little girl! I remember spending hours rummaging through my mother’s closet, playing and dressing up with her accessories and handbags. I was always mixing and matching things... I guess I knew from the get-go I wanted to create my own bags!
What drew you to handbag design over clothing or other areas of fashion design?
I get asked this question constantly and I always refer to this comparison. For me, handbags are like the icing on the cake, they add that extra something that makes an outfit complete. I also think that handbags make more of a personality statement.
As an incredibly young entrepreneur, what was the most difficult part of starting your own business?
The most challenging part of starting my own business was making sure I understood the ins and outs of the industry. I had to learn how to integrate all the elements – design, marketing, sales, production and development – to create a unique product and ultimately, a profitable company.
Describe your “typical” workday as the designer and owner of Danielle Nicole.
I wake up at 7am. I sleep with my blackberry next to me so it’s the first thing I grab in the morning to check e-mails from our factories overseas. I am in the office by 8-8:30am.
9 am - As soon as I sit down at my computer, I download inspiration or reference pictures that I found the night before to put them on my concept boards. Then I meet with my sales team to review and discuss our store accounts, everything from our majors such as Nordstrom and Macy’s, down to our boutique accounts. This is when I hear our buyer’s feedback - what’s working in the stores regarding each style, the colors, hardware, function, etc.
10am - I meet with my design team while the ideas that come to me during my sales meeting are fresh in my head. I have an amazing support system and my team constantly carries out my vision and delivers great products.
11am-1pm - This is when I sit down with my production manager and review the new materials and samples that come in. It’s important to spend ample time dissecting each product’s details thoroughly; this way, products can be altered before giving factories the final approval.
1:00-3:30pm - I order a quick lunch, which is usually a salad with grilled chicken from Dean & Deluca (my favorite!). This also gives me a chance to work on my concept boards, which is definitely the most enjoyable part of my day because I get lost in my creativity! I then touch base with my design team to discuss inspiration boards, new silhouettes and mock-ups.
4:30-6pm - This time is dedicated to meeting with my marketing and public relations team. We discuss new and existing initiatives that help promote the Danielle Nicole brand in a unique, fun and exciting way.
6:30pm - Soul Cycle, time to hit the bike! It’s a NYC cult! I love to spin and work out. This helps keep my mind clear and focused.
8pm - Depending on the night of the week, I usually have 1-2 business dinners. It’s fun to meet with buyers, editors and bloggers outside of the office. One of my favorite dinner spots is Lure Fishbar in Soho.
10pm - Given the time difference, I’m usually corresponding with my factory at this time. It’s a 12-hour time difference, so they’re just getting started!
11pm - I get to jump into bed and turn on the TV. Finally! I love watching Dexter, Boardwalk Empire or Here Comes Honey Boo Boo right before I catch some Zzz’s.
You began selling Danielle Nicole to high-end department stores like Neiman Marcus and Bergdorf Goodman. Now you sell to department stores like Lord & Taylor and Macy’s. Why was it important for you to make a change and create more accessible and affordable handbags?
It was important for me to alter my business strategy because the market had changed. Our economy was, and still is, in a very precarious state. Consumers spending habits were changing, so I wanted to create products that maintained a luxurious look and feel, but at a lower price point. It was critical that the Danielle Nicole brand evolved with the market.
What is the most important lesson you’ve learned as an entrepreneur?
Most important lesson: Communication is key.
What is your career highlight, thus far?
In 2010, O, The Oprah Magazine selected my handbag (out of 200 other designers) for Oprah’s O You! event in Atlanta, Georgia. My signature Sydney Shopper Tote was given to 5,500 attendees. I had the chance to personally meet Oprah and thank her; that was definitely a high point in my career.
What are some goals you are striving to accomplish with your business?
I am constantly looking to grow and evolve Danielle Nicole. For 2013, I would like to enter new markets, embark on collaborations, brand extensions and retail partnerships.
What qualities and skills do you look for when hiring people to your team?
Go-getters, enthusiastic team players, creative thinkers, and passionate and dedicated individuals.
What advice do you have for young women trying to make a name for themselves in the fashion industry?
It’s important for young aspiring fashion designers to have a clear vision and passion; they must stand up and be proud of what they believe in.
What is your design process behind creating Danielle Nicole handbags?
The design process behind Danielle Nicole starts with an idea! I research different trends that are coming up in the season and it’s my job to find ways to interpret them in a contemporary and feminine design aesthetic. Each trend has its own concept board. I pull inspiration and detail photos to showcase the trend that I want to illustrate. I choose the material, color, and shapes for each group. Once all the groups are designed, I meet with my sales and production team to review. We agree on shapes, materials, and colors. After, I send the tech packs to our factories and they make the samples. We go through two to three rounds of sampling before the final market sample is created.
What inspires your collections?
The latest fashion trends and bringing back elements of iconic fashion eras.
How do you decide on the names for your bags?
The bags are usually named after people who have been influential in helping me grow my business or places I’ve visited in the past.
Do you design for any woman in particular? Do you have a celebrity muse? Describe the “Danielle Nicole” girl.
I definitely do! My bags are designed for the fashion savant woman who is looking for trend driven designs at an affordable price point. My celebrity muse is Olivia Palermo; I love her style.
If you could see any woman carrying one of your handbags, who would it be?
What advice would you give to your 23-year-old self?
Stay calm. Try not to get overwhelmed or stressed out. You can’t think clearly when you do.