For the second installment of our new feature, "How I'm Making It," we present Jodie and Danielle Snyder, the sisters behind DANNIJO jewelry. Jodie, 28, and Danielle, 25, quit their jobs to launch their line in December 2007, and Bergdorf Goodman picked up DANNIJO in March of 2008. Today, DANNIJO is sold everywhere from Henri Bendel's to Harvey Nichols Hong Kong, and has found fans in Natalie Portman, Blake Lively and Beyonce.
Why jewelry? Danielle: When my sister and I were teenagers we found our dad’s medical tool kit and taught ourselves how to do wire work with them and started making jewelry for all our friends.
Jodie: When I was in college we had opened a boutique in Jacksonville, Florida--where we're from--to sell our jewelry. We noticed that we had a following and that it was well received. What’s your fashion background? Jodie: For Danielle’s non-profit, LWALA, we did a capsule collection of our jewelry for their big fundraising gala. The capsule collection was really well received so we decided it was now or never--we had to quit our jobs and give it a try. I was running private label sales at Sam Edelman shoes and my sister was running private sales for a fine jewelry company. So we both worked in fashion and we were ambitious. We decided we’d give it six months to a year, and if it takes off great, if it doesn’t at least we know we tried. There's no harm in trying. The scariest thing was we were living in NYC, one of the most expensive cities in the world, and it’s hard to have no job. But you have to put all your passion and energy into and luckily it worked.
What's this non-profit, LWALA, and how did it turn into a jewelry business? Danielle: In the summer of 2006, I went to Kenya during an internship I had with this women's finance network called 85 Broads. Our project for the summer is to create a documentary that speaks to your generation. A friend of mine from Vanderbilt who was at the medical school had lost both his mother and father to AIDS. He was from this village called Lwala which is in western Kenya and I convinced my boss to send us to Kenya to do a documentary on women’s initiatives and AIDS in Africa. We ultimately took the documentary back to the states and used it to fundraise for their first health facility. I came up with acronym - Live With A Lifelong Ambition - to represent the name of the village. The idea behind LWALA was to get young people to use their passion and talent to impact change. Since Jodie and I had had this past of jewelry design, we decided to design a capsule jewelry collection for our big fundraising gala and that was a huge success.
One of the co-founders of LWALA went to Harvard and was friends with Natalie Portman at Harvard. Natalie Portman signed on board to support the initiative, and at at our fundraising gala in November 2007 she wore the jewelry and mentioned it in New York magazine. That was the beginning.
What was your big break? Jodie: We had personal savings and a little family loan and we started the company with about $35,000, which isn’t a lot to start a company. We started the company out of our apartment on St. Mark’s Place, so it was really grass roots and organic. I had a good friend who was an accountant and became our business mentor and helped us along the way. Having a sales background we knew that it’s great to get buzz and press but until you have sales, nothing is going to drive your business or make it bigger. So Danielle and I put our focus on being really strategic with our sales plan and to start with a store that has a great reputation and where other people are going to look for up and coming designers and the newest trends. So we put our energy in to Bergdorf’s as our first account.
Danielle: So straight from this meeting with our accountant after he told us, "Go out and make some sales," I said, "OK we’re going to Bergdorf’s." We had all of our jewelry on us because we brought it to show our accountant, so Jodie and I jumped in a cab and headed to Bergdorf’s.
Jodie: This is where she’s fearless.
Danielle: I called Bergdorf's on our way over and I got the assistant buyer on the phone (we had already sent and email and we got the standard "We’re not interested at this time" response) and I said, "It’s Danielle from DANNIJO, we’re just coming from a PR meeting, we’d love five minutes of your time to get your advice." So she said fine. We know once we met with her, our product would speak for itself. It was definitely luck. But once we got the meeting she got us, our style, our personality, and she liked the basics of what she saw, she said it was just a little too edgy for the Bergdorf customer. So we strategized with her and asked if we could come back and show her a new collection. She said, "How soon?" We said, "Next week." So we plugged away.
We’re in New York and it’s a rat race and we knew that you really have to be assertive to break down the doors and say "This is my brand, this is what I do."
What’s the ballsiest thing you’ve ever done for your career, after showing up at Bergdorf's? Jodie: Danielle met Milla Jovovich in the bathroom of the Bowery hotel and messengered her jewelry that night at 2 a.m. and she wore it the next morning on an interview.
Danielle: She liked my necklace and so it was an opportunity to say, "Oh you should wear it?" I still have that same mentality that when I see someone who I think would be a great fit for DANNIJO--and it’s not everyone--I’ll walk over and sacrifice myself looking like a tool. Because I don’t care. It’s not like I’m trying to get them to wear a fanny pack.
Jodie: I’m hiding in the corner when she does this.
Who has helped you the most along the way? Jodie: There’s never just one person because there are so many things that go into starting a business. Our accountant was really helpful, obviously the buyer at Bergdorf’s who picked up the line, the first who editors who wrote on us. It was a combination of people. And our parents were supportive--nervous--but supportive.
Danielle: Supportive once we got Bergdorf’s!
What are your biggest challenges now? Danielle: Now we’re at the point where there are so many opportunities, it’s knowing which ones to turn down and which ones to take advantage of because you can spread yourself too thin as a brand and not get anywhere. Knowing which partnerships to go with are challenges we face everyday.
Jodie: We’ve turned down working with designers that we didn’t think was the right fit. Until DANNIJO is known as this lifestyle brand that’s accessible luxury, you don’t want to confuse your customer. Collaborations are so big and that’s great but you have to make sure it’s in line with your brand mission.
Where do you see yourself in five years? Jodie: We started this company because we didn’t see anything else out there that was this aesthetic--Danielle is more bohemian and rock and roll inspired and I’m a little more classic and conservative. We always ask everyone “What’s your favorite fashion jewelry label?” and most women don’t know how to answer that question. So I think that says something about the market place that we’re in right now that there aren’t brands that are known as a go-to accessory brand. So we’re putting our efforts into being known as a go-to accessory brand.
And as an added bonus, here's an exclusive behind the scenes video of DANNIJO's Fall collection: