Daphne recently launched a leather handbag brand, daph., which is rooted in her Peruvian background. We interviewed her to learn more about what she learned since starting her company. https://shopdaph.com/
Daphne, how long did you live in Peru?
“I was born in Lima, Peru, but have lived in St. Louis for the majority of my life. Because most of my extended family is in Peru, we visit every year. I’ve always been proud of being Peruvian and have seen it as something that makes me unique.”
Did you always want to start a fashion company?
“I have had a pretty winding path to reach where I am today, so no, I had no idea I would ever end up as a CEO and Creative Designer. During college, at Miami University in Ohio, I was on the pre-med track. My dad is a doctor and I was always good at Math and Science so I thought, why not? During my Junior year I decided to take on a management minor and expose myself to the business world, I loved it. After I graduated and I decided I wanted to do more business focused things and took some business courses focusing on international business. I thought it was really cool that my dad had his own practice and was his own boss, and I wanted to do that. I quickly decided I wanted to go to business school with the ultimate goal of starting my own business and being my own boss. While working at an Insurance brokerage company, I started my MBA part time at Washington University in St. Louis.”
When did you have the idea to start this company?
“During one of my yearly trips to Peru, I decided that I wanted to design my own backpack for the remainder of my graduate studies. I had heard that the city of Arequipa, about an hour flight away from Lima, was known for its high quality leathers. I started googling leather manufacturers there, and began drawing out design specifics. Much to my surprise many manufacturers responded, and I soon realized I could make more than a backpack and started designing bucket bags, fanny packs, and more.
It helped that I spoke and wrote in Spanish as this eased the process when I sent the manufacturers my designs and requested samples. In December I traveled to Arequipa for the first time to meet with different manufactures. They all had different interpretations of my designs and all the samples looked different. I ended up picking to work with the manufacturer that really understood my design and not only worked with leathers but also worked with baby alpaca fur, which, I thought was unique in the US. It took about a year sending samples back and forth.”
When did you release your first collection?
“My first collection was released online in January 2018. I quickly developed a design process that requires I start planning every collection a year in advance. In order to ease the communication process with my manufacturer, I meet with them in Peru every August to discuss the designs and possible enhancement and answer any questions.”
What is the biggest lesson you learned starting your company?
“I have learned to always ask for everything and anything possible. For example, I am trying to expand my brand more in the St. Louis area. Ever since starting daph, I have realized I am the brand, and I need to be in the spotlight to help my brand expand. I have reached out to a bunch of people that I don’t even know, and ask them to get coffee with me. Everytime I have met with one person and it has always led to another connection. Before starting business school, I would never have reached out to people I didn’t know but making these connections have been so powerful. Just by asking, I have found so many amazing opportunities. Putting myself out there and not being afraid of someone saying no has been an important lesson in this process.”
What does it mean to you to be powerful?
“To be powerful is taking chances on yourself and being ok with hearing no, and not letting it take you down. Realizing that you can never fully be an expert in anything is essential for continual growth and allows you to apply past experiences to future endeavors. Always ask for feedback, there is always a way to improve yourself.”
Does your company have any focus on sustainability?
“I asked so many questions when I met with each manufacturer to ensure they had sustainable practices and used all resources responsibly. Ultimately I chose the one I did because his views on positively impacting our environment aligned with my own. We also donate a portion of each purchase to the Peruvian community. The brand is continuing to grow, and it is allowing us to donate more back to the community. This year’s proceeds are going towards building out a multisensory wing at a special needs school in the jungle of Peru.”