This week from our Because I’m a Lady series, we sat down with Disney handbag designer Danielle DiFernando of Danielle Nicole to chat about how she became the Disney boss lady she is today.
Where did your love for fashion and design come from?
Ok, I’ll take you way back. When I was in high school, I was in an academic program where you had to come up with a business, and the competition was held at Disneyland. I had never been before, so I needed a reason to go. Since I always loved fashion I started a business making ties for women. You know, like a cool power move for women. I would go to fabric store and make them myself, then sell them in school to friends and teachers for $20. I would come home with $180 in one day! So, I won the state competition for this program and made it to the world competition at Disneyland. I didn’t place, but it was obviously still fun. But I was so inspired by designing that I continued.
How did you get into designing handbags?
I couldn’t afford high end leather bags in college, so I wanted to start making my own. There was a leather supplier across the street from my school who told me if I learned Yiddish, I will give you free leather. Seriously! So every word I learned he gave me a free piece of leather. So I was making my first handbags from the free leather out of my dorm room apartment as an 18-year old student. I also ended up studying abroad in Europe, sitting in Italian factories learning how to construct handbags and clothing. I just loved accessories and knew I wanted to be making them.
How did Danielle Nicole begin?
When I left school, I took an internship at Bergdorf Goodman. I did 3 months in personal shopping and 3 months in the buying office to just learn the business. One day, I was in the elevator at Bergdorf and the cosmetic buyer said, “Oh, I love that bag you’re wearing, whose is it?” and I said, “It’s mine! It’s mine!” She asked, “Do you make cosmetic bags?” and I said, “I can make you whatever you want!” So I went to Sephora on 42nd street right after that elevator ride, bought a few cosmetic bags and tore them apart to see how they were constructed. From there I started making leather cosmetic bags for Bergdorf Goodman retailing $180-$220 and totally sold out of everything! So the handbag buyer asked to see my handbag line. So in 2007, we sold leather bags from $600-$1000 and sold out. But in 2009, when the economy turned, I wanted to make the line more affordable. Danielle Nicole is a contemporary, sleek, and modern handbag brand, so I took that same aesthetic and made it non-leather instead of leather. That’s when the business really took off. Then Oprah got behind the line in 2011 and bought 5500 bags to give to audience members. So that was really the breaking point of it all. Then I was selling to Nordstrom, Macy’s, Dillard’s, and more.
How and when did your partnership with Disney begin?
HSN jumped on board not long after; I go on HSN once a month to share my collection. When Disney’s Alice Through the Looking Glass came out, they asked if I wanted to make bags inspired by the film. I designed 2 bags for it and they sold out in 8 minutes! I also did a collaboration with HSN and Disney on Broadway and those sold out, too. So based off those 2 opportunities, I met with Disney and they asked to do a partnership because they loved my aesthetic. Whimsical, fun kitschy bags are so on trend right now. So this was something that was out of the box, taking classic characters but putting a modern twist on them.
How would you describe your love of Disney?
Ever since I was a little girl, I’ve been a huge fan of Disney. My parents would drive my four sisters and I to Disney World from Maryland. It was a place where we could make memories that we still talk about today.
Which character are you most like?
I’ve already done the test on Oh My Disney! I’m Pocahontas. I don’t go outside as often as she does, but we have our free-spirit and drive in common.
How does it feel to see girls of all ages wearing your bags?
It’s so emotional. A lot of the success of our line comes from social media so I really love seeing how girls style their bags. It’s varied in different style aesthetics, and I see them teaching others how to style their bags. Disney | Danielle Nicole bags are an emotional purchase because it reminds you of a happy childhood memory. If you don’t smile at the nostalgia, something’s wrong with you.
Disney | Danielle Nicole is launching at Disney Store today! Can you tell us about the collection?
Yes, we’re literally launching our collection in Disney Store right now! What’s so great about the assortment for Disney Store is that you have a little bit of everything from the Disney Princesses. They will have everything from backpacks to clutches, and crossbodies to totes. It’s really going to be a collectable collection because this is all limited. It’s not mass-produced. Plus, there are going to be exclusive pieces for Store and–well–some surprises. I’m not allowed to talk about them now but there are going to be some really special pieces coming to Store.
What can you tell us to look forward to from the Disney | Danielle Nicole collection?
We’re launching exclusive Snow White bags at D23 and in Tokyo. We’re also going to be bringing back some of the vintage artwork in future collections.
What would you tell others wanting to start their own business?
Be determined. Be honest. You can do anything you set your mind to. Of course, you need the experience. Build experience through internships, and practice your craft as a hobby. But I also say a lot of it is giving back, because good vibes will come back to you!
Any final thoughts you want to share with our audience?
This is such a fun time for fashion. Be your most confident self wearing your Disney | Danielle Nicole bags, and tell the stories behind why you love Disney through your outfit.