Written by Shala Hainer Wednesday, September 14 2011
Snapshot: Danielle Nicole DiFerdinando, handbag designer
Starting with a single handbag she designed and made herself, Danielle Nicole DiFerdinando has been creating and selling chic handbags to some of top retailers in the world. At the tender age of 18, she sold her first collection to Bergdorf Goodman while studying with the Fashion Institute of Technology (FIT) in New York City.
Six years later, DiFerdinando has transformed her business from strictly high-end pieces to a more diverse and affordable collection of handbag designs. She started her business, Danielle Nicole, in 2006, and has since opened her own showroom in New York City in addition to selling her designs in such prestigious stores as Macy's, Nordstrom, and Coin in Italy. She strives to give her customers a runway-fashion look paired with function, at prices that often fall less than $100.
During her studies with FIT, DiFerdinando learned about design and production with European designers including Fendi, Hermes, Prada, and Armani. She went on to apprentice with companies such as Gucci and Anthony Luciano. She credits her father, co-owner of Boardwalk Fries, with helping her develop strong business savvy at an early age.
A native of Maryland, she lives in New York City with her dog, Cookie Monster.
Womenetics: How did you find your niche in such a competitive international market?
Danielle Nicole DiFerdinando: Focusing on fresh and innovative designs at the right value. I came from a contemporary marketplace and saw there was a void in the fast fashion handbag marketplace. I wanted to create something that was more of an impulse purchase than an investment. I never want one of my customers to have the feeling of guilt after purchasing a handbag. She should be happy and proud of herself and can’t believe she just spent $80 on a chic and functional handbag.
Womenetics: Where did you find the inspiration and confidence to create and market your own line of handbags at the young age of 18?
DiFerdinando: I have always loved designing handbags. I started my company when I was a freshman at FIT. During the summer of 2007, I was interning at Bergdorf Goodman, and the cosmetic buyer asked me to design a line of cosmetic bags. The success of the line was instantaneous, and I was subsequently asked to design a complete leather collection for the prominent department store. Orders from other luxury department and specialty stores such as Neiman Marcus, Saks Fifth Avenue, Lane Crawford, Holt Renfrew, and Nordstrom soon followed.
Womenetics: Who are the main customers you are trying to reach with your fashion and function twist on handbags? How do you reach out to that market?
DiFerdinando: My customer loves and appreciates fashion. She likes to pair designer pieces with her fast fashion pieces. My collection features unique modern and feminine detail that gives the product value.
Womenetics: How do you use social networking in your marketing? How important is social networking to the success of your business?
DiFerdinando: Social networking is very important in my industry. It’s a great way for me to connect with my customers and relate to them on a personal level. I use Facebook and Twitter to test out new products. I receive instant feedback that helps me and my design team know what design works and what doesn’t.
Womenetics: How did you get connected with the major European design houses, such as Hermes and Prada, and secure apprenticeships there? What important lessons did you learn during your European education?
DiFerdinando: I studied abroad at the European design houses during my freshman year at FIT. This is where I learned how to construct handbags. This is the No. 1 key to this industry. Know how to produce your product at every stage. I learned the ins and outs of designing, pattern making, leathers, workmanship, etc., when I studied in Europe.
Womenetics: Not all creative people also have the skills to run and grow a successful business. How do you balance your creative design side with the daily management needs of your company?
DiFerdinando: It’s not easy! It’s all about balance, having a clear view, and setting goals. I am a creative person, but I grew up surrounded by my father and his business, Boardwalk Fries. He is the one who taught me how to balance between the two.
Womenetics: How did you finance your first handbag design and the marketing of that design? How is that different from how you now fund your new design lines and marketing?
DiFerdinando: I financed my first handbag myself. The marketing was done through word of mouth. I would wear my handbag everyday when I interned at Bergdorf Goodman. The elevator was the best place to be spotted. Today my company is funded by FAB/Starpoint, and all marketing is done by Now and Zen publicity.
Womenetics: If there was one thing you could do differently from the last 10 years, what would it be?
DiFerdinando: I wouldn’t do anything different. I learn from my past experiences that have led me to where I am today. Everything that has happened has helped me learn and grow in some way.
Womenetics: What can we expect to see in your next line of handbags? Do you have plans to expand into other types of design, such as luggage?
DiFerdinando: The hottest item from our upcoming Fall 2011 line is the Sydney reversible tote. It is the perfect bag for going back to school, work, weekends, and the perfect gift for the new mom. I am working on building Danielle Nicole into a lifestyle brand. We will be soon expanding into other categories such as small leather goods, travel items, and luggage. Within the next five years, I plan on coming out with a shoe and home décor line as well.
Womenetics: What advice do you have for women business owners trying to grow their businesses in this hard economy?
DiFerdinando: Being 24 years old, I have learned a lot about life and business since moving to New York. Never let anything stop you from getting want you want. Your passion and drive will lead you to your goals. You will get what you want as long as you stay focused and motivated. Don't be scared to ask. What's the worst someone is going to say – “No?”
Womenetics: How do you like to relax and unwind?
DiFerdinando: I love working out. I look forward to spinning at Soul Cycle in New York. It’s the time where I can clear my head. I also love to travel. My favorite cities are Hong Kong and Paris. I love their cultures and ways of life.
Based near Atlanta, Shala Hainer has been writing and copyediting since 1995. Beginning her career at newspapers such as the Marietta Daily Journal and the Atlanta Business Chronicle, she most recently wrote and edited articles for several nonprofit organizations before purchasing a flower shop in 2006. She earned a bachelor’s in communications from Jacksonville State University.