Alyssa Wasko, founder of donni charm, started making scarves as a coping mechanism after her father passed away. Little did she know that her pastime would turn into a growing business with a sizable celebrity following that includes Beyonce, Jessica Alba, Hilary Duff, Demi Moore and Kim Kardashian. We spoke to the fashion entrepreneur about her ever-expanding line.
theFashionSpot: Can you tell us a little bit about what inspired you to start your line?
Alyssa Wasko: donni charm was a happy accident sprung out of a welcomed coping mechanism after my father passed away. I handmade a few scarves with good luck charms for myself and a close friend following his passing. For the first time I was able to feel some sort of relief and comfort after losing him, by doing something I wanted to pursue further for myself; it was an added perk that people actually liked them on top of it!
tFS: Did you have any background in fashion or running a business?
AW: My background is a degree in fashion merchandising combined with a very entrepreneurial spirit. I started my first business at age 5, beginning with "fancy" lemonade stands and moving up to selling handbags and jewelry to my mom's friends at age 12; it was pretty much written in the stars.
tFS: Where did the name come from?
AW: I started designing these scarves in honor and memory of my father, Donald, therefore it was so natural to name it after him. Anyone close to my father called him Donny, and our scarves are embellished with good luck charms, something my father used to call me, thus donni charm was born.
tFS: Did you pursue donni charm full time after graduating college?
AW: In the summers before donni charm, I was interning and freelancing with Chanel in New York City in its image/visual department. After graduating, I was offered a position to consult with them full time—who could turn that down?! I had been able to balance donni charm with a full course load (thanks to the entire donni charm team), so I knew I would figure out a way to make this work as well. Working for Chanel was such an amazing experience; I am so grateful I was able to work with such talented and creative people at one of the most exclusive luxury fashion houses in the world. But as donni charm has continued to grow, I am now happily devoting my full attention to the business.
tFS: Can you tell us about your campus rep program? How did that idea come about?
AW: donni charm grew and blossomed during my time in college. It was with the help of sororities and support of students on my campus overall that donni charm was able to flourish through trunk shows held by myself and friends. I am a big proponent of empowering young women and giving them the tools they need to succeed. I saw how my friends and I were able to not only spread the word about donni charm, but also create an opportunity to practice the business and merchandising skills we learned in class and manage the inventory, as if it were a mini boutique. The campus rep position is a way for young college students to gain real world working experience and build their resumes while also allowing us to provide an opportunity for the young girls who are to thank for our success today.
tFS: You started off hand-making your pieces. How are they made now? Can you tell us about how you go about sourcing materials?
AW: All of our scarves are now manufactured in Los Angeles. It took a lot of time and trial and error to get to this point here in the U.S., which was our ultimate goal. I am very picky with materials. A lot of our knits we create and all other materials go through a rigorous checklist. All of our fabrics have to be luxurious enough to wear for a night out and soft enough for a cozy night in.
tFS: What are some of the biggest challenges when it comes to running a growing small business?
AW: Knowing when to switch off. Running a small business, my to-do list is never completely checked off and it never will be. Accepting that and knowing that I must to stop at some point is important. It's all about balance, but figuring out that balance is the tricky part. This has definitely taken some time to figure out and is still a work in progress!
tFS: Your pieces have been worn by a number of celebrities. Can you tell us a little bit about how those opportunities came about?
AW: A lot of our celebrity fans have come through our awesome PR team. This part of the business is still so surreal to me. To know that Beyonce felt that our scarf was good enough to wrap up Blue Ivy in for her world debut first outing feels like a dream. Every once in a while I pull up the picture to check again to make sure it's ours!
tFS: What’s your take on social media and how does it come into play when running your business?
AW: Social media is a huge part of our business, Instagram especially. It builds your brand. It's a look at the donni charm lifestyle and what the donni charm girl is like. It's real insight into the brand, and our inspiration, which you can't really get anywhere else.
tFS: You've been expanding into a few other areas like sweaters. Can you tell us about that?
AW: We have dabbled in some other areas such a sweats and tees. It's been really fun and these items have been really well-received. We have also been developing a fine jewelry line we are really excited about! But for right now, our focus is on our scarves. Our heart and soul.