Embrace criticism. Ask yourself: what do I need? How can I make this work for my life? Just try it. Danielle Sasson, founder of beautiful new bag brand, Pannyy, shares her new business survival secrets.
Danielle ‘Pannyy’ (it’s her nickname) – has worked in fashion for years, and has the highly impressive CV (Max Mara, Paul Smith, Acquascutum, Karen Millen) to show for it. But, four children (aged 4-10) later, she found herself at a different stage. She was consulting with brands, but her creative itch remained. She also had more than an inkling about what women need from their bags: something functional, but beautiful. Something without fussy straps, but with options (hands-free/cross-body/backpack to tote) which fitted their lives. So she sat down at her kitchen table with paper and scissors, and began fashioning bags out of origami. And so Pannyy was born.
Rendered in leather (rather than paper!) her bags are objects of sleek, functional style – and her brand has a clear-eyed aesthetic which is immediately apparent. These bags don’t show off, but they are quietly, beautifully functional, and – an odd thing to say about bags – thoughtful. You cna tell they’re the brainchild of a busy, working woman like you. The Laurel can be worn as a clutch or cross body; Tilla can be worn as a belt, cross body, even as a wristlet; Adler is the perfect bag for work- it carries your laptop, effortlessly transforms from a clutch to a tote.
But even the most beautiful products won’t make – or sell – themselves. Danielle talks us through her journey thus far…
Be prepared to take side steps
“I thought I wanted to be a painter. Whilst I was doing my BA at Kingston University, I thought I try a course in fashion. The teacher, Sheila, completely inspired me – she said she can you can be an artist and be in fashion.”
Find people who inspire you
“The head of my course was creative director of Max Mara. He saw something in me, and asked me to go and work for him after I finished my degree, so I went to be his assistant in Italy. It was amazing, but it was lonely. So, after a while, I wrote to Paul Smith, who was my number one source of inspiration – and lo and behold, they invited me for interview (I’m not sure it would happen like that these days!) and I was offered a job. There I worked with Sandra Hill, the creative director of womenswear. It was hard, a real learning curve, but I learned everything from her. She was totally amazing, and we’re still in touch. I’m also in touch with Michael Hertz, who I worked with at Acquascutum – those two were my inspiration.”
Prepare to face your fears
“At the time I found it all very scary – fashion is very scary – and I was a pretty much a nervous wreck the entire time. I worked exceedingly hard and was determined to prove myself.”
Think about the life you want to lead
“I’d worked in the industry for so many years, but now I had a family and whilst I was doing consultancy work, I just knew I wanted to be creative for myself and not live the way I’d lived before, but wanted to move forward with the choices I needed to make now. So I just sat down with paper and pens and started making things.”
Ask yourself: What do I need?
“When I was researching, I kept thinking about what I wanted from a bag. Something practical. Something considered, not whimsical. Something with a strong sense of design and structure. I wanted a balance of two things: luxury and urban.”
Have a clear market in mind
From the beginning, I knew what I would spend on a bag, so my guide was always, what do I need and what would I spend to get it? The £1000 bag is just not realistic for most women, there are other priorities, but between £300 and £600 there’s a sweet spot that some women will save for, and others are happy to spend. I knew from my experience that if added another detail, another seam, it would cost more, so these bags are very simple.”
They’ll probably be a point when you want to quit before you’ve even started
“I tried making some samples with a factory in India and it was a disaster. We tried it in Italy and it still wasn’t quite good enough and I said, “That’s it. It’s finished. We can’t do it”. My husband Paul said, ‘what do you mean? That’s not what business is. That’s not what entrepreneurship is about. It’s not good enough? So find something that is.’ I hate people speaking to me like that, but he was right. We found the right factory, I showed them my origami models, and they loved them. I’ve been going back and forth ever since.”
And then you have to send your baby into the world…
“The even more terrifying bit is getting it seen and heard. There are 5 key styles in the collection and until you get a product out there, you can’t learn about the customer. What’s changed is now designing is about listening to people – and they have feedback on everything! Everyone has a different opinion, and question becomes: how do I filter that and still do what I think is right? It’s really hard, but unless you’re willing to be criticised then I don’t know if you can get it right.”
Every step is just part of the dream
“The dream is world domination, obviously – since I was a teenager! But the real dream is movement – to keep moving forward. The next year is about getting it into department stores and online. It’s about making the next season’s collection – new leathers and colours. It’s about PR and getting it come alive and have its own life. I see now there’s a dream in all the steps. It’s about the journey.”
Be prepared to face down preconceptions
“The fashion industry, design-wise, has traditionally been quite male-oriented. When I started out, there weren’t many people going into the boss and saying, “I’m having a baby”. Of course, it was fine, but it was scary. On occasion, I’m still worried to tell people that I’m a mother, because I’m not sure what this triggers in their head. Some people don’t think you can be sufficiently committed to your job in the same was as you were before you had a child.”
On being a working mother
“With a new business and four children, there are times when I feel like all my plates are smashing! I often feel I need to be a calmer mother: when there’s so much it’s hard to stay calm at the time. I drop them off at school and I work as much as I can, then they come home and I’m totally mummy. Then they go to bed and I work again.
Sometimes I fit work around my children and sometimes I fit the children around my work. I think it’s good for them to see you making the choice, I take them to school and pick them up every day, so they complain when I go to Italy – and that’s a difficult conversation to have, but the need to get used to it because we’re all multi-faceted people. My children are proud of me – they love seeing “Mummy’s bags”. Sometimes I worry about the dream coming true and if it does, how will I do it? But at the moment I just about balance it.”
I want my daughters to know…
“It’s hard being a woman fulfilling all the parts of yourself I want to fulfil, and they can be more and take on those different roles, but they don’t have to. I want them to know they have the choice. I have friends who are love being at home – and they don’t have that double-sided life going in their head the whole time, they are totally fulfilled, and that is also a wonderful thing. I worry that we’re pushed so far to ‘have to it all’ that if you chose not to, you might feel like a failure. I want them to know they can do anything they want, but happiness comes from balance – having a bit of this and that. There’s time in life for everything.”
I want other women contemplating following their passion to know…
“Try – because life is miserable if you don’t try. If you’re passionate, knuckle down, have a support network and work.”
If you bought just one bag, make it….
“The Betula, because you can wear every minute of every day.”
Pay it forward
“I can’t even explain how touched and inspired I have been by people who have been willing to see me and talk to me about what I am doing, and I want to give back. I speak at schools and I’d love to do more. That’s the number one. Because what else is there if you can’t speak to the next generation?”