How Dannijo's Danielle Snyder Is Finding Joy and Building Community During Crisis

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Courtesy of Danielle Snyder
Courtesy of Danielle Snyder

If you follow Danielle Snyder on Instagram, then you know that passion and positivity are practically synonymous with her brand. Danielle, who cofounded Dannijo with her sister Jodie in 2008 — yes, just as the recession hit — is part boss and part do-gooder, a winning combination for any business leader, but particularly important given the uncertainty that COVID-19 has cast on the world and on the fashion industry in particular.

As news of the coronavirus shook brands and retailers, I found myself drawn to Danielle's thoughtful approach to social media. I avidly follow her stories and posts, which range from sharing her at-home styling tips and Boxerina workouts, to throwing a virtual birthday party for an elderly man turning 101 during the time of social distancing. The subjects vary, but the uplifting sentiment is a constant.

A few days into California's shelter-in-place mandate, Danielle took her positive approach a step further. She launched a new beaded necklace, called the Florella, which she crafted herself while isolating at home and watching movies at night (she also does all the packaging and shipping and provides a handwritten note with each order), she told me when we chatted on the phone last week. The necklaces are part of Dannijo's new set of initiatives to bring joy to its following and give back. Each necklace purchased helps to provide 50 meals to those in need via the New York City Food Bank. Since introducing the Florella, Danielle is expanding with additional products for homebound customers (including a DIY beaded necklace kit and hoodie and patches set) and focusing on a new venture called The Collective, which uses Dannijo's platform to shine a spotlight on small businesses struggling through the pandemic.

Courtesy of Danielle Snyder

If you're tempted to dismiss this evolving business strategy as naive optimism or write off her peppy Instagram presence as disingenuous, then you've sincerely underestimated Danielle and her influence. Before founding Dannijo, she helped to build the first hospital in a small village in Kenya and used jewelry as a fundraising vehicle for her work there. She's someone who realized early on in her career that there is power in storytelling and that, as she told me, "you can do good with creativity."

She's someone who realized early on in her career that there is power in storytelling and that, as she told me, "you can do good with creativity."

She and Jodie have sustained and accelerated Dannijo for the past 12 years, during other times of crisis, and with seemingly just-for-fun fashion, like the Florella necklace, they are also keeping staff employed and busy, creating at home in the midst of this crisis. That isn't just optimism at work, it's ingenuity and heart — and Danielle's got a lot of it, enough to build some serious momentum.

Read on for our conversation, as she talks about her strategic business pivot, how she's building and using community to help others, and what's keeping her happy and motivated right now.

POPSUGAR: How are you using this moment to pivot? What's been important to you now, and how are you engaging with this turning point?

Danielle Snyder: To start off with, we, my sister and I, started the company out of our fifth-floor walk up on St. Mark's Place in 2008. It was the heart of the recession. It's obviously a very different time right now for a number of reasons with coronavirus, but in terms of there being uncertainty and volatility, that's an environment that we're comfortable and thrive in.

We really lean on our community, our content creation, and being nimble. We sort of take the pulse of what it is that our community needs and wants and make sure that Dannijo is filling that. So for us right now, we're trying to find joy in little things and then also give back in ways that we are able to, as a small business. One of those initiatives is the Florella necklace. I went to the bead store when all the [shelter-in-place] stuff started happening in San Francisco and just [started] making jewelry because that's my comfort zone. It's sort of meditative for me. So I started making these necklaces and had seen the great work that Food Bank New York was doing and spoke to my team and I said, "Why don't we start to see what we can do, even if it's small acts, to contribute and give back?"

Our number-one priority right now is making sure that we can do our best possible [to keep] everyone [on our team] on payroll right now. Two of our other team members that helped me out with some of our handmade goods are at their own apartments, [social distancing], and we're ordering materials to be shipped to them. One of them is making a custom handwoven bracelet with mother-of-pearl letters, and our other team member is working on a bracelet and a necklace. So the idea is we'll eventually have a stay-at-home capsule collection, and a percentage of each of those pieces will go to supporting Food Bank NYC's efforts.

Beyond that, on a more macro scale, we are starting something called The Collective, where we're going to be partnering with four brands a week. A lot of these small businesses are really reliant on their department store channels and don't have the manpower to fulfill the hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of product that's now getting rejected from their department store partners, and they're trying to figure out how to sell that to their direct consumer channel, which maybe historically hasn't been their focus. So as a strongly positioned direct-to-consumer brand, we're sort of championing other like-minded brands and provide, at gratis, our creative and graphic design services. We're working with [them] to make sure that they have inventory and that their logistics team and shipping team will be able to accommodate the influx of orders. For people that are able to and do want to support small businesses, this is a fun way to do it where it's edited and curated, and you're going to look forward to that one drop a week.

PS: So smart. I think it's the kind of thing we're all thinking about — how and why fashion is still important or relevant, and I think that's exactly what you're doing. You're giving people a reason to be excited about fashion still.

DS: Sometimes [fashion] seems frivolous and silly, and why save small businesses when there are so many bigger struggles out there? But when you think about it on a human level, it's that at the end of the day, these small businesses are putting food on the table for actual individuals, to be able to afford their rent. When I talked to my employees and I look at what's happening with our business, knowing that we're not getting those hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of orders that we were supposed to be getting this month, we have to be creative and we have to band together, and it does matter.

I also think that in times like this, people want to find reasons to laugh and feel pretty at home, and that's where fashion can really add value. But I do think the fashion industry is going to have to shift after this, and not just for the obvious reasons but in terms of what is community, and what are we all doing it for, and what does really add value to people's lives? I really think that the people [and] the small businesses and the minds that can get through this really difficult time are going to rewrite the rules of fashion for the next generation.

I just hope that people see us as passionate, thoughtful founders that want to make lemonade out of lemons and share the lemonade.

PS: Yeah, I think you're right. And I hope so, too.

DS: Right? We don't have that luxury of relying on an editor here or a department store there anymore. It's sort of on us [brands] to be our own storytellers and problem-solvers. And so for us, I'm always like, "OK, let's reach out to this person, let's reach out to this person. Let's see if they're interested in The Collective." I'm a doer. A lot of fashion historically has been built upon the premise that it's sort of every man for himself, unfortunately. And it's a very competitive industry, which can be a beautiful thing and an unfortunate thing. Now, it's forcing brands to really rethink and engage with other small businesses because we can be each other's biggest champions.

PS: On that note, who are the female founders or other designers that you're connecting with now to navigate this shift?

DS: I really like Danielle [Duboise] and Whitney [Tingle] [of Sakara Life] as people and what they stand for and the content that they put out. I love Melissa Wood. She's just such a bright light, and she's fun to watch, and she also has a very abundant spirit. She's not one of those people that comes off as "more for you means less for me" kind of thing. So I'm really wanting to just be around other bright lights that share a similar worldview in terms of collaboration and synergy.

PS: Totally. I guess in terms of your customers and the messaging, what do you hope that people who follow you or love your brand take away from this challenging time?

DS: I think in some ways, the silver lining is [watching] what people do to turn lemons into lemonade and how they find joy in little things, or how they're fearless to put out content [when] they're not sure how it will be received. It's a new frontier for everyone, and I hope that on the other side of it, specifically for us, that people feel like they get to know [me] and Jodie and the team behind Dannijo and our values more than before. I just hope that people see us as passionate, thoughtful founders that want to make lemonade out of lemons and share the lemonade.

Courtesy of Danielle Snyder

PS: What are you doing personally to lighten the mood right now? Is there something you're watching? Doing? Eating? Or wearing that you're loving?

DS: Great question. I am not a chef, but I have made a few amazing meals during quarantine. One is this broccoli soup; it's nothing fancy from the Food Network, but it is unbelievable. I've made it three times. The other one is banana bread. My husband and I have been switching off cooking, and it's fun to set the table and pretend you're on a date.

And then as far as [fitness], my other venture that I've been working on is called Boxerina. I'm a former pole-vaulter, I love sports and moving. [While living] in New York City, I've tried every workout class and taken notes on them — I love this, I don't love this, the sound of the music's too loud, or I don't like the music that they play, or the energy in this class is very negative or competitive. I wouldn't call it just a workout, because Boxerina is a movement. It's [about] moving with other like-minded women and feeling good about it and feeling beautiful and not comparing ourselves to other people. I'm just sort of teasing [it] out and building the community right now. The idea originally was to launch in June 2020, but now I'm kind of like, people need this. People want to move at home. So I think it's a fun way to introduce it and offer our community things outside of just fashion.

PS: Lastly, is there a work-from-home outfit or look that's bringing you joy?

DS: Oh my God, so many. Definitely a red lip. That's a no-brainer. If I'm just not feeling cute when it's five or six and it's almost dinner time, I put on the red lips, and I feel like I sort of got dressed up. I [also] love wearing a slip and slippers. I love these Patricia Green crisscross slippers. They're just comfy, and they look chic. It's kind of like indoor chic, I guess. And if I have a Zoom call, I put on a great pair of statement earrings, so it at least looks like I cared.