“Never in a million years did I think that just three months after graduation I would already have my own business,” says Ashley Cook, BSBA ’08. “It is a lot of work, but a dream come true.”
Cook is referring to the clothing and accessory line she and Danielle Dankner, AB ’08, founded shortly after graduating from the university. Their company, ash&dans, features scarves and other embellished jersey pieces, including tops and dresses.
The women met as roommates their freshman year at the university and soon became best friends who shared a common interest — a lifelong love of fashion.
While growing up in New York City, Dankner would visit flea markets with her mother and her sister, collecting interesting accessories. “Ashley and I used vintage brooches from these flea markets for our first collection of headbands,” she says. “Now we go there for inspiration more than anything.”
Dankner also spent two summers working at Diane von Furstenberg, where she learned a lot about the fashion industry.
As a child, Cook created her own unique clothing in the hopes of starting new trends. “I would cut up any tank, tee or dress I could get my hands on and sew it into a new silhouette,” the Colorado native says.
In addition to their experience in fashion, they credit their university education for helping them start ash&dans.
“My education provided me with a foundation to do whatever I wanted to do,” Dankner says. “My classes challenged me to think creatively and analytically.”
Cook adds, “I learned so much from my classes at Olin Business School, including many of the fundamentals upon which we built our company.”
The idea for ash&dans originated after both women moved to New York City after graduation. Dankner moved back in hopes of finding a job. Cook came to pursue an acting career and landed a small role on the TV series, Gossip Girl. However, both women struggled to find permanent work. Cook came up with a solution: The two should start a business together.
“Once Ashley sets her mind on something, she does not let it go,” Dankner says. “She knew that we both possessed the work ethic, willpower and creative edge to make it happen.”
After much brainstorming and planning, ash&dans became a reality. Dankner and Cook handle all aspects of the business, including design, marketing, sales and distribution.
Shortly after ash&dans’ inception, Teen Vogue wrote an article on the company and the line began to receive attention from several celebrities — Eva Longoria Parker, Catherine Zeta-Jones and others now own pieces. Gossip Girl stars Leighton Meester and Jessica Szohr both were photographed wearing ash&dans scarves. “Seeing our product on celebrities made it all feel very real,” Dankner says.
Cook and Dankner attribute their success to their friendship and working relationship. “We bring different strengths to the table,” Cook says. “Although I focus more on the design and Dans handles most of the communication, everything we do is a collaboration.”
The team plans to expand their line in the future. They featured lace bag ties and brooch fedoras in summer 2010, and they will introduce new materials, such as lace and velvet, in their fall 2010 collection.
“We hope ash&dans becomes a recognizable brand, giving us the freedom to expand our line,” Cook says. “We aim to develop a consumer base with brand loyalty that keeps wanting more and more of our pieces.”
Sometimes the women can hardly believe their good fortune — founding a successful business right out of college, working together as best friends, and seeing their creations on celebrities and in magazines.
“Happiness is this: to do what you love and love what you do,” Cook says. “And that’s exactly what ash&dans is for us.”
Dankner adds: “Every day we wake up thankful for owning our own business and for being able to spend our days together. We look forward to growing our brand, continually challenging ourselves and coming up with innovative designs.”
For more information, visit www.ashanddans.com.
Blaire Leible Garwitz is associate editor of Washington Magazine.