Monday Motivation from Dana Donofree, Founder of AnaOno

Mondays can be rough and, sometimes, we can all use some motivation. Our #MondayMotivation blog series brings you tips and life hacks from industry leaders and some of the most creative entrepreneurs out there.

We sat down with Dana Donofree, Founder of AnaOno, to discuss the pain points of scaling, bridging the gender gap, and turning a life-threatening disease into a life-changing venture.

What inspired you to start your business?
They say necessity is the mother of invention, right? Well, that’s AnaOno. I knew at some point in my life I wanted my own fashion line; it’s what you always dream about when you’re in art school. I just wasn’t sure what it was going to be until I found that what I needed didn’t exist. After spending a year in treatment for breast cancer, and finally coming to the end of my journey of surgery and chemo, I was ready to go back to my life as it was pre-cancer. There were so many things that would prevent me from ever going back to the same Dana, having a life-threatening disease will do that to you, but I never once expected it would be the lingerie drawer that got me. I couldn’t even try to start my day as the old me because none of my bras fit, none of the bras in the stores, boutiques, specialty shops or e-commerce sites fit, and I was trying to get dressed to go to my fashion executive job in my usual power suit and heels. Having a sports bra as an only option was not going to work with that look. Or any look. And it did nothing to assuage my body and self-esteem issues that were magnified after breast cancer.

When I realized what I needed in my life to feel complete was unavailable and I was tired of stressing out every morning and crying in fitting rooms, I did what any graduate of design school would do. I made my own. I also knew that no matter what happened, AnaOno would exist, if not as a full-time business, then as something, a hobby, a side gig, whatever. I needed bras, my survivor sisters needed bras, so I imagined we weren’t the only ones. That gave me the courage to jump, to go all out and launch a business making intimates and apparel for women who’ve been affected by breast cancer. Amazingly, in two and a half years it has turned into so much more than a bra for breast reconstruction. We’re dressing people all over the globe and bringing them confidence and empowerment. That’s what’s so incredible now.

What’s been the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far?
We’ve endured so many challenges as a start-up. It’s unavoidable even for the most prepared or seasoned businessperson. Everything from trying to grow on a tight budget to selling out of merchandise in one weekend after an article came out on Today.com. But, I think our biggest challenge to date is where we are right now. We are on the precipice of something huge, but haven’t quite grown enough yet to ease the workload. So we’re at the point we’re running around handling many tasks and things are taking off, but we also need to rein ourselves in and get to work to make the goodness happen. It’s a very odd line to straddle. And I keep hoping for more hours in the day, but that’s not the way it works. Getting your business to the next level when it’s really time to do so as a solopreneur is akin to running while juggling scissors. It’s hard work. It’s long days. It’s a hustle. But, it is so worth it to reach that goal.

What’s been the greatest reward?
Without a doubt, the women we’ve dressed. Making a difference in someone’s life. Hearing how we’ve impacted them. I was at a trunk show in late September, and someone came in just to meet me and thank me in person for changing her life and designing these bras. It blows me away every single time. I remember being in that exact same mindset, feeling frustrated and defeated. I also remember crying when I put on my first AnaOno bra. It makes me so grateful to know I wasn’t alone in that feeling, and that we can all be there for each other and lift each other up. It’s why we say with AnaOno you are Never Alone. Because it’s true.

I’ve seen survivors tell women going through treatment to try AnaOno on random message boards or Facebook posts from other media outlets (one time it was even in Italian). My heart just spills over with joy. And it’s been so organic to this point. It’s like I handed a talisman to someone in 2014 in Philadelphia, and I see it in someone’s hands in Switzerland in 2016 and she’s passing it on to the next person. It’s magical in a sense, and so rewarding. Like, how did we get here? Wow, we are actually doing it aren’t we, this is really happening.

What is the biggest thing you’d like to see changed in the your industry, and how are you working toward making that change happen?
The fashion industry can be tough. I know this from spending over a dozen years in it before starting my own line. I strive to work out problems and decrease stress, not even just for myself, but for those that work with me. There will always be challenges and issues, in any line of business, but fashion can be a bit more dramatic than necessary. I have also experienced, even in an industry that is predominantly female, getting less compensation that my male counterparts. I will NEVER pay a woman employee less than a male employee because of their gender, but will be compensated on EXPERIENCE, talent and excellence. This is how everyone should be compensated in any industry, and I hope to continue to push forward gender equality on all levels.

Who or what motivates you to keep going, even when things get tough?
We just had a very busy week with five events in three states, and no matter how tired any of us were at any point, interacting with someone who has been touched by our products, or turning someone on to AnaOno for the first time and seeing tears in their eyes washes all of that away. It’s energizing, it’s inspiring, it’s motivating to meet these women, or to read comments on Instagram or Facebook or to get emails from them and find out that what we set out to do is getting done. It could be a phone call with a woman in Alaska looking for a bra who heard about us from her surgeon or a live chat with someone who is desperate to find something beautiful that fits. It could be surprising a woman in Canada with something pretty or making connections in Scotland on Instagram. Every one of these moments is why I do this. And I won’t stop until we reach as many people as we can across the globe, and bring a little love and confidence back into their lives.

What’s one piece of advice you’d give to another entrepreneur just starting out?
Know your product, know your market, know yourself. You should be able to tell me why your product is special, who your customer is, how it’s going to make an impact and how it will fair against competition.Be passionate. If everything you eat, sleep, breathe, live is about your venture, then you’re on the right track. And be prepared. Starting a business is not as simple as it may seem in this culture of instant gratification and instant celebrity. It is hard work, tears, sweat, grit, blood and then getting up the next day to do it all over again. It can also be the most rewarding and gratifying experience of your life, but you have to work for it, you have to know it and earn it.

What do you do every Monday morning to prepare and motivate yourself for the coming week?
Sometimes my Monday gets started on Sunday. I like to start off the week with a “clean” desk and an empty email box. I know it sounds crazy, but it gives me a fresh start as the week kicks off. I get excited to get Monday started and finished, because it sets me up for the rest of the week and allows me to continue to push forward and conquer the world.


For more #MondayMotivation, check out our interview with Sima Pendharkar, Founder & CEO of Valeet Healthcare, to discuss innovations in digital health, overcoming resistance to change, and marrying your inner artist and scientist.