Diagnosed with breast cancer at 27, Dana Donofree founded AnaOno out of her own desire for pretty, sexy, beautiful lingerie. After a bilateral mastectomy with implant reconstruction her own bras no longer fit and she was certain there must be more than just sports bras and camisoles (as nothing in the traditional lingerie market fit her surgically-altered body). With a degree in fashion design from Savannah College of Art and Design, and a successful fashion industry career, she took her 10+ years experience and put it toward designing, launching and growing AnaOno.
Dana is very active in the breast cancer community and is involved with several non-profits, including on the Living Beyond Breast Cancer board, and she is a Metavivor advocate. Her story has been featured on USA Today, The Today Show, HuffPost, New York Times, Style, and many others.
However, she is most proud of being able to make a difference in the lives of women worldwide and is honored to continue to spread her mission of beauty, confidence and empowerment.
SCAD, 2016 Distinguished Alumni Award recipient.
Graduate, Harvard Business School Executive Leadership Program
Past member, FedEx Small Business Center Entrepreneur Advisory Board
Noted as an innovator by the American Society of Plastic Surgeons
Top 10 finalist in Intuit Small Business Big Game Contest
Winner, FedEx Small Business Grant Contest
Finalist, WBENCPitch, presented by PepsiCo
Where did the idea for AnaOno come from?
I was diagnosed with breast cancer the day before my 28th birthday, and two months before my planned wedding date. Up until that moment, I felt like I had everything going for me, including a successful career in the fashion industry. After my mastectomy and reconstruction, I couldn’t find a single pretty bra that comfortably fit my surgically-altered body. That’s when I knew I had to do something! I took my years of fashion design experience and launched AnaOno so that no other woman had to feel alone and go through the frustration I did.
What does your typical day look like and how do you make it productive?
Starting my day at the gym relieves some of the never-ending stress of the entrepreneur’s life and gives me energy to manage my team of five as we build AnaOno into a global brand.
How do you bring ideas to life?
This is the best part! As a fashion designer, my job is to bring ideas to life. I love to sit down in a quiet place to dream up new ideas. I make sketches based on my own needs and customer feedback, and then work with my staff and our manufacturing partners to turn those ideas into reality.
What’s one trend that excites you?
Equality. Though we still have a long way to go. I grew up in the fashion industry where the glass ceiling was not as thick as it is in some other industries. Coco Chanel, Diane Von Furstenberg, Donna Karan… my list of fashion industry heroes goes on and on. But when I started my own business I realized quickly that female CEOs and business leaders are treated differently than our male counterparts. I want to keep working diligently to change that!
What is one habit of yours that makes you more productive as an entrepreneur?
I never give up. Tell me “no,” and I will always find a way to “yes.”
What advice would you give your younger self?
You don’t have to rush things. Take some time to enjoy yourself. I always push myself to the limit and it doesn’t actually have to be that way. I was always ready for the next step before it was ready for me, and I found myself at stress points when that happened. I wish I had known I could relax a little! On the other hand, if I had relaxed, I may not have gained the much-needed experience that powered me to start my own business. So I wouldn’t do it differently—I just encourage others to take a breath.
Tell us something that’s true that almost nobody agrees with you on.
Work-life balance is really not a thing. But it doesn’t have to be when you love what you do and do what you love, which is true for me! Every day I wake up to my very full life and I don’t call it work. I love it, it fulfills me, it makes me proud and it fuels my energy to keep it all going.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Hustle! A day is never done if you haven’t been out there hustling. You can build it, but they do not always come. You have to get yourself and your business out there. It doesn’t work any other way.
What is one strategy that has helped you grow your business?
Focus. It is very easy as an entrepreneur to get distracted by other people’s opinions. “You can do this,” “you should do that,” etc. You have to trust your gut! If other people had the answers, they would have likely already solved the problems you’re working on. So stay focused, set your own goals, achieve them, then conquer the next ones.
What is one failure you had as an entrepreneur, and how did you overcome it?
A failure is not a failure if you learn from it. I went out into the world to raise money for my growing company so I could scale it faster than my own bank account would allow. I failed. I didn’t get the funding I needed to keep going, so I went in a different direction. I found money elsewhere, not cheap money but it was what I needed to get my next collection off the ground. That collection was a turning point for our line and helped us attract more customers. When I reached back into my deck and started talking with investors again, I had a much stronger story to tell, along with a bigger and more successful business. The point is, don’t let failure stop you. Push through it and keep your head up!
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away to our readers?
I just wish I was the one who figured out that putting double-stick tape on the back of a piece a paper would be a thing! But since I didn’t invest Post-Its, I think developing a networking group of founders or people that love start-up life and have broad skill sets is a great idea. I would love to find awesome entrepreneurs to join together, build great things and then move on to the next thing!
What is the best $100 you recently spent? What and why?
When I have a chance to spend $100, I am happy to donate gift certificates to women in need. With the help of non-profits or other organizations, I prioritize supporting patients recovering from a breast cancer diagnosis.
What is one piece of software or a web service that helps you be productive?
My email inbox. I can’t find many plug-ins that actually save me time. Each one just adds another layer and ends up slowing things down. Call me old school, but my email box and calendar keep me on track!
What is the one book that you recommend our community should read and why?
The Nordstrom Way – I had so many takeaways from this book and I read it cover to cover in just a few days. As a consumer-oriented business, the Nordstrom family did it right and they continue to do it right. If you believe in servicing your customer first, this book has many lessons you can learn from and adapt to your own business.
What is your favorite quote?
She believed she could, so she did.
- Forget about work-life balance—focus on doing work you love.
- Listen to others, then trust your gut.
- Get out there and hustle!
- Never give up.
Carlyn runs the day-to-day publishing operation here at ideamensch and interacts with our awesome customers and entrepreneurs. She is likely editing this with a cat on her lap.