If in 10 years, you see Jess Tran running for president or having evolved into the next-gen Oprah, you can say that you heard it from us first.
The impressively creative multi-hyphenate is the Director of Business Development and Partnerships at Dagne Dover, the accessories brand that aims to keep professional hustlers chic and organized. She also owns an online vintage shop, Ghost Vintage, is a dog-mom (her adopted dog Ghost is the shop’s namesake), and is an avid powerlifter (more on that to come).
In the midst of convincing me to get in on her frozen meal obsession and being a very attentive parent to Ghost, who joined us for our chat, we talked about maintaining Instagram balance, hustling in New York, female duality, wellness, protein, eyelashes, and living life gratefully.
Definitely the makings of a 21st century Oprah.
There is a lot of overlap with the Alala woman and the Dagne Dover customer, would you agree?
Absolutely. I feel like the ALALA woman is always on the go, hustling. She’s a New York woman with a million things to do and places to be. And Dagne’s customers are very much the same. We think of our clients as people who have 9-5’s and beyond, and need to pack everything for the day at once. And they need their bag to service that.
I love that the new congresswoman who was just elected (we spoke the day after 28-year old Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won a stunning upset in the Democratic primary in New York’s 14th Congressional district) is wearing Dagne in her campaign video where she was basically introducing herself to the world and to her voters. I love stories like that. And that’s the sort of woman we think of when we’re thinking of our customers. Someone who is out there doing things and doing them well.
When we did this shoot, I loved the ALALA mood board because it was dark colors and sharp lines, with this urban cityscape, very cool feel. It [didn’t look like] the usual active wear brand. It looked like ‘I know how to run my life and I need activewear that can keep up’. And I think these two brands have a lot of crossover in that way.
How did your NYC hustle start? You moved here from Sydney.
I moved to New York from Sydney after briefly working in PR. I had no job and no friends, just my boyfriend whom I’d been long distance with for six months and who lived here. And I eventually landed at an agency that mainly worked with high growth consumer startups like Squarespace, Hello Fresh, and Class Pass. And Dagne Dover was one of our PR clients. After that role, I moved on to become Head of Communications at a company called Exo that made protein from crickets.
After that, I decided to transition out of PR. I wasn’t really sure it was the right fit and I wanted to try a different side of the business. And I’d kept in touch with Melissa, from Dagne, after I left the PR company and knew they were looking for a biz dev person so I reached out. In the end, even then though I didn’t have direct role experience Melissa took a chance on me because she saw I had skills that could transfer into this role. I was there externally, doing their PR, when they were very small but seeing them grow from where they were then to where they are now has been really special.
And so you’re a Dagne woman with a full 9-5 and beyond. You put in a day’s work, leave for the day, and head to powerlifting. How did that start?
I had a boyfriend in Sydney who started it and I thought it was stupid at first but he got me to try it and I got really into it. When you’re working out in a male dominated space like that it can be really intimidating in the gym, but I kept going back. And now I’m obsessed. It’s a really great workout. I know how to do a proper squat, my body is strong, and being in the gym has taught me about parts of myself that I use in my work life and elsewhere.
Parts of yourself like what?
It’s helped me with stopping myself when I’m talking about my vintage store, from saying ‘oh it’s just this silly thing that I’m doing’. Why should I set that up so other people don’t believe in me?If I don’t take myself seriously, no one else is going to. I take all the photos, I’m a photographer, I buy all the clothes, I’m a buyer, I designed the whole website, I run it, I manage it. I’m a creative and for a long time I put that title ‘creative’ on a pedestal and thought I didn’t have the right to be one.
Women are taught not to be boastful: to mind your own business, and stay in your own lane, and don’t go out there saying how great you are. I think acting like who you want to be and staking your claim in that translates into your actions because if you’re qualifying yourself you’re never going to get to the place you actually want to be.
My title is Director of Business Development and Partnerships and for the longest time I was like ‘I’m not a director, I’m only 25, it’s just because it’s a startup’ instead of saying ‘I worked really hard for this. I did six internships and two retail jobs and I worked for my university newspaper, all at the same time, since I was 17 to get to this place.
What I’m trying to figure out is how best I can keep encouraging women to be multi-faceted. You can be into fashion and also really love powerlifting. I love protein, I love lifting weights, I have the gloves, I have all the gear, I have belts, I have chalk and I go to the gym. But I’m also extremely girly: I curl my hair and have fake eyelashes, so I really want to see more duality in women. I don’t need to be defined by either sphere of my life.
The qualifying thing IS really important for women. I’m trying to figure out, in the course of our conversation, is it because we live in New York where everyone is hustling and everything moves fast? Is it because of social media?
I have strong feelings about Instagram. I grew up on Instagram. When I was 14-18 in Sydney it was a big part of my life. And I definitely think there were times when I was younger that it fucked me up in a few ways. And I don’t think women talk about that. Because it can be a toxic platform. And it’s used for good, and I’ve met many of my best friends on there, and I get to do some cool stuff —but at the same time, after a while you cannot help but equate your self-worth with numbers.
It’s the comparison thing. It can be easy to look at someone like you and say: she’s lovely, her Instagram looks cool, she has a great job, a very cool dog (Ghost is giving me the eye as I say this), and it all looks so beautiful and easy and fun. So then someone is comparing a tiny sliver of your life to the entire mess of their own real life. And that can be tough.
That’s very true, and it DOES look so easy. It looks like everyone is succeeding! Especially in New York. And so you don’t have the checks and balances of ‘she also works three jobs and goes to the gym and doesn’t have time for her boyfriend’. So I try to talk about when I’m really stressed. It’s important to post when I’m stressed or vulnerable because otherwise it’s all this content that make it look easy but it’s never easy. And especially living in New York, because it draws a crowd of really ambitious, really intense people who just want to do the best and be the best. I’ve fallen prey to comparing myself to others and thinking I need to be doing more because everyone has a side hustle.
But I can still learn and grow. I can fuck up. I don’t think I know everything. I feel like there is pressure in New York to look like you know everything and have your shit together. It’s ok to start a company at 25, be a boss, and also acknowledge that you don’t know anything about anything.
It’s also just as important to sing yourself praises and practice gratefulness. Four, five years ago I was in a bedroom in a random neighborhood in Sydney, desperately wishing I could get out of Sydney. And now I’m here. I definitely haven’t reached everything I want to achieve but you know what? I have a pretty cool life.