Female Founders: Dunia Algeri

Lucie Janik

Welcome back to Female Founders, where we introduce you to women that took the plunge and founded their own businesses against the odds. Today we meet Dunia Algeri, who already runs her namesake knitwear brand Dunia Algeri Atelier and the CBD beauty brand TABA Skincare.

Dunia Algeri

Based in Milan, the entrepreneur completed her studies in Switzerland and Italy, and gained extensive experience in wholesale and PR at the likes of Gucci and Diane von Furstenberg, before kicking off her first venture, Dunia Algeri Atelier, in 2015. Inspired by her Nonna Giulia, the brand offers handmade luxury knitwear that is made from baby alpaca wool and likes to challenge fast fashion with the mindset that the best things in life need time. Each piece is handmade in Italy and requires approximately 30 hours to finish. 

Holding one of the sweaters in my hand for the first time,  I was astonished at how soft baby alpaca is. The term does not refer to the age of the animal but rather to the fineness of the fibre and is the softest part of an adult alpaca, usually the chest area. The original product range included sweaters, cardigans, boleros and turtlenecks, but since then, the brand has also expanded into handmade crochet pieces for the warmer seasons that are popular among influencers like Chiara Ferragni.

Having followed Dunia’s journey since 2014, I was pumped to hear that she launched her second business TABA Skincare and wanted to know more about what drives her in the professional and private world.

Why did you want to start your own business?

“I decided to start my own brand at 26 without really knowing what that meant. What I did know is that I wanted to create something and try to put my ideas into reality. I came up with the idea for Dunia Algeri Atelier, because my grandmother (who I never met since she died before I was born) was a knitter and I grew up with stories of her told by my father and grandfather. 

I have always been attracted to knitwear and I decided to try and start my own line because I couldn’t find what I wanted in the shops. I did not know much when I started, but I knew that I wanted to create something different: that’s why I ended up with handmade production and baby alpaca yarn.” 

Did you face challenges and obstacles while setting up your first brand? How did the experience from the first launch help your second brand?

“I have faced so many challenges and obstacles while setting up Dunia Algeri Atelier. First of all, I was naïve and did believe in my business partners (showrooms, trade fairs, press offices…) I’ve met along the way when they promised me amazing results, while in reality they did not believe in the brand or fully understand it. Therefore I lost my time and money without getting any results. It has been really hard to find someone who really believes in the brand and shares the same vision. 

The second biggest challenge has been to make a name for myself and the brand. My mistake was to develop a worldwide strategy without considering Italy that much, with the result that the brand is well known in Berlin, NYC and Paris but not in Milan. 

These and many other challenges helped me SO much with my second business. I knew what I wanted, how to get it and what not to do from the beginning. Of course there are many obstacles with TABA as well (especially because of the CBD market,) but I couldn’t have launched TABA and received these results in just three months, if I had not made the mistakes with Dunia Algeri Atelier before.”

Why did you also want to venture into beauty? Why CBD skincare?

“I’ve always been attracted to the beauty world, it was basically where I spent most of my money from teenager years till last year. I love taking care of myself (mostly with skincare) and I value it more than just a “beauty” moment. 

It has always been a dream of mine to have my own beauty brand, but I felt like the market was already saturated and I did not have the power to compete with the latest celebrity beauty brand or with the bigger names in the market. However, when I discovered CBD some years ago, I realized it was something different and new for the beauty industry (in Europe at least). With CBD I could develop a different and innovative beauty brand, and that was the power I needed to kick off my brand.”

How did the current pandemic influence your businesses?

“At the end of 2019 we decided to make some big changes for Dunia Algeri Atelier (new brand identity and communication manager) and we were ready to relaunch. We developed the first real spring/summer collection and we were ready for an epic photoshoot, when the COVID-19 situation started. We managed to do the shooting anyway with a wooden mannequin and a flower headpiece, because it was the end of February and we did not feel like having a model would be the safest choice. 

The pandemic influenced the brand in a negative way, because we could not do all the events we had on our agenda for spring/summer, but at the same time people became more comfortable with online shopping. So not having a retail store was not that big of a deal for us, since people are now more used to buying online. 

TABA Skincare was born during the pandemic and we are happy that people now buy skincare online more easily (and skincare is something you want to buy even if you are in lockdown), but on the other hand it has been difficult with the shops closed to expand our retail presence.”

How was the first response to your skincare brand launch? How was the experience different from Dunia Algeri Atelier?

“Despite the COVID-19 situation (we launched TABA in January 2021), I have to say the first response is really good. We are now three months in and both clients and brand awareness make me really happy! The experience was really different from a “make the brand known” point of view. 

TABA has already reached the same level of brand awareness in just three months, that took Dunia Algeri Atelier three years. I think this is partly because of my experience and because social media is now much more developed than four years ago. With TABA we cannot do any advertisement because of the CBD factor and it is really nice to see how organically we are growing just with our resources.”

What is your hero product from TABA Skincare?

“That’s the most difficult question of all, it is like asking parents, which is their favourite child. If I have to pick one I would say the CBD Booster Oil, because it can be used in so many different ways and being pure CBD you can really see the benefits of this cannabinoid.” 

What does the future hold for Dunia Algeri Atelier and TABA Skincare? Do you also want to venture into different product categories?

“Dunia Algeri Atelier will probably venture into new fabrics such as cashmere, while TABA Skincare is definitely going to launch some new products next fall. I would love to start another business with different product categories, but not in the near future, at the moment I am kind of busy ;)”

How do you see the future of fashion and beauty?

“More consciousness in both worlds. We are stepping away from fast fashion, we are checking labels more and more and we want to have ethical products. We are approaching the art of decluttering and we are understanding that it is really better to own one pair of good jeans than ten pairs that are ok, but not nice.

The same consciousness is the future of the beauty world, because now we can all read an INCI, we do know that those “before and after” pictures are all fakes, we want clean and natural products, we are interested in understanding more and doing the research on our own. We want recyclable packaging and we care about details that in the past were almost irrelevant to the majority of people.”

Which tips would you give female entrepreneurs that also want to start their own business?

“Manage your money in the best way possible, do all the possible research (about the product/service/idea, about the trend in that market, the communication, the competitors) and believe in what you do, even when things are not going well or when it looks like you are not going anywhere. Do not give up, it takes time. Be consistent and do not change your strategy or identity just because it is not immediately working after a few months.”

Do you have other women that inspire you? 

“Yes, I have so many actually. My mum taught me that you can be a business woman, mother, and woman and that you do not have to choose to be just one of those. All the super girls that I’ve met in the past years (mainly in Milan), who have started their own business, inspire me everyday because I feel like I am not alone in this. Especially when I meet a working mum, because now I can understand how hard it can be. Last but not least I’ve always been inspired by my grandmother, who I’ve never met. I know, it probably does not make any sense but looking at the pictures and hearing all the stories have always been so inspiring for me.”

You are also a mother, how important is it for you to be a role model for your daughter? What do you want your daughter to learn from you?

“It is very important because I want her to learn that mum and dad are on the same level. Mum can work sometimes, when dad gives her a bath or mum drops her off at the nursery, because dad has already left for work. I think it is very important to show her every side of a woman. I can cook (well, the Thermomix can), do the laundry, take her to the park, do my nails and hair, and call my production team to formulate a new product or discuss a new advertising campaign.

I am not just a mother, just a woman or just a businesswoman. Last but not least I want her to grow up without the taboo of having a good cry, about periods, about sexuality or any other topic that might seem uncomfortable.”

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