This Oscars season, jewelry startup Dannijo will likely play a starring role. Spotted on models like Brooklyn Decker and actress Jessica Alba, the brand has become a big name among the celebrity set and trendy fashionistas. Not bad for a company that started from a childhood love for jewelry making. Read on for the story of how the founders went from playing around with wire to building a thriving business. (And check out more stories in our Built From Passion series.)

Where the Idea Came From

It all started in the mid-1980s when sisters Danielle and Jodie Snyder were growing up in Jacksonville, Florida. The story goes that Danielle and her older sister would sneak into their cardiologist father's "glorified dopp kit" to play with his surgical tools. "He had a lot of clamps, things you can use to hold arteries or veins," Danielle says. They also worked equally well for fashioning homemade jewelry. Over time, the girls taught themselves to do wirework and a passion for jewelry-making was born. "I love how jewelry is associated with a time, a place, and a person," Danielle says. "Jewelry designs are like memory keepers--they hold such great meaning." 

Years later, Jodie began selling her jewelry at a popular local boutique. The beaded items became a fixture at their private high school, though the students didn't know the Snyders had made them. "I would do edgier pieces," says Danielle, the tomboy of the two, "whereas Jodie tended toward classic, feminine style." During college, with a small loan from their parents, they opened a short-lived boutique in Jacksonville, which also attracted a following. 

After college, the pair headed to New York City, where Jodie got a job running the private label department at Sam Edelman, a footwear company, while Danielle worked in sales at Penny Preville, the jewelry firm. But the good times wouldn't last long.

In 2008, they both were laid off and forced to face the inevitable: Would they go on to launch the store of their dreams or appease their parents and return to the workforce? With $40,000 in savings and no contacts in the industry, they agreed on an ultimatum: If things didn't work out in six months, they'd get "real jobs." Otherwise, they'd be entrepreneurs

How the Business Took Off 

That same year, after cold-calling a Bergdorf-Goodman's buyer, the sisters convinced her to view their first collection, inspired by "Star Wars." Not entirely convinced the edgy pieces would sell, the store took them on consignment and priced them from $250 to $550--then proceeded to sell every one.

Meanwhile, Dannijo's website continued drawing more buzz. First, Beyonce was spotted rocking the pair's "Ruth Celia" necklace. Then came the collaborations with "The Office" star Rashida Jones and fashion blogger Leandra Medine. By the time the Snyders appeared in a segment about young entrepreneurs on the "Today" show, they were hobnobbing with billionaires like Richard Branson, attending Paris Fashion Week, and making Inc.'s 30 Under 30 list. 

And as Dannijo added accessories such as handbags, bridal jewelry, and iPhone cases, the company broadened its global footprint, selling products in Neiman Marcus and Saks, as well as Holt Renfrew in Canada, Liberty London in the U.K., and Japan's Tomorrowland. 

Danielle credits Dannijo's growth to Jodie, who said early on the only path to success would be having an international--and web-savvy--presence. Not only did the Snyders rely on a small group of interns to help, they forged a "tremendous" relationship with fashion retail site Shopbop.com and created an intimate bond with customers through social media. Every post on Twitter and Instagram is theirs, and clever hashtags like #putabibonit, for instance, encourage followers to show their love for colorful bib necklaces. 

What's Next

These days, Dannijo is still fairly small, with only 11 employees. According to Danielle, about 30 percent of sales come from the brand's website and 70 percent from retail shops. 

The Snyders are also at work on two projects: a casual-to-formal shoe collection for brides--"we felt like there were real gaps in the market," Danielle says--and their first-ever line of fine jewelry with diamonds. The 20-piece shoewear collection debuts in February.

When asked about her goals for this year, Danielle says coyly, "world domination." But she quickly corrects herself. What she really means is "staying true to Dannijo's phanthropic and aesthetic roots," even as they branch into new categories and try to become a bigger luxury lifestyle brand. Not that she's worried: "Jodie and I have very complementary skillsets and we trust each other explicitly," she says. "We have incredible chemistry and a strong foundation." Sharing the same ambition doesn't hurt, either. 

Published on: Feb 10, 2015