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Alyssa Wasko, Founder of DONNI
What began as a form of therapy when her father passed away, has become so much more. Alyssa Wasko is the philanthropic powerhouse behind DONNI, a scarf and accessory brand with heart. We sat down with her to learn how creativity helped her heal and how DONNI passionately supports local women.
MELISSA: DONNI is named after your late father. How does your collection commemorate him?
ALYSSA: 8 and a half years ago, I was in college and my dad had, unfortunately, passed away. A lot of what I have done, and tried to do all stems from the thinking what would make him proud. There was an in-between time during midterms that I had one day with nothing to do and I didn’t know what to do with myself.
So I made a scarf and I put little good luck angel wing charms on it. All my friends wanted them so I kept making them. A friend’s mom had a store and asked me to make 30 scarves for her. I agreed and it just started to naturally and organically evolve and snowball. It was definitely part of my grieving and coping.
In the first 2 weeks, I knew I wanted to name it after my dad. My dad’s name was Donald and everyone called him Donni. Everyone used to say that I was his lucky charm. It was a protective, feel-good connection to the piece.
MELISSA: Everyone has their own way of grieving. You took your emotions and put them into something creative and constructive. How was making scarves therapeutic?
ALYSSA: Creativity is a really powerful tool. I am really involved with an art therapy outreach center in New York. People don’t know what it has the capacity to do. We recently did a collaboration with the girls at How You Glow and we have the proceeds going to another art therapy center, A Window Between Worlds. We did a scarf painting session with some sexually abused victims in their New York office. You see their projects and can tell how healing it really is, as it is for me, too. The wing and our story mean something different to each person. We get emails from so many people with their stories.
MELISSA: You are passionate about supporting women and women in the workplace. What initiatives do you currently have in place in support of women? Why is this so important to you?
ALYSSA: I have a lot of friends that do a lot of incredible things. I love fashion and I am happy to say that the good part of fashion is that it is becoming cooler to give back. When we started doing this years back, it wasn’t really being done. So it makes me so happy that it’s more common now to give back to a foundation. I want to make sure we are infusing good in to what we do because it is not often seen in fashion. This season we donated a portion of our proceeds to Downtown Women’s Centre and we went there and served lunch.
I love shoes. I keep my clothes simple and classic. I’ve been wearing the same white tee and Levi's forever. Accessories are where you can switch it up.
MELISSA: Do you remember the first scarf you made?
ALYSSA: It was 100% cotton plaid. It was a green and navy men’s shirting plaid. It was a triangle and I sewed and frayed the edges so it looked like a distressed bandana. The wing charms were on the corners. At that time, a triangular oversized scarf was the coolest!
MELISSA: What is your creative process? Do you start with a drawing? A particular textile?
ALYSSA: There isn’t one method to my madness. I sketch. I pull images that inspire me. For me, the fabric is really how everything starts. Mixing fabrics and colors and layers. A lot of the time interiors play a huge role for me. A lot of juxtaposition and contrast. Mixing luxurious furs with a cotton flannel.
Everything is made here in LA. Our factory is 15 minutes from our office. All of our fabric mills are local. We have been working with this factory for 5 and a half years and they truly are our family! We are really lucky to have such a committed production team. It’s a husband and wife team, we feature them on our Instagram stories a lot. People love seeing where their items come from!
MELISSA: Have scarves always been your go-to accessory?
ALYSSA: I’ve always loved scarves. I feel they have a warmth and a healing power to them. They also have the ability to make every outfit look more put together.
The summer before my dad passed away, I was interning for Chanel. I went to work in the corporate offices for 6 years. I never realized how obsessed I was with scarves until the summer after it. I came in on my first day and someone told me they almost didn’t recognize me without a scarf!
I recently went through all my scarves. I had so many it was embarrassing. When someone gets you a scarf it’s memorable. There is something about them. I also always felt so comforted by them after my dad passed away.
But.. I love shoes. I keep my clothes simple and classic. I’ve been wearing the same white tee and Levi’s forever. Accessories are where you can switch it up.
MELISSA: You now have a collection of over 28 scarves. What style is your favorite to wear? Favorite fabric?
ALYSSA: We do a lot with this 100% cotton, waffle thermal. We do an intense washing process so everything is super soft. It’s why everything has an amazing drape and is so soft and cozy.
MELISSA: The angel wing charm that adorns every scarf also doubles as a post back earring. What inspired this angel wing and what made you decide to have it double as an extra accessory?
ALYSSA: This happened in September with the rebrand and name change. It was a way to keep a piece of us with you when you aren’t wearing your scarf. Years ago, we made these ball chain bracelets and they were on the hang tag. People would always take them off and wear them. It was an easy way to keep the charm and us with you. And I love earrings!