Dana Hork, Refine Basics, Woman Entrepreneur

Hork1Dana reached out to me February of 2012 when she was moving into her last semester at HBS.  She had a vision to built a basics clothing company, a product that she was looking for herself.  I took a meeting and have been watching Dana grow Refine since we met.  What is impressive is that the reality is that Dana really did not know much about the manufacturing business but she had a vision for something she wanted to build.  She figured it out and persevered and that is a true entrepreneur.  

Dana grew up in Minneapolis.  Both her parents were small business owners.  Her mom has a corporate gift business and her father has a computer software business.  Her grandfather owned a gas station and her great grandfather was a tailor.  A long line of entrepreneurs.  Her parents had total flexibility in their lives when it came to being around for their children.  Her mom initially worked in a big company but started her own business on their dining room table and Dana got to be part of that.  

Dana went to a huge public high school and graduated top of her class.  After graduating she went to University of Pennsylvania where she had a double major in communications and economics.  She was in political communications so Dana attended both the Democratic and Republican conventions while she was in school.  It was eye opening to see both sides of each party and how they are polar opposites.  She was interested in politics so Dana became the Chair of Student Government.  She spent a lot of time on campus trying to improve student life.

Her first summer at college she went home.  Her second summer she spent in Tours, France studying French media and architecture in the Loire Valley before returning for the conventions.  Her third summer she took an internship at JPMorgan bank and moved herself into the financial world.  She had started a movement at college called Change for Change where people take the extra change lying around on their desks and pockets and have community events to gather that change towards making change.  She continued to work at her non-profit while she was at JPMorgan.  

After graduating college, Dana took a job at JPMorgan although in the back of her mind she wanted to be involved with public service in some capacity.  Change for Change let her do that without having to move to DC.   She was working at JPMorgan in their wealth managing division and the philanthropic advisory group.  She spent a year restructing loans for clients and then ended up on the fixed income team.  She stayed for 8 years.  She had a front row to the financial crisis and decided in 2010 it was time to move on.

Dana moved onward and went to Harvard Business School. Dana wanted to broaden her horizons. She always had an entrepreneurial spirit from Change for Change to bringing in interesting speakers to the company for thought.  As Dana said, it was time to expand her tool kit and her network.  

The first year is a core curriculum.  She felt that she used her time wisely.  She worked at Pepsi her first summer on the marketing campaign for Mountain Dew.  She took an undergraduate course in computer science.  She would have thought that living with her father who was in the software business all these years that she would have been more interested but she truly had little exposure to it.  The class was eye opening.  She took that course with 600 other undergraduate students.  It was very meaningful.  Dana did a referral marketing project for the Gilt Groupe with two friends.  Then in January of her second year she did a marketing analytics and customer insights presentation project for Bonobos.  It was her first experience in schmata.  Those experiences made her start thinking about other business opportunities upon graduation.

Dana has been very involved with the entrepreneurial group at Harvard.  She began to think about the retail space and what people were and weren't doing.  When she looked in her own closet she realized that nobody was really focused on just basics.  She decided to use the tail end of school to explore the opportunity starting with buying every white t-shirt she came across.  She had her friends try every single one on and listened to their likes and dislikes.  That insight is what she built Refine on.  She was awarded $5k as a seed grant from HBS and off she went.  

After graduating Dana plunged in.  She knew nothing about the business.  That is when I first met her.  She went into the garment center, bought fabrics, met manufacturers, washed her product over and over, worked with sample rooms and effectively figured it out over a year.  Refine just recently launched their online site.  I have a t-shirt and a few tanks.  They are simple basics that feel good on your body.  I give Dana a lot of credit for plunging into a business she believed in with literally knowing very little about how to make a product.  Will be a brand worth watching.  

Comments (Archived):

  1. Ella Dyer

    Necessity is the mother of….Good read; I always enjoy your blog and often recommend it to other female founders.One of these days I’ll get to WE (when it doesn’t conflict with my granddaughter’s birthday). Keep up the great work; we really appreciate your example.Stay warm, Ella

    1. Gotham Gal

      thanks ella

  2. LE

    Nice stuff.I suggest adding a category of “nighttime” or “bedtime” when they can.This is the type of style and look I try to get my wife to wear at night when we are watching Tv as she is falling asleep.Also something that would make it easy for a guy to purchase as a gift. If that’s possible because this means nothing to me:http://www.refinebasics.com……

    1. Gotham Gal

      great idea.

  3. Jennifer Soffen

    Joanne, thanks for sharing this story about Dana at Refine. I am actually also embarking on an entrepreneurial venture somewhat like Dana (coming up on my last semester of HBS, very involved in the entrepreneurial space, etc) and reading this made me realize I think you would be a great person to talk to about my business! I’ll reach out to you on email now.