The Art of Living with Style and Grace

Learn about how one woman began teaching her way of living

Creativity 6 min read Sep 25, 2019
The Art of Living with Style and Grace

Etiquette Consultant Devyani Joon is the Founder and CEO of DASH Finishing School (which actually comes from the word ‘dashing’ and means impetuous or flamboyant vigour, confidence & panache and perfectly describes the business). Her business is pointed at bringing out the best in each person through hands-on personality development workshops. Ahead, our conversation with Devyani about how it was like being raised in a disciplined household, how she started teaching her lifestyle and her excitement for what’s to come. As a special promo, receive a $10 discount on any DASH workshops! Simply use code stylebydash10 at checkout.

Tell us a little bit about you and DASH Finishing School?

I was born and brought up in India and moved to Melbourne in August of 2016. I went to a boarding school centred in the Himalayas, and completed my Bachelors and Masters in the University of London. Coming from a business family, I have always wanted to start my own business and carve out a niche of my own. After trying a fair few businesses, I eventually started DASH Finishing School.

I established DASH in December of last year. It was predominantly setup as an initiative to encourage self-development and personality enhancement for men and women. The aim is to offer courses that enrich every aspect of a participant’s personality, creativity and appearance, thereby making them versatile and well-groomed individuals.

Currently our courses include art of fine dining, makeup, hairstyling, skincare & haircare, personal styling, scarf styling & art of gift wrapping. The upcoming workshops include hosting & entertainment, body language & communication skills and corporate grooming & image building. People also have the option of taking up the workshops in a group setting or as a private consultation based on their needs.

The workshops at DASH are designed to be exciting, interactive and extremely personalised. They are primarily practical in nature to give participants a hands-on experience in learning. The batch sizes are kept small and exclusive to ensure that each and every participant gets the attention that they deserve. DASH has a mix of in-house and visiting faculty, all of who are highly qualified experts from the industry and committed to inspirational teaching and to the provision of an outstanding enrichment program.

What were you doing before this? How did life lead you to starting the school?

I was running a grooming school with a friend in India for four years. 2015 was when I decided to take a big step in my life and marry my childhood best friend, Seth Arora. I took a sabbatical, and my husband and I decided to travel around the world through a whole year. We travelled to 55 countries in total and finally settled down in Melbourne. Seth had been living in Melbourne for 11 years and was highly instrumental in motivating me to bring DASH here, as was quite positive on the concept being accepted by the lovely people here. That’s how it all began!

What ignited the spark in you to start this kind of business?

I was brought up in a very disciplined way by my loving parents, where they inculcated soft skills on a daily basis in my brother and I (such as good manners, speaking politely, etiquette & behaviour, correct poise & posture, dining do’s & don’ts and outward appearances, amongst other things). There came a time when it became second nature to me and I really started enjoying and building upon it for myself.

The above mentioned coupled with the dearth of finishing schools in Melbourne made for the perfect platform to introduce DASH. Fast forward to now, it gives me immense pleasure in sharing the knowledge that our experienced team can bring together to the table.

Were there any challenges you faced while setting up DASH in Melbourne? What were they and how did you overcome them?

Initially, after moving to Melbourne, it was extremely hard to get used to a completely new lifestyle and settle down in a place where everything was new (the biggest being the weather and seeing a summer Christmas 🙂 ). Being an entrepreneur, it often gets lonely at the top, so you’ve got to judge for yourself if you’re doing the right or wrong thing! Another hurdle was to find and retain good visiting faculty for some of our courses, which eventually got through after several meetings with various professionals.

My husband was extremely supportive right from the start and always gave me that push to keep going. There’s also this one particular quotation that I always like going back to whenever I feel I can’t do any more: ”The temptation to quit is always the strongest just before you are about to succeed”. It has worked every single time!

Can you tell us the difference between finishing school then and now?

In my opinion, one of the biggest differences is the business model and the application of techniques. Finishing schools in the ‘50s were designed mostly for women, and it is true that going to a finishing school back in the day was only meant for the uber-wealthy as they could shell out $20,000 for a 6-week social polish program! Hence, girls from well-to-do families were sent there to prepare them to enter into high-society and the programs were recognised as a complicated series of rules meticulously interlaced with prestige and status.

Now, since we don’t live in that era (and I can speak on behalf of DASH), it is more of a modern finishing school applying contemporary methods of teaching and providing knowledge on fashion and deportment. The finishing school programs are intended to be more affordable and can be taken up by teenagers, men and women alike, from all arenas of life. They can also be taken up by individuals wanting a change in image due to any reasons such as preparing for a career change, or going back into the workforce, or prepping for that big upcoming corporate or social event, or even just for the sake of acquiring soft-skills in a fun workshop setting with friends or family. 🙂 I’m not at all surprised that finishing courses are becoming increasingly popular amongst adults!

What were the aspects of finishing school then that you disagree with, and on the other hand, aspects that you uphold?

Hmm, good question! Well, I don’t disagree with any aspects from the past as the programs on offer were from a completely different era. Times have changed, we have adopted more modern techniques and we like to teach what people can practically use in their lives.

However, I would like to add that good manners do not need to be a uniquely feminine skill reserved only for teens and young adults. There are a lot of men and women over 30 who are determined and looking to present their best possible image. This also has a lot to do with self-confidence and understanding one’s self-image issues. If one learns the protocol, they don’t have to worry and can automatically act with more confidence as they know they can handle themselves!

We also aim to teach only those aspects which can be applied by the participants in their life and not for the closet that never opens. For example, we had a lady come in for one of the workshops who had attended a finishing program overseas a decade ago. Curiously asking her about how it went for her, she mentioned that it was great in terms of meeting people and the exposure, but in terms of the content she felt she could not apply a lot of it taught in her life back home such as the flatware they taught with was not available in the finest of restaurants and some techniques were quite over the top and dated.

However, the basic underlying principle of DASH still remains the same of imparting knowledge on deportment so we can create immense value by providing quality education and a good emphasis on developing soft skills.

What is your favourite part of running DASH?

It has to be when I see the participants leave the DASH studio with a big smile on their face saying they truly enjoyed the workshop. That it has helped them immensely and will definitely come back for another one. That just makes my day!

We’re curious to know what your ideals are being that you run a school that ‘develops personalities’.

While growing up, my mother would often say to me: ”Before saying or doing anything to others, always put yourself in others’ shoes and see how would you feel if they behaved like that towards you.” This did give me a good understanding of how to behave with people around me. Before anything in life, it’s most important to be a good human being. as manners are a sensitive awareness of the other’s feelings. So, if one has that awareness, then they have good manners no matter what fork they use. I strongly believe that it’s never too late to start work on oneself, and self-reflection is a big key to self-improvement.

The above is coupled with clear goals in life, steady focus, self-discipline & confidence followed up with sheer hard work!

What were some of the biggest lessons that has impacted the way that you work? What was the lesson, and what was it like before and after?

I’ve always looked up to my grandfather’s business acumen and work. We would have daily business chats where I would ask him a million questions as to how he did for what he did. Getting cues from the talks, it would give me immense happiness and send me in a dream world of starting something of my own and the want to be a successful businesswoman and being good at what I do.

Having applied a fair few business principles and doing things by the book, I tried different ventures prior to DASH, and failed miserably. In hindsight, there’s not much that I did differently then to what I do now except for the big fact that I learnt that its really imperative for the heart to be in the work that one does. What I do at DASH is something that comes very naturally to me, so it is highly important for me to feel the passion and happiness when I wake up, and feel a sense of achievement and purpose at the end of the day. This is what was missing earlier and therefore did not go a long way!

What has working for your business done for you personally and professionally?

Well professionally, I get to learn so much with all the research and development work, and putting it to test. It also helps me to get out of my comfort zone and explore other spheres in the business which are not my forte. Some of them include IT (making the website from scratch, do have a look!), looking into marketing strategies (so not a marketing person) and writing a blog (it’s coming soon).

I feel rather fortunate that I get to meet and interact with so many different people from all walks of life. While they take away something from DASH, I also get to learn something from the participants, even if it is just about exploring the city.

Personally, the business allows me freedom to have flexible hours, so it’s easy to spend good time with family and friends, and have a good work-life balance. Of course, in any new business, one must put in the hard yards and sow the seed in anticipation of reaping the fruits in the years to come. I’m also thrilled with the fact that Seth has recently quit his corporate job to join DASH and take it to new heights!

What has been your most satisfying moment in business?

This has to be when some of our courses went in waitlist recently such as the current hot-sellers – Hairstyling & Art of Gift Wrapping!

What are you looking forward to for DASH?

I’m really looking forward to introducing the rest of the deportment workshops (which include Body Language & Communication skills, Hosting & Entertainment, Corporate Etiquette & image building programs) by the end of this year, and then expand inter-state and eventually go international! I’m absolutely looking forward to doing some charity work as well and reach out to people who are not able to reach out to us.

Let your personality shine! Join a DASH workshop today.
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