People 04 June 2017
When Tori Gerbig turned her eBay shop into an official e-commerce site, she quickly became one of the fastest growing online retailers of women's apparel in the United States.
Pink Lily is a completely self-funded home for women's fashion that grew to generate millions in sales, employ over 20 staff and move to a 25,000 square foot warehouse in just three years. With a growth strategy rooted in social media, the company has over 224k followers on Instagram and more than 1.4 million fans on Facebook. What's the secret?
In this Q&A with Gerbig, she tells SWAAY:
How did you get the idea for Pink Lily?
I always knew I wanted to be self-employed one day. While in college, I studied marketing with a concentration in sales. During one of my classes, I became intrigued with branding and the overall concept of marketing items to consumers. I combined all I learned with my love for fashion and social media, and Pink Lily was born. My goal was to create a place where customers could shop for affordable and stylish clothing, all from the comfort of their home.
Tori Gerbig Courtesy of Pink Lily
How did your original idea evolve into Pink Lily?
Pink Lily actually started as an eBay shop in 2011. When I took maternity leave two years later, it turned into somewhat of a side project for me. I quickly gained a dedicated Facebook following and a fast-growing demand for our products. That's when business really took off. On January 1, 2014, my husband and I launched Pink Lily's official website and within six months we both left our jobs to focus full-time on the shop.
How do you get the clothing that you sell?
We work with over 500 vendors in Los Angeles to find new styles and designs. A portion of our inventory also manufactures just for us. It's not easy to keep up with the latest trends, but I love the challenge. I'm always flying out to Los Angeles and attending a variety of markets for inspiration. Needless to say, it has been very exciting to watch our brand evolve over the last few years.
How do you use social media to further excel your business?
We keep our fans engaged on social media, which is how we've managed to generate over one million Facebook fans in less than two years! Our posts currently drive roughly 300,000 likes, shares and comments per week. To engage our customers, we host daily contests and giveaways and we let them “be the buyer" when we attend a market show to shop for new looks. Our shipments all go out in a custom poly mailer bag with our logo and exclusive hashtag, so we also ask customers to tag us when they take a selfie in their new outfit.
What would you say are your goals for Pink Lily?
In the next year, my goals are to successfully open our flagship retail store in Bowling Green, Kentucky, reach $20 million in annual total sales, and grow total social media followers to two million people.
Personally, I am also very active on my own Instagram where I frequently incorporate Pink Lily into my posts. The majority of the items I wear are my own from our shop and I tag Pink Lily often. Naturally, many of my followers are also fans and customers of Pink Lily.
What do you most credit your success to?
My parents taught me that hard work and work ethic are the only things that put everybody on a level playing field when it comes to business. Hard work is something we are all capable of, regardless of how much money you have, what school you went to, or where you grew up. This mindset has made me the hard worker that I am today. When my daughter was born I only took two days off!
Women of the Middle East have made significant strides in the past decade in a number of sectors, but huge gaps remain within the labor market, especially in leadership roles.
A huge number of institutions have researched and quantified trends of and obstacles to the full utilization of females in the marketplace. Gabriela Ramos, is the Chief-of-Staff to The Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), an alliance of thirty-six governments seeking to improve economic growth and world trade. The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
To realize the possibilities, attention needs to be directed toward the most significantly underutilized resource: the women of MENA—the Middle East and North African countries. Educating the men of MENA on the importance of women working and holding leadership roles will improve the economies of those nations and lead to both national and global rewards, such as dissolving cultural stereotypes.
The OECD reports that increasing participation in the women's labor force could easily result in a $12 trillion jump in the global GDP by the year 2025.
In order to put this issue in perspective, the MENA region has the second highest unemployment rate in the world. According to the World Bank, more women than men go to universities, but for many in this region the journey ends with a degree. After graduating, women tend to stay at home due to social and cultural pressures. In 2017, the OECD estimated that unemployment among women is costing some $575 billion annually.
Forbes and Arabian Business have each published lists of the 100 most powerful Arab businesswomen, yet most female entrepreneurs in the Middle East run family businesses. When it comes to managerial positions, the MENA region ranks last with only 13 percent women among the total number of CEOs according to the Swiss-based International Labor Organization (ILO.org publication "Women Business Management – Gaining Momentum in the Middle East and Africa.")
The lopsided tendency that keeps women in family business—remaining tethered to the home even if they are prepared and capable of moving "into the world"—is noted in a report prepared by OECD. The survey provides factual support for the intuitive concern of cultural and political imbalance impeding the progression of women into the workplace who are otherwise fully capable. The nations of Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Jordan and Egypt all prohibit gender discrimination and legislate equal pay for men and women, but the progressive-sounding checklist of their rights fails to impact on "hiring, wages or women's labor force participation." In fact, the report continues, "Women in the six countries receive inferior wages for equal work… and in the private sector women rarely hold management positions or sit on the boards of companies."
This is more than a feminist mantra; MENA's males must learn that they, too, will benefit from accelerating the entry of women into the workforce on all levels. Some projections of value lost because women are unable to work; or conversely the amount of potential revenue are significant.
Elissa Freiha, founder of Womena, the leading empowerment platform in the Middle East, emphasizes the financial benefit of having women in high positions when communicating with men's groups. From a business perspective it has been proven through the market Index provider MSCI.com that companies with more women on their boards deliver 36% better equity than those lacking board diversity.
She challenges companies with the knowledge that, "From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies."
Freiha agrees that educating MENA's men will turn the tide. "It is difficult to argue culturally that a woman can disconnect herself from the household and community." Her own father, a United Arab Emirates native of Lebanese descent, preferred she get a job in the government, but after one month she quit and went on to create Womena. The fact that this win-lose situation was supported by an open-minded father, further propelled Freiha to start her own business.
"From a business level, you can have a potential of 63% by incorporating the female perspective on the executive team and the boards of companies." - Elissa Frei
While not all men share the open-mindedness of Freiha's dad, a striking number of MENA's women have convincingly demonstrated that the talent pool is skilled, capable and all-around impressive. One such woman is the prominent Sheikha Lubna bint Khalid bin Sultan Al-Qasimi, who is currently serving as a cabinet minister in the United Arab Emirates and previously headed a successful IT strategy company.
Al-Qasimi exemplifies the potential for MENA women in leadership, but how can one example become a cultural norm? Marcello Bonatto, who runs Re: Coded, a program that teaches young people in Turkey, Iraq and Yemen to become technology leaders, believes that multigenerational education is the key. He believes in the importance of educating the parent along with their offspring, "particularly when it comes to women." Bonatto notes the number of conflict-affected youth who have succeeded through his program—a boot camp training in technology.
The United Nations Women alongside Promundo—a Brazil-based NGO that promotes gender-equality and non-violence—sponsored a study titled, "International Men and Gender Equality Survey of the Middle East and North Africa in 2017."
This study surveyed ten thousand men and women between the ages of 18 and 59 across both rural and urban areas in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco and the Palestinian Authority. It reports that, "Men expected to control their wives' personal freedoms from what they wear to when the couple has sex." Additionally, a mere one-tenth to one-third of men reported having recently carried out a more conventionally "female task" in their home.
Although the MENA region is steeped in historical tribal culture, the current conflict of gender roles is at a crucial turning point. Masculine power structures still play a huge role in these countries, and despite this obstacle, women are on the rise. But without the support of their nations' men this will continue to be an uphill battle. And if change won't come from the culture, maybe it can come from money. By educating MENA's men about these issues, the estimated $27 trillion that women could bring to their economies might not be a dream. Women have been empowering themselves for years, but it's time for MENA's men to empower its women.