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!
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I live the pain and stress of being black in America every day: I am a black woman, the mother of a black son, sister to black men, and aunt to my black nephews. I remember what it was like as a young girl to be afraid to go to Howard Beach for fear of being chased out. I know what it's like to walk on Liberty Avenue and be called "nigger" and being so young that I didn't understand what the word meant, I had to ask my mother. I know too well that feeling in the pit of your stomach when a police car pulls up behind you and even though you know you haven't done anything wrong you fear that your life may be in danger from what should be a simple encounter. Like all African Americans, I am tired of this burden.
African Americans have a long history of having to fight for our humanity in America. We have had to fight for freedom, we have had to fight for equality, and we have had to fight for our lives. The fight continues to go on. I have often quoted that line from the character Sophia in Alice Walker's The Color Purple, "All my life I had to fight." When I say this to my white counterparts it can sometimes be uncomfortable because it's clear that they just don't get it. They view it as melodramatic. But it's not. It's part of the black experience, and it is the part of the black experience that black people don't want.
I have often quoted that line from the character Sophia in Alice Walker's The Color Purple, "All my life I had to fight."
While I was out yesterday, passing out PPE and talking to people, a woman asked me, "What is it going to take for this to change?" I told her that I think peaceful protesting is a good start. But it's just the start. We can't elect the same people for the past 20-30 years, some in the same positions, and then talk about how nothing has changed in the past 30 years.
This injustice, inequality, and inequity will not spontaneously disappear. It will take bold, outspoken, and fearless leadership to eradicate the systemic racism in our country. We must address the violence at the hands of a police force paid to serve and protect us. We must address the recurring experience of black people being passed over for a promotion and then being asked to train the white person who was hired. We must address the inequities in contract opportunities available to black businesses who are repeatedly deemed to lack the capacity. We must address the disparity in the quality of education provided to black students. We must address the right to a living wage, health care, and sick pay.
While we like to regard the system as broken, I've come to believe the system is working exactly as it was meant to for the people who are benefiting from it. We need a new system. One that works for all of us. I am running to become the mayor of New York City because I can't assume there's another person who has the courage to do the work that needs to be done to create a fair and just city.
We can't elect the same people for the past 20-30 years, some in the same positions, and then talk about how nothing has changed in the past 30 years.
There are some things we may not be able to change in people, but at this moment I think that whether you are black, white, purple, or yellow we all should be looking internally to see what is one thing that you can do to change this dynamic. Here's where we can start:
If we want change, we need a total reform of police departments throughout this country. That is going to require taking a hard look at our requirements to become a police officer, our disciplinary procedures when civilian complaints are filed, and a review of what and how we police. No one deserves to lose their life based upon the accusation of carrying counterfeit cash. We also need to hold police officers accountable for their actions. While it is their duty to protect and serve they should not be above the law. Even at this very moment, police officers are overstepping their boundaries.
If we want change, we have to build a sense of camaraderie between the police and community. A sense of working together and creating positive experiences. We have to be honest about the fact that we haven't allowed that to happen because we have utilized our police department as a revenue-generating entity. We are more concerned with cops writing tickets than protecting and serving. Even during these moments of protest we are witness to the differences made when the police supported the protesters and stood hand in hand with them or took a knee. It resulted in less violence and more peaceful protest. People felt heard; people felt respected; people felt like they mattered.
While we like to regard the system as broken, I've come to believe the system is working exactly as it was meant to for the people who are benefiting from it. We need a new system.
If we want change, we have to be willing to clean house. And that means that some of you are going to have to step up to the plate and take roles of leadership. In my city alone, there are 35 city council seats that are term-limited in 2021. There are some that aren't termed but maybe their term should be up. Step up to the plate and run. If nothing else it will let our elected officials see that they need to stop being comfortable and do more. We don't need you out in the street taking selfies or reporting the problems to us. We need solutions. We need you in a room implementing policies that will ensure that these things don't continue to happen.
If we want change, we need to support grassroots candidates that are not in corporate pockets, who are not taking PAC money, and who really want to make a difference to their community. We need candidates that know first-hand and can relate to the experiences that many of us are going through.
We are at a pivotal moment. It is inspiring to see people from all races and backgrounds in the streets protesting, standing up for justice, and wanting to see change. We must seize this moment, but we must also be mindful that change requires more.
People often ask me why I decided to run for office? I am running for me. I am running for the little girl that was called nigger on Liberty Avenue. For the woman who has been pulled over for no reason. For my nephew who was consistently stopped during the era of stop and frisk. I am running for your son, your brother, and your nephew. I am running so that the next generation will never have to say, "All my life I had to fight." Because although we won't stop until we see justice and changes that address inequality and inequity effectively, this fight is exhausting.