At these female-led fashion brands, diversity in hiring creates an edge
By approaching diversity in hiring merely as a corporate exercise, some brands squander the opportunity to make better product and marketing decisions by actively cultivating underrepresented perspectives.
For Renata Black, co-founder of lingerie brand Eby, and Denise Lee, Founder and CEO of designer activewear brand Alala, insisting on a spectrum of voices creates real advantages in the highly competitive apparel vertical.
“I value a difference of opinion, a difference of experience, and a difference of backgrounds, and so I think the diversity obviously makes a team stronger,” says Lee.
Both Alala and Eby are women-led, mission-driven brands. At Eby, social enterprise is a key pillar of the company. Ten percent of the company’s proceeds go to help women start their own businesses. According to Black, the founding idea at the heart of Eby is, “What if we could use seduction to empower women?”
Black says that fundamental purpose extends to Eby’s marketing vision. “The only thing that sells a product is people,” she says. “People that buy into the brand are the brand.”
Renata Black: Hi, my name is Renata Black. I’m the co-founder of Eby, and I am with the amazing Denise, CEO and Founder of Alala.
Denise Lee: Hi, hi, Renata. Thanks for having me. Google team, thanks as well.
Black: Today we’re talking about diversity and the tools that we use to grow our businesses, what it is to be a female led business, and all the trials and tribulations that we’ve had to go through to get to where we are today.
Lee: So, Renata, I wanted to ask you, you co-founded Eby in 2017 with Sophia Vergara, and I know that one of your pillars really is social enterprise and helping women, in that way. Can you tell me a little bit more about that?
Black: The reason that the company was founded was I was originally adopted when I was very young. Both of my parents died, and I always wanted to create something that was gonna matter, that it meant something. So after I graduated from college, I moved to India. And it was during the tsunami, and a woman came up to me and said to me, I don’t want your money. Can you teach me how to make it? And that really struck me, and my life changed ever since she said that. But when I moved back to the States, and I was watching the Victoria Secret show, it hit me. What if we could use seduction to empower women? And that was the rise of Eby, which originally was called Empowered By You, cause we give 10% of our proceeds to help them to start their own businesses.
Lee: Absolutely. And women tell me, you know, when they wear Alala, they feel like superheroes, and that’s like such a cool feeling. And that’s what I want them to feel, you know, want them to feel empowered and powerful.
Black: Obviously both of our spaces are super competitive. How have you maintained your North Star?
Lee: It’s so simple, in a way. It’s like all about the customer. You know, she’s our North Star. What about you?
Black: I don’t have a physical store, so I don’t get to meet her, and like talk to her. So the reviews coming into my inbox, at least, I get to see what she has to say.
Black: The only thing that sells product is people, and people buy into the brand, and the people that build the brand are the brand. And one of the things I’ve been really trying is hiring more diverse. I’d love to hear how, you know, how you’ve approached it.
Lee: It is challenging. At the end of the day, you want to hire the person who is best suited for the job. I value a difference of opinion, a difference of experience as well, and a difference of, you know, their backgrounds. And so I think the diversity obviously makes a team stronger. I’m curious to hear a little about how being a Latina has, like, you know, helped you in starting Eby, and also you know, how you think it might have hindered you?
Black: I come from a really tough upbringing. I left my house when I was 15 years old. I'm a hustler. And I feel like it’s that hustler mentality that gets me through.
Lee: I grew up in Singapore, and I moved to the States. But I think there are things in my upbringing and my like Asian upbringing and culture that are very, very different than like the American way of doing things. Chinese culture, there’s not a lot of like self-promotion.
Black: I feel like maybe we were brought up very similarly, because we never self-promoted ourselves. That was, I mean, who are you to be talking about yourself in that manner? And it just, that’s just the way Colombian culture is like, we just don’t start boasting about ourselves. So it’s just a different way of looking at it. I don’t look at it as an advantage or as a disadvantage.
Lee: It’s really important to understand your “why.” Why are you doing this? And what is your purpose. So Renata, I’m curious to hear, like, what advice do you have for other entrepreneurs?
Black: I always say the same thing. It’s like, I started my business because I thought, A. I wanted to have a transformative impact in the world, and B. I wanted to be my own boss and run my own schedule. What I didn’t realize was that it would become my life and it would take over every single ounce of my body and my soul and in my heart and my blood and my time. So I would say that before anybody becomes an entrepreneur, they should see if there is an organization or a company that is resembles their values and what they want to do.
Black: Talk to me a little bit more about like tactical learnings about managing a business during COVID. Have been focusing more on growth? How do you balance focusing on marketing, on production?
Lee: You know, we shifted all our resources, even our wholesale resources into e-com. Which was the right move, you know, looking back at it. That’s where all the growth was.
Black: You have to get people top of funnel. You have to get brand awareness out. How do you, how do you do that?
Lee: Obviously Google has always been an amazing channel for us, super strong. Like we are killing it on Google Shopping, which is amazing. But I do think, you know, there are other things that we’re always open to trying to kind of acquire the new customers.
Black: You’re so wise. I totally agree with you. Thank you, Denise, so much for sharing this time with me.
Lee: Same to you, Renata. I mean, it’s just been wonderful, like sharing our battles stories, and I hope we get to talk again soon.