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Why Female CEOs Are So Damn Good at Selling to Women

Reformation
Reformation

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Over the weekend, Racked hosted a panel at South by Southwest Interactive centered around what fashion can learn from female-led companies.

We gathered three successful female business leaders with unique perspectives on the matter for our panel, moderated by Racked editor in chief Leslie Price. Yael Aflalo, founder and CEO of Reformation, weighed in from the perspective of someone who runs a business that handles everything from planet-friendly design and production to e-commerce and physical storefronts. Tina Craig, founder and CEO of Snob Global Media, shared her experience growing a hobby blog into multiple domains and her own affordable bag line. Hayley Barna, co-founder and co-CEO of Birchbox, comes from the infamously male-dominated start-up world and created a data-driven business model that allowed women to shop beauty products in a fresh way.

The panelists shared insights from funding to management, Instagram comments to shipping logistics. An omnipresent theme throughout the hour-long discussion was communication: How to speak to female shoppers at every point of the shopping process, how to interact authentically on social media, and what to do with feedback—good and, so much more importantly, bad.

"A lot of our ideas come from complaints."

Afalo spoke to the early stages of designing Reformation's website: "There was a lot of emphasis on having a call to action," she said. "But what is a 'shop now' button? That doesn't do anything for me. What if we just talked to people and stopped trying to manipulate them?" Barna echoed that, saying Birchbox's first hire was an editorial director because of the importance of message. Craig's business began as a blog, so she is familiar with communicating through comments—which she still reads all of—and social media. Each company has a different social platform that feels natural for its customer: Reformation finds a lot of success on Instagram, while Craig's readers and shoppers are most comfortable interacting with her through Twitter.

Part of paying attention is responding. All three women noted how important it was to listen to what their shoppers like and don't like. "A lot of our ideas come from complaints, and you have to honor those complaints," Afalo said, citing Reformation's recent expansion into petites. She told a story about designing the collection and, at 5'10", sketching Peter Pan collars and other "cutesy" elements. When she showed it to her petite staffers, the reaction was unanimous: I don't want to look cute. She changed the designs to more sophisticated styles the girls were asking for and wound up naming the capsule "Don't Call Me Cute." Craig explained that when launching her own line, she did pre-sale first to see what her readers-turned-shoppers liked the best. They quickly let her know that one style should be offered in a larger size, which has become a best seller.

Each business, its leader, and its shopper are different. "You can't treat 'female shopper' like a silver bullet," Afalo said. "You have to pay attention to your tribe."