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How many times a bridesmaid does it take to become a business owner? For Birdy Grey founder Grace Lee, the number was six. After being a bridesmaid six times in 10 years, Grace thought there had to be a better way to buy those one-time-use bridesmaid dresses.
“I was like, ‘Wow, no one had bothered to innovate in bridal party dressing in over a decade,’” Grace says. “Where I started was, you know, I’d love to be able to find affordable bridesmaids dresses online. It felt like very much a brick-and-mortar experience, and I wanted to change that.”
That’s how Birdy Grey was born. It’s an online retailer specializing in affordable bridesmaid dresses, in addition to gifts, getting-ready outfits, shoes, and other accessories for the whole bridal party.
Birdy Grey’s signature bridesmaid dresses are priced under $100, often at least half the price of other dresses on the market. Grace says she knew she wanted to sell bridesmaid dresses for less than $100 because many people would only wear the dress once.
“I quickly realized that you can make the margins work,” Grace explains. “You can buy a totally beautiful, photo-ready dress online at an affordable price point.”
Luckily, Grace was based in Los Angeles, so she didn’t have to go far to start sourcing.
“I didn’t really have any experience in manufacturing and I just had to hit the streets of downtown L.A., and that’s how I found suppliers,” Grace says. “I wouldn’t have been able to do it anywhere else.”
Grace originally bootstrapped Birdy Grey with some money from family and friends. Instead of using the industry-standard made-to-order process, she bought wholesale dresses from suppliers in L.A.’s Fashion District. That allowed her to get rid of the inconvenient “no returns or exchange” policies at other bridal supply stores, and also enabled her to start the company as a cash-flow-positive business.
By the end of its first year, Birdy Grey had brought in $2 million in revenue. That’s when Grace started looking to raise money to continue scaling the company. She relied on metrics to help her convince mostly male venture capitalists to invest.
One of the most encouraging metrics about the bridal wear industry? That acquiring one bride means she’ll bring back an average of five bridesmaids to buy the dress. Those bridesmaids will go on to recommend the dresses when they’re in other weddings, making the network effect of word-of-mouth advertising great for repeat purchasing.
Grace often leaned on stats like these when pitching Birdy Grey in rooms full of men, but when it came to learning other aspects of being a founder, she felt more out of place. For example, Grace didn’t know any examples of prominent Asian female business leaders. She forged the path toward more affordable bridal party clothing and accessories largely without role models that looked like her, with the exception of her parents.
“My parents are pretty entrepreneurial,” Grace says. “They’re immigrants, they have their own business. They came to America with nothing and made a name, built their lives. And so I feel like they saw that spark in me and they were so, so supportive. They were the first people to encourage me to quit my job and give me a bit of funding to get the company off the ground.”
To learn more about how Grace was able to expand Birdy Grey from bridesmaid dresses to become a one-stop online shop for the whole bridal party, take a listen to Grace’s full interview on Shopify Masters.