A few times a year, Instagram is flooded with photos of some of the world’s biggest bloggers and influencers jet-setting to some of the most picture-perfect places on the planet. They’ll throw up peace signs wearing fringed dresses at Coachella. They’ll pose poolside with the Cuixmala behind them in Mexico. They’ll street-style their way through Japan. The hashtag is always the same: #RevolveAroundtheWorld.
She personally pitched the idea to Michael Mente and Mike Karanikolas, the retailer’s cofounders, as a way to reach customers where they are: on social media, looking to bloggers for inspiration in all parts of their lives.
When it came to looking for inspiration, “It was going beyond the magazine. It started to translate to blogs and from there, social media channels,” the Los Angeles–based 37-year-old says. “That was huge to me—how do we scale the marketing in the most efficient, cost-effective ways and really speak to our customers authentically? I really think the first Revolve Around the World trip was instrumental in my career and for Revolve.”
It’s a move that’s made Revolve a highly profitable fashion company at a time when the future of retail is uncertain. When the company went public earlier this year, it made the third-biggest U.S. trading debut of 2019, valued at $1.8 billion. But let’s rewind the tape: Before she was on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange on the day of the IPO, before she was chief brand officer, before everything else, Gerona first came to Revolve as a designer.
She used to have her own clothing line. And back in 2007 she started selling it at Revolve, which she says quickly became her biggest customer. Then the recession hit, and Gerona made the tough decision to close up shop. “I kind of thought my life was over—it’s so stressful being a business owner and coming to that conclusion, to not have my brand anymore. But thankfully I had met Michael, and he gave me this proposal to start a side business and launch a new brand together. That became Lovers and Friends.
“It sounds really cheesy, but it was like, One door closes, another one opens,” she says.
Lovers and Friends became Alliance Apparel, an umbrella company for a handful of different indie brands. Revolve purchased it in 2015, at which point all the brands went in-house. Then another door opened: “Michael and Mike took another chance and said, ‘We want to take a stab at smaller projects on the blogger side with Revolve.’” They’d seen her do some influencer marketing with Lovers and Friends and brought her on to implement it on a larger scale at Revolve. “And again, I was challenged. I didn’t go to school for marketing. I had no idea—I still feel sometimes I have no idea what I’m doing!—but I said yes. It was a huge risk for them, but I like to think that it ultimately paid off.”
One thing that helped her navigate this new line of work was the hard lessons learned from having her own business—starting it, failing, starting over with little money. It gave her “this entrepreneur mentality of really working hard, putting in the time, seeing that project shine through, and also not giving up,” she says. “It does get super discouraging, especially after I had to shut down my first business. But I think it’s important to start with yourself, and if you know that you’re able to do it, it’s so much easier to convince others that it’s going to happen.”
It’s significant that, whenever the company is out in the public—whether it’s on television, in investor meetings, or on the New York Stock Exchange floor—Gerona appears alongside Mente, Karanikolas, and chief financial officer Jesse Timmermans.
Gerona says she feels “honored” to join them in these rooms not only to “represent the brand marketing team, what that brand stands for, and why we’re pioneers in what we do in the influencer marketing world,” but also to create visibility for women in these positions within the industry, something that’s still lacking. “We obviously have a male CEO and CFO, and I thought it was really important for me to be present.”
Gerona is often a double minority: a woman and a person of color. She hardly ever saw someone who looked like her in these meetings—at the beginning of her career, as a young entrepreneur, and even as recently as at Revolve’s IPO road show. It can be a constant exercise of reminding oneself that you’re in the room for a reason, she says: “We tend to underestimate ourselves a lot as women, and especially as women of color. ‘Am I good enough? Do I deserve to be here?’ That was the first personal hurdle: reassuring myself that I’m good at my job.” Then there’s the fact that she’s representing her female-majority team, and that she’s carrying the opportunity given to her by her parents, who moved the family from the Philippines to Los Angeles when Gerona was 7. “I think that spirit and that gratefulness stretches a long way. It makes things less intimidating when I’m in a room full of men.”
The day-to-day of Gerona’s role—of identifying, partnering with, and helping grow influencers—is something that didn’t exist a decade or two ago. And that can be a challenge, both personally (“my parents didn’t even understand what I did for a living,” she says) and professionally, as when she was out with her fellow executives trying to persuade investors to get behind Revolve and its marketing strategy. “Some of them didn’t even know what an influencer is,”she says. “After doing seven or eight meetings that first day, it quickly became very clear to me that it was going to be an educational process, as opposed to a pitching process. Either I give them enough information and they understand exactly what I’m talking about and why it sets us apart from other brands and retailers, or they’re just like, ‘I have no idea what you’re talking about, I’m not buying it.’”
As we now know, Revolve has been successful not in just implementing and innovating on influencer marketing, but also in getting money behind those efforts. But there has been some criticism, especially in regard to who goes on its trips and attends its events. (It even inspired a hashtag, #RevolveSoWhite.) Being on the front lines of the company’s social strategy, Gerona is obviously aware of this.
“Everything that has happened the last year or so around how we choose influencers has really opened up our eyes to making sure we’re working toward inclusivity and trying to be better,” she says. “We work with over 3,000 influencers from all over the world. We felt like we were doing a solid job in representing our customer base.” But the feedback has made Revolve further expand its pool of partners , she says, to be more representative of the site’s fan base. “Our customer will always be our guiding light, whether it’s in influencer marketing or in the brands we carry on the site and the locations that we go to: Where is she, who is she inspired by, how do we relay the brand in the most authentic way?”
And influencers will continue to be a part of Revolve’s winning sauce, because, as Gerona puts it: “No matter what, at the end of the day, people are always going to need [other] people to look up to for inspiration.”
Originally Appeared on Glamour