Launch a billion dollar business; how’s that for a new year’s resolution? Well, it’s possible, and 36 year old Alexandra Wilkis Wilson is living proof even a frugal fashionista can strike gold.
The New York City-based entrepreneur is the co-Founder of Gilt Groupe. The company started with a mere five-person team, but within five years, Gilt gained over 1,000 employees.
Consider Gilt a designer-lover’s dream. If you love high-end stuff but don’t like the price-tag, Gilt.com, if it hasn’t already, will become your stylish BFF. The site sells big label items on major discount. No joke, you can get Nieman Marcus-type swag for 60% off.
While divulging deeper into the site’s details is intriguing, I found Alexandra even more-so interesting. As a thriving, female entrepreneur myself, I was in awe getting to know Alexandra and learning of her success story.
Alexandra just so happened to be visiting Scottsdale for an event at Fashion Square, and I just so happened to be asked to host her appearance. I obviously jumped at the opportunity, and immediately hit it off with Mrs. Wilkis Wilson, a blushing, beautiful, humble woman boasting a pregnant belly with baby #2.
Alexandra grew up in NYC, naturally immersed in a diverse culture. She describes her upbringing as explorative and exciting; as a child, Alexandra ate sushi with chopsticks and found haven roaming The Met. However, her passion wasn’t food or art; rather, fashion.
But before diving into the fabulous world of retail, Alexandra went to college…at Harvard. Her father was a Harvard grad, so the expectation to follow in his footsteps was a no-brainer.
Daddy’s undoubtably proud of his little girl; Alexandra holds a B.A. from Harvard College where she graduated Magna Cum Laude. Oh, and she also has a M.B.A. from Harvard’s Business School.
The studious college student decided to learn a number of foreign languages throughout her years at Harvard; she’s now fluent in five. As it just so happens, Portuguese class became a blessing in disguise. That’s where Alexandra met her BFF Alexis, her Gilt Groupe co-Founder.
The young ladies instantly clicked, becoming immediately inseparable. And so they decided, like any dreamy gal pals, to launch a company. This dynamic duo, though, was different; they had a joint seriousness, ambition, and dedication to achieving success. …Yet, nothing fabulous happens overnight.
Post college, Alexandra worked in finance, but that became a downright bore. She decided to make the switch to luxury, following her original passion of fine retail. Lucky for her, a small, unknown brand (note the written sarcasm) wanted Alexandra to join their team. In 2004, she was hired at Louis Vuitton.
Clearly Alexandra has some of my shopaholic genes: most of her LV salary went back to the store, thanks to the thoughtful employee discount.
“I have always loved sample sales,” Alexandra told me, “and because I worked at Louis Vuitton, I got special access to some of the world’s best luxury brands at great prices.”
I consider myself a stingy stylista, and apparently Alexandra has a similar “cheap” attitude. Alexandra and Alexis spent their spare time shopping sample sales, looking for amazing designer items on discount. Whenever they found a fantastic piece for a slashed price, an wonderful sense of accomplishment filled their hearts. I know this feeling…it’s a good one.
Because their shopping skills were so keen, the girls dreamt up a great idea: what if anyone could shop sample sales online?
And so began the inception of Gilt.
Alexandra left her job overseeing retail operations at BVLGARI to pour her all into Gilt. In November 2007, the girls formed their small Gilt team of five and launched their website, Gilt.com. They knew their site was a winning idea from day one…the first sale sold out in 45 minutes.
“We had to convince top brands to sell their precious merchandise through our website,” she said. “It was a challenge, but very doable.”
The invite-only site offers online sales that typically last 36 hours. Big name brands like Burberry, Marc Jacobs, Diane von Furstenberg, Christian Louboutin, and Alexander McQueen have all offered stuff through Alexandra’s virtual creation.
“Gilt was first mentioned on The View in early 2008 and that had a huge impact on our business. We doubled our membership in minutes of the show.”
Alexandra also encounters a number of celebs because she’s constantly on the scene all around NYC. (She’s a regular at Fashion Week.) In fact, she’s even had a run-in with Madonna.
Since Gilt’s start in 2007, Alexandra’s made appearances on basically every TV network; she’s been featured in a number of publications; and she’s always initiating new business. Gilt, now valued at one billion dollars, is going global, and Alexandra has high hopes for big things in the coming years.
With that being said, the wife and mother is extremely grounded. She is passionate about helping thriving female entrepreneurs start businesses of their own; that’s why she co-wrote a book with Alexis: By Invitation Only: How We Built Gilt and Changed the Way Millions Shop. The book tells the story of Gilt; the mistakes made, the difficult decisions, and the struggles they faced making something out of a mere idea.
“We both really hope to see more women think about starting big, disruptive businesses.”
I love that word. Disruptive. Gilt.com has made a beautifully disruptive impact on the way budget-driven shoppers purchase products. And now, Gilt offers more than just basic retail. You can find jewelry, home decor, and even desirable travel packages all on discount.
Consider Gilt.com your new guilty pleasure, all thanks to a fabulous female entrepreneur.