How a 23-year-old UN rep, manager at billion-dollar beauty brand Deciem, and nonprofit founder spends her day

Harjas Kaur Grewal
Harjas Kaur Grewal

Harjas Kaur Grewal is always busy.

As an activist, writer, and UN youth ambassador, her days are filled with researching social issues and implementing strategies to help solve the political tensions ever-plaguing the world. She ran her first petition at 13, became a Youth Ambassador for the United Nations Youth Assembly at 19, and is currently a Young Innovator for UN Global Compact. Last year, Grewal won the Diana Award for her humanitarianism, which inspired her to start her own volunteer organization, United Women.

During the day, however, Grewal works for the billion-dollar beauty company Deciem where she helps create and run its corporate activism initiatives. Deciem is known for its cult-favorite brand The Ordinary and Grewal started working there in February.

To Insider, Grewal maps out her typical day, including smoothie lunch breaks, meetings with Deciem CEO, and late-night United Women Slack meetings. “I’ve learned that routine is important,” she said. “But it’s okay to have every day look different and become comfortable with imperfection.”

Her first alarm goes off at 7 a.m.

Grewal’s first alarm goes off at 7 a.m., but if she’s too tired, she’ll press the snooze button and stay in bed for another two minutes. “I open my blinds and window to get some fresh air first thing in the morning,” she said. “It always makes me feel refreshed, light, and ready for the day.”

Moving back home during the pandemic was “hard” she said, but there have been perks. “Waking up to the warmth of the sun, sounds of birds chirping, and smelling spiced chai (tea) is refreshing,” she continued. “Finding gratitude in the small things is always important.”

Around 7:30 a.m., she starts her skincare routine

She always starts her day with a skincare routine. She became a “skincare lover” when she was just 13 after discovering Korean skincare routines. “Over the years, I would always tell my friends and family to take care of their skin because it’s a form of self-care,” Grewal said.

Harjas Kaur Grewal
“The art in the background with my name on it was created by my good friend, Zsofia, and the flowers represent my resiliency because they grow in winter,” Grewal told Insider.

She starts off with a gentle cleanser before putting mist on damp skin. She follows up with a rosewater toner, before, of course, using The Ordinary’s Niacinamide 10% + Zinc 1% as a serum. After that, she puts an eye contour serum to cover hereditary dark circles.

“And as every good skincare routine ends, I use a moisturizer to lock in my skin and soothe,” she said. “I also spritz some perfume on because it’s a habit that’s comforting and helps normalize working from home for me.”

At 8:00 a.m., she starts to journal

Shortly before the workday begins, she journals her thoughts, “whether it be poetry, emotions, memories, or things to be grateful for,” Grewal said.

She’s been a writer and poet since she was a child and has been spending more time [during the pandemic] writing new work. She recently launched an Instagram page to showcase some of her writing. “Many people don’t know that I used to be a child actor, loved the theatre, started writing by the age of seven, and by the time I graduated high school I was a published playwright and won the provincial Young Authors Award,” she told Insider.

“Writing and poetry is a hobby I try to make time for because it is a true passion of mine and I believe everyone needs to make time for what makes the heart and mind content.”

The work day begins at 9 a.m. and ends at 5 p.m.

The Deciem office was previously featured in Vogue, highlighting its 70,000 square foot office in Toronto, Canada. Sadly, since the pandemic, Grewal has been working from home and has only been able to go into the office a few times.

“A colleague has the cutest black lab mix, Matthew, who greets us at the door and provides the best company someone could ask for,” she said.

Harjas Kaur Grewal

On this day, she reviewed the social impact and activism strategies and campaigns to prepare for an internal listening session she was co-moderating. The company is prepping to kick off its “We Are Eight” unconference, which is a participate-driven meeting without a set agenda.

She starts her day with a new hire call with executives including the CEO and COO. “We got to personally introduce ourselves and learn more about the senior leadership team,” she said. Each week, she connects with the company’s director of sustainability and social impact Jacquelyn Kankam, to whom she reports.

“She has a unique, inclusive, and liberating leadership style that I am thankful for because I am constantly learning as well as executing,” Grewal said.

Harjas Kaur Grewal
Meeting with Jackie Kankam

Grewal contacted Jackie last summer on LinkedIn for a virtual coffee after noticing her extensive sustainability experience as a fellow woman of color. “I found her inspiring because she paved her own path and career,” Grewal added. “When we spoke during our initial meeting, she mentioned opening a Social Impact, Activism role one day but wasn’t sure when this role would open or the details.”

After that meeting, Grewal said she made it her goal to become Deciem’s top pick and created a 13-page visual proposal outlining ideas she had for the role if it ever opened up. Four months later, Grewal found herself interviewing for the role and she was hired.

“When Harjas contacted me, I could tell her passion and dedication to activism and social impact was unmatched,” Jacquelyn Kankam told Insider. “One of our goals at Deciem is to build growth to power good, we needed someone who is agile, smart, and creative and Harjas fit the bill to a tee.”

“This role meant I had achieved a goal to make my passion for social impact and activism into a career,” Grewal added. “Moments like that prove that resiliency opens doors. “

Lunch is usually from 12 to 1 p.m.

She aims to eat a quick meal and has her daily fruit smooth for a boost of energy. Every day she picks up a book to read, and typically alternates between two at once.

“Currently, I am reading ‘Faith, Gender, and Activism in The Punjab Conflict’ by Mallika Kaur to learn more about the events leading up to the violence against Sikhs in Punjab in the 1980-90s,” she said. “I have written about Partition of India, conflicts in Punjab, and violence against Sikhs extensively throughout my undergraduate degree, and as a Sikh, I am constantly pursuing knowledge about my community and history.”

Harjas Kaur Grewal

She is also reading “Greenlights” by Matthew McConaughey, the first book she picked up to read for “pleasure” after University ended. “My favorite quote from Greenlights, which is now my lock screen on my phone is: ‘Less impressed, More involved,'” she said.

At the end of the workday, she takes a walk with her family

After her workday, she makes sure to spend time with her family before starting her work with United Women, the organization she founded. “My younger brother, Jujhar, is rocking a t-shirt in support of the farmers protesting at the Delhi border in India right now in this photo,” she said, referencing the picture below. “My entire family is passionate about social justice and we often talk at length about world issues, philosophy, and activism.”

Harjas Kaur Grewal

Around 6 p.m., she logs in to work at her nonprofit

After a break, she logs into Slack and starts working on United Women, her platform seeking to amplify young BIPOC voices, provide mentorship to youth in women’s shelters and community housing, and platform human rights issues. She is managing a team of about 17 volunteers, alongside her co-founder Aimée Lister, who is based in the United Kingdom.

Harjas Kaur Grewal

“We just wrapped up a human rights campaign and are working on expanding our partnerships, finalizing the mentorship program, and responding to the youth who are interested in joining the organization to make an impact,” Grewal said.

She also attended the United Nations Generation Equality Forum last week on behalf of United Women to create an alignment with the 17 SDGs, which include eradicating poverty, combatting climate change, and fighting for quality education.

Around 11 p.m., it’s bedtime

After she’s done working on United Women, she takes the time to wind down and turns on some old Bollywood music. Right before bed, she might even FaceTime her friends. “My friends are the best support system I could ask for.”

Then, she goes to sleep and does it all over again the next day.

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A 42-acre estate in the Hamptons is set to sell at a record-breaking price after nearly 4 years on the market

jule pond
The 42-acre Southampton estate has nearly a quarter-mile of private beach.

A 42-acre estate in the Hamptons that was asking $145 million is in contract to sell for a record-breaking price, Jennifer Gould reported for the New York Post.

jule pond
The borders of the property are outlined in white.

Bespoke Real Estate, the brokerage handling the deal, did not disclose a final sale price but said on Facebook that it would be “the highest price achieved for a single property in the Hamptons’ history.”

The identity of the buyer is unknown, but Zach and Cody Vichinsky of Bespoke Real Estate told the Post that the buyer is from an “American real-estate family” that’s not based in New York. The brokerage did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment.

Jule Pond’s current owner is portfolio manager Brenda Earl, who bought the property in 2002.

The Jule Pond estate in Southampton hit the market in August 2017 for $175 million, but after nearly four years and several price chops, it was most recently listed for $145 million.

jule pond estate

The record for the most expensive home sold in the Hamptons is held by hedge-fund billionaire Barry Rosenstein, who bought an East Hampton property for $147 million in 2014. 

Jule Pond would have to sell over its asking price to break that record. But Zach and Cody Vichinsky told the Post that the East Hampton estate was a combination of multiple adjacent properties and that Jule Pond would be the priciest single parcel ever sold.

Either way, Jule Pond would likely be the priciest home ever sold in Southampton. Last year, billionaire Ken Griffin paid $84.4 million for fashion designer Calvin Klein’s modern compound on Southampton’s “Billionaire Lane.”

Jule Pond, which was once part of a larger property called “Fordune,” was originally built for Henry Ford’s grandson.

jule pond

The home was built in 1960, and many of its original architectural details have been maintained.

It boasts a stretch of beach that spans nearly a quarter mile, the largest ocean frontage in the Hamptons, according to the listing.

most expensive home hamptons

Source: Bespoke Real Estate

It also fronts several ponds, including its namesake Jule Pond.

jule pond

Source: Bespoke Real Estate

A stately driveway lined with manicured hedges leads to the main house.

jule pond estate

Source: Bespoke Real Estate

Inside, you’ll see ornate chandeliers and Italian marble fireplaces.

jule pond

Source: Bespoke Real Estate

The main home has 20,000 square feet of living space with 12 bedrooms and 12 bathrooms.

jule pond

Source: Bespoke Real Estate

Large windows show off panoramic views of the grounds.

jule pond

Source: Bespoke Real Estate

A massive kitchen leaves plenty of space for cooking and entertaining.

jule pond

Source: Bespoke Real Estate

There’s also a library that opens onto a koi pond with a waterfall.

jule pond

Source: Bespoke Real Estate

Hedges surround the 20-foot pool …

jule pond estate

Source: Bespoke Real Estate

… and a path leads down to the beach.

jule pond

Source: Bespoke Real Estate

To the northeast, the property borders a swath of reserved land, which adds another quarter mile of unobstructed views.

jule pond estate

Source: Bespoke Real Estate

In addition to the main house, the estate includes a garage that can hold at least six cars, a greenhouse, a tennis court, a basketball court, and a three-bedroom carriage house.

jule pond estate

Source: Bespoke Real Estate

The pending Jule Pond sale comes as the Hamptons real-estate market has exploded during the pandemic.

jule pond

While the Hamptons have long been home to coveted property, demand has surged over the past year as affluent New Yorkers have left the city for the seaside villages in New York’s Long Island.

As Juliana Kaplan reported for Insider, buyers have been snapping up luxury homes left and right, leading to bidding wars and the median sales price soaring to $8.8 million in the third quarter of 2020.

According to the Real Deal, at least 11 Hamptons homes sold for more than $30 million last year.

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The creator of a $150 purse beloved by AOC and Oprah is revolutionizing “it bags” by making them accessible to everyone. Against all odds, it’s working.


Tianni Graham, 27, remembers the “before times” – that is, the harrowing months before Telfar introduced its Bag Security Program.

It was early last summer and she, along with thousands of others, was stuck testing their luck each day trying to buy the wildly popular Telfar handbag whose celeb fans include Oprah, Selena Gomez, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and Solange. But they often sold out before anyone could click ‘check out.’

It turns out, robots and resellers were buying products in bulk, making it harder for real customers to purchase them. So, last summer, Telfar introduced its Bag Security Program, in hopes of giving customers better access to its bags by allowing patrons 24 hours to pre-order any bag on the site, with no limits on how many can be purchased. The bag is then made to order, and shipped directly to the customer.

Its first drop, which happened last August, brought in about $20 million – about 10x what Telfar made in all of 2019.

Suddenly, Graham, who is also a fashion archivist and consultant, had her green Telfar bag. It arrived right before Christmas and was a “present to myself,’ she told Insider, adding that other brands could benefit from implementing a similar program. “It would make things so much easier and make the customer feel like you care.”

The program’s success shows how a luxury brand can create accessibility without losing the allure of exclusivity. The old-school model for luxury brands states the product should be scarce and elite, but the next generation of high-end consumers and entrepreneurs are taking a different route.

Teflar is rewriting the rules of luxury, and this time, it’s not too hard for other brands to follow suit.

Telfar ‘white glove treatment’ is what next-gen luxury shoppers crave

Young consumers look less at price tags and more at brand values when determining where to spend their money; these next-gen consumers want sustainability, inclusivity, and a sense of community. The new “white glove treatment” when it comes to luxury shopping is a speedy online checkout from a brand that cares.

For Telfar’s latest drop this week, customers had the option to use the payment installment plan Klarna, making it even easier for those looking to obtain a bag. While customers will have to wait a few months before receiving the bag, people often spend years on a Birkin bag “waiting list” and most will probably never get one.

Shortly before Telfar’s program ended this week, a spokesperson for the brand told Insider it was, already, “going very well.”

Telfar started with an aim of inclusive luxury

Telfar was founded in 2005 by its eponymous founder Telfar Clemens and has dedicated the past two decades to building an inclusive business model.

In 2014, it released its now-iconic vegan leather handbag, which takes inspiration from a Bloomingdale’s shopping bag. The bags became widely available around 2018 after Telfar won $400,000 from the CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund, allowing the company to expand production.

Clemens described his brand to The Cut as being “genderless, democratic, and transformative,” purposely seeking to challenge the notion that high fashion is only for a certain group of people, with the brand motto being “Not For You – For Everyone.”


Now, Telfar bags come in three sizes, with prices ranging from $150 to $257. (For comparison, Birkin bags go for at least $12,000 while Black-owned luxury brands such as Brother Veilles go for at least $1,295.)

As reported by FT, handbag sales in the US declined 18% between 2016 and 2019. Yet, Telfar stood out – in 2016, the brand earned $102,000, growing to earn $2 million in 2019. Last year, New York Magazine deemed its bag the “Bushwick Birkin” and the brand was on pace to earn eight figures, even as the fashion industry was expected to take a 90% loss in profits due to the pandemic.

Boston Consulting Group’s Head of Luxury Sarah Willersdorf told Insider that Telfar has checked all the boxes on what it takes to connect with next-gen luxury shoppers. She said the brand has a narrative that “evokes emotion” and properly intertwines timelessness, creative partnerships, and culturally relevant authorities. GQ pointed out Telfar’s customer base was built, not through influencers, but through “customer aspiration alone.”

Telfar Clemens.

Raising the bar for next-gen luxury

Brands like Telfar are important in proving accessible business models can be just as lucrative. Willersdorf expects other brands to follow similar strategies in a post-pandemic world, as shopping continues to pivot online.

In the old days – a pre-millennial world, perhaps – having too much of a product is thought to dilute its value. The Bag Security program defies that. But even the most tech-savvy luxury brand is often behind the curve, as Insider has previously reported.

“Luxury brands are always nervous,” Joseph Yakuel, CEO and founder of consulting firm Within, told Insider last year. “There’s so much risk to them tarnishing their brand reputation because luxury brand price points are only supported by their perception, and if their brand perception goes down market, their price point gets eroded very quickly.”

Clemens and his artistic director, Babak Radboy, said they aren’t worried about oversaturation. It’s about community, now. The new “white glove treatment” is making sure everybody gets a pair that fits perfectly.

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Thrasio, the giant firm buying up Amazon 3rd-party sellers, adds JCPenney exec as CFO and $100 million in new funding

Bill Wafford, Thrasio CFO
Thrasio CFO Bill Wafford.

  • Longtime retail executive Bill Wafford is joining the c-Suite of Thrasio.
  • Thrasio is dedicated to buying up and scaling successful Amazon brands.
  • Are you an Amazon seller with a story to share? Email
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Thrasio has brought in a longtime retail executive to serve as its chief financial officer, as the company seeks to buy up even more of Amazon’s increasingly lucrative third-party sellers.

Thrasio is an e-commerce business that focuses on acquiring and scaling third-party brands native to Amazon. The company touts itself as “the largest acquirer of Amazon FBA brands,” with a roster of 100 “top-rated brands” and 15,000 products.

Read more: Big firms are popping up to buy third-party Amazon sellers, who made up more than half of the retail giant’s $386 billion in net sales in 2020. Here are the biggest players in this fast-growing trend.

Amazon sellers have blossomed into a major business over time, a trend highlighted by Thrasio’s fast growth. During the online giant’s most recent Prime Day, third-party sales spiked to over $3.5 billion, beating out the company’s retail business.

On the hiring front, Bill Wafford will now be joining the company’s C-suite, as CFO. He previously served as the CFO of JCPenney and The Vitamin Shoppe, and his résumé also features companies like Target and Walgreens.

“Bill is the perfect addition to our visionary and innovative management team with deep experience in ecommerce, operations, technology, and M&A – a team more than ready to catapult us through the next chapter of this amazing journey,” Thrasio co-founder and co-CEO Josh Silberstein said in a statement to Insider.

The company also announced that it’s raised $1.35 billion since December. Its latest $100 million Series C tranche was led by Advent International, a private equity firm.

“Thrasio’s trajectory and the speed at which it has achieved growth is impressive to say the least, especially how they’ve capitalized on the market changes that have occurred over the last twelve months,” said Bill Wafford, Chief Financial Officer. “I’ve been delighted to discover an energizing, team-minded culture that embraces experimentation and adaptability. I’m thrilled to take on the role to prepare the organization for its next phase of growth.”

Are you an Amazon seller with a story to share? Email

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Pajama sets are the new 2-piece suit. A millennial brand explains the wild pandemic year when sales spiked 400% .

Desmond & Dempsey
Joel Jeffery (L) and Molly Goddard (

There are two types of people in the world: those who wear old T-shirts to bed, and those who don’t.

Joel Jeffery, 33, and Molly Goddard, 29, the millennial duo behind the London-based luxury pajama brand Desmond & Dempsey, don’t mind if you’re part of the former.

Eventually, Jeffery said, people come around. Some of the investors they first pitched claimed to not wear two-piece pajamas, forcing the duo to revise their presentation, calling pajamas “something you wear to the breakfast table.”

Goddard’s old boss also wasn’t a believer. Then, they gave him a pair. “Now he’s on our VIP customer list,” she said.

Desmond & Dempsey, which sells pajama sets for about $150, saw sales skyrocket during the pandemic. It sits in a privileged position at the intersection of two multi-billion-dollar industries. First, the $10 billion self care industry. Second, high-end sleepwear, or as Brandi Neal wrote for Bustle the “fancy pajamas you usually only see in movies.” This category also encompasses nightgowns, robes, and slippers, and market researcher Technavio expects the market to grow by $19.5 billion between 2020 and 2024.

And Jeffrey doesn’t expect the momentum to stop anytime soon.

The brand was in the right place, at the right time

It’s hard to pinpoint how many people actually sleep in pajamas.

A 2017 survey in the UK found about 40% of people sleep in pajamas, while another one found 90% of people wear them to lounge around the house.

In the United States, meanwhile, a 2018 report stated nearly 69% of people sleep partially clothed, while 31% sleep fully clothed. Then there are those, of course, who sleep naked. What is known, however, is that luxury sleep and loungewear are associated with comfort. And the idea of comfort (including meditation apps, organic diets, and face masks) is especially popular among millennials.

Desmond & Dempsey

It’s this comfort, Jeffrey says, that people sought during the pandemic as the world fell into precariousness. Last year, the Washington Post, citing the Adobe Digital Economy Index, reported pajama sales increased over 140% in April 2020, compared to the month prior.

Last March and April, Desmond & Dempsey saw a 400% increase in sales. Its best-selling items were the two-piece pajama set. The company was able to deal with an increase in consumer demand because it decided to still place the orders that wholesalers canceled, restocking its top items and then selling direct-to-consumer.

Launched in 2014, the brand was named after Jeffery’s and Goddard’s grandparents, respectively. In its early days, Goddard used to personally email each customer asking for feedback, then send a code that would give them free monogramming if they told their friends about the company.

That referral program helped generate interest in the company at the start, and a similar strategy helped it get through the pandemic. It started an initiative that allowed people to nominate a friend to receive a pair of Desmond & Dempsey pajamas. All the person had to do was explain why their friend deserved it.

“People needed comfort and that’s what those pajamas provided,” Goddard said. “People were vulnerable and really suffering, and it gave them something to make them feel a little more creative.”

The market is expected to grow, Desmond & Dempsey is ready

The pandemic, in a sense, has helped accelerate the normalization of self-care and comfort.

Andreas Lenzhofer, cofounder of the Zurich-based sleepwear company Dagsmejan, told Insider he expects interest in the category to rise, and the focuses on personal health, wellness, and comfort are here to stay.

Desmond & Dempsey

Adobe Analytics found that November pajama sales were up 200% compared to the year prior. NPD Group told Insider last year’s sales for pajamas costing $50 or more increased 3 times faster than average-priced pajamas, accounting for 17% of the pajama market.

Meanwhile, social media is helping these niche brands build an audience. Desmond & Dempsey has over 80,000 followers on Instagram alone. Other luxury sleepwear brands such as Lunya (whose sleep set goes for $232) and Olivia Von Halle (whose pajamas can cost nearly $600) have over 233,000 and 102,000 followers on the platform, respectively.

Dagsmejan told Insider it also ended 2020 with massive sales growth, seeing over three-times what it saw in 2019.

“People realized there was life to have,” he said. “[They] readjusted their spending patterns, and focused on where they could make a positive impact on their personal wellbeing.”

Now, with an influx of customers, Desmond & Dempsey’s next mission is now fighting out how to make the consumer demand stay, Goddard said.

But that might not be too hard. As the remote work trend continues, rumors have been swirling that office life will never be the same. Even designer Misha Nonoo previously told Insider she was preparing to make comfort dressing the new power dressing, as Zoom meetings slowly becoming part of everyday life.

Already, Desmond & Dempsey has collaborated with H&M and has expanded into slippers, nightgowns, robes, eye masks, and even diapers. To date, it has partnered with over 30 wholesale retailers, including Bergdorf Goodman, Selfridges, and online retailer FarFetched, and in October it will officially launch a kids collection.

Jeffrey and Goddard even want to open a store one day, and further expand their presence into the United States. The market might be crowded but if anything, but they are ready.

“We just have to change the spelling of pyjamas,” Goddard said.

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Amazon has added 3,700 new sellers a day this year, as independent merchants become an increasingly important part of the retail giant’s growth

amazon warehouse packages
The pandemic has prompted retailers to turn to Amazon.

  • Research firm Finbold has found that Amazon is drawing in new sellers at a rapid rate.
  • In 2021, the online giant attracted 3,700 new merchants a day.
  • As of Sunday, that totalled out to 295,000 new sellers in 2021.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

Amazon is raking in new third-party merchants on its site, to the tune of thousands of new sellers a day.

Research firm Finbold found that the online retail giant is adding 3,700 new sellers on a daily basis in 2021. As of Sunday, that totaled out to 295,000 new sellers in 2021, or 155 new merchants every hour. Finbold estimated that Amazon could attract 1.4 million new sellers by the end of 2021. A total of 26% of those new sellers are in the United States, while 10.1% are located in India.

“With the pandemic escalating the shift to e-commerce, most retailers in severely hit areas like the United States have been turning to popular marketplaces like Amazon to reach more customers,” Finbold’s report said. “Interestingly, two new sellers joining per minute explain Amazon’s position in helping third-party sellers crack the new online market.”

Insider previously reported that Amazon poured $30 billion into smaller sellers from 2019 and 2020, including logistics support and even a commercial spotlighting small sellers. In 2020, the company saw a major payoff, as 54% of the company’s net sales of $386 billion that year came from third-party Amazon merchants. Meanwhile, successful Amazon merchants have sold their brands for up to $30 billion, as the COVID-19 pandemic boosted sales.

Amazon’s success with third-party brands gives the company a major edge over the competition. And the retail industry is paying attention.

Amazon did not immediately return requests for comment.

Recently, Walmart announced its intent to open its online marketplace to sellers not based in the US, according to Bloomberg.

Are you an Amazon seller? Insider wants to hear from you. Email confidential tips to

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Swarovski crystal heiress Marina Rapahel explains how she achieved record-breaking sales by selling smaller handbags, donating to charity, and using snail mail to reach customers

Marina Raphael
Marina Raphael with her SS21 collection(1)

  • Marina Raphael, 22, launched her brand of luxe handbags in 2019.
  • Despite the pandemic, she said she saw an increase in sales in 2020.
  • To Insider, she reveals how she got her company through the past year.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

When Insider first spoke to Marina Raphael in July 2020, she was in the midst of leading her luxury handbag brand of the same name through the pandemic.

A member of the famed Swarovski crystal family, Raphael launched her eponymous line the year before. It was being sold in high-end retailers such as Moda Operandi; it also captured the attention of Maxima, Queen of the Netherlands.

But now, the pandemic had disrupted in-person shopping, supply chains, and manufacturing. Halfway through the year, it was too soon to have confidence in what the rest of the year would bring.

“As a young entrepreneur, everything was just moving so quickly,” Raphael, 22, told Insider in a recent interview. “But a good entrepreneur has to adapt to any situation and find quick and flexible solutions.”

Now, a few months into 2021, she reflects on her company’s record growth. It turns out, luxury consumers never actually stopped splurging on high-priced goods during the pandemic. Wealthy patrons put their money into handbags, artwork, and fine jewelry – investment categories believed to be less volatile than the stock market.

Raphael, whose bags range from 500 to 1,500 euros ($600 to $1,800), said sales skyrocketed last year, though she declined to share exact revenue figures. The team re-vamped their social media strategy, added charity initiatives to purchases, and even reduced the physical size of its products by 50% to adjust to, what she described as, the new reality of customers’ needs: “carrying less.”

The brand launched collaborations and partnerships, including one with French skincare line Vichy, and expanded its own line to create cosmetic pouches and keychains.

It also released a sustainable collaboration, using upcycled leather and cruelty-free leathers with luxury retailer Luisaviaroma and another line with art director Evangelie Smyrniotaki, which sold out in its first two weeks. Next, the company is about to launch a line with Swarovski Creative Director Giovanna Battaglia. She’s projecting a 420% increase in sales this year.

The luxury brand stayed grounded through hard times by donating 20% of sales

Raphael’s company is headquartered in Greece, but its operations are spread throughout the world. Public relations for the brand is in London, while the sales agent is in New York; quality control is in Australia, and bag production is in Florence.

Marina Raphael with her SS21 collection(3)
Marina Raphael with her SS21 collection(3)

In March 2020, the brand received its spring-summer collection, which gave it stock until August. It combined that with leftovers from the previous collection, but still sold everything by June, she said.

Having a diversified supply chain helped, however. When factories in Italy closed, quality-control in Australia was able to pick up production. The team’s small size of 14 (six of whom joined during the pandemic) made it easy to communicate, despite the time differences. And because retailers were closed, the company didn’t have to worry about shipping out the fall-winter collection.

Another challenge for Raphael was communicating via WhatsApp and Zoom, especially since she had to design handbags without ever touching the fabrics or physically seeing the final product.

At the same time, the brand had to figure out how to sell a luxury product during an ongoing global health and financial crisis. The company couldn’t just stop selling or making the bags, Raphael said. “Then our suppliers would have a problem, our production team would have a problem,” she continued. “They would lose their jobs.”

Marina Raphael with her FW19 collection
Marina Raphael with her FW19 collection

To great success, the company decided to donate 20% of all sales to charities such as Black Jaguar White Tiger Foundation and The Hellenic Pasteur Institute. Luxury retailer Moda Operandi implemented a similar strategy last year to huge success, reporting that if an item was attached to a charitable cause, shoppers were willing to spend full-price on it, even if another promotional sale was happening at the same time.

“I think that’s why we didn’t feel guilty about promoting the product, because with every sale we were helping in some way,” Raphael said.

To promote the collections, Raphael’s company began mailing puzzles and other “interactive fun stuff” to patrons. That was very successful too, she said.

“Getting something delivered to your house makes it feel more personal than at a fashion week where you are running to 15 different showrooms,” she said. “That was too much, too fast.”

In the early months, the team was in a state of panic

Raphael credits the success of this time to her team. In the early months of the pandemic, she recalled, everyone was in a state of panic. So she took it to herself to see how she could motivate her employees during this time, listening to their feedback in order to adopt new business strategies.

Smyrniotaki, the content creator and art director, told Insider that Raphael’s “strong personality” and keen leadership skills are what helped get their collaboration off the ground during this time, even with the disruptions. Her bag with Raphael was made with 5,000 Swarovski crystals to represent brighter days ahead. “It is the perfect allegory for the brighter future we see ahead,” Smyrniotaki continued.

Designing the Marina Raphael X Evangelie Smyrniotaki collaboration
Designing the Marina Raphael X Evangelie Smyrniotaki collaboration

Sometimes, Raphael still thinks about those early months of the pandemic. Customers from the United States, especially, were contacting the company in haste, trying to figure out how soon their products would arrive.

“Customers were saying, ‘we want our orders sooner – can you send us the tracking number?’ We have never experienced that before,” she said. “We were questioning, where are they going with the bags?”

Maybe it was to buy themselves gifts to make themselves feel better, she ponders; maybe they wanted to invest in nice things or were just bored at home. It’s more likely a mixture of all of the above, Insider previously reported.

That, or maybe people just really wanted another tote bag.

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The new CEO of Diddy’s Revolt TV wants to make it the world’s largest Black-owned media empire

Detavio Samuels
Detavio Samuels.

  • Detavio Samuels, 40, is the new CEO of Diddy’s Revolt.
  • He wants to help expand the network’s coverage of social justice.
  • To Insider, he discusses the state of Black media, and the future he wants to help build.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

There’s an African proverb that Detavio Samuels keeps in the back of his mind: Until the lion learns to tell his own story, the story of the hunt will always glorify the hunter.

“It’s a proverb about how, as long as you don’t control your own narrative, someone is always going to set themselves up to be the victor,” Samuels told Insider.

He thinks about the proverb often, because “that’s what we’ve had for centuries,” he said. “There are Black stories not being told because the power isn’t with the people who are authentic and inside the culture.”

On March 3, Samuels, 40, was announced the newest CEO of Revolt TV, the cable network owned by hip-hop mogul Sean “Diddy” Combs, which specializes in creating music-themed content for Black audiences.

Founded in 2013, it is one of the few Black-owned cable networks and was previously helmed by Roma Khanna until she resigned as CEO in July. Revolt is broadcasted in over 60 million households and is known for its popular show “State of the Culture,” in which Joe Budden, Remy Ma, and Eboni K. Williams discuss pop culture and politics.

In addition to the robust schedule of entertainment programming, as CEO, Samuels wants to bolster content addressing important topics in the Black community, such as socioeconomic discrimination, intersectional feminism, and wellness.

In April the network launched Revolt Black News, and Samuels wants to expand its coverage to highlight activists, center Black women, and focus on investigative and breaking news. Later this year Revolt TV will be offered on more television and mobile platforms, such as Apple TV, Roku, Android, and iOS. Currently, about 75 to 100 people work at the company, and Samuels is planning to expand that, too.

There are plans for a possible podcast, too. “The dream is that we will be the largest Black-owned media company in the world,” he said. “So we’re doing it.”

On the same day of Samuels’ appointment, Revolt also announced Colin McIntosh as COO and CFO, and Deon Graham as chief brand officer of Combs Enterprise.

Revolt’s social justice

Too often Black people become the antagonists of their own stories. In 2017, Color of Change found that major news outlets regularly, and disproportionately, depict Black families as dysfunctional, while white families are often shown as stable.

Poster for the new REVOLT show “Crew League” in which hip hop stars and their friends compete against each other.

The same study also found that media outlets are more likely to portray Black men as absentee fathers, despite research arguing the opposite, and that although Black family members make up 26% of those arrested on criminal charges, they represent 37% of criminals in the news. White people are portrayed as criminals only 28% of the time even though they constitute 77% of crime suspects, according to Color of Change.

“Much what of we’ve seen of how Black people are depicted is through the white gaze – it’s how non-Black people see us,” Sofiya Abena Ballin, an award-winning journalist, and creator of Black History Untold, told Insider.

“Black people are seen as a threat, as a stereotype, or as a caricature,” she continued. “Black media has been trying to consistently undo that work. That’s why it’s important to have us there.”

The past century has seen the creation of outlets such as Black newspapers, radio stations, and networks seeking to communicate information and tell the stories of the Black community. In the era of social media, there are more opportunities for people to become the narrators of their own truths.

Ballin said that gatekeeping and diversity are only part of the story. Black people need to support each other as well, she said, giving the example of many Black celebrities who may decide to pass over Black media in lieu of a large, mainstream outlet.

“When you complain about how you’re depicted, it’s because you go to the ‘popular mainstream’ news outlets that you deem to be more valuable and are not owned and run by Black people,” Ballin said. “But they don’t have a true understanding of who you are as a person.”

‘This is the moment’

Samuels has come a long way from the rocky mountains. He was born in Boulder, grew up in Denver, and graduated from Duke University in 2002 with a B.A. in political science.

In 2006, Samuels earned an MBA and a Master’s degree from Stanford University. From 2005 to 2007 he worked in marketing roles at Johnson & Johnson and GlobalHue before pivoting to advertising and digital media at RadioOne as president of its subsidiary, iOne.

But in late 2019, Samuels wasn’t sure he wanted to work at Revolt because he wasn’t too interested in giving up his presidential control at iOne.

The turning point of Samuels’ career came when Samuels’ father died last year. His father was a professor of African American literature at the University of Utah and instilled in his son the importance of Black liberation.

Walking out of his father’s funeral, Samuels decided it was time to dedicate his career to a cause. He went back to the Revolt team as chief operating officer and began his rise through the network’s ranks. His first day was the same day George Floyd was killed.

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A billionaire has been trying to sell his Versailles-inspired mansion for nearly 8 years – and it’s finally set to sell at a 47% discount. Look inside the Manhattan townhouse.

ues mansion
The home was originally listed for $114 million.

After nearly eight years on and off the market, one of New York City’s most opulent homes is finally in contract to sell for nearly $60 million, Katherine Clarke reported for the Wall Street Journal.

If the deal closes at that amount, it would be a roughly 47% discount from the home’s original price.

The 20,000-square-foot mansion with a panic room and a Versailles-inspired dining room was originally asking $114 million in 2013, making it the most expensive home listed in the city. But it has seen price chop after price chop and was most recently listed for $79 million.

The home’s billionaire owner, Vincent Viola, who owns the Florida Panthers, nearly sold the home once before. In 2017, a buyer was in contract to buy the home from Viola for $80 million, The Real Deal reported. But the deal fell through, so the house went up for rent for $175,000 a month before being relisted for $88 million.

Listing agent Paula Del Nunzio of Brown Harris Stevens did not immediately respond to Insider’s request for comment for this story.

Here’s what the Manhattan mansion, now set to sell for around $60 million, looks like.

Vincent Viola’s Upper East Side townhouse was once the most expensive home publicly listed for sale in New York City.

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Since it was first listed for $114 million in 2013, the home has seen several price reductions. Even its most recent listing price of $79 million made it the second-priciest public listing in the city, according to Trulia and Zillow.

Vincent Viola, who founded Virtu Financial and has a net worth of $2.8 billion, bought the house in 2005 for $20 million, according to The Real Deal.

In December, Viola sold his home in Brooklyn Heights for $25.5 million, breaking the record for Brooklyn’s priciest home sale ever, Mansion Global reported.

The townhouse is half a block from Central Park.

12 e 69th st

The six-bedroom Upper East Side townhouse is 40 feet wide and “totally renovated,” the listing agent, Paula Del Nunzio of Brown Harris Stevens, told Insider in 2019.

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The opulent six-level home spans more than 20,000 square feet. The floors in the entry hall are heated onyx marble.

Four windows span both the front and the rear facades, providing “remarkable light at all times,” according to the listing.

The formal entry hall has 14-foot ceilings.

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The house has a water filtration system, a security system with cameras, and a heated sidewalk for automatic snow removal.

The entry hall opens to a rotunda with 28.5-foot ceilings.

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The home’s interior design style is “typical of the great mansions of Europe and of Stanford White in America,” Del Nunzio told Insider in 2019.

“The original architect of this mansion, William Bosworth, worked on the Rockefeller family estate, Kykuit in Tarrytown, and under the auspices of John D. Rockefeller Jr., Bosworth was commissioned to restore the Palace of Versailles, France,” she said.

A hidden door off the main hallway leads to the double-height library and office with 24-foot ceilings.

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The house was commissioned for an international silk trader in 1883 and renovated into its neoclassical style in 1913.

A colorful mural is painted on the library’s ceiling.

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On the garden level, an additional entrance to the library offers private access to the office.

Del Nunzio described the scale of the interior rooms as “without compare” in any New York mansion.

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Viola, the owner, collected art, furnishings, and decoration ideas during his world travels that were used in the home, per the listing. 

In 2017, the home almost sold to a Chinese buyer for $80 million, but the deal fell through, The Real Deal reported.

ues mansion

The house then went up for rent for $175,000 a month before being relisted for $88 million.

The home’s third floor includes a 40-foot-wide kitchen.

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Four windows bring in bright natural light.

On the same level is the formal dining room, which was inspired by the Palace of Versailles in France and can accommodate more than 40 people.

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Bosworth, the home’s architect, was also commissioned to restore Versailles, according to Del Nunzio.

The house includes two bedrooms on the fourth level and a master-bedroom suite with a large sitting room and two full baths on the fifth level.

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The two 40-foot-wide bedrooms on the fourth floor could be converted to four or more bedrooms, according to the listing.

The fifth-floor master bedroom also includes two dressing rooms and a separate guest suite.

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One of the master bedroom’s dressing rooms is wired as a panic room, the listing says.

The bathroom pictured in the listing looks like it belongs in a palace.

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Like much of the apartment, it’s decorated opulently. The apartment has a total of nine bathrooms.

On the home’s lower level is the saline swimming pool, as well as two saunas and a full bath.

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In the rear of the pool is the lower entrance to the split-level home movie theater.

The movie theater spans two levels and includes 12 velvet chairs.

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In total, the apartment is spread across six floors, culminating in a 2,650-foot rooftop that has a garden — and views of Central Park.

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The return of Ebony magazine: After a $14 million buyout, its new millennial owner talks a historic relaunch

Eden Bridgeman
Eden Bridgeman.

In the early 1990s, Eden Bridgeman sat underneath a hairdryer in a Louisville beauty shop. She was just a child then and wanted to look pristine for Easter Sunday.

Next to the hairdryer stood a rack of magazines. Among them, a beautiful Black woman graced a glossy cover. She picked it up and flipped through its pages. This was one of her first encounters with Ebony magazine. 

As a pastime, Bridgeman studied Ebony, as so many Black girls did in hair salons, in their grandmother’s living room, and on their auntie’s kitchen counter.  

With glamorous celebrities and public figures like Mary J. Blige, Queen Latifah, and Michelle Obama on the covers, Ebony portrayed Black women at their finest. “These were our superstars,” Bridgeman, 34, said. “The people driving the culture.”

Now, after a tumultuous 75-year history, which has seen a decline in the appetite for print products and the bankruptcy of Ebony Media Corporation, Bridgeman is the magazine’s latest owner, as well as the mastermind behind its rebranding.

On March 1st, Ebony relaunched. 

Ebony was founded in 1945 by publisher John Johnson and during the 1960s, the publication earned acclaim for its coverage of the civil rights movement. Ebony’s diminutive, sister magazine, Jet, was founded in 1951 by Johnson. For nearly six decades, the two publications defined Black culture with their in-depth profiles of such figures as civil rights activist Stokely Carmichael, Diana Ross, and its insightful coverage of the AIDS epidemic. In the 1980s, their circulation topped an impressive 1 million.

Ebony Magazine
Martin Luther King Jr. on the cover of Ebony Magazine in 1968.

Then came the 21st century, and financial woes struck the lorded publications. Both magazines suffered years of declining subscriptions and ad revenue. In 2016, Ebony and Jet were sold to private equity firm CV Media, and in 2019, both publications stopped printing physical copies. In July, Willard Jackson, the magazine’s CEO, was removed after an internal investigation of unauthorized use of company funds. 

Shortly after Jackson’s leave, Bridgeman’s father presented the family with an idea: he wanted to buy Ebony and Jet. Bridgeman was interested immediately.

To start planning, Bridgeman was introduced to former CNN and BET executive Michele Ghee through mutual friends. They spoke about what the future of Ebony and Jet could look like. A few days later, Ebony Media Operations filed for bankruptcy. 

In December, the Bridgeman family won the bid to buy Ebony and Jet for $14 million. Soon after the deal was closed, Ghee was officially appointed CEO and planned a relaunch for March. This gave them a month to organize Ebony’s rebirth. 

Jet is scheduled to relaunch in June. 

‘We’re a 75-year-old startup’

The new Ebony, Bridgeman said, has three core values: to be bold, brilliant, and beloved.

The magazine has at least a dozen people on staff. Both Ebony and Jet will be entirely digital endeavors, and there are no plans for either to return to print. Bridgeman’s day-to-day is ever-changing. She’s on calls, meeting with advertisers, and assisting in finding partners and contributors for the magazine. 

Ebony cover
The new Ebony cover, released March 1, featuring artwork by Jon Moody.

She tells Insider that throughout her years as a business professional, she’s come to appreciate the idea of servant leadership – the notion that she, as the leader, is not bigger than any entity. A title is just a title. 

“You have to understand every aspect within the business,” she said. “You [have to] show up in a way that people feel they can approach you. They [must] feel that they can work with you, not only just for you.” 

Purchasing the assets out of bankruptcy meant Bridgeman had an obligation to make sure her business strategies could sustain themselves, she said. And she’s been emphasizing the power of the Black dollar to advertisers, which was valued at over $1 trillion in 2019

“You are going to want to tap into that power,” she said. 

Rather than go back to print, Ebony will funnel money into the magazine’s technological expansion. “We’re a 75-year-old startup,” Bridgeman joked.”There’s plenty of room across the media space for all of us to live. We want to lift each other up.” 

Ebony’s first digital cover features a painting by artist Jon Moody, which portrays a woman with her locs flowing in the air. Tanisha Ford, historian and author of “Dressed in Dreams: A Black Girl’s Love Letter to the Power of Fashion” is excited for the relaunch. 

Growing up, it seemed every Black family in Ford’s life had a subscription to Ebony and Jet. Often spread out on coffee tables, the magazines became a collector’s item – a generational touchstone. 

That was then, however, and Ford is curious to see how the magazine will establish brand loyalty in the modern age.

Jet Magazine
Eartha Kitt on the cover of Jet Magazine in 1955.

“I think about folks who are finishing high school and on the verge of college,” Ford told Insider. “It doesn’t mean the same thing for them – they don’t have the same kind of nostalgia of having an aunt pass down old Ebony magazines in the same ways that I do.”

The next 75 years

Bridgeman was born in Los Angeles and raised in Louisville. Since 2009, she’s been working for her family’s company, Manna Inc., which owns hundreds of restaurants throughout the United States, including 130 Wendy’s locations. In 2013, she completed her MBA at Loyola University Chicago-Quinlan School of Business. She was named chief marketing officer of Manna Inc. in 2017, a position she will retain as she oversees the relaunch of Ebony and Jet.

Bridgeman wants Jet to produce fast-paced news targeted toward millennials, and there are plans to bring back its beloved Beauty of the Week section, which highlights beautiful, successful Black women. 

That section was an early memory for entrepreneur Maori Karmael Holmes, founder and artistic director of BlackStar Film Festival, who also recalls seeing Ebony and Jet magazines scattered throughout the homes of both her grandmothers. Last year, Holmes launched her own print journal, Seen, which focuses on filmmaking.

She is also hopeful for the relaunch, pointing out that Ebony was essential to opening the doors of Black writers, and gave Black entrepreneurs a chance to advertise their businesses. “I hope for the next seventy-five years, it can be a relevant chronicler of Black culture,” Holmes said.

There’s a chance for that – Ebony already has a million followers on Instagram. “We want to make sure this is successful,” Bridgeman said. “We’re sitting on 75 years of history. If we aren’t able to maintain the business, then what good are we going to be for our community?”

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