I’ve helped over 3,000 clients plan elaborate marriage proposals. The most expensive proposal so far was on a private island and cost over $100,000.

Pics and Petals in NYC
A flower-filled proposal in New York City.

I’ve always been someone who likes a challenge. I started my company right after graduating college in 2008, when I was only 22 years old. 

It wasn’t an ideal economy to be looking for a job or launching a brand new business – most people were just trying to keep their jobs – but personally I’ve found that  if you really believe in what you’re offering and are also meeting a need, then it can work. 

Heather Vaughn Headshot  Founder of The Yes Girls
TYG founder Heather Vaughn.

Around this time, I came up with an idea of a marriage proposal business. I always loved hearing people’s proposal stories, but felt like given the resources and time, they probably could’ve come up with something better and more unique. I realized there wasn’t a business that offered great proposal planning like this, so it was the lightbulb moment for me, so I founded The Yes Girls.

We create a personalized proposal for each client.

Madison Ellis Photography.JPG
Flowers and a fluffy rug for a boat proposal.

I’m very passionate about my proposals and adamant about giving clients an experience that’s personal and customized to their relationship. Each of our clients builds out a relationship assessment questionnaire so we can get to know them as a couple. This is what really inspires the ideas. 

We work with a network of vendors and small businesses to create the proposal event. I love that we get to support other small businesses in this work  including florists, photographers, venues, and even Etsy shops. I love my team of five – you can’t do this work without a good team. We were already set up as a remote company pre-pandemic, so we have that system down.

The company mainly works within the US, but does occasionally plan an international proposal or vow renewal.  

As a team, we’re all very particular with the details. We handle the timeline and contact with the vendors to make sure we’re on the same page, and put together a floor plan so everyone can see exactly how it’s going to be set up following the client’s vision. We also FaceTime the vendors the day of to make sure everything is set up correctly. 

We’ve successfully planned over 3,000 proposals.

Janet Jarchow photography
A beachside proposal.

As more of a boutique, luxury focused service, we don’t necessarily plan 20 events each month because we’re really focused on creating a higher-end quality event that can speak to each couple’s love story well – and we want to make sure we’re giving them the time and personalized service they deserve.  

I’ll always remember my first planned proposal. It was for a client who reached out to me about a week after I first launched my website.

The proposal was in Napa Valley, California, at the stunning Domaine Carneros Winery. We made it a surprise under the ruse of doing  a private tasting and tour. When the couple walked out onto the balcony, there was a sweet setup there with a private bistro table and chairs, a floral arrangement in her favorite flowers, photos of the couple, a pair of wine tasting glasses, and a personalized rose bush to keep and plant in their garden to signify their next big milestone – their engagement. 

This was all set up on a private balcony at the winery overlooking the stunning backdrop of the valley and vineyards. It was so much fun and turned out amazing. I still have the email he sent thanking me when everything was done, I kept it as my motivation that I was doing the right thing starting this business. 

My biggest challenge has been finding and marketing to a niche clientele.

ashley burns photography
A sun-filled summer with a gazebo backdrop.

Over the years I’ve realized that I can’t help everyone and that my service isn’t necessarily for everyone. Whether I’m planning a $50,000 dollar proposal or a $1,000 dollar proposal, it can take almost the same amount of time and energy. It was more important to find my own market and the right kind of clientele.

Even though we’re in such a happy industry, we do feel a customer service-style role, so it’s important to spot the red flags with potential clients.

I’ve never had anyone say “no,” but we did have an incident where the girl being proposed to was hiding because she was so anxious about public displays of affection. We told our client to give her time until she was comfortable coming back out and there were less people around. 

Another challenge is because historically 90% of our clients are male, they can be more “last minute” and don’t leave as much time for planning – so we have some very quick turnarounds. 

We’ve planned a proposal in just one day – but we typically don’t do that anymore, because it can be too stressful. We can plan it within one week’s time, but typically we prepare to plan one to two months in advance. 

Still, we have organized a few proposals for women clients, sometimes proposing to male partners and other times to women partners. 

For the most part, the proposals are a surprise and only one member of the couple is involved in the planning.

Jessica Rice Photography Newport Beach CA
Butterflies decorate a proposal in Newport Beach, California.

I had one request for a co-planning situation, and we didn’t do it because it didn’t seem on-point with what we want to do as a company. 

I know it sounds cliche, but I always say my favorite proposal is whichever one we’re currently working on, because each is  always new and different. Anything that’s really creative and fun to plan is right up my ally.

We’ve planned some really high-end proposals – some that we haven’t been able to share online due to privacy requests – but our most expensive was over $100,000. 

It was on a private island off of Charleston, South Carolina where the gentleman flew in over 30 members of his closest family and friends on a private jet. We did a full-blown engagement party afterward, so it was a “proposal meets engagement party” all-in-one experience. She was really surprised, and it was gorgeous – like something out of a Nicholas Sparks movie, complete with a private villa and a boardwalk right up to the beach. 

We also want to help relationships beyond proposals, and ensure these couples are staying connected in their relationship throughout. I love it when we get to plan events like vow renewals, and re-proposals which is when someone maybe didn’t get to plan a proposal the first time or wants a luxury re-do. 

It’s great to support couples who want to refresh and reset their intentions and commitment to one another. We had a really amazing one where the client was upgrading his wife’s wedding ring, so he decided to re-propose in St. Barth’s, which turned into a full-blown vow renewal. 

As a business owner, I’m always setting new goals. I’m very future-oriented and definitely want to expand the company. I’d say my ultimate goal is to become the No. 1 romantic event planning company in the US. 

Read the original article on Business Insider

America’s wealthy are getting vaccinated faster than the poor, and a poorly designed system is partly to blame

vaccine worker
The wealthy are more likely to be vaccinated than the poor.

American inequality extends to vaccinations.

Communities of color, predominately Black communities, have been hardest hit by the pandemic. They’re also the least likely to be vaccinated.

Data indicates that the wealthiest zip codes across several states, from California and Colorado to New York and Florida, are more likely to be vaccinated than lower-income zip codes.

The wealthy have taken advantage of loopholes, using money and connections to jump the vaccine line, Insider’s Julia Naftulin and Allana Akhtar previously reported. They’ve been gaming the system, from calling up concierge doctors to gaining access to COVID-19 vaccination codes meant for communities of color.

But a wild-west rollout and socioeconomic technology gap are also at the heart of the problem in a poorly designed system advantaging the privileged. 

An unequitable rollout

In Florida, residents in affluent areas are getting vaccinated at a faster rate than lower-income neighborhoods, local news outlet WFLA reported. Consider Miami-Dade county, where the wealthiest zip codes are the most vaccinated, reported The Miami Herald

Some residents have criticized Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis for setting up special vaccine access in these wealthier areas. He recently set up a pop-up vaccine site in Lakewood Ranch, one of Florida’s richest neighborhoods with a median household income 75% to 85% higher than the county average, per WFLA, citing Census data.

DeSantis said in a press conference Wednesday that he chose Lakewood Ranch because of its elderly population. “We wanted to find communities that have high levels of seniors living in there, and this obviously has a high concentration,” he said. “You look at all these different communities, and there is a lot of senior citizens. If there were few senior citizens, then you wouldn’t have set up a pod here.”

It’s a similar case over in Los Angeles County. Dr. Paul Simon, chief science officer for the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, told the Los Angeles Times that the county’s mass point-of-distribution sites have been successful in their goal to quickly distribute vaccines, but often don’t work well for poorer communities.

More residents in largely white and wealthy cities are vaccinated than the Black and Latino communities in lower-income areas, the LA Times reported. At least 25% of residents have received at least one vaccine dose in more affluent neighborhoods like Bel-Air and Beverly Hills, per LA County Department of Public Health data. It’s a sharp contrast from South LA and southeast LA county, home to working class cities such as Compton and Paramount, where at most 9% of the population is vaccinated.

A digital divide

The digital divide is also partly to blame. Vaccine appointments are a virtual task. Those without access to the internet can’t make an appointment, which is reportedly a difficult process to navigate even with access.

In Los Angeles, “websites have been flooded with folks trying to get an appointment,” Simon said. “And so those people who have the luxury of time can spend, literally in some cases, hours, I’m sad to say, working to try to get an appointment.”

Over in New York City, Mayor Bill De Blasio seconded this sentiment to Bloomberg. “Folks who have more privilege are best able to navigate this process,” he said. “Folks who have more confidence in the vaccine are going to go through more effort to get it.”

New York City is also seeing a disproportionate surge in vaccinations among wealthy neighborhoods, Bloomberg reported. De Blasio said there are 33 vaccination sites in “hard-hit” neighborhoods, accounting for 77% of total vaccination sites, but that the city needs to establish more.

He attributed the inequality partially to vaccine hesitancy. “Folks who have been doing very well in this society also have a high level of confidence in the vaccine,” he said.

In today’s modern world, less access to technology is generally equated with less access to education. And, right now, knowledge is power in getting vaccinated.

Read the original article on Business Insider

The elite’s favorite status symbols have become way more expensive over the past 20 years

wealthy person
The elite have turned towards investing in education and health as a means to flaunt their riches.

Showing off wealth is no longer the way to signify having wealth.

Flashing a Louis Vuitton handbag or a multimillion-dollar Bugatti have long been standard status symbols for the elite, but the ultrawealthy have increasingly turned to intangible investments such as security and health to discreetly flaunt their wealth instead. An unlikely reflection of this transformation is the recent history of inflation in the US economy.

Consider American Enterprise Institute’s famous inflation chart, which was once dubbed by Bloomberg as “The Chart of the Century” and has made the rounds on various media platforms throughout the years.

The latest iteration, featured below, shows 54.6% overall inflation over the last 21 years, which works out to an annualized compound growth rate of 2.2%, very close to the Federal Reserve’s stated inflation target.

But as you can see, some services and goods have become way more expensive than others.

AEI
Services have grown more likely to become more expensive over time than material goods.

 

Hospital services, college tuition, medical services, and housing have seen disproportionate upticks past the average 54.6% inflation. Their costs have outpaced the hike in average hourly wages, which have shot up by 82.5%, or 28% more than the average increase in consumer prices.

Meanwhile, consumer goods such as new cars, clothing, computer software, toys, and TVs have become more affordable.

In a nutshell, it seems that the cost of intangible services (with the notable exception of housing) has increased while the cost of material goods has decreased, mirroring the shift from conspicuous to inconspicuous consumption.

The rise of discreet wealth

Inconspicuous consumption is a growing trend among not only millionaires and billionaires, but “the aspirational class.”

Elizabeth Currid-Halkett coined the term in her 2017 book, “The Sum of Small Things: A Theory of the Aspirational Class,” as the opposite of “conspicuous consumption,” a term conceived by 19th-century economist Thorstein Veblen referring to the concept of using material items to signify social status.

In the US in particular, the top 1% have been spending less on material goods since 2007, Currid-Halkett wrote, citing data from the US Consumer Expenditure Survey. In an era where mass consumption means both the upper class and the middle class can own the same luxury brand, she explains, forgoing material goods for immaterial means is a way for the rich to differentiate themselves.

“This new elite cements its status through prizing knowledge and building cultural capital, not to mention the spending habits that go with it,” Currid-Halkett wrote, adding, “Eschewing an overt materialism, the rich are investing significantly more in education, retirement, and health – all of which are immaterial, yet cost many times more than any handbag a middle-income consumer might buy.”

That inconspicuous consumption often goes unnoticed by the middle class – but getting noticed by a fellow elite is the appeal of the discreet. Investing in things like education, health, and childcare – which have all become more expensive since 2000, per the AEI chart – “reproduces privilege” and “offers social mobility” in a way that flaunting luxury couldn’t, according to Currid-Halkett.

Discreet wealth is just one of many inflation factors

Now, this isn’t to say that discreet wealth is the sole cause of inflation in the US.

Mark Perry, the AEI economist behind the chart, notes in his blog post that economists have attributed several reasons to these trends: Price increases correlate with a greater degree of government involvement in a good or service (like health care) and prices decrease as the degree of international competition for goods increases (like toys).

Mass production has enabled manufactured goods to become more affordable. And college has become more expensive for many reasons, including increasing globalization, increases in financial aid, and ballooning student services.

But the fact that the inflation chart correlates with the rise in discreet wealth indicates the power of demand in driving up prices – and the spending power of the elite as wealth inequality worsens in developed economies.

The more the elite covet sending their kids to high-end preschools and Ivy League colleges, or spending millions to live within walking distance of the country’s best public elementary and secondary schools, or buying their kids boutique healthcare as a way to signify status, the more expensive those industries are going to become.

Call it discreet inflation. 

Read the original article on Business Insider

NYC still has the most homeowners worth over $30 million in the world, study says

New York City skyline
New York City.

  • NYC, Los Angeles, and London house the highest number of individuals with net worths over $30 million.
  • New York takes the top spot globally, per a new report that includes second and third residences.
  • There’s a problem for NYC, though: the ultra-rich may be choosing to primarily live — and pay taxes — elsewhere.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Out of all of the cities in the world, New York City still has the highest number of ultra-rich homeowners, but there’s a catch.

A report released February 18 by real estate platform REALM and financial information firm Wealth-X found that NYC had the highest number of homeowners with net worths over $30 million as of December 2020, with 24,660 people in that class having a residence in the city. Following behind were Los Angeles with 16,295 ultra-rich homeowners, then London, Hong Kong, and Paris. 

“The largest regional economy in the US ranks first, both for the number of ultra-high-net-worth individuals by primary residence and second-homers,” the report said. “This reflects New York’s status as a global center for finance and commerce that offers a rich blend of cultural and luxury lifestyle opportunities, high-quality education and prime real estate.”

With regard to ultra-high-net-worth individuals, the report also found that:

  • Cities in the West, like London and Australian cities, have the highest shares of ultra-high-net-worth secondary homeowners;
  • Monaco and Aspen have the highest levels of ultra-high-net-worth density;
  • Secondary homeowners are generally slightly younger and have more female representation than primary homeowners. 

When deciding to include secondary homeowners in the report, the two authoring companies said it allowed for a more “holistic view” of the ultra-rich.

“The pandemic has set up the best market for second and even third homes in the luxury real estate market,” Joanne Nemerovski, a luxury real estate advisor for Compass in Chicago, said in the report. “Regardless of how amazing their main residence is, this group of wealthy individuals is used to travel, and it’s hard for them to stay put.”

However, the prominence of second and third residences among the ultra-rich in cities like NYC could be a disadvantage in the post-pandemic economy. The boost in remote working during the pandemic has prompted many wealthy homeowners to move their primary residence to lower-tax, warmer jurisdictions, notably Texas and Florida, potentially leaving a hole in their former cities’ budgets.

According to a Bloomberg report in 2020, the top 1% of New Yorkers paid 42.5% of the city’s total income tax, meaning that if those individuals choose to change their primary residence, NYC’s economy could suffer a major financial blow. 

Housing prices have also been declining in Manhattan since the pandemic has given buyers the option to move to other less expensive cities, putting the ultra-rich homeowner hotspot at risk of losing a significant chunk of its tax base.

In other words, New York could stay the number-one city for ultrawealthy homeowners, just maybe not full-time ones. 

Read the original article on Business Insider

I help Hermès collectors buy and sell used Birkin bags. They’re almost impossible to get in stores, but I’ve sold nearly $2 million worth through eBay and online.

Hermes So Black 28cm Box Calf Feather Kelly Rigid.JPG
“It’s a handbag, a piece of art, and an investment all rolled into one,” says Caroline Bui, aka The Birkin Fairy.

  • Caroline Bui is the founder and owner of ‘The Birkin Fairy,’ a luxury consignment shop for Hermès products.
  • After working at Hermès for 12 years, she launched the online shop and has since sold nearly $2 million of used Hermès items. 
  • This is her story, as told to freelance writer Jenny Powers.
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

It was 1984 when Hermès debuted The Birkin Bag, a handcrafted leather carryall featuring two sturdy top handles and a lock and key closure to ensure all of the bag’s contents remained inside the bag. At the time, the bag, named for British actress and singer Jane Birkin, retailed for approximately $2,000 to $3,000. 

The Birkin Bag would one day become the most sought after bag in the world, a status symbol creating legions of fans and spurring a years-long waiting list of eager buyers from around the globe willing to pay five to six figures for a single bag.

I’ve been interested in fashion since I was a child.

I spent many summers accompanying my grandmother to local garage sales. Born in 1920 and having survived the Great Depression, my grandmother was understandably frugal and recognized the value in good quality objects. 

Caroline Bui  Hermes
Bui holding Hermès bags.

We would sift through items in search of jewelry and pottery that she would later resell for a higher price at her own garage sale. She was an incredible salesperson, and while I didn’t realize it at the time, these experiences taught me the joy and exhilaration of the hunt which would later define my interest in collectible objects that retain or gain value. 

When I turned 17, I spent the summer living in New York City studying fashion illustration and draping at Parsons School of Design. Upon graduating high school, I went on to The Art Institute of Chicago where I earned a BFA while working in sales at Chicago’s newly opened Ralph Lauren store.

Diploma in hand, I returned to New York in 1999 taking on a series of fashion editorial-related jobs at Conde Nast rotating between Mademoiselle, Self, and Allure before moving on back to retail. 

I fell in love with the social component of fashion while working in retail.

While I became accustomed to being surrounded by luxury products, what really fueled my interest in fashion was engaging with customers and helping them find what they wanted. In 2001, I decided I wanted to return home to Chicago and so I requested a job transfer to the location where I’d initially worked.

The following year, I took a sales position at Hermès.

Back then there were only eight of us in the Chicago store, and we were each assigned an area of specialty. Mine was leather goods and scarves – not because I possessed any special knowledge in those areas, but simply because that was the section that needed to be filled at the time. 

As part of my training, I was invited to travel to Paris where I had the opportunity to meet with the craftsman, tour the distribution facilities, and pay a visit to the Hermès Museum, a venue exclusively reserved for staff and select guests. My new work aligned perfectly with my art history background and for me, every transaction was like selling a piece of art. 

Over the years, I assisted thousands of customers and sold countless Birkin Bags.

In fact, one of my longtime customers who was a collector referred to me as “The Birkin Fairy” or “Fairy” for short because my position allowed me to grant Hermès wishes.  

Everyone knows that getting your hands on a Birkin Bag of your own is no easy task. Demand surpasses supply. It takes 48 hours to handcraft a single bag and production is limited. 

Caroline Bui Hermes
A pile of boxed Hermès products in Bui’s home.

It’s almost impossible to be able to walk into a store and buy a Birkin off the shelf. You can put in a request for one, but no one knows how long you’ll be waiting. They’ve even placed a limit on how many Birkins a client may purchase each year. All of these factors have caused a thriving resale market.

Even after working at Hermès for 10 years, I had to get special permission from the powers that be to buy one for myself as a gift when my daughter was born in 2011. A few years later, I managed to acquire a second, less expensive one for $3,000 as part of an employee sale of handbags that do not pass the company’s quality standards and are therefore only offered to employees.

By 2013, I was a married mother of two and wanted to spend more time at home with my family.

In search of more flexibility, I began interviewing at other companies, but when a longstanding client asked if I could help her sell 20 pieces of her Hermès collection, I decided to go out on my own in a different direction.

In 2014, I set up shop from a tiny desk in my bedroom. I invested $2,000 to buy a domain name, build a website, and secure a few basic supplies before officially launching The Birkin Fairy, a secondary luxury marketplace selling pre-owned Hermès products.

The first bag I sold was an orange Birkin that at the time was nine years old. My client originally paid $6,600 for it in 2005, and it sold for $8,700 in 2014.

Hermes Orange 35cm Birkin in Epsom Leather with Gold Hardware. Caroline Bui
This orange bag is the first Birkin Bui sold as The Birkin Fairy.

To date, I’ve sold nearly $2 million of Hermes products online through my website and Ebay.  I sell all items on consignment, brokering transactions on behalf of my clients for a commission ranging anywhere from 18 to 30%. 

All my business is via word of mouth – I’ve never spent a dollar on customer acquisition.

I’m truly a one-woman operation from photographing products to acquiring and selling merchandise to shipping to social media, where I have over 81,000 organic Instagram followers.

Before COVID-19, I traveled across the country to meet with sellers, helping them do everything from evaluate their inventory and determine what they’d like to sell to help them authenticate, organize, and care for their items. One of my clients in Los Angeles wound up having $505,000 worth of Hermès handbags sitting in her closet and after reevaluating the contents, we ended up selling $50,000 worth of handbags and acquiring six new pieces for $98,000. 

My site has featured everything from a well-worn Birkin that sold for $8,000 to the $150,000 So Black feather Kelly Bag that I have up for sale right now, which is only one of two bags ever made.

While I have worked with some celebrities, most of my clients are just regular folks with amazing closets.

The resale market for Birkin Bags has always been robust.

This is because there is so much more inventory online and it’s readily available – for a price. The pandemic has driven more interested buyers online and helped grow my business due to inventory shortages, production delays, and store closures. 

One study from 2017 revealed that over 35 years, the value of Birkin bags rose 500%, with an annual increase of 14%. When you buy a Ferrari and drive it off the lot, it immediately loses value. When you take a Birkin Bag home, depending on how rare it is and how it’s maintained, it has the potential to increase in value. It’s a handbag, a piece of art, and an investment all rolled into one.

Read the original article on Business Insider

Michelle Obama’s stylist and 12 Black professionals on the former First Lady’s fashion legacy and the art of power dressing

Michelle Obama
Michelle Obama

  • Throughout the years, Michelle Obama has become a style icon. 
  • Her stylist, Meredith Koop, has helped Obama become the noted fashion icon she is today. 
  • Koop and Black professionals weighed in on the lasting impact of Obama’s style and what it says about power dressing. 
  • Visit the Business section of Insider for more stories.

Daniella Carter said if she’s learned one thing from Michelle Obama’s style, it’s what an unapologetic Black successful woman looks like “even when there are people in the world spewing hate.” 

Carter is a Black trans activist and founder of the eponymous “Guest Book” which highlights creators of color. 

She grew up in foster care but said seeing Obama “suited-and-booted” made her always remember that though she may not have had a mother who looked like her, she would learn to carry herself so that she and her future daughter could both grow up to be unapologetic Black, successful women. 

She’s not the only one who feels this way. 

Meredith Koop
Meredith Koop

After Obama’s 2021 inauguration look that left the internet in a daze, Insider reached out to her stylist, Meredith Koop, as well as ten Black professionals to talk about how Obama’s style has influenced them.  Koop helped craft the image of how a Black woman looks co-hosting a state dinner, visiting the Queen of England, going on a book tour, and, most recently, at President Biden’s inauguration.

 “She’s incredible at what she says, what she does, how much she cares. We all know this, and most of us agree,” Koop told Insider about Obama. “The legacy is her. The clothing is that extra element that is transcendent in nonverbal communication.” 

What a powerful Black woman looks like

“When I saw Mrs. Obama show up to the inauguration for President Biden, I was in awe – her hair was laid and her dress slayed – even in a mask,” DeShuna Spencer, founder and CEO of the Black media streaming service KweliTV, told Insider. 

Spencer said Obama has come to exemplify what a “powerful Black woman looks like.”

Sandrine Charles, a consultant, and cofounder of the Black in Fashion Council, told Insider the inauguration look was also one of her all-time favorites. “She always has had a presence of royalty,” Charles said of Mrs. Obama. 

Eric Darnell Pritchard, fashion historian and Brown Chair in English literacy at the University of Arkansas, told Insider that Obama’s style is inextricably linked with her accomplishments, and “many Black people appreciate that self-authorship.”

“The ‘Forever First Lady‘ designation people bestow upon her is more than a term of endearment,” Pritchard continued. “It is a testament to how valuable her representation has been to the Black community.” 

Michelle Obama
Pritchard said authenticity is probably for which Mrs. Obama will be remembered.

Koop styled Obama with tactical precision 

There was no blueprint for how a Black First Lady should look. There had never been one before. 

Styling the former First Lady was – and still is – a tightrope walk across the Grand Canyon. A delicate balance between looking good, but not too good. Obama’s outfit can never overpower her voice, Koop said. 

Even with Obama long out of the White House, Koop still anticipates what people will say – how a dress was too loose-fitting, or how a color scheme didn’t match. Koop figures she probably wouldn’t have to incorporate such styling precision if Obama was white. 

“It’s just obvious,” Koop said. “The way that the press in particular, and the media and different individuals construed her appearance into something negative – that was happening right from the beginning.” 

Michelle Obama
Michelle Obama wearing a Tracy Reese dress

Fashion designer Tracy Reese, who has worked with Koop and dressed Obama on numerous occasions, told Insider she noticed there was always a very clear vision for how Obama would look.

“In the public consciousness the First Lady is always either in a suit or something very conservative,” Reese said. “Mrs. Obama really broke the mold in terms of how she chose to dress.” 

She wasn’t afraid to show her feminine side and wear beautiful dresses, Reese continued. There was softness, optimism, and color. “We hadn’t seen that in the White House, probably ever,” she said.  

Koop’s precise execution of Obama’s style paid off. The model Shavone Charles, known as SHAVONE. and also director of communications and creative partnerships at image-sharing app VSCO, called Koop and Obama the last decade’s “most dynamic duo.” 

“For me and many other Black women, we look at Mrs. Obama and we see ourselves,” she said and pointed to the white Tom Ford gown Mrs. Obama wore to the state banquet at Buckingham palace in 2011 as one of her favorites.

Michelle Obama
L-R) Queen Elizabeth II, US President Barack Obama, Michelle Obama and Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh arrive for a state banquet at Buckingham Palace on May 24, 2011 in London, England. (

That inauguration look exuded power 

Nearly everyone Insider spoke with had a favorite outfit. Koop loves the rose-colored Atelier Versace gown Obama wore to her last state dinner as First Lady in 2016, while Pritchard is a fan of the black Vera Wang mermaid gown she wore to the 2015 China state dinner. 

Then, of course, there’s that inauguration look, designed by Sergio Hudson, a Black designer from New York. Haitian American photographer Geraldine Jeannot called the look a moment of style and grace. 

Black people are always “placed in a box” and judged heavily on their appearances, Jeannot said. “That day, Mrs. Obama was power walking into the room.” 

michelle obama inauguration
Former US President Barack Obama and Former US First Lady Michelle Obama arrive for the inauguration of Joe Biden as the 46th US President on January 20, 2021, at the US Capitol in Washington, DC.

Koop broke down for Insider the wineberry plum outfit, which came from one of Hudson’s latest runway collections. Hudson did not respond to Insider’s request for comment.  

Koop wanted dark colors, jewel tones. A monochrome look.  She requested some changes to the original ensemble: pants instead of a skirt and a less-shiny coat lining. A matte lining deflected camera flashes and made the belt stand out. The sweater turned into a bodysuit with a zipper in the back, so Obama didn’t have to pull it over her head, the boots were Stuart Weitzman, the matching gloves and mask were by tailor Christy Rilling

Producer and former stock trader Lauren Simmons knows what it’s like to occupy historically white spaces. 

She was the second African American woman to become a full-time trader at the New York Stock Exchange and said the way Obama uses style to exude power inspires her and is something she seeks to emulate.

“There have been many women throughout history who have had impeccable style,” she said. “But to see a Black woman do it fearlessly, and graciously is power in itself.” 

High-profile women using clothing to start conversations

Simmons and SHAVONE. said that Obama’s style helped usher in the era of powerful women wearing clothes to be both seen and heard. Simmons agreed with this sentiment and pointed to Meghan Markle as an example of a high-profile woman using clothing to start conversations

Pritchard added that the latest generation of politicians has also adopted this. Women, now more than ever, are bracing authenticity. 

Even during the White House years, Koop would work closely with designers to craft what a modern First Lady looks like. Some would already come with ideas in mind, but many of those ideas had to do with Jackie Kennedy Onassis.

“She was a white woman from a certain background, and Michelle is a Black woman from a different background,” Koop said. “I felt like the best thing would be to reflect the authenticity of Michelle in her own right.” 

Michelle Obama
Michelle Obama wearing head-to-toe Balenciaga.

That meant Jason Wu gowns, lots of J. Crew, and, after the White House, custom Balenciaga glitter boots. In politics, there was a heavy blueprint in how women, especially, were supposed to look. 

“Mrs. Obama certainly inspires how I dress,” Illinois Congresswoman Lauren Underwood told Insider. At the age of 34, she is currently the youngest Black woman serving in Congress. 

“Her influence is most pronounced as I prepare for the rare formal events that I’ve attended as a member of Congress. It’s so difficult to be modest and still stylish and Mrs. Obama always nailed it.” 

Christopher Lacy, assistant professor of fashion management at Parsons, said Koop styled Obama in a way that celebrated the “female aesthetic” and felt she never sought to hide her height or athleticism, and instead, selected clothes that accentuated those attributes. 

“What Meredith and Michelle have done together is show the world what millions of Black women and men have known for years,” Lacy continued. “That the Black silhouette is not confined to the borders of Eurocentric misconceptions”

Michelle Obama
Michelle Obama. Spencer, who has been wearing her hair naturally for over a decade, said it makes her feel product when Mrs. Obama wears her naturally curly hair in such public spaces.

Carter and Pritchard expressed similar sentiments. Carter added that before, the only Black bodies deemed to be powerful were those of entertainers, and that “it felt revolutionary to see someone not playing a character, sending a message to our communities and culture that Black chic, sexy, smart, and beautiful women are not just Hollywood roles.”

Underwood says Obama’s fashion legacy will manifest in a generation of powerful women freely expressing themselves using any colors, patterns, textures, designers, and hairstyles they want.

“No matter whether the clothing came off the clearance rack or if it’s a one-of-a-kind custom design,” she continued. “She shows us how to bring our full selves to the world stage, one incredibly accessible ensemble at a time.” 

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The rich are gaming the system to get COVID-19 vaccines using hefty donations and cozy relationships with CEOs

rich people steal covid vaccine 2x1
  • The COVID-19 vaccine rollout in America has been a discombobulated mess.
  • The rich have taken advantage of these loopholes, using money and connections to jump the line.
  • Low-income people and communities of color have been left behind, despite higher rates of COVID-19.
  • If you have a story about tactics wealthy Americans are using to get a COVID-19 vaccine, email reporters Allana Akhtar and Julia Naftulin.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

In Florida, nursing home board members flocked to West Palm Beach for a jab of the COVID-19 vaccine meant for their residents. 

In Philadelphia, a 22-year-old pandemic-response startup CEO quietly snatched vaccine-filled syringes and injected them into his friends’ arms. 

In Los Angeles, concierge doctors fielded frantic calls from wealthy clients offering up hefty donations in exchange for a shot.

The sense of hope that came when the FDA granted emergency authorization for the Pfizer and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine soon curdled when Americans discovered that congressional lawmakers, billionaire nursing home benefactors, and hospital executives were getting the vaccine more quickly than the average person.

“The rich don’t want to wait their turn, so they’re able to pull strings just like they would to get a first-class ticket on an airline by spending the top dollar or getting the best hotel room,” R. Couri Hay, a New York City society publicist with more than 25 years of experience, told Insider. “The rich view the vaccine and the [COVID-19] testing as another commodity that they could purchase.”

coronavirus vaccine
A nurse at the Royal Cornwall Hospital prepares to administer a COVID-19 vaccine in Truro, United Kingdom.

Access to the COVID-19 vaccine – the best bet yet at warding off a deadly virus that has disproportionately affected the poor and people of color – has become another marker in a pandemic that has both exposed and deepened the gap between the wealthy and everyone else.

The discombobulated rollout of the Trump administration’s vaccine program has offered up countless loopholes

The federal government decides how many vaccine doses each state receives, and sends them to pre-authorized locations. From there, state and local health officials are in charge of creating vaccination plans using the loose priority recommendations the Trump administration set in place.

But underfunded and understaffed hospitals, nursing homes, and other healthcare facilities have been unable to handle the influx of patients, who are tasked with making their own vaccination appointments on overloaded websites and call centers. These shortcomings, plus confusing state-by-state priority rules, have led to excess doses in some places and shortages in others.

Theoretically, the rollout chaos should benefit anyone savvy enough to take advantage of it. But “savviness” increasingly appears to correlate with “resources.”

Keith Myers, the chief executive of Palm Beach-based MorseLife Health Systems, called an undisclosed number of board members asking if they wanted the vaccine, the Washington Post reported. The company had been given vaccines for residents and staff.

In New Jersey, Hunterdon Medical Center executives, donors, and their families were given shots in December and January when frontline workers and nursing home residents were the only eligible groups, CBS 3 Philly reported.

“We’re seeing people kind of making up their own decisions without any ethical framework,” Dr. Marissa Levine, a public-health professor at the University of South Florida, previously told Insider. “That’s a worst-case scenario, because then the people with the most power or connections are more likely to get the vaccine, which is the most inequitable way to do what we need to do.”

florida vaccine line
Des and Adele Morrow wait in line to receive a COVID-19 vaccine at the Lakes Regional Library on December 30, 2020 in Fort Myers, Florida.

Tourists in New York City and people with vacation homes in Florida have also harnessed shoddy vaccination systems to “skip the line” and get vaccinated. SoulCycle instructor Stacey Griffith even posted a video of herself receiving a vaccine jab in Staten Island. Griffith, who reportedly makes $800 per class, told the Daily Beast that she was an “educator,” and defended her choice in the now-deleted post: “I see hundreds every week, I think it’s fair to say it was a good decision.”

Arthur Caplan, the founder of the Division of Medical Ethics at NYU School of Medicine, described the coronavirus vaccine rollout as “a screwed up mess.” 

Caplan said he believed wealthy people were incentivized to use their status to get ahead of the vaccine line due to a lack of trust in the system. The lack of consistent regulations among states and the difficulty in getting an appointment eroded trust in the system, he said. 

“People began to say, ‘To hell with it, I’m going to use my money or my connections and see what I could do,'” Caplan told Insider.

Poorer communities and communities of color haven’t received as much vaccine access, despite being disproportionately affected by COVID-19

White New Yorkers have received nearly half of all available vaccines so far, while Black and Latinx residents were given just 11% and 15%, respectively. Part of the problem is due to the lack of Spanish-speaking volunteers working outside vaccine sites, The City reported, which left Latinx seniors without access to information on how to get appointments.

Black and Latinx New Yorkers have a higher risk of hospitalization and death from COVID-19, but the disparity isn’t limited to New York. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found Latinx, Black, and Native American communities have a disproportionately high death rate from COVID-19 relative to these groups’ population in the US.

COVID-19 vaccination, New York
Dr. Michelle Chester displays the coronavirus vaccine in Hyde Park, New York.

The outsized impact on Black and Latinx communities in part occurred because these groups are more likely to have frontline jobs that don’t allow for social distancing or working from home. Black Americans also tend to have more pre-existing conditions that greatly increase the chance of death from COVID-19, the Washington Post reported.

The disparity played out clearly in Philadelphia, where officials hired the startup Philly Fighting COVID, with 22-year-old Drexel University neuroscience graduate student Andrei Doroshin at the helm, to be the city’s largest mass-vaccination provider. 

But the plan came crashing down on January 23, when registered nurse and Philly Fighting COVID-19 volunteer Katrina Lipinsky said she saw Doroshin take a bag full of Pfizer vaccines and record cards and leave the premises. A week prior, unsupervised college students were reportedly seen vaccinating their low-priority friends, an illegal act in Pennsylvania, local NPR affiliate WHYY reported.

Lipinsky, who decided to volunteer with the group as a way to help her community, told Insider the experience was so disheartening, she left the evening of January 23, shared what happened on Twitter, and never looked back.

Andrei Doroshin
Andrei Doroshin speaks to the Today Show in Philadelphia, on January 28, 2021.

“The big moment for me was watching Andrei and leave with them,” Lipinsky told Insider. It was an issue she brought up to her supervisor, who quickly dismissed it, she said.

“It was clear at that point the people who were involved with running this also used it as a way to prioritize and privilege their friends,” said Lipinsky.

The disastrous rollout left at-risk Black people, who compromise 44% of the city, unvaccinated, and reinforced Black communities’ distrust of medicine, a consequence of decades of systemic racism in the US health system.

For the rich, a vaccine isn’t necessarily a choice between life and death

Not everyone amasses the wealth necessary to donate tens of thousands of dollars to nursing homes and hospitals with COVID-19 vaccine access. 

But the average rich person still has enough cash to make a year-long pandemic look like a luxury getaway

Besides the usual markers of substantial wealth – concierge doctors, nannies, private jets, hotels, the ability to test staff – those with means have the ability to visit a doctor or pay for a hospital stay without putting themselves into massive debt.

“The rich have more choices because they can do everything [more safely],” Hay, the society publicist, said. “They could control their environment better than someone who works in a grocery store, or a nurse, or a frontline worker. Is it inequitable? Absolutely. Is it fair? No. But is it a reality? Yes.”

But the disparity in access is also hardly surprising: The pandemic has largely favored the rich and privileged from the start.

Long before a vaccine was in our purview, the rich and famous got special treatment for COVID-19 tests. Then came Los Angeles’ influencer’s pandemic parties, mask-free politicians, and Kim Kardashian’s October private-island birthday party.

 

“This is the same thing as getting a rent-controlled apartment for your children or getting them into college. This is part of the system. Money buys access. Money gets you in,” Hay said. “You can’t get in the club? Spend $10,000 on bottle service and you’re in.”

If you have a story about tactics wealthy Americans are using to get a COVID-19 vaccine, reporters Allana Akhtar and Julia Naftulin can be reached here and here.

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7 signs you’re rich, even if it doesn’t feel like it

business woman
  • “Rich” doesn’t necessarily mean owning a huge mansion or taking luxury vacations.
  • You’re wealthy if you can afford to save money every month and are on track to retire when you want to.
  • Another sign you’re wealthy is being able to make choices based on what you want, not just your financial needs.
  • Visit Personal Finance Insider’s homepage for more stories.

“Rich” is relative.

Maybe you think it means being in the top 1% of earners in some of the wealthiest cities in the US. Maybe it means being able to buy a flashy mansion or spend your life flitting from luxury vacation to luxury vacation.

But former investment banker Kristin Addis told Insider she feels richer earning about 40% of her previous six-figure salary while she travels the world. Nick and Dariece Swift, who also left their jobs to make a fraction of their former income, said they’re happier earning less. The self-made millionaire stars of “West Texas Investor’s Club” say their relationships are more valuable than the money they earn.

Ultimately, “rich” can be just as subjective as “happy” – it’s different for everyone. However, there are a few universal indications of wealth, no matter how you view it.

1. You can save money

“Most people fail to realize that in life, it’s not how much money you make. It’s how much money you keep,” writes Robert Kiyosaki in “Rich Dad Poor Dad.”

At the end of the day, money does not solve financial problems – in fact, it often exacerbates them. Consider the lottery winners who lost it all within a few years, or the professional athletes who made millions in their 20s and wound up broke.

“Money often makes obvious our tragic human flaws, putting a spotlight on what we don’t know,” says Kiyosaki. “That is why, all too often, a person who comes into a sudden windfall of cash – let’s say an inheritance, a pay raise, or lottery winnings – soon returns to the same financial mess, if not worse, than the mess they were in before.” 

If you can hold on to a portion of the money you earn, you’re in good shape.

2. You can live comfortably below your means

Living below your means is one of the major tenets of responsible money management: spending less than you earn, however much that may be.

Self-made billionaire Anthony Hsieh told Insider that learning to live within his means was a lesson he learned from his parents, who immigrated to the US from Taiwan.

The habit “has helped me quite a bit and that’s one of the reasons I’ve survived and flourished in consumer lending for 30 years,” he said. “My career spans four different economic and housing cycles and I’m still sitting at the table as a key executive in consumer lending. I think part of that is my discipline of making certain that the company and myself don’t overspend.”

Living within your means might not sound like a big deal if you’re already doing it, but not everyone can manage. A 2019 report released by GOBankingRates found that a third of Americans surveyed are living paycheck to paycheck.

3. You will eventually be able to pay for the things you really want 

If you can go out and buy a yacht in cash today, most people would agree that you’re rich. However, if you can go out and buy that same yacht five years from now after setting a savings goal and socking away money on a monthly or annual basis, guess what? You’re probably still rich.

Survey after survey turns up the same dispiriting result: Americans aren’t saving all that much. The same GOBankingRates survey reported that 45% of respondents had no household savings, and an estimated 40 million households have no retirement savings whatsoever.

Which brings us to our next point …

4. You’re going to be able to afford to retire as planned

Retirement is expensive. Experts say that to live lavishly in retirement, you need to replace about 70%-80% of your current income (although that number is disputed). Even if you’ve downsized, and maybe even relocated to an area with a low cost of living, retirement is still a prolonged period of supporting yourself on little or no income. 

Traditionally, “retirement age” is 65, but that’s changing as more Americans find they’re unable to float 20-plus years of living without a paycheck. Data from a 2019 Bureau of Labor Statistics report found that nearly 20% of Americans age 65 and older are still working.

If you can afford to retire when you want to, it’s a luxury.

5. You aren’t motivated purely by money

One common thread you’ll find among self-made millionaires and those who study them is that “rich people” tend to focus on something other than the dollar signs: They’re solving a problem, or following a passion, or striving to build their business as much as possible.

That, right there, is a luxury. If you can’t make ends meet, you can bet you’ll be focusing on the dollar signs over the intellectual fulfillment of your job.

This doesn’t mean you can’t be happy to earn a sizable paycheck or you can’t be excited to watch your investments grow, but money isn’t your chief motivator or source of joy. If you have the luxury to focus on something other than the money, you’re in a good place.

6. You view money as an ally

“Most people have a dysfunctional, adversarial relationship with money,” writes self-made millionaire Steve Siebold. “After all, we are taught that money is scarce – hard to earn and harder to keep. If you want to start attracting money, stop seeing it as your enemy and think of it as one of your greatest allies.”

The reason wealthy people earn more wealth is because they’re not afraid to admit that money can solve most problems, Siebold says: “[The middle class] sees money as a never-ending necessary evil that must be endured as part of life. The world class sees money as the great liberator, and with enough of it, they are able to purchase financial peace of mind.”

If you aren’t scared of money – if you view it as an ally, and a tool that can help you achieve what you want in life – you’re ahead of the game.

7. You aren’t stuck

“What I have realized over time is that in many ways, money spells freedom,” self-made millionaire and NastyGal founder Sophia Amoruso wrote in her book, “#GIRLBOSS.” She continued:

“If you learn to control your finances, you won’t find yourself stuck in jobs, places, or relationships that you hate just because you can’t afford to go elsewhere. … Being in a good spot financially can open up so many doors. Being in a bad spot can slam them in your face.”

Kathleen Elkins contributed reporting.

Related Content Module: More Personal Finance Coverage

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Meet ‘Bling Empire’s’ haute couture collector, who’s bringing wealthy Asian American Angelenos to Netflix

Christine Chiu
Christine Chiu.

  • Christine Chiu is a producer, philanthropist, collector of haute couture, and cofounder of Beverly Hills Plastic Surgery, with her husband, Dr. Gabriel Chiu.
  • Chiu typically attends at least 30 fashion shows a year, and tries to buy something from each (haute couture can cost over $100,000).
  • Her lifestyle will be on display in her Netflix show, “Bling Empire,” which chronicles the lives of wealthy Asian Americans in LA.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

One day, Christine Chiu was speaking to a friend, telling her how much she loved an outfit she’d seen during a fashion show. It was a piece of haute couture, of course. Each one of those is unique, one-of-a-kind, and therefore can only be sold once. It’s also usually quite expensive. Chiu had to get her hands on it.

“I discovered later that [my friend] had changed her appointment time with the fashion house ahead of mine so that she could purchase it first,” Chiu told Insider. “I learned quickly that all is fair in love and couture.”

Not every company can say it makes haute couture. In France, it’s regulated by the Ministry of Industry, which chooses which brands are true emblems of the craft. 

Read more: Inside wealthy kids’ weird, pricey pandemic purchases, from $1,000 Patagonia fleeces to a $31.8 million T. rex

Chiu attended her first haute couture show at the age of 26 and remembers it clearly. She was bright-eyed and filled with excitement. “I was immediately transported to an era of ultimate luxury and refinement,” she said, “and fell in love with these museum-worthy pieces of wearable art.”

During the pandemic, Chiu said her methods for shopping haven’t changed, but her perception of what it means to responsibly consume luxury has. She said she found herself with a great incentive to spend money on brands that took a moral stance. 

For example, Chiu paid close attention when Burberry used its trench coat factories to make hospital gowns, and when Valentino and Balmain donated millions to the COVID-19 relief effort. She also watched to see how companies responded to the Black Lives Matter protests. 

There are rules to this haute couture game

A typical, non-pandemic year sees Chiu attending about 30 shows a year – or about 15 shows per fashion season. She usually buys something from each show and has amassed a collection that includes gowns, capes, accessories, and even shoes. 

Christine Chiu
Christine Chiu attends the ‘Stephane Rolland’ Paris Shows-Fall/Winter 2017-2018 show as part of Haute Couture Paris Fashion Week.

Pieces of couture can easily cost over $100,000 and Chiu said, without naming a price, that her most expensive pieces cost “more than the median cost of a home in the US.” That was more than $300,000 as of the summer of 2020. They cost “less than a Jeff Koons piece of work,” she clarified – the most recent of those just publicly sold for $91 million

A glimpse of her jet-set lifestyle can be seen on her new Netflix show “Bling Empire” which premiered on January 15. The show chronicles the lives of successful Asians and Asian Americans, from various cultural and professional backgrounds, living in Los Angeles. It will feature DJ Kim Lee, investor Kane Lim, and Jaime Xie, daughter of billionaire Fortinet founder Ken Xie.

Chiu is a producer on the show and told Insider that she wanted to show the journey of herself and her husband – with whom she founded Beverly Hills Plastic Surgery in 2006 – in balancing western expectations with eastern values and traditions. 

Chiu’s journey began in Taiwan, where she was born. (She moved to the United States when she was 5 years old.) Her husband, on the other hand, is from Hong Kong, and he came to the US at the age of 2.

“Bling Empire” will show the Chiu family as philanthropists, raising awareness for their favorite charities and organizations; as world voyagers living a jet-set life, and of course, in lots of couture. “It was an incredible experience full of laughter and tears for me,” Lee told Insider about her experience working on the show, adding that Chiu “definitely knows how to throw the best parties.”

Knowing how to throw a good party is a staple skill on the jet-set circuit. In fact, Chiu said one of the main reasons she buys haute couture is for events – weddings, red carpets, film festivals. That’s all changed with the pandemic, however. But let’s pretend, just for a moment, that it’s the year 2019. 

This would see Chiu in New York, London, Milan, and Paris. Those are just the big named fashion cities, not including the trips that come in between. Each city has its own fashion houses, and each house – whether it’s Chanel, Givenchy, Armani, or Christian Dior – has its respective traditions, and desired protocols.

Christine Chiu
Christine Chiu attends the Jean Paul Gaultier Haute Couture Fall/Winter 2019 2020 show as part of Paris Fashion Week.

Generally, Chiu said, the experience of buying haute couture starts like this: each house gives a presentation, commonly known as a fashion show. From there, the game begins.

Clients of haute couture have to be invited, as reported by The Wall Street Journal’s Christina Binkley, and they are usually introduced by someone who knows someone super well-connected to an haute couture house.

During fashion weeks, these invite-only individuals are allowed to book private appointments to get a second look at what was shown at the presentations. 

“Some houses would hire a model [to] ‘re-model’ the client’s selected pieces,” Chiu said. “While in other circumstances, the designer walk meets with clients to discuss [their] inspiration and make personal recommendations.”  

Once the potential buyer selects their favorite look, they can suggest further customizations to the outfit.

After a deposit is put down, the person waits six to 12 months for the piece to be produced.

During this time, there are at least two to three fittings to make sure the look is all coming together as desired, Chiu said. 

Read more: MacKenzie Scott, ex-wife of Amazon’s Jeff Bezos, gave away more than $4 billion over the last 4 months to help those affected economically by the pandemic

There are a few rules to the game, however. For one, it’s a faux pas to ask about price – or discounts, for that matter. And sometimes fashion houses will only sell one look per country. Chiu told Harper’s Bazaar that when she can’t get an outfit as an American, then she’ll try to buy a Taiwanese citizen, promising to only wear the outfit in that country.

Trying to buy haute couture with morals 

Before the pandemic, Chiu said she always tried to find a way to use fashion to highlight social justice causes. Even before the pandemic, she said she would request fashion houses to donate a percentage of her purchase to an organization they both support, which, she said, has led to contributions to further AIDS research, education, and increased access to medicine for impoverished communities.

Her Netflix show is also being used as a vehicle to highlight some of her favorite charities and organizations, she said. The show went into development in early 2018 and upon its premiere, became one of the few shows to have an all-Asian ensemble. Participants hail from various cultural backgrounds, including Vietnamese, Singaporean, and Korean.

Christine Chiu
Christine Chiu alongside her husband and her son.

Chiu said the original premise of the show had nothing to do with showcasing wealth; rather, it was primarily about revealing the cultural pressures, morals, values, and expectations Asians living in the United States are often confronted with. That doesn’t mean wealth won’t be on display, however, even if the scenes on-screen are much different than the reality Chiu finds herself living. 

Snuggled up in Los Angeles, there isn’t sweatpant couture, yet. Chiu said she’s buying sunglasses, bathing suits, sneakers, and exercise attire. She’ll be, probably on the couch, watching her show like the rest of us, sporting high-quality, sustainably sourced, comfort clothing.

“After all,” she said. “The thought of running through Erewhon [Market] in platform Louboutins, lugging a Himalayan Birkin is very much a thing of 2019.”

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YIMBY with a conscience: Meet the 26-year-old real-estate heir who wants to make affordable housing a reality in the Biden era

Donahue Peebles III
Donahue Peebles III.

  • Donahue Peebles III has worked for his father’s real-estate firm, Peebles Corporation, since high school.
  • He’s passionate about gentrification, telling Insider that lack of affordable housing is “a failure of American society.”
  • Peebles talked to Insider about affordable housing, gentrification, and what he expects under a Biden presidency.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

In real estate, there are NIMBYs and YIMBYs, and Donahue Peebles III knows where he stands.

For decades, “NIMBY,” which stands for “not in my backyard,” referred to homeowners who oppose nearby development. The “YIMBY,” naturally, says yes to the same proposition. To hear Donahue Peebles III tell it, more development won’t just be good for his family’s company – he’s a real-estate development heir – but also a key to civil-rights progress in the Biden era.

“As developers, we have such an outsized effect on the world in which everyday folks live, far more than an options trader would or your Wall Street executive,” Peebles told Insider. “Everybody, every day, interfaces with real estate, multiple times a day.”

Peebles works at Peebles Corporation, which was founded by his father, Donald Peebles II, in 1983 and has grown into of the nation’s largest real-estate investing and developing firms, with a portfolio topping $8 billion. The company made his father one of the richest Black real estate developers in the US, with a net worth estimated at over $700 million.

The Peebles Corporation utilizes public-private partnerships to develop properties with civic interests in mind, focused primarily on the New York, Washington DC, Miami, and Los Angeles markets. It specializes in residential, hospitality, retail, and mixed-use commercial properties. 

Peebles is his father’s chief of staff, a position he has held since early last year. He said he has no interest in separating himself from his father’s legacy, saying there is “so much value” in being allowed to help build on that. 

In an interview with Insider, Peebles spoke about the affordable housing crisis, how his company is trying to help curb the effects of gentrification, and what he’s expecting under a Biden presidency. 

Donahue Peebles III
Donahue Peebles III (L) alongside his father (R).

Peebles calls the affordable housing crisis ‘a failure of American society’

Peebles has been working for his father’s firm since his senior summer in high school. Born in Washington, DC, Peebles spent his childhood in South Florida and attended high school in New York before matriculating to Columbia University to study economics.  

“My real-estate education happened simultaneously with my regular education,” he said. “As a little kid, you always want to go to McDonald’s and get a McFlurry or go to your friends’ house early on a Saturday before basketball practice. My father would say, ‘Sure, but I need you to learn the value of this building first.'” 

To Peebles, housing affordability is one of the most pressing issues facing the US right now. “There’s no reason that somebody gainfully employed should have to be housing insecure, or struggle with finding an apartment they can comfortably afford on their full-time salary,” he said. “That’s a failure of American society.”

Read more: How full Democratic control of Washington DC could transform real estate

Part of the problem, he said, is that developers are being restricted in terms of when and where they can build new housing. He cited historic preservation in the West Village, for example, which prevents developers from knocking down existing brownstones to create more housing. 

These restrictions exist “even though they were constructed to satisfy the housing needs of a New York that’s about one stitch the size of New York City is today,” he said. “Instead of treating the symptoms, we need to begin to treat the underlying cause of the disease, which in my mind is a consequence of artificial supply constraints.” 

Andrew Berman, executive director of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, told Insider that, for the most part, the organization was all for more affordable units in landmarked areas.”That can be achieved through adaptive reuse and new construction,” Berman told Insider.

But there is often a catch: “What is often proposed however is large new entirely or predominantly luxury developments which do little or nothing to address affordability issues and actually often make the situation worse, not better,” he continued. 

Meanwhile, Simeon Bankoff, executive director of NYC’s Historic Districts Council, an organization that advocates for the city’s historic and cultural neighborhoods, noted that as a developer, Peebles has a vested interest in more laxity on development. “If people who are in the business of doing real estate development didn’t have to deal with regulations, they wouldn’t.” 

Bankoff said the number of landmark properties in New York City overall is very small, the city has one of the most complex building ecosystems and construction ecosystems in America, and finally, it has a “limited amount of land. If someone wants to come in and build a high-density, residential development in a low-density zone, it’s difficult.” Doing that has nothing to do with landmark designation, Bankoff added.

Peebles Corporation is raising money for a fund to help minority entrepreneurs

Peebles, along with the corporation, has also been working to assist minority and women entrepreneurs as it seeks to help close the racial wealth gap and curb gentrification. 

He called the racial wealth gap a social failure of capitalism. Talent, he said, is thought to be distributed equally, but without opportunities, underrepresented and underutilized business owners, entrepreneurs, and firms will still struggle to grow. 

Read more: Meet one of the youngest Black entrepreneurs in tech, who just raised a seed round topping $4 million that included Alexis Ohanian

“It seems as though people who have a fair amount of economic privilege already are those who have been encouraged to become entrepreneurs and become owners,” Peebles said, adding that consumers and society will benefit more if more people with talent are provided with opportunities.

A development project isn’t like an options trade, he said, and there are so many different economic tributaries that flow from it – from the developer making money to the bank getting the land and the equity partner getting deployed capital.

The goal is to find a way to democratize access to capital and involve local businesses and long-term residents of particular neighborhoods in that neighborhood’s economic growth, he said, rather than a third party coming in from outside, attracting all the capital and renovation work. Right now, he said, the Peebles Corporation is raising an emerging developers fund that will help provide capital to women and other developers of color who seek to develop in the communities in which they live. 

And this, Peebles said, will hopefully guard, in some ways, against more gentrification. 

 “I like to say the struggle of the 19th century was emancipation,” Peebles said. “The struggle of the 20th century was enfranchisement. And the struggle with the 21st is without a doubt, economics. If we can help bridge the racial wealth gap by whatever means, I think we’re doing our society a service.”

Corporations need to give employees better safety nets, Peebles says

Peebles expressed optimism about the future of affordable housing with Joe Biden in the White House and congress under unified Democratic control.

He praised the section of the $900 billion in COVID-19 relief and $1.4 trillion stimulus package passed in December that assisted renters and made 4% the permanent minimum rate for low-income housing tax credit bonds. Peebles predicts this will help create a boom in affordable housing.

democrats win house
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi

Read more: How Democratic control of Washington could threaten real-estate investing

He’s also expecting a revision of a few tax policies that could have large-scale economic consequences, such as the 1031 exchange. He also hopes to see a revision in the structure of opportunity zones – designated geographic areas that have been identified as low-income subdivisions. 

Opportunity zones, he said, are like “government-funded gentrification” and they need to be structured so they can help create jobs and economic opportunities within the communities they target, rather than creating economic hubs that are pushing out existing communities. “You want a rising tide that lifts all boats,” he said. “Not a new dock.” 

The situation might be different for individual citizens, however, and Peebles said the pandemic has the potential to spark conversations around entrepreneurship as a whole. Many people realized that the job security and safety nets they had are not as secure as they once thought. 

If corporations, he said, could find ways to provide a more robust social safety net for people, it could boost innovation as it would give more people freedom to fail, which “would encourage more entrepreneurial risk-taking, which in turn would hopefully help bridge the racial wealth gap.”

He called real estate “such a challenging, creative industry,” but said he wouldn’t rather be doing anything else. “The problems we solve are at times both very immediate and practical, but also indelibly complex. It’s one of the best intellectual and social challenges.” 

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