A Conversation with Gilt Groupe Founder Alexandra Wilkis Wilson


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Every shopaholic knows their true weakness and for many, that is online shopping. As one of the biggest innovative e-commerce sites in the world, Gilt Groupe  provides instant insider access to today’s top designer labels, at up to 60% off retail. Founded by Alexis Maybank and Alexandra Wilkis Wilson in 2007, this “small office startup” has gained millions of devoted members in just a few years time.

To the excitement of Valley fashionistas and industry professionals alike, Alexandra visited Scottsdale recently as a Special Guest at the Arizona Chapter of Fashion Group International’s annual Spring Trend Report, discussing the success of Gilt Groupe and one of her newest projects. Alexandra, with Gilt Groupe cofounder Alexis Maybank, authored the book, By Invitation Only: How We Built Gilt and Changed the Way Millions Shop. If you are an entrepreneur or fashion professional, this book is a must-read.

I had the amazing opportunity to catch up with Alexandra during her busy workweek in New York City and chat about her fashion start, how Gilt Groupe has grown from 2007 and what you will currently find hanging in her closet.

Many of our readers are aspiring fashion entrepreneurs looking for inspiration or advice. Would you mind sharing with us the path that lead you to success?

“I grew up in New York City, where I attended a girls school for 10 years, then high school in New Hampshire and onto Harvard Undergrad. Education was incredibly important to my family. Out of school, I focused on banking full time in NYC and gained international experience during my time in London. I also had the amazing opportunity to work for retail guru Marvin Traub at Financo Inc. At Louis Vuitton (managing Leather Goods Sales Planning) and BVLGARI (managing retail operations), I honed my skills for selling and learned that I could sell nearly anything.”

You previously worked for luxury brands like Louis Vuitton and BVLGARI. How did these experiences influence or help you in founding Gilt Groupe? 

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Alexandra (2nd from left) joined Phoenix Fashion Week and other fashion professionals for a lunch meeting at Hotel Valley Ho during her visit

“Working in the luxury goods industry provided me invaluable knowledge and was crucial in helping me understand how to effectively frame Gilt Groupe to our customers and the fashion industry. These experiences not only gave me credibility, but allowed me to interact with top executives and build my network that supported my future work with Gilt Groupe.”

Your first designer ever on Gilt Groupe was Zac Posen in 2007. How did this come about, what was the reaction like from the designer/members and how did this effect the future of Gilt Groupe?

“We felt very lucky and pleased to work with an already recognizable fashion brand like Zac Posen. Our member feedback was great! They loved the mixture of ready to wear, dresses, handbags, polo, and trousers and embraced the idea of a flash sale. Alexis and I had interacted frequently with the brand’s then-CEO, Susan Posen (Zac’s mother) and had a personal relationship with her. It took a lot of convincing, but the Zac Posen team felt that if they were going to do it, they wanted to be first.”

As a former “small office” start-up, what advice can you give to other emerging designers/brands/entrepreneurs? 

“We created a culture of excitement, one in which we had never worked in before. At Gilt Groupe, we were encouraged to take calculated risks, test ideas and learn from our mistakes. I definitely feel like that kind of environment was the key to true innovation.

Building your personal networks is huge, especially working on an area that you may be weak in. Always look for mentors, and create an inner circle of supporters. You will only do as well as those around you want you to.”

How would you describe your personal style, and who are some of your favorite designers? 

“I would describe my personal style as classic, but I like to have fun. I love accessories, especially jewelry, and I’m not afraid of color. My closet is diverse, featuring global brands, fast fashion and timeless pieces I plan to pass onto the next generation. I love Marni, Oscar de la Renta, Valentino, and Lisa Perry lately. I also shop vintage from time to time.”

What are your favorite hobbies? Name one thing people may not know about you.

“I love to travel and meet new people. I also love learning and I am fluent in five languages. Funnily enough, I actually met Alexis in a Portuguese class!”

Seeing as Gilt Groupe has its own buying team, what kind of advice can you offer emerging designers preparing to present their line to a buyer/boutique? 

“I know how hard it is for designers to get a break in the industry, especially when they are just starting out. For retailers, one of the first questions they will ask is, “what is your current distribution?”. It makes a difference and the buyer/retailer will take your brand much more seriously if you already have placement in a major department store, or online stores like ShopBop.com, Intermix.com, etc. Designers should be prepared to tell a story with their brand and explain their vision, showing they are commercially-minded. It’s not just about selling clothing that’s beautiful, but the idea that they can turn shoppers into loyal customers.”

Where do you see Gilt Groupe going in 5/10 years with the constant changes in technology/e-commerce?  

“Seeing as we’ve only been around for five years, it’s hard to look that far down the road. However, we will strive to continue to be a fast paced, savvy company, especially when it comes to mobile-commerce. We are strong in our mobile applications and spend a lot of time and effort in the personalization aspect of our shopping experience, acting much like a personal shopper.”

Thanks Alexandra! We can’t wait to see what 2013 will bring to you and Gilt Groupe! You may even see Alexandra make a guest appearance at Phoenix Fashion Week 2013!

*We love our readers! And so does Gilt Groupe! Post a comment below with your favorite designer pieces to shop on Gilt Groupe for a CHANCE TO WIN a personalized copy of By Invitation Only: How We Built Gilt and Changed the Way Millions Shop, signed by Alexandra and Alexis!*
by invitation
Article by Lauren Pfingstag for Phoenix Fashion Week
“The Resource For All Things Fashionable”
  1. I love the article, the book is amazing….I’m not finished with it yet. And I love Gorjana for jewelry.

    • Pearl
    • January 24th, 2013

    Also, love to shop shoes by steve madden!

    • Pearl
    • January 24th, 2013

    Very inspiring 😉

    • Pearl sanchez
    • January 24th, 2013

    What a great story! Love it

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