Ruby Ribbon CEO and founder Anna Zornosa, center, shows the company’s collection to its stylists and customers at a trunk show.
Making women feel comfortable in their own skin while also helping women re-enter the workforce with flexible hours is the idea of the Burlingame-based startup Ruby Ribbon.
Anna Zornosa, a serial entrepreneur, came up with the idea for the company that has an Avon-like business model in which stylists the company hires sell clothing with built-in shapewear by using social media to promote the products. The business model uses a party sales model to introduce consumers to the brand in a trusted, supported environment, while educating customers about the undergarment designed to temporarily alter the wearer’s body shape to achieve a more fashionable figure while smoothing out a woman’s body.
“It started on a piece of paper in my study,” she said. “We’re headed to having thousands of stylists.”
The company, which she founded in 2011, currently has 400 stylists. Zornosa, its CEO, first thought of the idea to put spandex shapewear under clothing — and to have an individual personalized service that allows customers to have someone there to get them the right sizes — when she was trying on her first shapewear for a graduation. She didn’t know she should put the shapewear over her head and found herself trapped in it.
“I had an essential entrepreneur moment,” she said. “I thought, ‘this is bad, can we make it better?’ Everyone I know had to make a purchase in this area and hated it.”
The company designs camisoles, tops, skirts, dresses and leggings that incorporate patented shaping technology called Intomi by Ruby Ribbon and new lines come out four times a year.
Zornosa, who is a former vice president at Yahoo, discovered an $18 billion market for such products in the United States. The decision to throw herself into the company was more important to her than worrying about venture capitalist funding.
“It was my own decision,” she said. “When you start a company, you don’t go on vacations. It was whether I could persuade myself it could be a very good company and a big company.”
She ended up raising $11.5 million in funding, some of which came from Trinity Ventures. The line definitely taps into a desire of consumers to improve their body image. The shapewear space is really taking off, said Patricia Nakache, general partner at Trinity.
“Anna is an outstanding entrepreneur who I had known for many years,” Nakache said. “She came up with this idea that was targeting a very exciting market. … It’s kind of like Spanx meets Lululemon. It taps into growing market opportunity and I thought the business model was really interesting. ... It takes out the intimidation of the department store.”
Stylists like Sheri Bass, who is also a hairstylist at Avenue Styles Salon on Bayswater Avenue in Burlingame, enjoy working for Ruby Ribbon. Bass is neighbors with Anna.
“It’s a lot of fun,” she said. “It’s very, very social and you get to go to a party and enjoy yourself. I never imagined working with Anna because she was always in high-tech, but once I found out [about Ruby Ribbon] I signed up immediately. Anna is an unbelievable leader and I have no doubt the company will do well.”
Another stylist, Paula Asuano, joined in September 2012.
“I was in awe,” she said. “I’m impressed with the variety of women of different sizes and ages. There’s something for every woman. I just thought, ‘I love the simplicity of this line, the fitting and that it’s comfortable.’ I like helping women look and feel better. It’s a fun business.”
Ruby Ribbon reached a multi-million-dollar run rate in its first full year of operations in 2013 and is poised to triple revenue this year. There was $1 million in commission to stylists this year. The startup began as “Company X” until the team decided the company’s core mission was about confidence in women.
“For two women to be sisters, they don’t have to be related,” Zornosa said. “In Asia, the belief is that two people are tied together by a red thread.”
The logo even looks like two women standing back-to-back.
Meanwhile, Chief Merchandising Officer Patti Cazzato said the business model helps women who want to have a flexible schedule and not be tied to a 9 a.m.-5 p.m. day.
“I’ve watched really creative women grow big businesses from tiny businesses,” Cazzato said. “All we can see now is the future — we’re building a huge business. … It’s fun. We get to go to parties, drink wine and have trunks shows where we watch the customers’ reactions.”
The summer line comes out in early May.
For more information on the company visit rubyribbon.com.
(650) 344-5200 ext. 105