For the ESSENCE Best & Black Owned series, Work & Money Editor Marquita K. Harris and her team learn about the ups, downs, and in-betweens of running a business.
As the CEO, and lead stylist of GG+Co Styling Firm, Germanee Gerald has helped develop the personal brand and signature style of high-profile executives in Silicon Valley, Los Angeles, New York, and Chicago. Though her path wasn’t always so straightforward.
In 2014, the Charlotte, North Carolina native embarked on her entrepreneurial journey, while simultaneously working in the corporate sector of Gap Inc. As a resident of Silicon Valley at the time, she understood her landscape and began offering her expertise to tech executives, entrepreneurs, and entertainers that had limited time through her styling services.
Four years later on her ten-year anniversary working for Gap Inc., she left her office job at Banana Republic to pour her heart into GG+CO Styling Firm full-time. Now as a breakout stylist, she’s carved out a niche business model. She’s styled California’s most prominent influencers and executives like Bozoma St. John Chief Marketing Officer at Endeavor, Latasha Gillespie, Head of Diversity and Inclusion at Amazon, Valeisha Butterfield Jones Global Head of Women and Black Community Engagement for Google, Robin McBride of McBride Sisters Wines and beyond.
Ahead, we spoke with Gerald about her pivot into entrepreneurship and her vision for GG+CO Styling Firm.
ESSENCE: What lead you down your path of fashion entrepreneurship?
GERALD: I thought I’d be a dentist I began my career in fashion and retail, working at Gap stores in North Carolina while in high school and college. After graduating with a brand marketing and management degree from North Carolina State University, I headed to San Francisco, where I joined seven other trainees for Gap Inc.’s highly coveted, Rotational Management Program (RMP), also known as the “the Harvard of retail.” It’s a rigorous, highly selective, nine-month leadership training program, where I competed with 3,000 applicants to get a seat at the table with my seven classmates. The training not only exposed me to Gap Inc.’s executives and brand portfolio, but it also gave me insight into the key areas that drive the product pipeline—production, merchandising, and inventory management (buying).
After graduating [from the] RMP, I accepted a position as an assistant merchandiser for Old Navy’s newborn girl division. It was a rocky, three-year road in my succession from assistant to merchandiser. In the interim, I found my passion: personal styling. I always had an eye for conceptualizing outfits and enjoyed educating people on how to do it. Shopping with a girlfriend, she suggested personal styling to me. I initially refuted the idea, I didn’t want to be a stylist, I wanted to ascend up the corporate ladder, not to mention, the words Bay Area and wardrobe stylist felt like a complete oxymoron.
ESSENCE: How did you make the career pivot from being a merchandiser to establishing GG+COStyling Firm and becoming a personal stylist?
GERALD: The process in pivoting careers was pretty seamless. Merchandising prepared me for styling and entrepreneurship in more ways than I could imagine. As a merchandiser, I had to strategically think about trends, quality, the budget I was given for the season, but most importantly what my customer would buy and how to push her forward. I also had to analyze sales and be a leader on my team to goal setting. Working in corporate and as a stylist for three years helped me with time management. Now as a stylist, I strategically think about their outfits collectively taking their personality, style, and the event into account, so that they show up and their truest self is reflected, helping them look the part all while staying in or under budget.
As the CEO to GG+CO, I used the business acumen I learned to set goals for client acquisition, creating pitch decks to executives I’d like to add to my Rolodex. Those leadership and time management skills now help me as I mentor my assistant to help her gain the tools to develop her skills as a stylist but also when I’m meeting with my Sip N’ Style team on upcoming events.
Talk about your business’s mission. How is GG+CO uplifting women to discover their best personal style?
A friend of mine inspired me to start this venture. That motivation has remained with me and is deeply rooted in the mission of my business: To encourage everyone – particularly women and people of color to embark on their own journey in the style and fashion that best suits them.
As a Black woman who founded her business in the Bay Area, I found it particularly challenging to find acceptance and inclusion in my community. This added layer to this often “othering” landscape, helped me identify my niche customer base—suiting and arming the next generation of inventors, hustlers, and executives with the wardrobes that help them show up and shine in rooms that they are often shut out of.
In the summer of 2015, you launched Sip N’ Style, which aims to create a safe space for women and men to discover their personal style over cocktails. How did you create the networking mixer?
I created the Sip N’ Style with the sole purpose to educate women on their body types and how to dress accordingly. I was so tired of the media’s lack of body diversity and tired of bloggers pushing product but not educating them on how to wear the products. I knew three things:women love fashion,community, and cocktails! In 2015, I had my first Sip N’ Style in my living room with an intimate group of five.
Since the success of our first event, we’ve continued to grow the impact of the Sip N’ Style by dedicating our focus to larger audiences. As we plan to take our event to a national level, I’m committed to staying true to the essence of the mission – creating a safe space to educate and spark a conversation over style over cocktails.
Share the challenges of pivoting from a nine to five corporate job to being in business for yourself.
1. The actual transition of dependency on being solely dependent on myself, no one gives you money anymore, you have to create the opportunities to secure your bags.
2. Making space for self-care, because the elasticity of income depends on my personal output, I feel the need to work non-stop, even on the weekends. It’s not healthy and you won’t be your sharpest for the grand opportunities that come if you don’t rest and relax.
3. The third is reprogramming my brain from the nine to five format. I wanted to fill the space during [those hours], I had to figure out times that I was most productive and worked best for me when I wasn’t meeting with clients.
What’s next for the GG+Co Styling Firm?
I see so much opportunity for GG+CO. The most immediate on my agenda is to change the stereotype that personal stylists are only accessible to celebrities.
It is important to me to make myself and company accessible through our verticals, first being #TheDressCode, a 45-day style course, helping women develop and maintain their signature style and through the expansion of the Sip N’ Style and making an impact on a national level. As we grow, I hope to not only expand my company’s footprint through the Sip N’ Style and avenues of style education, but to grow my clientele, foster aspiring stylist, add a plus size clothing line to our portfolio.