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Jessica Hulett
Content Manager, Brand @ Yotpo
October 19th, 2022

In Her Own Words: Cassie Abel, Founder of Wild Rye and Women-Led Wednesday

This entrepreneur is blazing a trail for women in eCommerce

Wild Rye is an apparel brand that specializes in beautiful and technical outdoor apparel for women-identifying adventurers. Founder and CEO Cassie Abel hasn’t stopped there, though. She’s also the founder of Women-Led Wednesday — an annual shopping holiday taking place on November 23, 2022, designed to inspire conscious consumerism, specifically in support of women-run brands.

I had the privilege of sitting down with Cassie, who also happens to be an AWIE 2019 Honoree, to discuss this initiative for a more equitable economic landscape. Here are some of the highlights from our conversation.

What was the impetus for starting Women-Led Wednesday?

It really came down to how we wanted to position our own brand, Wild Rye. You know, as we were launching holiday sales, we just kept asking where we fit into the Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Small Business Saturday landscape. And none of those holidays felt quite right for us.

We’re a super socially and environmentally responsible brand, so Black Friday just felt like it was gross with mass consumption. Cyber Monday felt like an easy way for a small brand to get lost in the battle of the ad dollars, and Small Business Saturday felt very brick-and-mortar.

So back in 2018, I feel like every business news outlet was talking about, “How do we get more women in C-suites?” “How do we get more women on executive boards?” Which is super valid and important still today, but there was very little conversation around how we can shine light on, and support brands that are already led by women and help them grow to the point of being able to make an impact and bring other women up the ranks with them.

I started poking around — I really thought that something like Women-Led Wednesday must already exist out there. But I was digging, and digging, and digging and couldn’t find anything — I did find, however, that American Express had manufactured small business Saturday in the wake of the recession.

So while nothing like Women-Led Wednesday existed, I realized that Small Business Saturday was created to solve a problem. Obviously American Express had a few more dollars to spend than I did, but I pretty much, right then and there, decided that this needed to exist.

How has the initiative evolved since it launched?

I just sort of pulled together a website in a day and then reached out to every woman-led brand I knew and asked them if they wanted to be a part of it — and if they didn’t, at least asked them to spread the word with their network. So the first year was really grassroots, and pretty rough around the edges.

I really kind of pulled it together right at the end of October of 2018. I had a month to get ready for the actual day — it was a very short lead time — but the next year I actually invested in creating a fully robust brand directory that brands could apply for free of charge.

The directory pages are now a place for brands to tell their story, introduce the world to their brand, what they stand for, their images, as well as links to socials, websites, founder stories, etc.

So that was the biggest step; from year one, where it was just very grassroots, “let’s just make this happen,” to year two, where we were able to create a much better consumer experience for people who are interested in discovering and shopping women-led brands.

What has been the response to Women-Led Wednesday?

Super positive.

I don’t have any tangible metrics, but we went from around 50 brands in year one and we’re well over 600 brands in our directory now. This continues to be without any dollars invested, by the way.

It’s our fifth anniversary, and a woman-founded shopping tool called Goodbuy came on to support in a big way. Their whole mission is diverting dollars from mega retailers like Amazon into the pockets of small businesses. So they’ve come on as a partner this year, and that’s been an incredible progression.

Title Nine has also been a partner through and through from day one. They do so much for women in business, specifically in the outdoor and active lifestyle space.

It seems that empowering women has become the overarching theme to your career. Why do you think that is?

Gosh! You know, I think there’s a few pieces to it.

So, I was a total tomboy growing up. I played every sport out there, I spent my lunch breaks playing basketball with all the boys — and I think there was an element of me that’s always had a bit of a chip on my shoulder about just wanting things to be even.

Fast forward a number of years, I’ve now worked in the outdoor industry for major brands, and just found there was a serious lack of attention paid to women. At the time there were very few women in the industry, so I was frequently the only woman in the room, or in that space. I also was frustrated by the lack of marketing attention that our female athletes received.

I found that products were not very well thought through for women. So, gosh… I think there’s a lot of layers to it. I’m also just a strong, stubborn human being that thinks that women are totally badass and deserve everything that our male counterparts have experienced.

I also became a mom since launching Women-Led Wednesday and have a little boy who’s fantastic, but I think that’s added another layer to it. I want every little boy to support every girl that they encounter throughout their lives the same way that I want to be supported. So I’d say it’s sort of this ambitious chip on my shoulder from sports and growing up, to being the only woman in the room for a number of years in my previous life, and work.

How are you promoting Women-Led Wednesday?

The initiative is wholly dependent on our community. All brands, you know, to be in the directory the one ask from us is that they cross-promote their part of the initiative on the day, and celebrate the holiday outwardly with their communities. Just, on the day — help build awareness.

It’s this “rising tide lifts all ships” mentality. If we all support this initiative, we’re all going to benefit in the long run — that’s a big piece of the event. Also the Wild Rye PR agencies, and Goodbuy too for that matter, are really committed to promoting it. We’re spending a lot of time trying to garner some PR to support the holiday, both through women-led gift guides as well as curating some of our own. It’s really a socially driven holiday.

What is your hope for the future of Women-Led Wednesday?

My ultimate goal, my hope really, is that it becomes a household holiday name and gets the same attention that Small Business Saturday has gotten in the last 14 years or so. I really hope it helps consumers reframe their thinking around the holiday shopping season.

I would love consumers to think about shopping consciously — whether that’s from an environmentally sustainable lens, or women-led lens, I just want consumers to understand how much their dollars can make a difference — and encourage consumers to use their purchasing power for good.

What are some of your favorite women-led businesses?

I have so, so many!

I hate this question because I always feel like I’m gonna leave some important ones out — obviously Wild Rye. Skida is a headwear and accessories brand out of Vermont. Title Nine is so amazing for all the support and everything they do behind the scenes. Oiselle: a running brand out of Seattle. I play in the mountains a lot, so most of my favorite brands are active brands. Maker Wine is packaged wine out of the Bay Area that comes from independent wine makers across all of California. I know Goodbuy came on as a partner, but I’m just so obsessed with what they’re doing — how they’re making it so much easier for shoppers to divert their dollars from those mega guys and make it really easy for shoppers to buy from companies that align with their values.

Is there anything I didn’t ask you that you want to talk about?

I would just say like, please, if you’re a women-led brand join us! We would love to have you as a part of the initiative as we continue to amplify the voices and brands that are led by women.

Do you know more amazing women in eCommerce like Cassie? Nominate her now and she could be an AWIE 2023 Honoree. And if you haven’t already, join the AWIE Community on Slack, where there are more discussions happening between amazing women.

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