Welcome to Talking Top 10, a recurring series in which we feature the founders, CEOs, creators, and leaders who are shaking up their industries. Ahead, read our Q&A with Grace Lee, and keep scrolling to shop her Top 10 must-haves.
Grace Lee is the founder & CEO of Birdy Grey, a direct-to-consumer bridal brand on a mission to change the way women shop for their weddings. A longtime veteran in fashion and beauty, Grace began her career at InStyle Magazine as a writer & reporter. She has also worked for Kate Spade, Kate Somerville and Stila Cosmetics, where she managed copy, social media and digital content, helping bring an editorial voice to each brand.
Having been a bridesmaid six times herself, she personally knew how fun (but damn expensive) being a bridesmaid could be. She saw an opportunity for aspirational bridesmaid dresses at affordable prices, and so Birdy Grey was born. Based in Los Angeles, Grace combines her expertise in fashion with her love for digital storytelling and all-things bridal to make Birdy Grey the one of fastest-growing bridal brands today.
Keep up with Grace by following @birdygrey on Instagram!
August 3, 2020
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Tell us about your background and career experience. What was life like before Birdy Grey?
Prior to starting Birdy, I was a reporter at InStyle Magazine, and have also worked for various fashion and beauty brands doing copywriting, social media, and digital content. As my career progressed, I fell in love with e-commerce, brand storytelling, and all-things digital, which led me to start Birdy Grey. About a year into my startup journey, my best friend Monica Ashauer joined as co-founder and COO. Mon’s background is the opposite of mine—she went to Wharton undergrad, worked as a strategy consultant at McKinsey, and most recently did retail strategy at Ralph Lauren. She’s the operator to my creative; the Micky Drexler to my Jenna Lyons.
It’s hard for me to remember what life was life before Birdy—we launched less than three years ago, but it feels like a lifetime!
What led you to the realization that the way women shop for bridesmaid dresses needed to change?
I’ve been a bridesmaid six times in the last 10 years—the first in my early 20’s when I was completely broke, and more recently in my 30’s when I had more budget to spend. I realized that the shopping experience hadn’t changed in a decade—bridesmaid dresses were still painfully expensive, shopping was still highly brick & mortar and brands still had strict return/exchange policies because everything was made-to-order. No one had bothered to disrupt bridal party dressing… and I wanted to be the person to do it.
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What separates Birdy Grey bridesmaid dresses from others?
To start, all of our bridesmaid dresses are $99. (The average cost is $140) As a digital-native, social-first brand, we lean heavily on the customer feedback loop to guide many of our decisions, from product development, new categories, onsite experiences, and brand policies. I think this really sets us apart from others in our category.
Aside from that, we’re well-known for our convertible bridesmaid dresses that can be worn multiple ways. We also partner with organizations such as The Princess Project and Operation Prom to facilitate dress donations after the wedding to help teens in need for prom.
If you had to pick a favorite dress from the Birdy Grey collection, which would it be and why?
Our dresses are like my children—it’s impossible to pick a favorite! (Fun fact: all of our dresses are named after family members and others who helped us build the brand.) If I had to choose, though, I’d say it’s our Devin Convertible Dress, which is named after my fiancé. It comes with detachable sleeves, so you can wear it with draped sleeves or with simple straps…it’s like getting two really chic gowns for the price of one!
What’s it like working with your BFF? How do you divide up responsibilities?
It’s great! Mon and I are opposites, so while we do work collaboratively, there are zero redundancies in what we bring to the table. We divide the company in two parts: I’m responsible for “front of house,” ie: sales, growth, marketing, brand, creative, digital/e-comm, customer experience, and product. Mon manages “back of house,” ie: finance, HR, logistics, supply chain, production, planning, and analytics. We have a complementary working style that lends itself nicely to running the company together.
What has been the biggest challenge you’ve faced since starting Birdy Grey? How did you overcome it?
As you can imagine, COVID hit the bridal industry in a pretty significant way. However, I’m really proud of the way we leaned into our channels to connect with our customers. We became a resource for brides who were going through the heartbreak of pivoting their wedding plans and watched our social community band together in an unprecedented way.
What are you most proud of since starting Birdy Grey?
In less than three years, we went from packing and shipping dresses from my living floor to dressing over 200K women for their weddings. Every single time someone tags us in their real wedding photos on Instagram, I am filled with pride.
You’ve got the whole day off—tell us your dream itinerary.
My dream itinerary starts on a Sunday morning. I’d wake up at the crack of dawn (a.k.a. morning magic hour), and make myself a cup of coffee with a dash of Moon Juice Dust. The morning would be spent listening to podcasts or catching up on creative work projects. I’d head to Equinox for a mellow yoga class and a nice steam, followed by a stop at the Melrose Place Farmer’s Market to pick up some fresh fruit and a smoothie from Moon Juice. Sundays are all about self-care, so I’d pop into Kate Somerville Skincare for the ExfoliKate Glow facial, followed by a mani/pedi at Olive & June in Beverly Hills. On my way home, I’d pick up a beautiful bottle of wine, and prep an early dinner for my fiancé. Lately, I love making a fresh Caprese salad and anything with garganelli pasta.
What advice would you give to someone who wants to start their own business?
Don’t start a company for the sake of starting a company. Start by identifying a real problem or white space and come up with an awesome solution—one that is authentic to you. From there, stop talking yourself out of why you shouldn’t do it, and go for it!
What’s next for Birdy Grey?
We just started testing into new categories, such as bridal party gifts, cards, party décor, and accessories—a.k.a. “the fun stuff.” We’re also planning to introduce new fabrics and silhouettes into our collection, along with shoes, jewelry, and cute “getting ready” accessories.
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