As a part of our series called ‘Five Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Became A CEO’ we had the pleasure of interviewing Grisel Paula.
Founder Grisel Paula was born and raised in a small town in the Dominican Republic. Originally going to college for criminal justice, Grisel shifted her career aspiration to plus size modeling and quickly started working for dozens of retailers modeling their plus size range. Being a woman that constantly straddled the line between being a large and a 1x she realized how limited the options were for trendy plus size clothing.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about your “backstory”? What led you to this particular career path?
My path to becoming the founder and CEO of a fashion brand was not a straight line. I went to college for criminal justice and as a side job to pay for my student loans I got into plus size modeling. I quickly started working for dozens of retailers modeling their plus size range and as a woman that constantly straddled the line between being a large and a 1x I realized how limited the options were for trendy plus size clothing. I decided that I wanted to start a company that focused on trends and fashion and didn’t limit that at a size large.
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
By far the most surreal experience for me as a leader has been our parent company AKA brands going public and being a part of ringing the bell at the NYSE. Being an immigrant to this country and a woman of color, I still pinch myself at the thought that Rebdolls went from this tiny thing that I would do out of my attic apartment, to a company that now shares the stage with amazing DTC brands like Princess Polly & Culture Kings.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?
I wouldn’t have been able to get where I am today without the help of my family.
My sister graduated college with a biology degree and came in a few days after her graduation to help me ship orders, fast forward to today and she is now head of product and has brought so much of her fashion sense to the brand. Our parents were a big rock for us as well, they have supported us from times when we were not making ends meet to helping us ship packages in the holiday period because demand was so high.
As you know, the United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality, and inclusion. This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?
We can’t grow as people if we are not learning new things and challenging our world views, companies are no different. If everyone at the executive team comes from the same background and shares similar world views you hold back the diversity of thought that takes companies to the next level.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a CEO or executive. Can you explain what you mean?
I think the biggest myth about being a CEO is that we have all the answers.
I have made so many mistakes in my career, some of them lead to great AHA moments, others are permanent losses, but they make you stronger and more resilient. It’s impossible to know it all, but if you surround yourself with an amazing team, it makes you a better leader.
What is the most striking difference between your actual job and how you thought the job would be?
I never glamourize being a business owner. Since day one, it felt like a huge responsibility.
I felt responsible for my product, my customers, my team but I thought as the brand grew that weight would somehow lessen. It just gets bigger. As we grow, we continue to challenge ourselves as a business, and I continue to challenge myself as a CEO.
Do you think everyone is cut out to be an executive? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful executive and what type of person should avoid aspiring to be an executive? Can you explain what you mean?
I don’t think there is one specific formula to being a successful executive. Nevertheless, as a baseline for a startup business there always needs to be a sense of urgency and curiosity. Founders are innovators, we see something, and we refuse to accept it as the status quo. When you turn that passion into measurable action plans that the business really takes off.
What advice would you give to other business leaders to help create a fantastic work culture? Can you share a story or an example?
I want my team to always feel empowered. They should feel empowered to share their ideas and opinions with any level of management. I think it goes back to what I said earlier about business leaders not knowing it all. If you create an open-door policy where the culture feels collaborative so many fresh ideas flow, and not only does the company culture benefit, but so does the customer.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
Rebdolls have always been about making women feel beautiful. Plus size women, specifically plus size women of color, are often referred to as a “niche” market even though we make up one of the biggest segments of the American population. I think that speaks to what we value as society, we’ve put so much emphasis on one standard of beauty and reconstructing those American beauty standards will forever be my life mission.
Fantastic. Here is the primary question of our interview. What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why? (Please share a story or example for each.)
- Success is not defined by one single event. Enjoy the small wins.
- Get comfortable with being uncomfortable; don’t be afraid to take risks!
- Take time to listen, great advice goes a long way.
- Don’t be afraid to pivot, sometimes what feels like a great idea falls apart. Learn from it and keep it moving!
- Starting a company takes great sacrifice, you must be down for the ride.
Being a founder is a risky adventure. You must be willing to bet on yourself and bring something to market that the consumer cares about. Your business will challenge you in many ways, but you must always remember why you started and enjoy your wins.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I want women to push back on the current standard of beauty. If we start loving the skin, we will forever change the fashion & beauty industry.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
I am not sure who said this, but some words I live by are: “Ideas are the easy part, Execution is everything”
When you are a business leader you are full of ideas, and you want to change the world, but you can only change the things in life you act on.
We are very blessed that some very prominent names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this if we tag them
There is no one in particular, but I am always happy to help and mentor wherever I can. My Instagram private message is always open. @griselangel