To close out Women’s History Month, we thought we would chat with one of our partners and members, Kate Isler, CEO and co-founder of TheWMarketplace, an e-commerce marketplace that features products and services from women-owned businesses and gender-balanced national brands. In this exclusive interview, Isler offers details about how she got the idea for TheWMarketplace, why she believes female entrepreneurs help close the economic gender gap, her plans for growing TheWMarketplace, and more!
Inner Circle: Please tell us about your career journey and what led you to starting the TheWMarketplace.
Kate Isler: I’ve spent most of my career in technology and have always been a passionate advocate for gender equity, including starting a nonprofit to celebrate International Women’s Day here in Seattle. Soon after the start of the pandemic, the news was filled with stories about how women were being forced out of work and disproportionately affected economically. The news also was filled with statistics on skyrocketing e-commerce sales. I realized that combining these trends could create new opportunities for women entrepreneurs looking for solutions. Women need to pivot and run their businesses online and have meaningful work that works for them. Creating an e-commerce site with a strong community and friendly terms for women-owned businesses, that also offered a way for shoppers to support these businesses and the communities they care about, was my solution.
We started the business in June 2020, and opened to shoppers on Sept. 29, 2020. Today we have over 500 women-owned brands and thousands of products and professional services. TheWMarketplace is all about supporting women entrepreneurs by giving them a great place to sell their products. But it’s also about empowering women to support other women by making a choice, every time they shop, to support a woman-owned business.
IC: TheWMarketplace’s mission statement is “To close the economic gender gap by empowering women entrepreneurs to grow and thrive while providing a destination for consumers to shop their values.” Can you please expand on this a little more. How do female entrepreneurs help close the economic gender gap and why is this so important?
KI: Women own more than 40 percent of the businesses in the U.S. and start 1,821 businesses each day! It’s estimated that it will take 257 years to close the economic gender gap. The economic gap is much more than wages, which is probably the most familiar piece. It’s made up of several factors and represents women’s economic platform as a whole, including their education levels, political representation, health outcomes, etc. We know that when women have more economic power, everything else becomes more attainable. We have more access to all of the societal levers that can start to close that gender gap. We also know that the way “work” has been designed in this country doesn’t support the majority of women. It’s not flexible. It doesn’t provide high-quality, affordable childcare. It doesn’t even provide health insurance for many. We need to remake work in our own terms, and that’s what women entrepreneurs do.
IC: How were you able to fund TheWMarketplace and what challenges did you have at the beginning?
KI: Starting a business in never easy. It takes dedication, energy and, most of all, passion. My co-founder, Susan Gates, and I believe in what we’re doing and are committed and passionate about creating a business that’s successful for us and the women-owned businesses we support on TheWMarketplace. We’re mission-driven and have stayed true to our belief that we can change the world for women. That passion has helped us attract a team of amazing women to work with us.
IC: Please tell our readers what they need to do if they would like to join the TheWMarketplace?
KI: Shoppers can go to TheWMarketplace.com and shop with no membership or sign up. As for women-owned businesses, they can become sellers on TheWMarketplace by clicking here to get signed up. Or they can talk with our business development lead, Colleen Butler (colleen@TheWMarketplace.com). Our commission and fees structure is simple: 11 percent commission on sales and $190/year membership fee. Every seller has a customizable storefront on the site and the ability to list unlimited products or services.
IC: Can you share with us some examples of interesting female founders you’ve partnered with? Or perhaps some products that have caught your eye recently?
KI: We have so many amazing sellers that it’s hard for me to narrow that down! But we definitely have a few that our team is obsessed with. We love the lipstick and rose face cream from The Sexiest Beauty. Lynn Power, who is the CEO of Masami Haircare, is one of our favorites, too. She’s an amazing entrepreneur and partner. Our team also loves food, and some of the food and beverage sellers on our site have become staples in our homes. My co-founder, Susan, is a self-professed “shrub addict” after trying Siren Shrubs. I try to avoid gluten when I can, so Snacktivist Foods and B’Bites are on repeat “buy” for me! I’m also excited that we’ve had some larger brands join us recently, including our investor, Sherri Yukel’s company, Big Dot of Happiness and 1 People, with their gorgeous clothing and accessories.
IC: What are your plans for growing TheWMarketplace? Any new categories or areas you’re planning to launch?
KI: We’re really focused on building on the success we saw in 2021. We saw the most growth in our food and beverage, apparel, and accessories categories and are intent on creating great collections around these. Now that the world is opening up a little bit, we’re also excited to do a few in-person shopping events so we can introduce our brand and our sellers to new communities of shoppers. We’ve done a few small pop-up events in Seattle and are looking at Los Angeles and New York for future events.
Our team has a saying that never seems to grow old: “Women doing business with women will change the world.” We live that mission every day at TheWMarketplace and invite all of your readers to join us, either shopping or joining as a seller (or both!). Welcome to the economic engine for women!