Welcome to She Leads, a series digging into the good, the bad, and the ugly of being a woman in business. In each piece, we chat with a different founder about her experiences, the issues women face in business, and how they’re powering through in the face of adversity.
At only 11 years old, Erin Ralph began freelance writing for fashion and lifestyle magazines. At 13, she launched her own, LuxuryFashion.com. She went on to help found Zink magazine, the Serene Social wellness community, and Bullett magazine, an indie fashion favorite. Ralph was working her way through the fashion media world, but she didn’t like what she was seeing.
“I had been in media for so long and seen the game. Back in the magazine days, I wanted to write an article about how there are toxic ingredients in makeup. But it was like, ‘No, you can't do that because then we'll lose our biggest advertiser, L'Oreal,’” she told From Day One. Ralph also cited advertiser conflicts as a factor in leaving Bullett, which she co-founded with five partners.
“It started to feel like a straw that broke the camel's back, where it's like, we have to do the right thing.”
Ralph was disillusioned by the industry, but she was feeling stronger than ever about the power of media itself. Not long after leaving Bullett, she started thinking about how media could be used for good, and last year, she officially launched CoCre. The New York City-based company, mostly bootstrapped in its financing, facilitates collaborative action between organizations, companies, and individuals. It also acts as a production company, capturing stories about the work to inspire people and make a social impact.
On the CoCre site, articles and videos tell stories about initiatives like refugee relief, urban farming, and work with organizations like the Trevor Project. CoCre also provides readers with simple ways they can get involved. One story, for example, spotlights an education initiative called Yoga Foster and invites readers to donate a used yoga mat or $20 to sponsor a student. Podcast and docuseries content was in the works for major streaming services too, though production was interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Overall, CoCre oversees dozens of initiatives with companies and organizations through its Giving Facilitation program, including those mentioned above. Recently, the company launched a new version of the program directed at Fortune 200 companies, the Impact Facilitation Program, in which CoCre is advising not just on their giving, but their operations’ own footprints on the world.
We talked to Erin about CoCre, her entrepreneurial journey, and how to jump into something new. Excerpts:
What inspired you to start CoCre?
The basis of the idea is that media and stories move people. We've seen it with this whole range of [craft] beers. We’ve seen this story of controlling the diamond supply, inflating their value and putting them out in the media as a girl's best friend. The whole entire concept of the engagement ring is a media tactic, you know what I mean? With all the ways people are being moved and influenced by media, it’s like, what matters right now? The only thing that matters to me personally is that we should all be living well together. The inspiration is definitely wanting to see the world be a greater place.
The other big part was knowing that so many of our problems are because of how we cultivate natural resources and the big business behind the things we need. So the idea was, can we just start exchanging resources differently? A lot of people think support has to be money, but your giving assets can be time, scale, network, overstock of goods, anything. You can give extra airline miles. If you're a graphic designer, you can give 15 hours work. There are so many ways we can all make an impact. So let's have a centralized location where people can make an impact and take action on the things that they care about.
You say CoCre aims to “gamify giving.” What does that mean, and why did you go with that approach?
It's almost like if you're playing a video game and you get really into it, interacting, trying to level up and solve problems, and you're working with people you don't even know. I was inspired by this true story of two engineers who read about a girl in need of a prosthetic arm. They were in different parts of the world, but online, on this little scientist forum message board, the two of them felt the story, collaborated, and virtually co-created an arm for her and sent it to her. Never having met, they came together and created a solution that changed that girl's life. It's just stories like that, and how we can have fun doing stuff like that. If people can get excited and motivated to get some extra points in a video game, imagine if they were actually making a real impact.
Of course, you’re also a serial entrepreneur and have been at this since you were 11. How did getting so much experience at such a young age teach you to hold your own in business, and as a woman in business?
I was a teenager, so a lot of people in the industry would just be like, ‘Oh, you're so cute. Come. I'll take you through.’ I was ushered in and taken under people's wings because I was so young. I definitely see the struggle women in business have, specifically in the corporate environments. In my experience, I've definitely been in rooms where I've been looked at like I was probably not going to say the brightest thing. I just think that if you walk in the room and you know what you have to offer, if you truly know you have something good and valuable to offer, you just walk in with that energy. I believe in the work that I'm doing, and I believe in what I'm offering to this world. I was always able to walk in rooms and be like, ‘I have something. Let's talk.’ I'm friendly. I've had different experiences where if someone has ever doubted me, I'll smile right through them, and then I'll intellectually override them.
One of your endeavours, Serene Social, was about bringing women together for experiences that would empower them socially and financially, from yoga to mentoring. What inspired you to launch that, and how did you carry that mission of supporting women into your companies that followed?
That was a pivot in my life where I was doing the fashion thing and then I started to question everything, and I just cracked, like, ‘Oh my god, life is not this.’ I wanted to grow and went into my own self-care. I had always been into wellness, but it had been on the back burner. My friend was holding these rooftop yoga classes in New York City, and she was gathering quite a great group of women. I was there for about three years as a partner with her developing it. We had chapters in London and Los Angeles and different events in all three places. We built up this really incredible beautiful community, and in that community is where I had a lot of the conversations where I started to learn how it was for other women.
You were also a co-founder of Bullett magazine, which was an impactful but quick project for you. What advice would you give to women about bouncing back and diving into something new?
Just think it through. So you want this dream to come true? Okay. So what does that look like? Why do you want it? Make sure you're doing it for the right reasons. In the beginning after Bullett, it was abrupt. It felt like I had birthed something and then it was just ... wild. I was in conflict with advertisers and wanting to speak the truth, again. There was a lot going on there. I think if you just trust in the process and detach, and you learn to let go, even if it's a dream that you birthed, just learn to let go and learn that it's a step in the process. Because I let that go, the idea of CoCre came to me.
Sage Lazzaro is a New York City-based journalist covering tech, business, culture, women and diversity & inclusion. Her work has appeared in WIRED, Refinery29, VICE, One Zero, Bustle, the New York Observer, and more. Follow her on Twitter here.