How One Small Business Owner Actually Increased Sales During COVID-19

Cult Gaia

There's no easy path toward creating a successful brand with an ardent celebrity following. Designs and craftsmanship matter, but there’s also a bit of luck and timing involved.

When Jasmin Larian Hekmat founded Cult Gaia in 2012, she set out to create romantic garments and accessories that would become heirloom pieces for the brand’s loyal enthusiasts. Not only did she succeed, her designs achieved that highly covetable 'it bag' status that companies strive for in the age of Instagram. Among the many stylish celebrities and influencers wearing her pieces, Hekmat counts Beyoncé, Chrissy Teigen, Shay Mitchell, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, and Priyanka Chopra Jonas as fans.

But how, exactly, does a young company sustain its business during a pandemic? As it turns out, Hekmat has a successful strategy for surviving the economic fallout from the coronavirus outbreak as well.

With temporary store closures in effect and people shopping less while in quarantine, it's no secret that the fashion industry is suffering in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis. Retail behemoths are filing for bankruptcy, many small businesses are shuttering altogether, and the future of shopping remains uncertain. Yet near the end of April, Cult Gaia reported its highest-grossing day for e-commerce ever. It was during the brand’s online archive sale, which featured key coveted styles from past seasons. It sold out in just two days.

“I’ve learned about the power of adaptability and how important it is to save for a rainy day,” Hekmat tells Bustle. “This is why we are still standing — frugality has been super important. Secondly, our business started as a direct-to-consumer e-commerce business. Having that relationship with our customers and being able to keep our margin and cash flow has been a lifeline.”

As the public face for Cult Gaia, she’s also had to shift her content strategy. Before COVID-19, Hekmat was mostly focused on product development. Today, she's producing social media content that feels relatable rather than aspirational.

"We are letting the humanity of Cult Gaia show through," she says. In one post, Hekmat poses with her child in one hand and a cocktail in another. "Motherhood taught me how important dirty martinis are," she writes. Personal tidbits about her day-to-day routine ("structured and calendared to the minute"), her beauty and skincare picks (Biologique Recherche and Supergoop Sunscreen), and her WFH outfit choices ("linen Naomi Pants with a matching Gaia’s Tee") are all resonating with her audience.

Cult Gaia fans also appreciate the brand for its commitment to giving back. Recently, it launched #CultGaiaLetsDance with dozens of “Gaia girls” as a fun initiative aimed to lift spirits and encourage charitable giving during this time. For every dance video posted using the hashtag #CultGaiaLetsDance, the brand donated $25 to No Kid Hungry.

“I started dancing with my mom to make myself happy and thought we should extend this to our community,” Hekmat reveals. “The response has been overwhelming, and collectively we've donated over 400,000 meals, which has ignited us to keep giving back.”

Everyone is taking away different lessons from this historic moment. For Hekmat, the pandemic has taught her that your education as a leader is never really over.

“I’m learning a lot more about leadership through this,” she says. “The first thing I thought of after this happened was the words of Winston Churchill: ‘Never waste a good crisis.’ In regard to the world as a whole, I’m reminded we need to slow down to speed up.”

We are shining a spotlight on some of the millions of small businesses now challenged by COVID-19. This is part of an ongoing commitment our parent company, Bustle Digital Group, is making to support small businesses throughout the entire month of May. Tell us about your favorite small business on social media using #SmallBusinessSalutes.