For the third year in a row, Bustle's Upstart Awards are honoring young women who are doing incredible things in the realms of business, STEM, fashion and beauty, the arts, philanthropy, and beyond.
In those long, tense months after the 2016 presidential election, one phrase popped up in women's media again and again: self-care. Yet in the era of Instagrammable wellness and all its expensive trappings, what should be a simple concept — take the time to see to your own needs, whatever they are — can feel surprisingly unattainable. Alisha Ramos, founder and CEO of Girls' Night In, plans to change that. Last year, she founded her own company with the intention of building a community where women can take care of themselves and each other while still having fun.
"I created Girls' Night In to help women chill out for a second, take care of themselves, and cultivate more meaningful relationships with others," Ramos tells Bustle over email. "When I started GNI, I reflected on one thing I truly enjoyed doing, which is hosting my girlfriends for a night in."
Although she studied history and sociology at Harvard University, Ramos, 27, says she was always fascinated by technology; she even taught herself to code at the age of 10. After graduating, she moved on to designing and found her niche: product design. "I wish I had known earlier in my life that this was a possibility for me," she writes. "As a woman of color, I just didn't have the right role models or environment where I knew it was an option for me. ... You can't be what you can't see."
She has worked in the tech industry ever since, eventually working her way up to serve as Vox Media's product design director. But while her career has been successful by any definition of the term, she found herself repeatedly running into problems that will sound familiar to any twentysomething. How do you stay sane when you're pulled in a million different directions every day? Is it possible to make new friends after college? If so, where are they hiding and how do you find them?
"We are all in this tumultuous period of our lives where we're moving to new cities, switching jobs, losing friends, gaining new ones. There is a lack of stability there," Ramos says. Since so many other women her age seemed to face the same problems, she decided to take matters into her own hands.
Originally a self-funded side project, Girls' Night In — which Ramos often shortens to GNI — describes itself as a "brand and community... built on the belief that as our lives get busier, the more important it is to take a break and chill out." It focuses on two aspects of self-care: solitude and strong friendships.
The company launched its first offering, a weekly email newsletter, in January. Sent every Friday morning, it combines interviews, links to interesting reading material, and ideas for what to do during a "cozy night in." Ramos wrote the first newsletter "more as a letter to [her] friends than anything else," and although she doesn't write them alone anymore, that's how they still read: like notes from your BFF.
Needless to say, there are plenty of bingeworthy Netflix recommendations, but there are also organization tips, fun beauty products, and so on. "We try to maintain a good balance of sweetness and substance," Ramos says. Subscribers will note, however, that one topic is off-limits. Ramos told the Nieman Lab in August that political content is a no-go because the newsletter is meant to help women take a break, not get wound up.
"I wasn't planning it or expecting it, but many of our readers tell us that they love GNI because it's a fun and positive break from all the stressful and anxiety-inducing things happening in the world around us," Ramos writes. "Someone told me that reading the GNI email feels like 'a warm hug' at the end of the week. I think that's the absolute best way to describe the community and brand we're trying to create — a friendly, warm, inviting place for you to come and hang out."
Clearly, its cozy appeal is working. Barely nine months after its launch, the newsletter is up to 15,000 subscribers and counting.
Girls' Night In also maintains a strong social media presence, posting introvert-heavy content and pictures from meetups across the country. The latter is where the relationship-building aspect of Girls' Night In's mission comes into play — when Ramos said she would create a community of women, she meant it. The company's Facebook page hosts an "Article Club" every Wednesday, and each month, Girls' Night In readers gather together for book clubs in cities across the country.
So how does the owner of a wellness company take care of herself? "As a founder, a big part of self-care right now is protecting my time because my time is everything," she writes. "I've had to learn how to say no in a kind manner."
While Ramos says that the newsletter has helped build a direct relationship with the community, she has plans for future products. Yet no matter the direction it takes in the future, the community will always be at the center of Girls' Night In's mission. Ramos writes, "At the end of the day, it's the relationships we build that matter."
Learn more about Bustle's 2017 Upstart Awards here.