Your people — a support group of mentors and friends who believe in you: Entrepreneurship can often be a lonely path. You’re up late at night and only have so much energy to devote to people and things outside of your business, especially in the early stages. The close-knit group of people who you trust to sit on the couch and not say a single word to for hours, are your people who will help you get through tough times.
As a part of our series about “Why We Need More Women Founders”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Suran Yoo. Suran is the founder of SilkorLace.com, the first and only luxury boutique, a woman-owned marketplace for hyper-realistic wigs and hairpieces. Suran launched the company after struggling with the stigma of wearing wigs herself due to alopecia. She wants women to feel confident and empowered, not ashamed or embarrassed of their hair loss with easier access to high-quality hairpieces.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! 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?
Silk or Lace began with my personal journey of being diagnosed with alopecia. It first began during my junior year of college when I lost half my head of hair, which was a tough time being in your early 20’s and still trying to figure out your womanhood. I grappled with finding confidence in my outer appearance while trying to find a solution for my hair loss.
In 2019, I stumbled across a group of women on social media wearing wigs and hair toppers and it changed my life. When I wore my first hair topper, I cried because I felt like myself again. I could celebrate my hair, which I hadn’t been able to do for so long! I felt beautiful, but more importantly, I now felt empowered to transform who I wanted to see in the mirror.
Inspired by the other women I found on social media, I started @the_strandie on Instagram as a content creator platform to share my experience with other women who were specifically dealing with hair loss. I thought to myself, if I can help other women struggle less with finding resources and answers to hair loss and wearing hairpieces, I’m happy to share my story.
After reading thousands of DMs on Instagram with so many women asking me how to wear wigs and hair toppers and where to purchase high-quality pieces, I realized there was a missing opportunity in the wig market. Women have a hard time finding realistic, natural, everyday wear pieces, not for the lack of high-quality wigs in the market. Instead, they struggle because they lack an easy and accessible shopping experience.
I think the core of it is that wigs and hair pieces are not often “show off” pieces. Meaning, a woman likely isn’t going to tell another woman she is wearing a wig — because the point is that they shouldn’t be able to tell! The secretive nature of these products has enabled an industry that lacks transparency in many areas. As a result, women who are in the market for these pieces find it extremely difficult and confusing to shop for wigs and hair toppers.
I founded Silk or Lace in April 2020 as the first marketplace for boutique, highly curated wigs and hairpieces. It’s the first platform that offers custom search filters specifically for hairpieces and honest reviews across brands.
This is game-changing because, for the first time, customers are able to shop, price compare, and read reviews across high-quality brands they trust, which helps democratize a traditionally secretive industry.
In the long run, I’d love for wigs to be worn by all people without stigma. Wigs and hair toppers aren’t just for women with alopecia — it’s for people who want to transform and elevate their look, just like you can with faux eyelashes, hair extensions, or even a pedicure. We as women dress up every part of our body, but somehow hair seems to be the last frontier of a “beauty transformation.” Silk or Lace seeks to innovate within the hair industry and introduce to all people the empowering world of hair!
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company?
Having started my company from a personal Instagram account @the_strandie, we have a large audience who have known and followed us from my hair loss story. It’s so inspiring now to get messages from other women who are inspired by this journey of sharing a story and founding a company from it to see others doing the same. As women with hair loss, there is such a stigma surrounding female alopecia and lack of innovation in the hair loss/hairpiece space. It’s encouraging to see us all put our heads together and execute on our ideas for change!
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?
In the beginning as a lean startup, I wore multiple hats — from website developer to hair stylist to customer service, it was all a team of one! I had linked our business phone to my personal phone and during a late hour, someone had called Silk or Lace. I picked up not thinking about it and said the usual, “Hello?”
The customer expects a professional introduction, was surprised that it was just a “regular person” on the phone. She had been confused about her order and I could tell the conversation wasn’t about to be a good one but was thrown off by my casual hello.
I apologized, explaining we are a small business and that I was picking up from my personal phone and didn’t see it as a customer number. We ended up chatting as “regular people” and quickly resolved the issue.
While I don’t pick up our business numbers with just a hello anymore, I did learn an important lesson which is to always humanize the customer experience. It’s funny when I think of it now when speaking to other customer service representatives that it really is just another human being on the other line. Problems can be solved much easier if we all see it that way and who knows, maybe we’ll make a better connection — no pun intended.
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?
My husband is my #1 supporter who has believed in me when there were times when literally no one else did. I had just gotten a promotion in my corporate job and with the company just announcing an M&A, there was lots of opportunity for rapid career growth on the table. I had thousands of dollars in debt from business school and on paper, it just didn’t make sense to quit my job and start a company in a field I really had no idea about other than being a passionate wig wearer. In addition, my husband and I both growing up with first generation immigrant parents, it was hard for them to understand my decision.
The 1:00 a.m. nights when I stared at my computer screen seeing zero orders come in or when I faced rejection from brands joining our marketplace, I started questioning my own decision. When I saw colleagues and friends achieve career milestones in their corporate jobs and was tempted to go back to the 9 to 5, it was my husband who reminded me of my mission and why Silk or Lace is so important to me.
Most importantly, when my hair loss was at its worst and I made excuses to not attend happy hours or work functions, my husband reminded me of what values mattered most. He empowered me to find a solution that helped me focus on being the best version of myself and the best entrepreneur I could be. I am incredibly thankful to have a partner who challenges, respects, and supports my dreams.
Ok, thank you for that. Let’s now jump to the primary focus of our interview. According to this EY report, only about 20 percent of funded companies have women founders. This reflects great historical progress, but it also shows that more work still has to be done to empower women to create companies. In your opinion and experience what is currently holding back women from founding companies?
There has certainly been great progress in terms of allocating more funds to women founders. The first step towards change is to explicitly create vehicles for change, such as specific grants and funds for women-owned companies. I think, however, while there is progress, the “job” won’t be done until a woman-founded company is normalized — until a talented female founder can be recognized as just, a talented founder.
Until then, I hope to see more diverse resources dedicated for female entrepreneurs in ways that are accessible for all women. Sometimes, women juggle multiple jobs such as caring for family and children and so the entrepreneurial path, or even fundraising path, can look different than the traditional route.
Furthermore, sometimes the way women see a business problem, communicate issues, and build teams may seem different than how men may see, community, and build them. I think if we had funding partners and mentors that encouraged differences as a way of building diversity of thought and innovation, it could be one building block in building a culture that grows more diverse entrepreneurs and founders.
Can you help articulate a few things that can be done as individuals, as a society, or by the government, to help overcome those obstacles?
I think there’s still a huge opportunity for strong women to uplift and support other strong women to help overcome these obstacles. There are times when as women, we fall into the scarcity mentality for success. Meaning, if one woman is successful, it means that other women will have less or can’t have that level of success. If a woman becomes “too successful,” it somehow hinders other women from rising up. While this may have been the case in the past, it’s not the case currently in most industries — and if it’s true, that’s a whole other obstacle!
In particular, entrepreneurship is the definition of open opportunity — there is no such thing as a limited number of spots for successful companies. Founding a company is about identifying an issue and being the right person to solve it in a way that benefits your target consumer. This leads itself to an infinite number of possibilities for female founders!
As a society, we would benefit from teaching others and our future generations of girls and women that an ambitious and powerful woman is to be celebrated, not feared. If we take it a step further and encourage ambitious and powerful women to lift each other up, we can see the world change for the better.
This might be intuitive to you as a woman founder but I think it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you share a few reasons why more women should become founders?
Women makeup over 50% of the world’s population and yet control 31.8 trillion dollars of worldwide spending. In the US, women control or influence 85% of consumer spending (https://girlpowermarketing.com/statistics-purchasing-power-women/).
Particularly in the 500 billion dollars beauty products industry, women make up 80–90% of the share of wallet and yet the overwhelming majority of beauty companies in the world are founded and/or led by men (https://www.forbes.com/sites/kimelsesser/2019/10/28/the-link-between-beauty-and-the-gender-gap/?sh=67b79fe05545) (https://www.glamour.com/story/women-ceos-in-the-beauty-industry).
As consumers and shoppers, women have so much first-hand experience into what an ideal product, service, or tech experience should be. We have ideas on how companies should treat people and how it can impact our environment and planet in ways that are currently untapped.
Women founders bring a new perspective to the table, which fosters creativity and innovation at all levels and that is why there should be more women founders.
What are the “myths” that you would like to dispel about being a founder? Can you explain what you mean?
When I first founded my company, I definitely believed in the myth that building your own company would lead to career and financial freedom. You could finally do what you want and be beholden to yourself! I wanted to “escape the 9 to 5” and instead, I got the “7 to 12.”
Being a founder gives you freedom to build your company, but it doesn’t mean you don’t have stakeholders. Every day, I am beholden to a new boss — my consumers and my staff. All the decisions I make as a leader are with even bigger responsibilities and servitude to what aligns with my company’s mission, which oftentimes has you work harder than you ever did.
Not every day is a walk in the park and contrary to what I thought when I first founded my company, I don’t jump out of bed every day feeling excited to do the job. However, I am driven by my “why” and “how” my business can help others and change an industry for the better.
Is everyone cut out to be a founder? In your opinion, which specific traits increase the likelihood that a person will be a successful founder and what type of person should perhaps seek a “regular job” as an employee? Can you explain what you mean?
If I can think of one characteristic that I see in founders and what I strive to build every day, it is grit. It is the ability to fall and get up over and over again in order to build something that doesn’t just work, but thrives.
However, what you want to be gritty for is also a choice. It may be a business and as a founder, you’re willing to make sacrifices as well as allot a copious amount of time and energy to build out your dream. But it could also be a choice to dedicate time and energy elsewhere to what matters to you, like your family, friends, and other hobbies. There is no wrong or right answer, as long as you’re fulfilled.
Founders are those who are able to build both grit and find something that matters enough to them to allocate all of their grit towards. That and with a good dose of luck, founders can perhaps create something magical!
Ok super. Here is the main question of our interview. Based on your opinion and experience, What are the “Five Things You Need To Thrive and Succeed as a Woman Founder?” (Please share a story or example for each.)
· A good story: Everyone likes a good story. One that tells others why you created what you did, but more importantly why it matters to you and why it matters to them. There’s always a story behind everything whether it be a granola bar, a mattress, coaching service, or healthcare device. If you’re able to tell that story and convince the other person of the magic that could happen with your company, you’re on the path to success.
· VIP: I call my group of closest and loyal customers, my VIP. I roll out the red carpet for them because not only were they my first purchasers and helped the company grow, they believe in the mission enough to provide feedback every step of the way. This didn’t happen overnight — a relationship with your customers requires constant attention and genuine communication. Our VIP are gold and I am constantly thankful for their support and help to spread our mission.
· Your people — a support group of mentors and friends who believe in you: Entrepreneurship can often be a lonely path. You’re up late at night and only have so much energy to devote to people and things outside of your business, especially in the early stages. The close-knit group of people who you trust to sit on the couch and not say a single word to for hours, those are your people who will help you get through tough times.
· BAB mentality: Founding a company is hard. If it were easy, more people would do it! Sometimes, you need a Bad A** B**** mentality to get the work done, make tough decisions, and have difficult conversations in the best interest of your company. If you fall, you find a way to get back up because that’s what BABs do.
· A good wig: I would be remised if I didn’t include this in the list! A good wig will give you perfect hair in minutes for that 9:00 a.m. Zoom call after you’ve been up all-night tinkering around with a prototype and you haven’t showered in three days. A good wig will cover up the root you’ve been growing out because you haven’t had time to go to the hairdresser in months (ok a year). And a good wig will give you lots of compliments from people who tell you that you always look so put together and somehow still rock that impossible sales presentation! In short, get yourself a good wig.
How have you used your success to make the world a better place?
There are more than 21 million women affected by alopecia and about 20 million more who are experiencing hair loss. With Silk or Lace, I’m creating a community where women can feel confident and empowered, not ashamed or embarrassed of their hair loss through access to hyper-realistic, high-quality hair wigs.
Until recently, luxury wigs were previously only readily available for celebrities or for cancer patients who had to pay 10k+ dollars for a realistic looking hairpiece, but with Silk or Lace’s inventory of curated brands, they are now accessible and affordable to everyone.
We are democratizing the world of wigs by making more high-quality pieces available for women by bringing transparency and more choice to the marketplace.
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 would love to see a movement where companies aren’t afraid to grow slow. Especially having graduated from business school, there’s sometimes this pressure to “go big or go home.” If you aren’t raising millions, or billions in capital, your business likely won’t succeed.
Growing slow, and even growing without any venture capital (VC) funding, seems like a novel idea these days. We entrepreneurs are afraid that if we don’t grow fast, others will either steal our idea or we’ll get crushed by the competition.
While there are multiple funding avenues that Silk or Lace is considering for the future, I think that growing organically and profitably is somewhat underrated. It provides a way to build your company sustainably and spend more time listening to your customer by relying on them to build your business. It enables founders to make more thoughtful decisions when it comes to hiring the right people at the right stages of the business.
Silk or Lace has been self-funded until this point and I think it was the best step for us, especially in an industry that is not yet well known or understood. It enabled us to really take time to listen to our customer needs because they pay our operational costs. We were and are laser focused on building a business model that can stand on its own two feet, from the beginning.
I think this is a business model, even for VC-funded companies, that is definitely growing. VCs are questioning path to profitability from a company’s early stages much more now compared to the dot com boom era. It enables founders to think more critically about the broader societal impact that their company has and will have in the future by growing in a way that can benefit all stakeholders including the company’s consumers and employees.
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.
I would love to meet Jen Rubio, founder of Away luggage someday! She is such an inspiring figure and is always pushing the envelope when finding new ways to connect with consumers. As an avid Away luggage consumer, who knew that suitcases could inspire? She truly is one of the best marketing minds of today as she has her unique way of creating stories and wanderlust for travel. We’d grab lunch in London…no wait SoHo…or really, anywhere — the world is our oyster!
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Thank you for these fantastic insights. We greatly appreciate the time you spent on this.