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Yossi Nasser: “Comfort as guiding light”

Anything that can be substituted with an online path to purchase experience is pretty much redundant in brick and mortar. In store events, members only deals and high quality, value oriented grocery clearly cannot be substituted. Brand equity has also become a big factor to opening stores before the onset of the pandemic. Someone, for […]

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Anything that can be substituted with an online path to purchase experience is pretty much redundant in brick and mortar. In store events, members only deals and high quality, value oriented grocery clearly cannot be substituted. Brand equity has also become a big factor to opening stores before the onset of the pandemic. Someone, for example, walking the streets of Soho and discovers a new brand there, will remember that phenomenon, almost similar to how they discover the visual of that brand on Instagram or other social media platforms. The difference is that it’s easy to measure conversion on digital, but less so in the first example. I do think that retail will remain important in the future to build brand equity, even if it takes on new formats.


As part of our series about the future of retail, I had the pleasure of interviewing Yossi Nasser, Principal and CEO of Gelmart International, a 70 year old, family owned business that is a leading manufacturer of women’s intimates and loungewear. His father, Jack was one of the three founders of the company. Yossi moved to NYC and joined Gelmart in 2009, after he lived in London working as a portfolio manager for a hedge fund. Since he has been at the helm, Gelmart has gone through a significant turnaround, generating revenue growth of double digit multiples, that has enabled the company to become the largest private label player in the industry, to retail partners such as Target and Walmart. His focus was hiring a strong leadership team, as well as building a robust supply chain delivering to customer’s private brand needs. More recently, Yossi has been focusing on growing the next frontier of the company through their investment arm, FullStride.After successfully incubating and launching LIVELY, Yossi and his team are working constantly on new brand opportunities that can leverage the supply chain benefits that Gelmart delivers, for new DTC opportunities. Yossi likes to pride himself as an innovator, and someone who is not afraid to take risks to challenge the status quo.


Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn a bit more about you. Can you tell us a story about what brought you to this specific career path?

Gelmart was started almost 70 years ago by my father and his two brothers in the Philippines. I never really foresaw myself being involved in the business until later on in my career. I was working as a hedge fund trader in London, in 2007 and 2008. During that time, the market had one of its best performing years, and obviously one of its worst. I also met my wife, and decided that I couldn’t stake my career on something that I felt didn’t provide much tangible and long term value to me and society in general. The family business went through enormous change, and was quite distressed at that time. I saw a good opportunity to turn the business around by hiring the right people, and we succeeded.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

So much of our achievements over the past 10 years were dependent on factors that went against the grain of what is generally known as “good business practice” in our industry.. We’ve had several examples of this, such as owning a factory and expand the private label business. We accomplished both, and they have been key to our success. We also launched and incubated a DTC brand that made use of our supply chain expertise; not something you typically see from a manufacturer or importer. One of the more interesting experiences I went through was launching a bra at Walmart that retailed for under 4 dollars. The amount of work, energy and creative ideas that I learnt in order to hit that price point has been instrumental in learning about the value chain. Taking risks is a big part of being entrepreneurial, and there were certainly some failures and learnings along the way. But the most interesting part to me over the course of my tenure as CEO of Gelmart is that making decisions based on where you see the world in 5- 10 years from now, pay off more than making decisions based on what has worked in the past. And we put a lot of efforts into really trying to understand what that vision looks like.

Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or takeaway you learned from that?

I am quite terrible at choosing names for brands, and you can ask many in my organization of some of the ideas I’ve tried to drum up that were abysmal. To save face, I would rather not mention some of the names. However, I quickly realized that empowering specialists and professionals in your organization is a key ingredient to success versus making those decisions for them.

Are you working on any new exciting projects now? How do you think that might help people?

We are. We are about to launch two more incubated DTC brands with exciting founders we’ve partnered with, and are also working on a very impactful product launch in the sustainability field. Details will be coming out in the following months, but we are very excited about this project, as well as the brands we are launching. All three projects will help the end consumer find affordable solutions to causes they care about and feeling comfort without sacrificing style.

Which tips would you recommend to your colleagues in your industry to help them to thrive and not “burn out”?

Delegate, and in many circumstances, it’s better to hire someone to make certain decisions for you or perform certain functions. It’s so crucial to have downtime, not only so that you can focus on other things important in your life that’s not work related, but to allow the time to really think strategically about the business, and whether the path it’s headed is the right one. I’ve learnt, from my stepfather, that there’s a big difference in being effective and efficient.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person to whom you are grateful, who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?

My wife, Jennifer. She has helped in countless ways, but most importantly, with mindset. However, at work, I would definitely say our head of Product, Eve Bastug. She was one of my first hires, and without question, one of our best. Her passion for her craft is contagious, and that really taught and guided me throughout my career. She also has a saying that’s always stuck with me, “things happen as they’re meant to be”.

How have you used your success to bring goodness to the world?

I feel like we did by launching an intimates brand that inspires women to be confident on who they are, as well as many of things that we are embarking on in the future. Social impact is a key value that inspires us, and we are working on some things that will again, be industry disrupting.

Ok super. Now let’s jump to the main questions of our interview. The Pandemic has changed many aspects of all of our lives. One of them is the fact that so many of us have gotten used to shopping almost exclusively online. Can you share five examples of different ideas that large retail outlets are implementing to adapt to the new realities created by the Pandemic?

  • Comfort as guiding light: comfort acts as a central characteristic for product in stores.
  • Omni Channel thinking: omni channel product launches necessary
  • Mass expansion: DTC and other brands have not been in mass, will now be there.
  • Heath and wellness prioritized; health is wealth for today’s consumer
  • Social media engagement

In your opinion, will retail stores or malls continue to exist? How would you articulate the role of physical retail spaces at a time when online commerce platforms like Amazon Prime or Instacart can deliver the same day or the next day?

There is no doubt that COVID-19 has accelerated the digital experience, and online shopping. But, despite the acceleration, retail is not dead. It is changed and the store of yesterday will not be store of tomorrow, but consumers are social, crave physical experiences, seeing and touching product, and community so there will still be a need for physical retail.

The so-called “Retail Apocalypse” has been going on for about a decade. While many retailers are struggling, some retailers, like Lululemon, Kroger, and Costco are quite profitable. Can you share a few lessons that other retailers can learn from the success of profitable retailers?

Anything that can be substituted with an online path to purchase experience is pretty much redundant in brick and mortar. In store events, members only deals and high quality, value oriented grocery clearly cannot be substituted. Brand equity has also become a big factor to opening stores before the onset of the pandemic. Someone, for example, walking the streets of Soho and discovers a new brand there, will remember that phenomenon, almost similar to how they discover the visual of that brand on Instagram or other social media platforms. The difference is that it’s easy to measure conversion on digital, but less so in the first example. I do think that retail will remain important in the future to build brand equity, even if it takes on new formats.

Amazon is going to exert pressure on all of retail for the foreseeable future. New Direct-To-Consumer companies based in China are emerging that offer prices that are much cheaper than US and European brands. What would you advise to retail companies and e-commerce companies, for them to be successful in the face of such strong competition?

Focus on exclusivity, relevance, and differentiation; whether that’s product, experience or even creating a brand movement. Customer driven virality will always be cheaper and stickier than paid, and finding paths to create that is key, even though at the onset, it might be thought of as challenging.

Thank you for all of that. We are nearly done. Here is our final ‘meaty’ question. You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Empathy. The pandemic, George Floyd protests and upcoming elections have created sentiments of injustice, economic frustration and anxiety. With the divisions within the country, and many parts of the world, I feel like humanity has lost a key tenant, and that is being empathetic to one another, to older and younger, and to different facets of society. Empathy, at least in my opinion, will help bridge a lot of our differences, and brands I feel like need to do a better job on that. I think it’s extremely crucial, as a company, to have values and virtues that you stand by. But I also feel that many cross that threshold, and become more alienating. We live in an emotionally distressed world right now, and similar to people, when you help others, you emotionally help yourself too. We need more of that.

How can our readers further follow your work?

Our company website provides updates on our doings, as well as what we try to do to help communities.

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!


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