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Why the CEO of Wild Rye Started Women Led Wednesday

When Cassie Abel couldn't find a holiday shopping initiative that fit her own brand, a new movement was born

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Cassie Abel knew the odds she was up against when she co-founded Wild Rye, a mountain bike and ski apparel brand, five years ago. The numbers were pretty clear—female entrepreneurs get half the level of business loans as their male counterparts, and receive a mere 2.7 percent of all venture capital funding. But it didn’t really cross her mind that she could do something about it until she was researching how to promote Wild Rye during the holiday season. Black Friday was too focused on consumption; Cyber Monday felt too big and commercial; Small Business Saturday felt too local and brick-and-mortar centric. So, she started Googling women’s-specific promotions. 

“I did a lot of digging, there was nothing,” she said. “It was mind blowing. I figured it’s gotta exist, I can’t be the only person with this idea.” 

One thing she did find through her research is that Small Business Saturday was started by American Express as a way to jumpstart local economies following the 2008 recession. “I thought if they could start a national movement, I could too.”

She launched Women Led Wednesday shortly after, and started promoting it on social media through a hashtag, then its own account, and a website that now hosts a directory of some 500 women-identifying owned businesses across two dozen industries like outdoor, wellness, fashion and bike (although the latter only represents a handful of companies, primarily apparel brands like Wild Rye, Shredly and Machines For Freedom). New brands can self-register to the directory, and Abel just asks them to promote #WomenLedWednesday on social media leading up to and on the actual day, which falls on November 24 this year. 

More women in the boardroom means more women on staff. (Photo: Katie Lozancich )

It’s a movement that has the potential to take on an even larger presence, particularly as consumers look to spend their money more thoughtfully in the wake of pandemic-induced supply issues and product shortages. In its fourth year, Abel feels Women Led Wednesday is more important than ever, considering the estimated 2 million women who have left the workforce over the past 18 months as COVID has kept kids out of school and rocked the stability of home life for families around the world.   

“The pandemic has been a huge setback for women. Now more than ever it’s extremely important to elevate the women who are in leadership more because they’re more likely to hire women back into the workforce,” she said. 

Abel has seen that play out through her own business as Wild Rye has organically grown, adding new pieces to the line, which focuses on using sustainable fabrics and manufacturing processes, size inclusivity and creating a welcoming space for riders of all backgrounds and skill levels. 

“We have hired five people last year, all women, not because of venture funding, not because of bank loans, it’s all because of our revenue growth. People are making a point to shop Wild Rye as opposed to a brand that’s owned by a conglomerate, or a man or whatever.”

Wild Rye’s foundation was built on empowering women, on and off the bike. (Photo: Emily Sierra )

And though Women Led Wednesday is still relatively small compared to those other national shopping holidays, Abel—who runs WLW on the side while juggling her CEO duties for Wild Rye—sees a big, bright future ahead. She envisions hiring a project manager who’s dedicated to the cause year-round, and promoting WLW on social media outside of just the holiday shopping season, like starting a second initiative around International Women’s Day in March. 

“I think this could be the equivalent of Small Business Saturday. If we can mirror that, we’ve got huge potential for what’s possible,” she said.  

Abel would like bolster the directory across all industries to help elevate female leadership, but particularly in the bike industry, which is so underrepresented it doesn’t even warrant its own category in the directory. New female-led brands can head over to womenledwednesday.com to add their companies to the directory, and shoppers can search through the directory found on the same site to find new companies to support with their own dollars. 

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