A Look Inside the Start of Darling: A Female-Led Brand

Ever wonder how Darling came to be? Sarah Dubbeldam, Darling’s CEO and Editor-in-Chief, shares what it’s really like to be a female entrepreneur and how Darling came to be what it is today.

From Sarah:

Darling came about during a hard time for me. I was going through anxiety, depression, a difficult breakup, and I realized that as a woman I had nowhere to go for advice on how to be healthy. Yes, there were bazillions of websites out there, but I didn’t want to Google, “How to get over a break-up.” I wanted a safe place—something like a friend or a mentor I could trust.

I saw so much shallow advice out there; tips that just put a Band-Aid on things but didn’t really solve the problem. I found myself wanting to create a media platform to host real discussions about what’s really going on, and build women’s self-esteem from the inside out.

I felt typical media only provided a slow and painful brain-washing; showing us our “flaws” over and over again until all we thought about upon waking up every morning was the multitude of things about ourselves we should seek to alter.

I had no idea how to start a magazine. I was a Studio Art major and was intimidated by the stats on how many start-ups fail within their first year. Regardless, I thought: I will never know unless I try. So, my friend Kelli and I wrote the mission statement of Darling. That’s all we had, but we put it out there on Kickstarter in 2012. We recorded a bunch of women reading our mission statement, and were instantly blown away by the positive feedback—our campaign was successful in a few days! This confirmed for us that there was a need to redefine what feminism looked like for modern women. Once we had our meager $19,500 in the bank account, we were like, uh oh…how do we do this? We pulled together a group of women and men who contributed to the first issue for free. After our first issue, people started asking about the second. At that point, we were still a very small business and didn’t know if we’d be able to keep it alive. It was very bootstrap, very slow and very scary!

We had to pull a lot of favors to make that second edition happen. By Issue No. 3 we got picked up by Anthropologie, and that was a huge milestone for us. From there, we SLOWLY, and I mean, slowly, built the business. From seeking private investment to figuring out the structure of our company, to setting up online storage of images and files, to e-mails accounts, payroll, hiring, setting department goals, ad sales, business development, PR, photography, editorial and so on…we grew into a nice little humming business within two years. (Sounds simple, right? Nope! Haha!) If I could, I’d write 5 pages about growing a business from the ground up.

But all I can say is that it really is brick by brick, and you have to do it with people you love and trust.

(Shout out to my incredible team who are made up of my most favorite humans!) We’ve had a lot of people in and out of seasons of Darling, but it has all been beautiful—a steady contribution of people committed to helping women.

I’ve always been told by my business mentors to “not layer on too many things to your company too early,” which means that you want to focus on what’s really working before you build out other departments. So, I took that advice and we built out the magazine to be very strong as a center-point for the brand. It is now what sets us apart from every other brand—we have a real, tangible product, but we also have a strong digital platform as well. We built those two pillars in tandem, and then once the magazine was circulated to over 300 stores in the U.S. plus some abroad, we decided to layer on another department: Events! We started doing “Darling Dinners” and retreats—the demand became high for people to have a “tangible” experience with the brand, and these “real time” moments helped build out our social media to a strong place. So, we’ve systematically been layering on aspects of Darling upon one another and growing our reach and offering. We now work with powerful brands across all these pillars and it’s been a blast!

Of course though, the hardest and most involved step of growth we saved for last: Video.

I believe you have to do it right. It has to be smart, it has to be original, it has to be beautiful, and now that we are thriving as a brand, we are ready for this next step, Darling Studios.

Many of you have seen that we are now engaging in another crowd funding campaign on IndieGoGo, but this time, it’s for equity in the company. We are one of the first female-centered brands (with a female CEO too) to do this type of fundraising. Yes, we are giving away Darling to the people! 

My team and myself have worked so hard to carefully and systematically build a strong, loving brand and we realize that we wouldn’t be who we are without our fans. I wanted them to be a part of our growth—the people that have supported us over the years, I wanted to give them something to say thank you—and now I can! As they buy shares, and the company grows, so does their investment, so does their impact on the world. We all feel like we want to contribute to something “good,” and so I hope that other women take this route and involve one another in the monetary support that can be so hard to attain elsewhere, due to the sad (but true) stats about the difficulty of female-run companies to attain traditional capital.

I hope people will join us—I hope that as we create new video content (hopefully for mega binge watching) that they know their contribution counted in creating media that matters for women, media that changes their life for the better. Click here to join the #DarlingMovement and invest in Darling Studios!

— Sarah Dubbeldam, CEO & Editor-in-Chief

Photos of Sarah by Sisilia Piring for Estee Lauder

This post is brought to you by the Darling Team! To learn more about who we are, please visit our Meet Our Team page.

  • Noel Daganta May 2, 2018

    Great article and images. Keep up the good work.:)

  • Amanda June 14, 2017

    You all are inspirational! I contributed to your Kickstarter years ago and you allowed me to contribute to your first publication. That meant so much to me! Thank you for letting me be involved. I’m grateful for your product and message! xo

  • You guys are one of my favourite magazines and blogs, always creating amazing, thoughtful content. Thank you for everything!

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