Photographed by Ray Flor
Are you into big, bold, bling? Keep reading.
I recently walked into the corporate offices of ViVi in Irvine, CA, and I was like a kid in a candy shop. This is the place for those who like a bauble – or two. It has mannequins set up with adorable jewelry combinations you can’t help but want to copy, and an entire showroom filled with twinkling trinkets.
I was warmly greeted by CEO Debbie Millar and her staff, and was excited to find that these amazing women who run the company are truly a team of simultaneously strong and kind women who work together to put out such a fun (and pretty!) product.
At Boardwalk Gemini, we are all about women working together for the greater (and more fashionable) good, so we can’t help but be fans.
What’s In a Name?
In 2014, Millar took over for founder Debra Lin as CEO, and turned Cookie Lee into what is now ViVi. When asked about the name ViVi, Millar explained that the acronym stands for “Vision, Inspiration, Value, and Independence.” She tasked her team with coming up with a new name for the company, one that “encompassed where [they] were going rather than where [they had been].”
For a company that is celebrating its 25th year with women who have been with the company for 15-plus years, there couldn’t be a better choice. One thing I learned about ViVi is that its goal is to embrace women and empower them to reach their full potential through selling a great product they can stand behind. Millar also explained that no formal advertising had ever been done for the company, so those who built it — quite literally did it brick by brick (or gemstone by gemstone, whichever you prefer) — as a labor of love with a direct-selling model.
It was for this reason she wanted a name that recognized and paid tribute to all of that hard work, and as Millar put it: “Share our vision by inspiring other women and helping them to inspire others, provide great value with our product, teach them to find value in themselves and with each other, and create financial independence.”
At ViVi, you have options. Some women sell ViVi to add a bit of extra cash to their income, and others do it to completely replace their chosen career path.
“The sky is truly the limit,” Millar said.
How You Can Get Involved
Whether you are in college and looking for flexible working opportunities, a stay-at-home mom who can’t work regular hours or just someone looking to put a little more away in the bank, ViVi is a great option for you. If you are interested in getting involved, you can do so through another ViVi stylist.
“Supporting female entrepreneurship is the foundation of [ViVi’s] business model,” Millar said. So, they encourage their stylists to help other women get involved.
Meeting other stylists can happen at an event, fundraiser, or home show. Joining the business is budget-friendly, with an initial fee of $59 to $179, depending on the package selected. ViVi does all the heavy-lifting for you by managing inventory, shipping product, and more.
While fundraising and events are popular, many women also enjoy holding a trunk show at their homes, and ViVi has the tools to help you set all of that up. If person-to-person selling isn’t your cup of tea, or selling out of your home sounds like more housework than you have time for, you can sell online. Each member gets their own personal website that they can share with their friends and family, allowing them to shop directly. If you’re more of a Social Media buff, you can sell through Facebook through a platform called Socialite. If you post something online, such as a bracelet or ring, your friends can click on the image, be rerouted to your website, and purchase the item directly from the site.
“My goal is to meet women where they are in their life,” Millar said. “We have a lot of women who have been doing this a long time, and their daughters are now joining the business, and they want to do business differently than how their moms have done business.”
Which Package Works for You?
When you are starting your business with ViVi, you have a lot of flexibility with how you want to get started via its two business-in-a-box packages. For $59, you will get business supplies, as well as a few pieces of jewelry used for the hostesses. For $179, you receive handpicked jewelry selected by VP of Creative, Shawn Forbes, as well as business supplies. This lets you have readily available products to show and share. After that, you are able to purchase products at a discount for samples and sales.
If there’s anything we’ve learned at Boardwalk Gemini, it’s that you have to spend a little money to make a little money, so we say go for the big box!
On Reinventing Cookie Lee
“When I acquired the company, I saw a lot of opportunity to modernize this platform,” Millar said.
Initially, Cookie Lee was set up so that the women would buy the product, take it home, and sell it. Having inventory is an expensive and prohibitive way for the direct selling platform, so Millar saw it fit to implement new ways for the company to get involved to help with inventory management.
“Immediately, we implemented the social media piece with the Facebook connection, because that was a great way for people to try their hand at doing online retail and really grow that piece,” Millar said.
Their second way of switching up the company was by offering a party plan option, which allowed for women who work full time to have more flexibility.
ViVi also picks, packs, and ships the product purchased by women who attend the parties, leaving you free of the arduous task of managing inventory and shipping out product. ViVi has also added branding materials to the company, such as ViVi packaging, updated materials, and overhauled catalogues.
“The whole vibe, look, and feel to modernize not only the platform but also the product line really gives us broad appeal to a lot of different women,” Millar said.
For those of who were die-hard Cookie Lee fans, don’t worry — ViVi hasn’t changed everything completely. The idea of multi-functional pieces remains alive in the company, allowing you to have several different looks from a single piece of jewelry.
“Cookie really pioneered the whole multi-function thing, and these have really been best-sellers for us; Shawn has just reimagined and updated them,” Millar said.
“Additionally, they haven’t abandoned their niche of fashion jewelry under $50, making it super affordable, especially with the pieces that can be worn several different ways.” And ladies- take my advice on this one: break everything down by price-per-wear, and you’ll see just how much bang you’re getting for your buck (and it’s a great way to justify the occasional splurge)!
Scarves and sunglasses have also been added to their product mix, and they sold out in the first three days of their launch, and run for $22 to $26.
Debbie Millar: Queen Bee of Philanthropy
One of our favorite things is when we get a chance to talk to someone who is not only amazing at business, but is also heavily involved in philanthropic endeavors. There’s just something that warms the heart about someone who works so hard and gives back so much. Millar is one of those people. As if her role as CEO of ViVi didn’t take up enough of her time, she is also involved with the Children’s Hospital of LA, CEO’s Against Cancer, and the American Cancer Society.
The best part? She’s able to tie in her philanthropic work into her work with ViVi. As a pediatric cancer survivor herself, Millar works closely with the American Cancer Society. Forbes also designed three support bracelets that ViVi sells, with $3 from each bracelet going to the American Cancer Society. The purple bracelet is representative of all cancers, the pink is for breast cancer, and the gold is for pediatric cancer. At 9 years old, Millar was diagnosed with cancer and treated at the Children’s Hospital of LA until she was 18, and remains close with many people who treated her.
Many of the people who treated her throughout her childhood still work there, and together they are launching March Matters with several other businesses. The logo is a butterfly, and ViVi has designed bracelets and necklaces with proceeds that go toward the fundraiser.
“I wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for them, so it’s something I’m very passionate about,” Millar said.
How ViVi Designs
Forbes joined Millar when she took the reins of the company, and is described as “the creative side.”
Coming into Vivi as a former fashion director of Macy’s West, Forbes brings innovative and practical designs to the table.
“Shawn is all things jewelry and accessories,” Millar said.
With extensive vision boards and meticulous planning, Forbes works with manufacturers to bring clients the most fashion-forward and on-trend pieces of the season.
Who is Debbie Millar?
“I’ve always wanted to be in the fashion industry, ever since I was a little girl,” Millar said.
As a real-estate professional 10 years ago, Millar began selling clothing through a direct-selling company to scratch her fashion itch. At that point, she began selling jewelry through another direct-selling company.
“As much as I loved selling real estate, this was just so much more rewarding,” Millar said, “especially once I started building with a team of other women and saw them achieving their dreams while I was mentoring them.”
Mentoring is what really drew Millar to the direct-selling platform and frankly, we should be glad. As a woman with a mind for business and a heart for charity, she is a great person guide others. When the opportunity presented itself to buy Cookie Lee, Millar had to jump at it.
“It’s still my favorite part of my job,” she said, “I love working one-on-one with women and helping them map out their dreams, working with them on their goals, and helping them develop that roadmap on how to get what they want out of their life.”
If you’re new to the direct-selling scene, Millar has been through it all, because she started out the exact same way. With highs like great sales and lows like lack of attendees at a trunk show, she knows how to handle it all because she’s been through it all.
What I Got Out of It
Vivi is more than a direct-selling company; it’s a team of women who foster their relationships in order to inspire one another, build one another up, and exceed their potentials. This is a company where the CEO cares about the people, and helps them build their business, all while getting to play with and sell a wide variety of on-trend, affordable fashion pieces.
This is a great option for women who are already working, are in school, or need flexibility with their working situation. Ultimately, the potential to earn is up to you, and the smarter you work, the more you make, and who can beat that?