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TheWMarketplace wants to take on Amazon with its new e-commerce site for women-led businesses

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Susan Gates (left) and Kate Isler, co-founders of TheWMarketplace. (TheWMarketplace Photo)

Back in the spring, Seattle’s Kate Isler and Susan Gates were surveying COVID-19’s economic wreckage. They saw reports of women suffering worse effects than men — Gates herself was recently laid off — and wanted to do something tangible to help.

Four months after their initial conversations, the pair on Tuesday launched TheWMarketplace, a platform promoting businesses that are women owned or with significant female leadership and women-friendly business practices.

“We plan to take Amazon on,” said Isler, who is CEO. “There is a hunger for alternatives.”

The site already has 120 vendors and 600 products. It includes retail sales and professional services, as well as nonprofit organizations and a blog about women’s economic issues, creating more of a sense of community than a platform focused strictly on shopping.

Business listings also include “badges” that further indicate if they are Black or women of color proprietors, or environmentally friendly. The startup expects to add additional badges for other distinctions in response to feedback from shoppers. The vendors include businesses nationwide.

“We don’t want to start small and be really localized,” Isler said. “We think women are looking broader.”

Companies featured on the site fill out an assessment form to vouch for their women-led status. But TheWMarkeplace founders wanted to offer a wider range of vendors, and the reality is that many female-owned companies are smaller.

So the startup is working with an organization called Gender Fair that rates companies on their gender equality, which includes support of female leadership, progressive employee policies, gender positive advertising, transparency in employment diversity, and engagement in social responsibility. Companies that make the mark are also eligible to sell on the site.

In addition to products, TheWMarketplace also features women-led businesses providing professional services. (TheWMarketplace Image)

Retail sellers on the site pay $40 annually, plus an 8% commission on orders, a 3% payment processing fee and shipping. Professional service providers pay an annual fee, ranging from $99 to $1,500 with the higher rates including advertising. Nonprofits are included on the site for free.

Isler characterized the rates as cheaper than Amazon and slightly higher than Etsy.

Seattle is home to another platform called Intentionalist that promotes brick-and-mortar businesses and restaurants nationwide that are owned by women, people of color, LGBTQ people, military veterans, disabled people or some combination of traits. Laura Clise launched the site three years ago. Vendors are listed for free.

TheWMarketplace has seven employees. The bootstrapped startup set a goal of completing 5,000 transactions by the end of the year.

Gates, who is chief marketing officer, has a background in international commerce. She previously worked as a national account executive for the Specialty Coffee Association.

Isler was CEO of Daysaver, a calendar software startup, for three years. Before that role, she was at Microsoft for more than a decade, working in leadership to promote Windows in markets worldwide. She is also active in groups that promote women and girls’ empowerment, co-founding Be Bold Now, a group that organizes events for International Women’s Day celebrations in Seattle, and is a board director for Girl Rising, a program supporting girls’ education globally.

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