WorkParty Fireside Chat: How Refinery29 Co-Founders Actually Met


Refinery29 started out of a 750 sq. ft apartment with a $5,000 dollar investment. Today it's a global empire. And at Saturday's Create & Cultivate LA, co-founder Piera Gelardi shared with a crowd of over a thousand women about the brand's roots and it's commitment to inclusiveness. 

In a WorkParty fireside chat with C&C founder Jaclyn Johnson, the two got down to brass tacks 

On Starting

“I started Refinery about 13 years ago with three co-founders.” Though Piera studied art, she knew she didn’t want a solitary career. “I grew up in a family business. There were always people around. So I knew I wanted to start looking at careers that would bring the artistic side of me out, but that would also bring out my entrepreneurial spirit and love of collaboration.”

She got an internship at a publication called City Magazine. “It was a great experience because it was very small and hands-on. I learned about the design side, about styling, and I also learned a lot from my boss, the executive editor, Christene Barberich, who is also my co-founder at Refinery.”

“I worked there for a couple of years but I started to feel fatigued by the magazine cycle. I wanted to start something on my own.” When she and her other two co-founders, her then-boyfriend, now husband, Philippe von Borries and Justin Stefano, needed an editor, she told the two to call up Christene and ask if the brilliant editor knew anyone. Christene surprised Piera by her desire to get involved in the idea.

“She called me up and said, ‘I think this is an amazing idea, I want to get involved, but I can only get involved is you’re actually committed,” Piera explained, crediting Christene as the person who really convinced her to take the jump.  “That was the moment I decided I was really going to commit myself to it.”

On Cultivating the Career of Her Dreams

“Some people have a long-term vision of where they want to be and they make the plan.” Piera explained. “But I’ve been someone who’s needed to try something and respond to it. Really give whatever I try I full shot.”

“Bringing joy, satisfaction, and leaning into your own strengths at work is so necessary,”

“I think bringing joy, satisfaction, and leaning into your own strengths at work is so necessary,” the co-founder shared.

On the Birth of 29Rooms

Piera knew she wanted to do something big for the ten-year anniversary of the brand.

#WorkParty. Right?! 

“We wanted to celebrate ten years as a brand. We wanted to honor our roots and style. But also celebrate all the different topics that Refinery now covers. We wanted to create an experience that would disrupt fashion week by being inclusive.”

29Rooms Is Refinery29's funhouse Of Style, Culture, And Technology. Fans get to experience Refinery29’s imaginative spirit IRL through an interactive funhouse of style, culture, & technology, brought to life by a group of global artists and visionaries across mediums.

Bringing fashion, culture, and style to the people has been their goal from the get-go.  

“Fashion is very exclusive, very didactic, and designed to make you feel bad about yourself and make you feel insecure,” shared Piera. “We wanted to create a space that celebrated self-expression and individuality. In the beginning we didn’t feel like part of the fashion world, but we loved what style represented as a form of expression. We’re always looking at what’s missing and how we can better serve our audience. Always looking at who we can create space for.”

Elevating different voices is built into the R29 ethos. ‘It’s always been important to listen to our audience and listen to our team. The Refinery team is our audience.”