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Former Gilt Groupe Trio Addresses Needs of Changing Trends in Modern Marriages

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This past June the Supreme Court ruled to overturn a key section of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), meaning that legally married same-sex couples are now guaranteed the same federal protections and benefits as heterosexual couples. On Monday, Oct. 21, New Jersey became the latest state to permit same-sex couples to marry by law.

Now 14 states legally recognize gay marriage, including California (June 28, 2013), Connecticut (Nov. 12, 2008), Iowa (April 24, 2009), Massachusetts (May 17, 2004), New Jersey (Oct. 21, 2013), Delaware (July 1, 2013), Minnesota (Aug. 1, 2013), New Hampshire (Jan. 1, 2010), New York (July 24, 2011), Rhode Island (Aug. 1, 2013), Vermont (Sept. 1, 2009), Maine (Dec. 29, 2012), Maryland (Jan. 1, 2013) and Washington (Dec. 9, 2012), in addition to Washington, D.C. (March 10, 2012). According to the Census Bureau, there has been an 80.4-percent growth in same-sex-couple households in the U.S. from 2000 to 2010. As our legal system evolves to reflect a social landscape that grows in acceptance, the number of same-sex weddings continues to increase.

The celebration of progress and newly permitted unions are that much more meaningful because of the battles fought to win the right to marriage for same-sex couples. Couples are therefore increasingly focused on personalizing their weddings and surrounding activities to reflect this milestone. According to a survey from The Knot and The Advocate, 45 percent of same-sex couples write their own vows. However, many find it difficult to figure out how to personalize other existing wedding traditions, including everything from the wedding website to the décor, to suit their needs.

Given the increase of same-sex unions and the changing lifestyles of today's modern couples, a shift is required in traditional definitions of marriages as well as wedding traditions such as gift registries. With origins in the 1920s, wedding registries have long represented the needs of young, heterosexual couples whose marriage would lead to their first home together. Today's couples rarely fit this definition and often yearn for gifts and experiences that are better suited to their particular lifestyles, style preferences and modern needs.

Will Chiong, recently engaged to Christopher Sweigard, remarks, "Given that we live in New York City and aren't moving into a big house immediately following the wedding ruled out any big furniture purchases or complete china cupboards. Most other stores seem to present you with a checklist of all the items that you're 'supposed' to have on a traditional wedding registry and let you pick from the limited selection of that particular item they carry in the store."

Then there are the couples who already live together. They are not looking to register for their third set of flatware or a replacement blender. Instead, they crave a way to break out of the 1920s-defined-wedding-registry box and meaningfully express their special bond. The preconceived notion of the marriage establishment and the wedding registry simply does not cut it anymore. This "checklist" notion does not easily enable a unique reflection of each couple's true personality.

Chiong continues, "We hadn't really even considered any of the department store registries; none of them really felt like they represented our style." Will and Christopher instead registered on Zola, a cutting-edge wedding registry website launched this October. Founded by Kevin Ryan, Shan-Lyn Ma and Nobu Nakaguchi, who previously worked together at Gilt Groupe, Zola allows its users to create a more modern registry online. The trio capitalized on the construction of a more fluid system for creating dream wedding registries with multiple opportunities for personalizing and specializing to every couple's tastes.

"We built Zola with today's couples in mind. There are a lot of offline behaviors that aren't being solved online," commented Zola's CEO, Ma. "With our experience in e-commerce, design and technology, we were able to bring a lot of new features online."

The site encourages couples to register for products, experiences and cash funds with a single checkout. All tastes are covered under the site's extensive selection of merchandise, ranging from the traditional Area bedding and Kitchen Aid mixers to the modern Iacoli & McAllister chandeliers and Soda Stream starter kits. For those worried about including desired furnishings from other retailers, Zola built in a feature that permits couples to add any unoffered item to their registry.

"What we immediately recognized and loved about Zola is that it is organized and customized entirely by the couple, so it can truly reflect their tastes," another couple using Zola said. The site is committed to absolute creative expression. Upon signing up, couples can choose a cover photo and a profile picture and write brief notes about their story and registry choices.

Zola also allows couples to consider their friends' finances. Couples can mark more expensive items for "Group Gifting." If a dozen friends pitch in for the perfect gift, it becomes financially more reasonable for each, and it is given with that much more love and significance.

Chiong found Zola's comprehensiveness to be most attractive in his search for the perfect wedding registry company, remarking, "Features like allowing a group of friends to go in on a product purchase, or being able to pin items to your registry from any other website, really allowed us to think about a broader class of products and experiences than we found on traditional store registries." Chiong and his partner included on their list a dream dinner at Noma in Cophenhagen, jet ski rentals in Hawaii and a beer brewing class Brooklyn.

Zola is poised for success in the wedding registry space because they are filling a niche that will continue to grow as more couples seek better solutions to existing platforms. Moreover, we can be certain that the trio leading the company will capitalize on competitive advantages, including their expertise in the start-up world and their established comfort working together. Of course, it's also invaluable to have Kevin Ryan, of the most influential Internet entrepreneurs in the United States, on your management team.

Mazel Tov, Zola!