The Inspirational Woman Project: Bea and Leah Koch

Stack of books
Stack of books

The Inspirational Woman Project believes that every woman is inspirational. It's our mission to tell their stories.

Bea and Leah Koch have always loved romance novels. The sisters immediately fell in love with the incredible community of smart, funny, and engaged readers. They also immediately noticed the strong stigma of judgement attached with the genre. Yet, romance is the best selling genre in North America according to the Romance Writer's of America, making $1.08 billion in revenue in 2013.

Last year the Koch sisters launched a Kickstarter to fund the first ever romance bookstore in the United States. As of November 19, 2015, they raised just over $91,000 to make 'The Ripped Bodice' a reality.

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Why did you choose to create The Ripped Bodice?

{Leah} We saw a very serious hole and felt we could fill it. We were excited to have a business that catered to women in a new way. We love books. If it wasn't romance only, we still love books.

What do you hope to accomplish or change in the world with it?

{Bea} We want to eradicate the idea that romance is "less than" other literary genres. People quantify when they talk about romance books by saying, "But it's a good romance." This is a stereotype about the genre that isn't true and isn't based on the current reality of what romance is. It's based on a historical perspective of the romance genre that isn't relevant anymore and we want to do away with it.

In the traditional arc of the hero's journey, there is a call to adventure. What was your call to adventure and what made you answer it?

{Leah} Two years ago Bea was visiting me in Los Angeles while she was finishing grad school in NYC. I was driving her to the airport to leave and we started talking about how to create a sustainable life for ourselves that would allow us to pursue different interests, make money, have families, and work together. We shared this instantaneous moment that we both decided we should open a store. We missed the exit for LAX and drove around four times talking about the ideas for this store. We didn't know what we'd sell. We threw out ideas for boutiques full of gifts and clothes. But then our love of books and romance novels led us to settle on a bookstore. Bea got out of the car to board her plane, and four months later she moved to Los Angeles.

{Bea} I remember going through security and immediately getting on the phone with my dad to tell him about the life changing idea that Leah and I had just realized. I was walking up and down the hallways of LAX and kept bumping into people because I was so excited. People throughout the airport were yelling at me. I knocked into one woman and then a second woman who said, "Why don't you just sit down while having this conversation?" I was so excited that my dad could barely understand me.

{Leah} We knew we had a great idea, but the next question was how to pay for it. We spent that summer talking about funding possibilities. In the end, crowdfunding was really the only option and we decided to move forward with it. We had to take a leap of faith that the community would respond to this. If it hadn't worked, I guess we could have stopped then. The huge positive response in donations and excitement cemented it for us.

What has been challenging during the process of opening The Ripped Bodice?

{Bea} It's very hard to be the only people doing something. There is always someone doing what you're trying to do. We're the only people doing Romance Bookstore in the United States. Convincing people that it's worthwhile to have a bookstore dedicated completely to romance has been a big challenge for us.

What is your biggest strength?

{Leah} We share the qualities of determination and stubbornness, both of which are quite necessary for what we're trying to do. Our society can see those gifts in women as bad, but we choose to see them as good things. We're not bossy, we're the bosses.

When do you feel most powerful?

{Bea} When I have a plan. I'm a planner. I like to know what I'm doing and where I'm going in order to feel fully capable of doing it. When I'm off floating in the ethers it's not good. I like to have a plan and know what's happening.

Why are you inspirational?

{Leah} In terms of business mentors, there is this "world domination" mentality. Which is great if you want that, but we're trying to build sustainable life and business for ourselves. We're not interested in global domination. We are more interested in inspiring the girls in our neighborhood that attend school around here and come in to look at books after school. We are inspirational because we're showing that owning a small business is attainable even at a young age and even as a woman.

What gets you out of bed every morning?

{Bea} Opening this store and realizing our dream.

What's your favorite thing about being a woman?

{Leah} Being a sister. The number one question we receive is, "What advice would you give to other business owners?" My answer is always, "Have your sister as your business co-owner." It makes everything so much better. People underestimate the emotional strain of opening business. To have somebody that can check in on your emotional state aside from the daily tasks such as, "Did you call so and so?" or "Did you place that order?" It's good to have the additional support of, "How are you feeling today and what's stressing you out?" Those things are easier to talk about with my sister.

Be sure to visit The Ripped Bodice at 3806 Main St. Culver City, California. Their doors are open as of Saturday, February 27, 2016!

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