Written by Caroline Brown ’10
Odds are you have visited a wedding website or registry on Zola. Did you know Alexandra Fortune ‘10 was most likely behind the design? When Zola launched their wedding planning platform, she designed almost all of the wedding websites.
As the 44th employee of a now nearly 200-person company, Fortune has been on the front line of its growth. Since she started, Zola has added a whole suite of wedding planning tools, opened offices in Charlottesville and Canada, gone through Series D fundraising, and launched an invitations and paper business.
“My job description has practically rewritten itself every year,” she said. “I feel really lucky to have joined when I did and to have had the opportunity to grow with the company. Most people I talked to hadn’t heard of Zola when I started, so it’s been exciting to see how those responses shift over the years into people who have actually used it.”
It was notably special the first time she received a save the date from her line in the mail. “Even though I had seen these a million times, it was still so exciting to think, ‘I made that!’ and now someone is using it for their wedding.”
When they launched their paper invitation business in 2018, she and only one other designer created over 150 designs. “It’s fascinating to be a part of building platforms like that from the ground up. I love that I get to problem solve without working in a spreadsheet all day.”
At the start of this year, she was named Art Director, a big milestone that reflects her dedication, creativity, and leadership. As Art Director, Fortune plans to continue making changes. “The company has evolved a lot, and I think there’s a lot of room for opportunity for the visual brand to evolve as well, so it’s exciting and daunting to have that much opportunity.”
The years she spent on GDS’s athletic teams helped her prepare for her current role. “I feel cheesy saying this, but I learned a lot about leadership through playing sports at GDS. Understanding that being a good leader isn’t necessarily about being the best or having all the answers has allowed me to be a better manager and mentor.”
Fortune studied journalism at UNC. After graduating in 2014, she moved to New York City to work for Rent the Runway having successfully interned with them the summer before. While at RTR, she learned what a creative career path could look like and formed a group of mentors.
The greatest lesson Fortune took with her from her time at GDS is that it’s OK to try things and fail. “GDS did a great job of creating a supportive, safe environment in which the focus was on the learning and growth rather than achieving a perfect outcome.”
More than anything, the people made her time as a Bengal so memorable. “Our grade had a lot of ‘lifers’, and it was both a nightmare and a delight to share in the awkwardness of adolescence/early adulthood with the same group of people. I think it’s really rare and special that, to this day, many of my closest friends are classmates I met at age 5 at GDS. Somebody grab me a tissue.”