Meet the Gay Power Duo Behind Fab.com

4.15.2013

By Aaron Hicklin

They created the fastest growing e-commerce site in the world, but can Jason Goldberg and Bradford Shelhammer stay ahead of the game?

Bradford Shelhammer's shoe closetShelhammer's shoe closet

The anecdote is designed to illuminate the Fab ethos that Shellhammer has been so instrumental in creating, about the way good companies thrive on diversity. But it’s also a reflection of the turmoil Shellhammer experienced himself as a child, both as an adolescent struggling with his sexuality and as the child who bore the brunt of his father’s drug abuse. During high school, it was not unusual for him to find needles under his bed or to witness his father shooting up. At one point, he discovered his beloved record collection had been hawked for drug money. Although his father eventually got sober, he died shortly thereafter, of a rare form of cancer, when Shellhammer was a sophomore at FIT in New York. “I hate to say this, but him dying saved my mother’s life, and I think on some level it probably saved mine,” he says. “It allowed my mother to move on and find somebody who actually takes care of her.”

The fact that Shellhammer felt confident telling this story -- at its core a tale of triumph over adversity -- also seems indicative of the way that he and Goldberg run their company. Much like their glass-walled offices, there’s a transparency to the way they lead that is both deeply personal and strategic. If you have no secrets, there will be no surprises.

On March 30, Shellhammer married his partner of four years, Georgi Balinov, at New York’s Russian Tea Room, a soufflé of golden firebirds and red banquettes. He describes his nuptials as his “running-away-to-the-circus fantasy.” They were wed by comedian Sandra Bernhard; French porn star François Sagat was an honored guest; Marcella Detroit performed “Stay,” her hit song with Shakespears Sister and a touchstone for Shellhammer. Later, the grooms danced to Andy Bell of Erasure, and Shellhammer himself sang “The Power of Love,” by Frankie Goes to Hollywood. “I’m not kidding -- I’ve been taking voice lessons,” he told me at SoHo House. As for what you give the creative mastermind of Fab, the couple eschewed a gift registry and instead asked guests to each inscribe a copy of their favorite book and to make a donation to Immigration Equality, which fights for equality under U.S. immigration law for the LGBT community and those with HIV.

SLIDESHOW: See Images of the Fabulous Russian Tea Room Wedding

It may be too early to say whether Fab is capable of staying the course, and Goldberg, for one, prefers to focus on the long game. “We know that while Fab is building an interesting business, we still have a lot to prove,” he says. “Our measure of success is whether we’ve built something meaningful in five or 10 years, and that when people think about design, they think about Fab.”

As for Shellhammer, he already feels like he’s won the golden ticket. “Four years ago, I was working in a retail store,” he says. “My friends called me a shopgirl.” He pauses, and then breaks into a giggle. “Well, I’m still a shopgirl -- nothing has changed. Who’s laughing now?”

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