How Female Founders In Fashion Are Increasingly Making Their Mark
By Jennifer “Jay” Palumbo
As fashion evolves each year, a new power dynamic is coming into play more than ever. A study by Business of Fashion revealed that women designed 40% of womenswear fashion brands, but they only make up about 14% of leadership positions among the largest fashion brands. Another report found that women lead less than 13% of Fortune 1000 Retail and Apparel companies.
However, there is little doubt that female fashion founders are increasingly making their mark by promoting sustainable products, revolutionizing plus-size fashions, and championing inclusive designs.
The Women Behind Fashion’s New Sustainable Statements
The Cotton Incorporated Lifestyle Monitor survey results indicated that 30% of consumers always/usually purchase clothing marketed as sustainable. As a result, fashion companies and their female leaders are rising to meet the demand for environment-friendly clothes.
SKATIE Founders Skatie Noyes Hutchison and Mandi Glynn met in 2009 while studying at the Fashion Institute of Design & Merchandising (FIDM). They launched their sustainable SKATIE swimwear (activewear followed in 2018) seven years later, using Instagram.
“We founded Skatie based on wanting to be sustainable and use what was readily available in the market,” Noyes said. “We started by buying dead-stock fabrics from other designers. Then, I approached brands like Beach Riot, Mara Hoffman, Bettinis, and other L.A.-based people who did production here and would buy what they had leftover from old collections.”
Along with finding success as a female founder, Brewin focuses on sustainability by using faux fur to make these luxury hats. Additionally, she has capitalized on the vegan trend as her made-to-order hats epitomize the slow fashion movement and are designed to last a lifetime.
These Female Founders Are Creating Fashion Inclusivity
Another shift in the fashion industry has been the demand for inclusive clothing sizes. In 2019, the plus-size clothing market accumulated $480.99 billion. Allied Market Research estimated those numbers will increase to $696.71 billion by 2027. Female fashion leaders have not missed this heightened importance of size inclusivity and body positivity.
As the founder of JessaKae, Jessa Maddocks is hoping to change the way fashion brands treat plus-sized women. Instead of only selling beautiful dresses for size 0 women, she has made every one of her pieces available in a full range of sizes.
“The movement I would love to inspire is holistic size inclusion for women in the entire fashion industry,” Maddocks shared. “Most designer brands only go up to an XL. The average American woman is around a size 16. At JessaKae, all our dresses are produced in sizes ranging from XXS to 6XL. I’d love to remove the term ‘plus-size’ altogether, including plus-size stores or plus-size sections on their websites. A brand should make their piece of clothing and adjust it to fit every size for women. We do it. It’s possible.”
Good American is another example of how possible Maddock’s goals are. This company was co-founded by Khloe Kardashian and Emma Grede in 2016. The company emphasizes body inclusivity which is evident in their jean sizes, ranging from 00 to 32.
However, it’s important to note that inclusiveness in fashion does not end with size. Marwa Atik was only 18 when she realized there were no places where she could buy fashionable scarves. So, with her sister, Tasneem Atik Sabri, she created VELA. According to their website, Vela aims to “revolutionize how the world looked at hijab and modest style.”
Today, VELA creates a wide range of fashion products for Muslim women. In addition to their commitment to fashion inclusivity, they also use bamboo and other sustainable products to create eco-friendly pieces. As a result of Atik’s efforts, VELA has made it easier for women to find these products.
As another female founder who has used her role in fashion to advocate for a cause, Alicia Sandve founded her jewelry brand HEYMAEVE to help sexual assault survivors like herself. Sandve donates $1 to a woman-focused nonprofit organization every time someone purchases the site.
The team at HEYMAEVE also supports Destiny Rescue, an organization that helps rescue children who have suffered from human trafficking. Like many companies today, HEYMAEVE uses environmental, social, and governance (ESG) issues to define its brand and positively impact the world.
The Future of Female Founders in Fashion
While numbers are still low, we have seen tremendous strides in the past few years. In 2017, Clare Waight Keller was appointed as the first woman to helm Givenchy since 1952. Maria Grazia Chiuri enjoyed a similar moment when she became Dior’s first female Artistic Director in all of its 70 years. When Karl Lagerfeld passed away, two women were put in charge; Virginie Viard at Chanel and Silvia Venturini Fendi at Fendi.
In 2020, growth in female presence among CEOs in the apparel industry was promising, increasing by 95%, with more than 100 women stepping into the CEO role, according to a report by data analytics firm Nextail.
Ultimately, since fashion has long been run by men yet made for women, it’s exciting to see many brands shaking up the industry and helping shape a more inclusive future.