According to the marketing firm Girl Power Marketing:
- Women account for 85% of all consumer purchases.
Yet despite this powerful influence on the economy:
- Only 10% of venture capital funding goes to female entrepreneurs.
- And only 28% of companies that hit $1 million or more in annual revenue are owned by women. (CNBC)
Arnobio Morelix, an entrepreneurship researcher at the Kauffman Foundation, a nonprofit that focuses on breaking down barriers to entrepreneurship, said that, “Female-owned businesses, in general, start smaller and stay smaller.”
Entrepreneurship is a tough road by any standard, and these statistics underscore the barriers that women entrepreneurs must break through to reach even a modicum of success. Couple this with being a female entrepreneur who is upending the status quo in additional ways, and success becomes even more evasive.
One industry that is overdue for an overhaul is the fashion industry. Wasteful, polluting, and exploitative of both people and animals, the business of making clothing, shoes, and accessories has been ripe for disruption for decades. The passion and tenacity of the female entrepreneurs we profile here, who are infusing sustainable and vegan sensibilities into both their designs and supply chains, is finally having an impact.
According to the market research firm WGSN, last year:
- Sustainable fashion sales grew by 19%.
- And sales of sustainable fabrics grew by 20%.
This growing demand has undoubtedly been fueled by the hard work of socially conscious entrepreneurs like these – and not to mention, the devotion of their savvy clientele.
So, in honor of International Women’s Day, we wanted to give these pioneering women a UniGuide shoutout for defying the odds and helping us all look and feel like our best selves in the process.
1. Carmen Hijosa
Founder and CEO of Ananas Anam, the Maker Piñatex®
While working as a consultant in the leather industry, Carmen Hijosa was on a business trip in the Philippines. Seeing firsthand the amount of chemicals used in the leather tanning process and their impact on workers and the environment, she became deeply troubled. This sparked a powerful motivation in her to find a more Earth-friendly alternative to leather, if it existed. Seeing local people making garments out of plant fibers inspired her to see if a leather alternative could also be made from plant fibers. The result was Piñatex®, a non-woven material made from the fibers of pineapple leaves, which is now being used to make eco-friendly vegan shoes and bags.
Here’s a video of Carmen, presented by the Cartier Women’s Initiative Awards:
Here’s another great video of Carmen explaining how Piñatex® is made:
Shop for Piñatex products on Amazon:
2. Alicia Lai
Founder and Director, Bourgeois Boheme
Alicia Lai started her career as a podiatrist. This experience and her love for shoes eventually led her to designing and creating high-quality footwear. But as a devoted vegan, making shoes with animal skin didn’t rest well with her. And her sense of empathy extended beyond animals to the workers toiling away in factories making the shoes many of us wear everyday.
These sensibilities were the foundation of Alicia’s footwear company, Bourgeois Boheme (“BoBo” for short.) Today, Bourgeois Boheme is a 100% vegan, sustainability-focused footwear company that ensures their workers have safe working conditions and get paid a living wage. The company is breaking new ground by using Earth-friendly materials, like Piñatex and plant-based polymers derived from natural, renewable sources, like grains and seeds, instead of those made from petrochemicals.
Shop for Bourgeois Boheme on Amazon:
3. Lisa Siedledcki and Jennifer Silbert
Founders and Designers, Rewilder
Lisa Siedledcki and Jennifer Silbert were both working as designers in the traditional fashion and accessories industries. A concern for the environment and knowledge of the waste produced by these industries led them to create Rewilder, a maker of ultra hip, fashion-forward accessories. Rewilder repurposes materials that would otherwise end up in the landfill and makes them into functional beach bags, dopp kits, aprons, and more – all of which are unique and handmade. The duo describe themselves as “passionately creative makers who believe in repurposing materials already in circulation rather than making them anew.”
Here’s a video where they describe their design and production process:
4. Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart
Founder and Designer, VAUTE
A bona fide fashion industry disrupter, Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart has taken the world by storm with her vegan high-fashion (hence the name VAUTE: “haute” with a “v” for vegan.) A designer who wears her values on her sleeve, Leanne described herself and the early VAUTE team as “activists and weirdos” – the kind of kids who thought “we’d never find someone else who cared as much as we do.” How wrong they were.
These days, you can’t really talk about vegan fashion without mentioning Leanne, who’s been described as a game changer for the whole industry. As a young animals rights activist and a disenfranchised teen, she wondered about her place in the world. A modeling job took her to Taipei, where she came across Deepak Chopra’s book The Seven Spiritual Laws of Success in a used book store. A section of the book caught her eye: “There is abundance where your talents meet the needs of the world.” She sensed that somehow, some way, her deep sense of compassion, desire to protect animals and people, and her appreciation for style and beauty would bring something positive to the world.
5. Arti Upadhyay
Raised in a family of animal lovers, Arti Upadhyay grew up vegetarian. Her love of design and fashion led her to a job working for a footwear company when she was in college. In 2007, she set out on her own to create her own shoe company that more closely matched her compassionate values, and Neuaura was born. Neuaura shoes are 100% vegan, and the company focuses on using sustainable materials in their designs whenever possible. In addition, they donate 5% of sales to environmental nonprofits.
Shop for Neuaura Shoes on Amazon:
6. Gosia Piatek
Founder and Creative Director, Kowtow
Gosia Piatek was new to the world of fashion and design when she started her clothing company, Kowtow. But a desire for “minimalist and effortless” clothing that had low environmental impact superseded any lack of traditional training. Gosia was inspired to create something better and different from what she was seeing in the market. Today, Kowtow’s entire collection is made only with ethically-sourced and environmentally sustainable materials. Kowtow uses only Fair Trade, organic cotton, and of course, every garment is 100% cruelty-free.
What does the production process of Fair Trade cotton look like? Take a look at this video from Kowtow:
7. Komie and Meg Vor
Founders and Designers, Delikate Rayne
Sister team Komie and Meg Vor embraced their inner rebels to create what they call a “grunge glam” fashion line – a tribute to “the effortless dynamism of the empowered female.” Raised in Orange County, CA in a traditional Indian family, they had to overcome the gender stereotypes of a culture that expects women and girls to act a certain way and fit a certain role.
Delikate Rayne (pronounced “delicate rain”) is a result of their refusal to fit any stereotype, while also paying tribute to their Indian/American upbringing. Raised as vegetarians by two compassionate parents, their line is 100% cruelty-free, and all of their clothes are made in the U.S.A. (Source: NBC News.) And their design philosophy reflects class American style: “Abandon limits, abandon convention, and embrace your own beauty.”
8. Stella McCartney
Founder and Designer, Stella McCartney
A trailblazer in the eco and vegan fashion scene, Stella McCartney is another name that is synonymous with ethical and cruelty-free fashion. Stella has never wavered from her sensibilities and approach to style. She has been described as a “consistent and vocal” supporter of animal rights and has won countless awards for design and social entrepreneurship. She’s a designer who wears her heart on her sleeve and helps the rest of us to do so too.
We love this video of Stella presented by Vogue Voices:
Shop for Stella McCartney on Amazon:
9. Gina Ferraraccio and Julie Dicterow
Founders and Designers, Cri de Coeur
Gina Ferraraccio and Julie Dicterow met as students at Parsons New School of Design in New York and bonded over their love of animals and concern for the environment. They wanted to offer fellow vegan and eco fashionistas alternatives to the materials typically used in the fashion industry that exploit animals.
Cri de Coeur, which translated from French means “cry from the heart,” is testament to their “heartfelt desire to change the face of the fashion footwear and accessory markets by providing stylish, contemporary products that are ethically produced.” Their addition of cutting edge designer Arden Wohl to the team means Cri de Coeur is developing even more vegan shoes and accessories that are changing the face of fashion as we know it.
Shop for Cri de Coeur on Amazon:
10. Elizabeth Olsen
Founder and Designer, olsen Haus
Elizabeth Olsen truly deserves the title of designer activist. She is an outspoken advocate for animals, voicing her belief that they should not be used food, clothing, experimentation, or entertainment. Her designs embody the statement on her website that says, “plundering, cruelty, and greed are not synonymous with true style.” We couldn’t agree more. Elizabeth has broken the stereotype of vegan fashion not being, well, fashionable. Gone is the convention that vegan shoes are flat, plastic, and orthopedic-looking. olsen Haus boasts stiletto heels, ankle straps, and fashion-forwarding sensibilities.
Here’s a video of Elizabeth being interviewed by the team at Planet Verge:
Shop for olsen Haus on Amazon:
11. Julia and Laura Ahrens
Founders and Designers, Miakoda
While their designs are more for comfort and movement than what you’d see on a typical Paris runway, sister team Julia and Laura Ahrens are pushing the envelope on the use of better materials in their clothing. Miakoda is the antithesis of the toxic, chemical-ridden, and cruel fast fashion movement, making it all seem strange and unnecessary.
Trained at Parsons School of Design, Julia is a self-described “former shopaholic turned sustainable lifestyler vegan yogi.” She and her fellow yogini sister, Laura, create clothing that is “soft, cozy, and comfortable” while being ethically made and environmentally conscious. And we can’t love them enough for breaking the body-type stereotype that plagued the fashion industry of old.
12. Helga Douglas
Founder and Designer, Svala
Helga Douglas named her company for the Icelandic name for a swallow bird. A symbol of “love, loyalty, freedom, and hope” in many cultures, the swallow represents the values that Helga has put into her handbags, lingerie, and sleepwear lines. Svala utilizes sustainable materials, like cork and Pinatex®, as well as organic cotton, reclaimed lace, and recycled polyester in their products. And taking things a step further, they offset their carbon emissions and utilize local manufacturing in Los Angeles, CA.
13. Tina Tangalakis
Founder, Della Fashion
After studying costume design at California Institute of the Arts and then working as a costume maker and wardrobe stylist for film and television, Tina Tangalakis was feeling a little burned out; as though her work lacked a deeper purpose. Wanting to give back, she participated in an international volunteer program that took her to Hohoe, Ghana.
In Ghana, Tina was inspired by the culture, design, and artisan work she saw. Teaming up with a local friend and entrepreneur, Selorm “Nii” Addotey, she created Della to bring Ghanaian fashion to the U.S. and to provide jobs, education, and skills-training for the people of Hohoe.
Here’s Tina giving an inspiring TED Talk about how she found her true calling:
14. Stephanie Nicora
Founder and Designer, Nicora
A winner of the PETA Most Talented New Designer Award, Stephanie Nicora is a classically-trained shoemaker who is intent on making leather shoes a thing of the past. Describing shoe making as her “craft and passion,” the vegan designer couldn’t stand the destructiveness of the footwear industry, where workers toil away in grueling and unsafe conditions and animals are exploited for their skin.
Stephanie felt that she didn’t have to compromise her values to create beautiful, high-quality footwear. Utilizing eco-friendly production methods, including a solar-powered production facility, Nicora boasts some compelling statistics when it comes to how their shoes are manufactured vs. traditional methods: Every pair they make uses eight fewer gallons of fossil fuels, 11,000 fewer kwt hours of electricity, and saves tens of thousands of gallons of water.
Here’s a video of Stephanie presented by PETA:
15. Puja Barar
Founder, Satva Living
After working in New York as a designer and having her first child, Puja Bara knew she needed to make a change. Turned off by the environmental destruction caused by the clothing industry and the poor treatment of workers, she teamed up with a partner in Mumbai named Sameer Mehra, the managing director at of Suminter India Organics, a provider of high-quality organic food and fiber products that are produced under environmentally and socially conscious conditions. (Source: Forbes.)
Satva translates to “pure” in Sanskrit. Satva’s entire line of comfortable, breathable activewear is made with eco-friendly fabrics, including GOTS certified organic cotton and recycled polyester. Their fabrics are colored with natural, non-toxic, plant-based dyes. And Satva donates a portion of their profits to programs that support girls’ education in impoverished communities in India.
Here’s a video with Puja on the story of Satva Living:
Shop for Satva on Amazon:
16. Christy Dawn Petersen
Founder and Designer, Christy Dawn
An American model who hails from the Western-style town of Placerville, CA, Christy Dawn Petersen turned her fashion know-how and love of classic dressmaking into an Earth-friendly clothing line with a cult following. Christy Dawn’s dresses are made from “deadstock” fabrics, which are the unused scraps left over from the traditional fashion manufacturing process. Christy Dawn’s dresses are the antithesis of the mass-produced fast fashion products you find at any mall; each vintage-inspired dress is made in a very limited supply in downtown Los Angeles, CA.
17. Bianca Moran
Founder and Creative Director, Susi Studio
Vegan since the age of 14, Bianca Moran is both a restaurateur, having founded the first vegan and gluten-free restaurant in the Philippines, and a distinguished designer. Susi Studio creates irresistible shoes made with faux leather, faux patent leather, and faux suede, as well as other vegan materials like recycled plastic and denim. Susi Studios’ shoes are made in Portugal and Hong Kong, and the company ensures workers make fair wages, and work in safe conditions. Susi’s Hong Kong factory is owned and operated entirely by women.
Ah inspiration! Thank you, Ladies! You put wind in our sails!
UniGuide’s photo caption linking is broken right now! To read more about these amazing creators and see the sources of the photos, here they are in order of appearance:
- Carmen Hijosa, Innovate UK
- Alicia Lai, LinkedIn
- Lisa Siedledcki and Jennifer Silbert, LilouInLA
- Leanne Mai-ly Hilgart, Mend
- Arti Upadhyay, Vegan Mainstream
- Gosia Piatek, Fashion NZ
- Komie and Meg Vor, NPHAP
- Stella McCartney, Career Girl Daily
- Gina Ferraraccio and Julie Dicterow, Your Next Shoes
- Elizabeth Olsen, Vegan Business Media
- Julia and Laura Ahrens, Sustainable in the Making
- Helga Douglas, Svala
- Tina Tangalakis, Della
- Stephanie Nicora, Girlie Girl Army
- Puja Barar, YouTube
- Christy Dawn Petersen, Christy Dawn
- Bianca Moran, Susi Studio