Meet some of the women taking charge in style
Despite the strong marketing slant of fashion to women, the fashion industry is still largely dominated by men. According to PwC’s “Unraveling the Fabric Ceiling,” just 12.5% of Fortune 1000 clothing companies have female CEOs. But that disheartening statistic isn’t stopping these business owners from making their fashion dreams realities. Each of these women-owned or -run companies is working to change the sex imbalance in fashion leadership. Here’s what they have to share.
Crystal Etienne, founder and CEO of Ruby Love
Photos courtesy of Ruby Love
It takes a lot of courage to build a business, and it takes even more to tackle a taboo. But Etienne didn’t shy away from the challenge when she started Ruby Love, an apparel brand that educates consumers about periods and puberty. For anyone who manages hygienic menstruation or incontinence, Ruby Love has your back — and your front.
How did you get started in fashion & design?
My professional background and professional experience is in finance. Everything I know about fashion and design I learned along the way while creating Ruby Love. I made a point of meeting with people in the apparel industry and researching on my own to work on fit, design and textiles.
What inspired you to start your business?
The idea for Ruby Love started when I was lying on my bed, watching TV, and I noticed how my maxi-pad was sticking out of my underwear. I thought it was not very modern and systematic in this day. I knew my preference was to wear a form of protection for my
period without the insertion of a foreign object and having my pad sticking out, yet I also wanted to feel as if I weren’t wearing anything.
How does your technology work?
I developed the smart and intuitive technology that offers a built-in, absorbent, organic cotton liner, which is featured in each apparel product we provide. It is perfectly angled to collect your flow, offering maximum absorption and protection against leaks and stains, peace of mind and complete discretion.
What kinds of conversations do you hope Ruby Love will inspire?
I hope that Ruby Love will break down the stigma and barriers to discuss periods. I would love to encourage open and honest communication between guardians and the young people in their lives. Periods are a natural part of life, and the key is for everyone to be educated to understand why it happens and how to effectively manage it so that every day can be the same for them!
Who is a woman that inspires you, and why?
Sara Blakely for her opening communication about as taboo of a topic as body silhouette and also Oprah! Oprah! Oprah! Her personal and professional stories are such an inspiration. By refusing to compromise and remain authentically herself, she broke down barriers and initiated important conversations. Her audience loves her because she takes them with her on her journey. She’s human, flawed and real.
Mollie Burch, CEO and creative director of Crosby by Mollie Burch
Photos courtesy of Crosby by Mollie Burch
From her time as a student, Mollie Burch knew that she was destined for a career in fashion. Now the co-founder, CEO and creative director of Crosby, Burch used her vast experience in the industry to create a label that represents more than beautiful women’s wear.
How did you get started in fashion?
Art and design have played significant roles in my life since an early age. My entrepreneurship journey really started when I went to the University of Virginia. Because there was no fashion program there, I ended up creating my own major, building my own curriculum through the Echols Scholar Interdisciplinary Major Program called “The Art of Fashion.” To support my fashion studies, I also took courses through Parsons, FIT and abroad in Florence, Italy.
What inspired you to start your business?
I have always wanted to have my own fashion line and have been passionate about design my entire life. I knew I wanted to create a print driven brand that was playful, bright and could dress women of all ages and sizes. It was also important that I find a way to use my designs to aid in the fight against human trafficking. My business partner Taylor Montes de Oca and I were roommates at the time we decided to start Crosby. She had the business savvy that I was lacking and also had the itch for entrepreneurship. The timing and partnership was right, so together we founded Crosby.
Tell me about your slogan #ShineYourBright.
At the core of the Crosby brand is a social mission: to empower women and aid in the fight against human trafficking. The Crosby slogan, “Shine your Bright,” is a call to action inspired by the impact that one person can have on the world. “Shine your Bright” aims to empower women to be their boldest, brightest, most confident selves.
How does your organization support victims of sex trafficking?
My hope is that my designs build awareness of this global humanitarian crisis through a partnership with the nonprofit Wellspring Living, an organization committed to restoring the lives of women rescued from the sex trade. To this end, one Fall and one Spring print are designed to tell the story of a victim of human trafficking. Proceeds from these prints are donated to Wellspring Living and to date, Crosby has raised over $30,000 for the organization in addition to hosting events for the Wellspring women. Our goal is twofold: to shine light on the grave issue of sex trafficking in this country and to aid the organizations that fight it.
What is your favorite Crosby piece to wear?
That’s kind of like asking, “Who is your favorite child?” Ha! But I’m loving our dresses right now, particularly the Belle Dress and Darby Dress. They’re so easy and flowy but also flattering.
Jennifer Lyu, founder of Delaroq
Photo courtesy of Jennifer Lyu
Jennifer Lyu has always been interested in minimalism, though not necessarily always in fashion. The founder of Delaroq “fell serendipitously into the fashion world while interning at Roberto Cavalli in Florence,” and since has had the opportunity to work with brands like Louis Vuitton and Prada. Now, the NYC-based designer is taking the accessory market by storm.
Where did the name “Delaroq” come from?
I wanted to communicate something enduring and of substance. “Delaroq” comes from an old French word, roche, meaning a large rock, like a promontory — and with a bit of creative editing, I came up with Delaroq.
What made you gravitate towards bags and beanies?
I have designed every known accessory category, including teddy bear keychains, optical, belts, gloves, hats — you name it — but handbags is my main field of expertise, and I have an obsession with outerwear and cold weather accessories. I would like to branch out to jewelry one day, as it feels like a natural brand extension.
What is the meaning behind the arrow symbol on your bags?
In my training in Europe where I referenced luggage details, I wanted to relay an aesthetic that is informed by old world leather goods references but also modernize it with some humor.
How do you balance your use of leather with your mission for sustainability?
I love to play with color, leather draping and texture in my design process. With the current means of using excess or stock leather, I work backwards with the raw materials that I find and create limited edition collections that compliment the material. Leather tanning is the biggest contributor of pollution in the leather goods manufacturing cycle, and I feel that by eliminating this process, I am part of the solution to alleviate the environmental impact coming from the fashion industry.
What does being a woman-owned/run business mean to you?
Running my own business as a woman is a quest to be compassionate of my mental constructs. I experience the states of fear, insecurity, limit as I aim to build strength, faith, motivation and passion for the brand, my team, collaborators and my audience. Lifting each other up is the way we will be fulfilled ultimately in our successes.
What things do you always carry with you?
A crystal that my son and I picked out together, lip balm, phone and vitamin C packets.
Hillary Stotts, founder and creative director of Wunderkin Co.
Photos courtesy of Wunderkin Co.
Every parent dreams of the best for their children, but Stotts was determined to turn those dreams into action. As a new mother, she founded Wunkerkin with the goal to “raise adventurous girls” and pursue her “truest life.” Since then, her fairytale has become a reality, with a headquarters in Denver, Colorado and seamstresses all over the nation.
How did you get interested in fashion/design?
I’ve always been a creative. I initially went to college for a degree in classical ballet. Eventually, I wound up graduating with a degree in theology, then partnering with my husband to help build his carpet cleaning business. After six years of learning about business through Barnes & Noble books, I decided to start an Etsy shop to find my creativity again. The practice for the past six years — and the many failures and lessons — paid off, and Wunderkin took off!
Who makes your bows?
I used to! But they are so much better now. We have a team of 25 seamstresses who sew our bows from home all around the United States. Once a week, we send all the fabric and trims, and once a week, we receive the packages back to our headquarters.
What does it mean to you to be a woman-owned/run business?
For many years, I felt like I hid behind my husband at our first business. When I started Wunderkin, it was on the wings of believing that anything is possible for me. When I bring my girls to Wunderkin, I have so much hope that they will see the risks I have taken and that it will inspire them to take their own risks as well.
I think when you put yourself out there as a female entrepreneur, it really requires thick skin. Before you make the leap, make sure you have a deeper why and purpose behind your business. It will be what gets you through the late nights, low lows and multiple failures. In the end, it will all be worth it!
What is your vision for the future of Wunderkin?
I would love to have store fronts that marry the adventurous and Scandinavian vibes of Wunderkin with lifestyle products, storytimes and community events for like-minded parents — complete with a create-your-own-bow section, of course. I have also had a huge dream of using our platform to connect mothers and meet-ups all over the world.
What was your favorite game as a kid?
I LOVE GAMES. So this is hard. But probably playing tag with my Dad in the grocery store parking lot.
Brie Read, founder of Snag Tights
Photos courtesy of Snag Tights
When traditional tights failed, Brie Read, founder of Snag Tights, decided enough was enough. Now, she’s getting everyone caught on ethically-made, inclusively-sized tights that promise not to bunch or slip. Though they are based in Scotland, Read and her team spread tights and confidence all over the globe, helping “snagglers” show their true colors.
What is your background in fashion?
I started my career in marketing before becoming the CEO of Diet Chef in Scotland. I was really passionate about the potential of digital advertising and founded my own Facebook advertising agency called Force Ten Digital. There, I was working on fashion brands like Ralph Lauren, Sophia Webster and Hush, among other non-fashion brands. At the time, Snag had begun to require too much attention to work on part-time, so we decided to close Force Ten Digital in 2017.
What inspired you to start your business?
I was walking down George Street (a central downtown street in Edinburgh), and my tights kept on falling down so much that I stopped and took them off in the middle of the street. I looked up to see so many people watching, and it was so embarrassing. I then went to every single store and bought all the tights in all the sizes I could find. That’s when I found that all tights are exactly the same width; they just differ in length. I shared this with all my friends — big and small — and they all had the same problem with tights: they just didn’t fit!
Tell me about your unique sizing system.
At Snag, we believe everyone deserves comfy tights that fit, so we made sure that we are a size inclusive brand, making tights for sizes 2 to 34. We’ve also created six uniquely different widths and seven different lengths, meaning you’ll get tights that properly fit you. Our tights actually fit like a glove and come up high, meaning you won’t get any digging, sagging or rolling!
What are some of the ways that you maintain your ethical production standards?
We use a small, family-run factory that we visit often to make sure that they adhere to great working conditions! Everyone who makes our tights is paid a living wage. We also use Europe’s oldest dye house, which recycles all the water in their processes. We make sure not to use any plastic in our packaging either.
Which Snag Tights would you recommend for a chilly Valentine’s Day date?
Shepherds delight because our 80 deniers are cozy, and red is the most romantic color!
Bianca Cheah, CCO of They Call Her Alfie
Photos courtesy of Bianca Cheah
Bianca Cheah has always been her own boss, so it just made sense to start her own skincare line off of her existing online platform, Sportluxe. From a family of entrepreneurs, Los Angeles-based Cheah studied interior design before turning to e-commerce. Now, she focuses on bringing the best ingredients to achieve the most stunning skincare results.
How has social media impacted your business?
It has definitely helped. We’ve chosen to use a mix of social media and online media, and I’ve got to say that they both work hand in hand. We’ve had some great experiences with a few influencers who love the product organically and have driven sales. Then we’ve had some credible articles written about us, and that also drove some great business. So they both work. Tapping into both the millennial and the baby boomer market was a strategy for us, and, as we know, each generation is influenced by different media.
What led you to use ingredients like CBD, Orchid Stem Cell, Sacha Inchi?
There are some incredible products on the market, so we wanted to explore all of the amazing active ingredients. The process of [choosing] which ones came down to how each of them complimented each other and actually worked in the way we wanted them to. Alfie wants to be known for products that are clean, that work quickly and efficiently.
What have you learned from building a strong online presence?
It’s everything! Without an online presence, we wouldn’t have been noticed. In a market that moves so quickly, online allows us to move with it and adapt if needed. It is also the only way to really scale the brand when ready.
What is your vision for the future of your brand?
Recently we launched our Alfie Love Gel, which is a female topical that can be used prior to intimacy to help stimulate, hydrate, soothe and rejuvenate. Our Love Gel has been in development and testing for the past couple of years and has gone through clinical studies with some incredible results. In addition to the “yes, yes, yes” factor, the Love Gel can be used daily for a cumulative effect. It is our technology BSX 8.1 that allows Alfie to develop new products in the personal care market. Our vision is to see Alfie as an accessible, full-circle personal care brand.
What is your daily skincare routine?
It’s pretty simple. I always stick to the same skincare routine. I cleanse, Alfie serum, moisturize and do a mini Shiatsu facial massage day and night. Once a week I’ll use a face mask and exfoliate.
Karin Gardkvist, design director for Flor et.al
Derived from the Spanish word for “flower” and the latin et alia, (“and others”), Flor et.al is certainly in touch with its natural namesake. Design director Gardkvist is part of a diverse team that strives to step up its sustainability with every season. In partnership with the non-profit Nest, Gardkvist and her brand connect with artisans all over the globe to create beautiful, feminine looks using responsible methods.
What inspired you to begin designing?
Growing up in Sweden, I was constantly immersed in the beauty of nature, which incited my love for flowers, animals and the natural beauty of the countryside. With love for all things vintage and an eye for pattern making, I decided to pursue a degree in fashion. Initially, I studied textile engineering at Boras University in Sweden and then opted to follow my interest in design at the London College of Fashion, which led me to complete my design degree at Middlesex University. Before starting Flor et.al, I designed at Preen by Thornton Bregazzi and Marchesa Notte.
How does the SS2020 collection channel the Pre-Raphaelites?
The Pre-Raphaelite movement came during the time of the industrial revolution, a time in which synthetic pigments were created. These pigments made vibrant colors more available to artists. The first synthetic pigment was mauve, a vibrant shade of purple-fuchsia. This color can be found throughout the Spring collection in both strong solids as well as ombre prints that use the colors of the period from light mauve to dark purple. The brand collaborated with artists in France and Italy and vintage archives in the U.K. to create floral prints that incorporate these vibrant colors. The blues in the water print and natural greens also represent the design team’s commitment to create sustainable clothes.
What is your vision for the future of Flor Et.Al?
We are going to continue to grow with our retail partners, including Saks and Neiman Marcus, as well as new international retail and e-commerce partners to be direct-to-consumer. We want to keep our growth organic, ensuring that we understand what our customer is looking for and deliver her the product that she is coming to know and love from Flor et.al.
What is your favorite painting and why?
There are so many beautiful paintings from the era, so it’s very hard to pick one. One of my favorites is “The Lady of Shalott,” a painting done in 1888 by the English painter John William Waterhouse. It is a representation of the ending of “Alfred,” Lord Tennyson’s 1832 poem of the same name. The other favorite one is “Ophelia,” a painting by British artist Sir John Everett Millais. Ophelia was modeled by artist and muse Elizabeth Siddal, then 19 years old.
Lucia Scarampi, CEO & co-founder of Marta Scarampi
Marta Scarampi, fashion designer & co-founder of Marta Scarampi
Photos courtesy of Marta Scampi
Marta Scampi is truly a family affair, as it takes the teamwork of both Scarampi sisters to make it work. With the creative power of Marta and the business savvy of Lucia, the two Torino, Italy-based superwomen are creating environmentally-friendly and stylish capes and cloaks.
Tell me about your background in fashion/design.
Marta: [I] discovered a love for sewing during childhood. [I] was determined to take [my] skills to the next level by studying fashion design at New York’s famed F.I.T. Upon graduation, [I] returned to Italy, joining forces with [my] sister to open Marta Scarampi’s Italian atelier in January 2013, after beginning production in the atelier in December 2012.
What inspired you to start your business?
Marta: Passion for fashion, sewing —
Lucia: — and meeting with people on a constant basis to guide them with Italian elegance, style and craftsmanship.
What are the style advantages of capes?
Marta: The style advantage is comfort and elegance all in one. Another advantage of capes is the fact that a woman can move freely and layer depending on the temperature without sacrificing style and elegance.
Why do you focus on wool as a material?
Lucia: We love to work with wool as it is 100% biodegradable. As human beings, we pride ourselves to be very environmentally conscious, and as a consequence, it is all reflected in our brand. From our production processes to the use of our materials (and re-use of our waste), we are highly focused on helping reduce waste as much as we can.
What’s it like to work with your sister?
Lucia: It’s like living in NYC — a rollercoaster ride! It has all the feelings you can have when on a rollercoaster; excitement, fear — it’s challenging, demanding, emotional but yet the best choice we have ever made!
Marta: When we function perfectly together, we are very compatible. Lucia represents our left part of the brain (the most rational) while [I represent] the right side of the brain (the most creative). Together we are a great team!
Who is your favorite super hero?
Monica Wesley, founder and designer of Uye Surana
Photos courtesy of Uye Surana
For designer Monica Wesley, there’s always room to become more inclusive — that’s why she is still pushing her brand, Uye Surana, to represent more women. Wesley discovered her love for bralettes after studying at The School of the Art Institute in Chicago and Parsons School of Design. Now, the Tribeca-based designer is blurring the line between under- and outerwear.
Where did the name “Uye Surana” come from?
Uye Surana is a mix of my family’s names. Growing up of mixed ethnic backgrounds with an anglicised last name, I wanted to create something that represented my background.
Tell us about your size inclusivity mission.
It’s my passion to be able to serve such a diverse group of women. Growing up half Japanese and half Polish and German, I didn’t feel represented in the media. After talking to many family members and friends, I gained a strong insight into the frustration of bra shopping. Uye Surana is a place where I can share my vision of lingerie that is as comfortable as it is beautiful on an ever-growing, diverse group of people. I can proudly say after extensive pattern-making and fit-testing that we are the only brand who is able to serve such a wide range of bra sizes.
Where do you make your garments?
Many of our products are ethically produced in Colombia and New York. A small selection of styles are still sewn by me in the studio. We also print, embellished or embroider many of our styles locally or in the studio for a one-of-kind feel.
What does it mean to you to be a woman-owned/run business?
There are so many ways you think outside the box when you’re different or just a small business. I wear many hats, and I’m always thinking of new ways to get things done. I have a couple of friends who also have their own line (Alterre). We try to help each other out with various aspects. They even model for Uye Surana.
Which Uye Surana lingerie would you recommend for Valentine’s Day?
For Valentine’s day, I’d recommend our Lovebirds set. You can wear the cami and panty or layer it with the stockings and garters for a full look that can be coordinated with an outfit to be worn on a date. I’d also recommend either of our Sheerly sets for a Valentine’s appropriate look that isn’t red. They can be paired with our Vicki bra or Sadie sets underneath too. This way, lingerie can be worn with an outfit, so there’s no need to “slip into something a little more comfortable” when the time arises.
Lauren Amelia Berteletti, founder and designer of Rêve de Rive Swimwear
Photos courtesy of Rêve de Rive Swimwear
Rêve de Rive Swimwear is all about the combination of luxury and sustainability. After graduating with degrees in art and fashion management, Berteletti decided she wanted to make something greater than regular swimwear. Now, with a small team based in Geneva, she makes tenues de bain, elegant pieces with cut-outs, fringes and braids. While she works to create iconic looks that transcend season, Berteletti is also focused on the brand’s ethos.
What does it mean to you to be a woman-owned/run business?
I believe strongly in women who help and support other women in business. No woman should be bringing the other down in personal or work life. Coming together and being strong will make the dream successful.
Owning a business is something I was inspired to do throughout my life. I grew up with my mother owning her business, and still today, I see her being able to achieve new goals. It’s empowering to own a business, and I look forward to the good times and the hardships.
What efforts do you make to be a sustainable brand?
Our efforts to be sustainable and socially responsible are the base of the brand’s DNA; without our oceans, what’s the purpose?
We use materials that are proven to have a process that does not harm the oceans. Recycled materials that are sourced from the oceans themselves. Our designs are made in house; manufacturing in Geneva Atelier enables us to manage how many are being produced to avoid over-production and benefit the local talented seamstress. Pieces are also made on order, avoiding over-production.
Rêve de Rive also does collaborations with brands that are socially reasonable. Our process creates less waste; our eco-chic collection is made from the leftover pieces from production that are re-sewn into swimwear. Another benefit for this is providing exclusive pieces. Finally, technology. As the world goes toward creating new materials and adding technologies into fabrics, we forget about little details of over ordering online. On our website, we have a sizing feature that will ensure your sizing in our swimwear styles.
Today many companies, in fashion and publications, are promoting sustainability, and it’s such a big word. But if we narrow it down to what it means, we need to remember to shop consciously, wear it again and again, purchase with meaning. Rêve de Rive Swimwear is designed to last for continuous wear. One of our priorities is creating quality swimwear and adding purpose to wear it.
Which three books would you bring to a desert island?
The books I read are more business-based, but I am a magazine collector. On an island, I would wish to have vintage Vogues, Vanity Fair and W magazine. I would prefer to be inspired if I was stranded rather than occupied.
Amber Broussard, founder of Souk Indigo
Photo courtesy of Souk Indigo
For some designers, inspiration bubbles up from within, but for Broussard, the inspiration for Souk Indigo came from the outside. During her travels through India, she was struck by the breathtaking work of local artisans. As she continues to build her own label, she seeks to distill that art in her own designs, which are still hand-crafted by those artisans.
What path led you to design?
I’ve been a school counselor, flower shop owner and, now, a clothing designer. These career paths may seem unrelated, but now that I’m 47, I can look back and see how it all led me to this.
What inspired you to start your business?
Traveling and collecting textiles sparked the idea to bring the best of the souk to my everyday wardrobe. I didn’t want to just frame these exquisite embroidery pieces, I wanted to wear them. Research led me to India, and eventually, I was able to connect with skilled artisans who helped bring the designs to life. My desire to provide sustainable income to these craftspeople cemented the idea and is what keeps me moving forward past all the obstacles that can pop up when launching a new business.
What does “fashion from the ground up” mean?
I have gained a deeper appreciation for nature working at my family’s flower shops and growing up around florists. Floriculture is part of my everyday life. The colors and textures found in flowers and greenery have influenced my designs.
Just as grafting in horticulture helps plants to be stronger and last longer, melding ancient textile techniques with current design helps keep the culture alive and relevant. Each piece strives to honor heritage and support local artisans.
What kinds of partnerships do you do with artisans?
Each collection incorporates artisan techniques, like kutch embroidery and kantha stitching in the first collection. For the Spring collection, I added another technique: block printing. I’m always striving to include as many artisans as possible in each design to help ensure sustainable income. I think the future of luxury is handcrafted, and I want to provide that luxury to my customers in every collection.
What is your favorite Souk Indigo staple to wear?
The Vesta jacket is my go-to piece. When traveling, it elevates jeans and a tee and looks just as good over slacks and a sweater. The T-shirts are silky soft, and with five colors, they pair easily with everything.