In the United States alone, 42% of businesses—nearly 13 million—are owned by women, with that number continuing to grow each year. And yet, we rarely stop to recognize the brilliant brands and standout customer experiences these female leaders in our space have created. So, in honor of International Women’s Day this year, we’ll be shouting out the amazing women-owned brands in retail and eCommerce that are paving the way for more female entrepreneurs and changing the industry for the better.
Women-Owned Businesses by the Numbers
Before we dive in, let’s take a quick look at female-owned businesses in the US:
- Women-owned firms employed over 10.1 million workers and reported nearly $1.8 trillion in sales, shipments, receipts, or revenue in 2018.
- Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic over the past two years, female business owners have remained optimistic about the futures of their companies – with 61% reporting an expected increase in revenue in 2022.
- More than two thirds of American women who have established their own businesses are highly educated – with 34% holding a bachelor’s degree, 27% have a master’s degree, and 8% have their doctorate.
- The generational breakdown of female business owners is as follows: 51% Gen X (born between 1965 and 1980), 31% Baby Boomers (1946 – 1964), 17% Millennials (1981-1996), and 1% Gen Z (born in or after 1997).
Innovative Brands Founded and Owned by Women
Let’s take a look at 13 inspiring women-owned brands from the fashion, jewelry, beauty, and home decor industries. These brands have pushed the boundaries in new niches, set higher standards for customer experience, and redefined the success possible in the retail industry.
Fashion Brands Spearheading Change
MaisonCléo is the antithesis of fast fashion, urging its shoppers to rethink stylish consumption. Founded by French mother-daughter duo Nathalie and Marie Dewet, the brand is known for handcrafting one-of-a-kind customizable pieces from deadstock couture fabrics. Despite its modern approach to marketing (Marie uploads their creations through Instagram, where they now have a sizable following), MaisonCléo takes inspiration from the past, particularly from Nathalie’s youth. The brand drops quality items in limited weekly runs on their eCommerce shop as well as on Net-A-Porter.
2. Rent the Runway
College friends Jennifer Hyman and Jennifer Fleiss co-founded Rent the Runway with a singular mission in mind: they wanted to make it possible for women to don designer clothing and accessories without footing designer bills. In 2009, the dynamic duo launched their website, enabling fashionistas around the United States to rent and return high fashion items. In 2013, they added a plus size category to their website. The next year, they opened their first brick-and-mortar store in New York City. Then in 2016, the company began offering monthly subscription packages to provide even more access and flexibility to a massive closet of designer styles.
For many women, shopping for bras is a matter of trial and error to find the best (or least uncomfortable) fit. However, this method didn’t sit well with former Google executive Heidi Zak, leading her to create ThirdLove with husband David Spector. The company name represents the three areas it focuses on when designing its products: feel, style, and fit. The undergarment company’s first breakthrough was the introduction of half-size cups for women who fall in between standard cup sizes. Next, the ThirdLove team launched an app that used a machine learning algorithm to analyze user-uploaded photos to recommend bras tailored to their size. For women who didn’t want to download the app, the company introduced the FitFinder quiz on its website. Together, the app and website quiz enabled ThirdLove to build over 70 new size options based on millions of data points, revolutionizing the undergarment industry with data science.
After being burned in a chemical spill during a lab experiment while wearing personal protective equipment (PPE), Beau Wangtrakuldee saw a need for PPE that was chemical-resistant, antimicrobial, and reusable. This resulted in AmorSui, a company she founded with a mission to empower PPE wearers to perform their best while staying safe, and without compromising the environment. AmorSui was thrust into the limelight during the COVID-19 pandemic, when many healthcare facilities faced a shortage of single-use PPE. Thanks to AmorSui, customers from the healthcare sector now have access to reusable gowns that are paired with a high-tech management app that tracks the number of washes to ensure their ideal use is not exceeded.
It might be hard to believe now, but there was a time when activewear wasn’t fashionable. In 2014, Jennifer Bandier wanted to remedy that with her line of stylish yet high-quality workout gear. After all, activewear wasn’t confined to the gym – women also wore it after workouts to get coffee or run errands. Thus, Bandier was born. What began as a single store in New York has since grown into a national community of women brought together by unique collections and extensive engagement with influencers like Jennifer Aniston, Hailey Bieber, Liv Tyler, and Kim Kardashian. Today, brick-and-mortar Bandier locations offer more than just clothing and accessories – they’ve become a wellness destination with built-in fitness classes, coffee shops, and lounges for friends to meet up and hang out in.
Jewelry Brands Making a Difference
6. Alexandra Hakim
The phrase “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure” couldn’t be more true for Alexandra Hakim’s striking jewelry pieces. Instead of letting objects go to waste, the British-Lebanese jewelry maker breathes new life into found materials and casts them into precious metals. Every piece is sustainable, made by hand, and zero-waste. Her collections are inspired by her extensive travels and artistic eye, resulting in truly unique necklaces and earrings that have been worn by pop superstar Rihanna and featured in Vogue Italia, Harper’s Bazaar Arabia, and Elle USA, just to name a few.
7. House of Aama
If you want to be more intentional with your fashion while celebrating Black designers, then House of Aama should be one of your go-to online shopping destinations. Like MaisonCléo, this brand was created by another mother-daughter design team – Rebecca Henry and Akua Shabaka. They have devoted themselves to showcasing timeless pieces made of vintage and traditional African textiles. Each collection comes with a reference to Black history that is carefully researched and meant to start a dialogue.
Are you into layering your necklaces? Do you have a few pieces lined up in your online shopping cart, but aren’t sure if they’ll go together? That’s why Marisa Hordern launched the Layering Lab on Missoma, a popular online jewelry brand. Hordern’s Layering Lab is a customization tool that allows shoppers to try on items digitally before buying. Users can start with chokers and work their way to short, medium, and long pieces. The interactive experience lets you experiment without commitment.
Beauty Brands Reinventing the Customer Experience
Birchbox, founded by Katia Beauchamp and Hayley Barna, is the pioneer of the subscription beauty box model. The brand creates personalized, informative experiences for customers who identify as “beauty casual” – AKA those who enjoy beauty and grooming products, but need some guidance in order not to feel overwhelmed by the excess of choices, ingredients, routines, and products. In the years following its founding, Birchbox has focused on creating data-driven customer experiences, even taking advantage of augmented reality to attract male customers. This approach has led to better brand sentiment and increased subscriptions.
10. Thirteen Lune
Launched in 2020, Thirteen Lune is an eCommerce platform that showcases inclusive beauty brands created by Black and Brown founders. The haircare, skincare, and beauty products on this site are made to meet the needs of consumers with darker skin tones. Starting with 13 products, the company has grown to carry more than 70 brands. In 2021, Thirteen Lune partnered with J.C. Penney to bring BIPOC-owned brands to more than 600 locations, creating a store-within-a-store concept.
11. Glow Recipe
For founders Sarah Lee and Christine Chang, skincare shouldn’t be viewed as a tedious chore to be done before applying your makeup. Instead, they believe it can be a pampering and enjoyable experience that customers should look forward to on its own. That’s the mission behind Glow Recipe, which coined the term “Skintertainment.” The company’s eye-catching packaging and delicious scents all add to the fun experience of taking care of your skin, something they encourage customers to share on social media. Aided by celebrities like Kim Kardashian, who have shared photos of themselves wearing face masks online, the two founders of Glow Recipe have become responsible for changing the way many customers approach skincare.
12. Oars + Alps
Skincare is largely marketed to women, but men need and want to protect their skin too. Mia Saini Duchnowski and Laura Lisowski Cox founded Oars + Alps for this purpose after seeing their husbands struggle firsthand with skin problems. Enlisting the help of chemists, the women created products that are safe for use but efficient and reasonably priced. Oars + Alps further developed their offerings by focusing on customer feedback, market research, and beta testing.
The Home Decor Brand That Keeps Customers Coming Back
Ariel Kay founded Parachute in 2014 as an online-only, direct-to-consumer brand focused exclusively on selling premium bedding. Since then, the site has expanded into many areas of home decor and opened several brick-and-mortar stores across the United States. The company credits much of its success to its customer-centric approach, adding products and categories based on customer requests. As such, the brand has gained a loyal following with a 90% overall customer return rate and a reported one-third of monthly sales coming from existing customers.
Women-Owned Brands Are Changing the Future, One Business at a Time
Our list is in no way complete—there are plenty of women and women-owned brands that deserve recognition and have the potential to revolutionize their industries. Many are still trying to make waves in male-dominated spaces while facing their own set of challenges. But now, with doors opening for more women entrepreneurs worldwide, we can’t wait to see what the next generation of female-owned brands accomplishes.