Let me hit you with some statistics: Women hold up to 80% of the purchasing power in the U.S., yet only 4.8% of the 500 most profitable companies in this country are led by women. It’s a deficit that you’ll hear echoed across the internet and social media as we celebrate International Women’s Day today. What’s great about today is that it offers us the chance to reflect on the state of things and take part in the changes we want to see to balance the playing field.
Although the fashion and beauty industries cater overwhelmingly to women and profit from products that are primarily designed, produced, and sold by women, the gender gap persists, with women making up a small fraction of those at the helm of the industry’s leading brands. Luckily, your choices can actually make an impact. One of the easiest solutions is to shop with intention by choosing the brands that empower women and carve out more seats at the table.
Whether or not we realize it, every time we make a purchase, we make a small but significant vote in support of the brands we’re shopping, which is why we’ve curated a shopping guide featuring the fashion and beauty brands founded by women and designed with women in mind every step of the way. They arm their artisans and factory workers with crucial life skills, employ them with financially stable jobs, and care deeply about their personal and professional growth. Oh, and they make ridiculously stylish clothes, bags, shoes, serums, moisturizers, and lipsticks.
Ahead, learn more about each brand’s commitment to female empowerment and start shopping to empower women today and all year long.
1. Cesta Collective
Cesta's basket bags stand apart from every other woven bag you've ever seen. Each creation is woven with care by female artisanal cooperatives in Rwanda using locally sourced renewable resources and then hand-finished in NYC. By creating a direct throughline with the women who weave the bags, Cesta’s designs are "a celebration of traditional Rwandan weaving techniques interpreted through a modern lens," according to the brand. "Our hope is to create an economy in the developing world and to promote female empowerment through joyful accessories.”
2. Brother Vellies
Aurora James founded Brother Vellies with the goal of introducing the rest of the world to her favorite traditional African footwear while also creating and sustaining artisanal jobs within Africa. Handmade in South Africa, Ethiopia, Kenya, and Morocco, Brother Vellies creates boots, shoes, and sandals in styles that maintain the spirit and durability of their ancestral counterparts.
3. Carcel Clothing
Carcel Clothing is made by women in prison (yes, you read that correctly). The Copenhagen-designed brand has set up production inside two prisons in Cusco, Peru, and Chiang Mai, Thailand, with the goal of employing, paying, and ultimately investing in the future of the women who make the clothes.
4. Sincerely, Tommy
Kai Avent-deLeon launched her boutique, Sincerely, Tommy, in the Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn, neighborhood where she grew up. The shop carries a curated selection of small and local brands, including Avent-deLeon's own in-house label where you'll find her take on key trends like animal print and tie-dye.
5. Anita Dongre Grassroot
Founded in 2015, the Anita Dongre Foundation was set up to empower women, especially in rural India, by bringing jobs back to the villages and helping them become independent economic centers. By training women in the art of tailoring (sewing, pattern cutting, and so on), the Anita Dongre Foundation ensures economic independence for these women through an accessible and dependable source of income. In addition to training these women, the foundation also provides a travel stipend to maintain a comfortable and stress-free work environment.
6. Ninety Percent
Ninety Percent is a London-based label launched in 2018 whose financial transparency is truly radical. As the name suggests, the brand has pledged to share 90% of its profits between charitable causes and those who make the collection happen. It's even giving its customers a say in where the donated dollars are spent.
7. Good American
Emma Grede founded Good American with Khloé Kardashian because the two women believe that "fashion should be made to fit women, not the other way around." The brand began by focusing on great-fitting jeans where every style was offered in an inclusive size range—and since launching it's expanded further into activewear, ready to wear, and loungewear.
8. No Sesso
Italian for "no sex/gender," L.A.-based No Sesso was founded by Pierre Davis in 2015 with the goal of challenging the conventions of fashion, art, culture, and design. Davis showed her fall 2019 collection for the first time in New York last month, making waves as the first transgender woman of color to present during NYFW.
Santa Barbara born and raised sisters Margaret and Katherine Kleveland founded Dôen in 2015. As veterans of the industry, they observed how atypical it is to see women at the helm of fashion brands—although women are largely the ones designing, purchasing, and wearing the clothing. Dôen aims to improve that model. It supports women at every point in the supply chain, and at launch, every overseas factory partnership was female owned or co-owned.
10. Tai Jewelry
Tai Jewelry employs and supports the artisans who handmake the line's pieces in Thailand. Founder Tai Rittichai supports the community in which the artisans live, empowering them by helping them find apartments and deal with any health issues. She is actively involved with multiple charities both in her native Thailand and the United States.
Lonely is a New Zealand–based line of lingerie and swimwear that celebrates women of all walks, something that's evident in its casting and size-inclusive offering. They make categories like lingerie and swimwear—so often fraught with expectation's of a "perfect" body—something downright fun through expressive colors and fresh designs.
12. The Range
The Range was founded by sister duo Brittney and Mia Rothweiler and perfectly captures the spirit of downtown NYC with its line of effortless and elevated basics that are meant to be worn during any season and any time of day, empowering the women who wear it.
13. Universal Standard
Universal Standard founders Polina Veksler and Alex Waldman are breaking down the barriers that separate traditional straight and plus-sized clothing categories with their line of elevated everyday basics that make dressing well a "universal standard." The line carries tailored separates, minimalist staples, denim, and activewear in an unheard of range of sizes from 00 to 40. Veksler and Waldman shared that they "wanted a size 26 to shop in the same way as a size 6—using style as her only filter," and they wanted to be the ones to make it happen.
14. Dear Frances
Jane Frances founded British luxury footwear brand Dear Frances in 2016 and set out to create a line of modern classic shoe styles that are made from sustainable materials and utilize ethical production process to help to minimize waste and curb over-production—every pair is meant to be a forever shoe. The brand partners with non-profit organizations like Soles4Souls to ensure that for every pair of Dear Frances shoes purchased, a pair of shoes be sent to a person in need.
Thinx is a line of period-proof underwear with an enticing minimal aesthetic that's made for the Instagram age. But beyond looks, the brand is committed to expanding access to period products and support services for underserved people. It makes donations of period products to grassroots organizations and local initiatives as well as provides funding for programs and services that support underserved people with periods, including survivors of domestic violence, refugees, and the homeless.
18. Girl Undiscovered
Founded by three female best friends from New Zealand, this 100% plant-based skin and bodycare brand uses the finest organic ingredients to make its oils and masks; the brand works with non-government organizations and local embassies in countries like Myanmar, Vietnam, Samoa, and Indonesia to find the most ethically sourced ingredients from small family-owned cooperatives.
19. Thrive Causemetics
Thrive’s founder, makeup artist Karissa Bodnar, was inspired to create this cosmetics line after losing a dear friend to cancer at 24 years old. For every high-performance makeup product purchased (the eyeliner is a personal favorite), the brand donates to help women battling cancer (and other important organizations). The products are vegan, 100% cruelty-free, contain no parabens or sulfates, and are made in Los Angeles.
20. The Lipstick Lobby
Described as "a social justice movement for change, progress, and equality," The Lipstick Lobby donates not a portion but 100% of its net profits from each of its four lipsticks to a different important organization. For example, 100% of its Kiss My Pink magenta shade goes to Planned Parenthood. Its Fired Up orange-red goes to The Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence. Its Outrage blue-red goes to the ACLU. And In the Clear lip balm goes to the unPrison Project.
21. Neal's Yard Remedies
This female-founded skincare and wellness brand out of the UK meets almost every possible ethical standard a beauty company could meet. The brand uses only certified organic, certified ethically sourced ingredients, sustainable packaging, and donates to the Bee Lovely campaign for bee conservation. Neal’s Yard is so committed to empowering everyone who interacts with the brand, it even offers therapy rooms at its UK store locations, where you can access everything from acupuncture to behavioral cognitive counseling.
British brand Elemis’s luxurious serums, masks, moisturizers, and other formulas are not only beloved by beauty editors—they also work to empower women all over the world. Elemis has a partnership with Women for Women International, a non-profit that provides support to female survivors of war. (Elemis sponsors a class of Afghani women, offering students and families with educational and financial support.) Elemis also helps raise funds for Breast Cancer Care, the only UK-wide charity providing support to those affected by breast cancer.
Since 2014, this cult-followed skincare and perfume brand (responsible for some of the smartest brand names and formulas on the market) has directed 1% of all its product sales to mental health charities, concentrating especially on issues that affect women, like postpartum depression and trauma linked to domestic abuse. As of last year, the brand had donated $4.3 million to these causes.
As a new mom, Olivia Thorpe left a career in investment banking to found this organic, non-toxic, and truly decadent new skincare brand. Its ingredients are ethically sourced, packaged sustainably, and the brand gives back to Marine Savers, an organization that supports the conservation and preservation of coral reefs.
Mūn's hypnotic natural skincare formulas are the vision of celebrity makeup artist Munemi Imai, who fell in love with prickly pear seed oil and uses it in all her delicious cleansers, toners, and serums. Mūn sources all its plant oils with the help of a coalition of women’s co-ops in Morocco, who use their profits to offer tutoring, educational scholarships, and a health fund for women and children in the country.
Founder Sarah Brown founded this luxurious, plant-based, gentle skincare line after having struggled for years with easily irritated skin. The line (whose rosehip oil is a personal favorite) uses organic ingredients, sustainable packaging, and supports a myriad of female-supporting charities, including mentor programs for women battling cancer.
Born of the mess that was the 2016 presidential election, Lipslut identified as "a middle finger to the current sociopolitical landscape and practices found in the cosmetics industry." The brand’s first product, the F*ck Trump Matte Liquid Lipstick, donates half of all its earnings to aiding a civil rights organization targeted by the Trump administration. Lipslut’s Notorious R.B.G. and F*ck Kavanaugh lipsticks were launched shortly thereafter and also donate 50% of their profits to relevant charities.