4 Woman-Led Brands Changing the Game in Fashion

When I was growing up in the ’90s, one of the first people who made me believe I could work in fashion was Rachel Green. (Yes, the fictional character from Friends.) From my living room in Arizona, I watched as she landed her first job in fashion, as a personal shopper at Bloomingdale’s in New York, and then when she was hired as a manager and eventually executive at Ralph Lauren. Then, there was the position at Louis Vuitton in Paris that she ended up turning down in the season finale. As a kid in Tucson with zero connections to the fashion industry, it made me think that maybe, just maybe, I could one day break my way in as well and rise in the ranks just like Rachel Green did.

But what are the chances that Rachel Green, or a woman like her today, would have really been offered that job in Paris? According to some recent studies, not high. Pay gaps continue to exist across the board—with women making 54 to 87 cents for every dollar men are paid for equal work—but it goes beyond that. Even in largely female-dominated industries like fashion, women often aren’t rising to the same executive levels as their male counterparts.

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Collage Vintage

This fact was crystallized in a recent survey by Glamour, who published the results in “The Glass Runway: Our Exclusive Survey on the State of the Fashion Industry.” In it, the findings, which highlight gender-related divides in fashion, are pretty extraordinary. While fashion is a largely female-focused industry, where “women spend more than triple what men do on clothing,” according to the study, it is also hiring a shockingly low number of women for jobs at the executive level. Further evidence was published in a 2015 survey by Business of Fashion, which found that only 14% of leading fashion brands are run by a female executive and that men account for the vast majority of high-ranking positions.

Needless to say, this limited pool of females at the executive level is problematic. But there are some inspiring women-led brands that are certainly changing the game in fashion. Who are the female bosses at the top, what are they doing to help close this gap, and what advice do they have for young women aspiring to work at the executive level? To find out, I chatted with some of the fashion industry’s most powerful female leaders.

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Noa Griffel

When I spoke with Tory Burch, the chief executive and designer of her eponymous brand, she emphasized the importance of women in fashion. In fact, it’s a motto woven into the DNA of her company.

“Advocacy for women in business is something I’ve always been passionate about,” she told Who What Wear. “Our foundation, which provides access to capital, education, and digital resources for female entrepreneurs, was built into our business plan from the very beginning. Our goal is to provide the tools to help level the playing field.”

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Collage Vintage

An example of women helping women, Burch’s commitment to impact change is helping to close the gender gap. When it comes down to it, though, Burch puts it simply: “Female entrepreneurship is good for business—period. Countless studies have shown that companies that have women in leadership positions outperform those that do not.”

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WWD

Altuzarra CEO Karis Durmer echoes Burch’s feelings about the importance of diversity for the health and success of a business. “I think having a balance of voices (by gender, by background, by age, and so on) is important and provides for a robust dialogue,” she told us.

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Collage Vintage

There’s no doubting that by bringing in a diverse team, businesses can learn new ideas and gain alternative viewpoints. “To that end,” Durmer pressed, “women, and the unique perspective they bring, are essential—at every level.”

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Aurora James

Aurora James, founder and creative director of Brother Vellies, approaches the importance of women in fashion from a different, but equally important, perspective, one that taps into her design expertise. “The female point of view is extremely important, especially as it pertains to dressing women’s bodies,” she shared in our chat. “There should always be a woman in the room for those conversations.”

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Collage Vintage

In an industry where women’s bodies are the focus, it only makes sense to closely involve women who have the best understanding of the female form itself. James narrowed in on this point, making it clear that women are integral to the industry for this important reason.

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Raissa Gerona

And when it comes to motivating women to climb fashion’s ranks, Raissa Gerona—chief brand officer of Revolve and co-founder of Alliance Apparel—has some words of wisdom. She believes it’s important for “women to have a voice” and cautions against fear when reaching the higher levels.

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Collage Vintage

Instead, she encourages confidence. “Always let your work speak for itself, and don’t be afraid to speak up when you have a question or a suggestion,” she told us. “It can be intimidating at times, but remember that you’re in that room for a reason, and your feedback is valued.”

In the end, I’d like to think that Rachel Green really would have been offered that executive position in Paris, and today, as in the ’90s, I’m rooting for the Greens of the world. Better yet, I’m rooting for the real-life fashion bosses like Tory Burch, Karis Durmer, Aurora James, and Raissa Gerona, who young women can look up to.

It’s clear that there is work to be done to make sure it’s a more inclusive space, and I have hope that in the years ahead, we will see the scales tip so that more talented women can join their peers at the top.