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History is filled with successful female leaders and pioneers—Cleopatra, Elizabeth I, Catherine the Great, Joan of Arc, Maya Angelou, Ada Lovelace, Amelia Earhart. Today, some of the most successful, well-known brands are led by strong female CEOs like Mary T. Barra at General Motors, Michele Buck at The Hershey Company or Jill Soltau at JCPenney. Modern leaders have these incredible women for inspiration in the business world. Having women in leadership roles is vital for helping address cultural issues that need female representation.
There’s still a long way to go before women are properly represented in business, with only 5% of Fortune 500 CEOs as female. But on this International Women’s Day, let’s take the opportunity to pay homage to some of the newer brands leading the way, created by females for females that have shaken up the modern marketplace; brands that are successful because they are female-focused. These brands have been able to identify a gap in the women’s market and provide unparalleled solutions to problems that only women would be able to pioneer.
A brand headed up by internationally renowned music artist Rihanna was bound to gain a cult following, but Robyn Fenty (Rihanna’s birth name) went above and beyond anyone’s expectations when she released her beauty brand in 2017. The now successful business mogul and diversity champion debuted Fenty Beauty with foundations in 40 different shades. The idea of releasing foundations that seek to match the broad range of people’s skin tones sounds remarkably simple. Despite many other brands seemingly advocating for diversity over the last few years, it’s refreshing to see a brand like Fenty Beauty put their money where their perfectly glossed lips are. Diversity has been embedded in the brand from the start, and in doing this it has been able to reach customers that had up until that point felt overlooked by the beauty industry.
In less than three years, Fenty Beauty has become a firm fan favorite found in the make-up bags of many. When it launched, 40 shades had people talking but now the range has expanded to 50, proving that Fenty is serious about delivering what they set out to achieve. Unlike many celeb-led brands, Rihanna has taken a backseat in promoting Fenty and really lets her products do the talking. Fenty is well respected within its own right and the fact that the brand has not fallen into the void of other less successful celebrity brands is testament to its strong values and high quality products.
We’ve been forced to accept that there are only two forms of sanitary products for menstruation: tampons and pads. Around 50% of the population have periods but it’s still in many ways a taboo. On social media, Instagram posts featuring menstruation have been censored. And even on traditional media ads have been pulled. In the case of a recent Thinx ad, multiple major US TV networks refused to air it unless Thinx replaced a scene with a visible tampon string.
Periods are an inevitable part of the female experience and Thinx is just one company that knows that women want more than two options on how to manage that time of the month. The first menstrual cups, for example, were invented in 1867 but have only in recent times become more mainstream. Thinx has been able to identify a gap in the market for women who wish to have an easy alternative to traditional feminine hygiene products that are both fashionable and practical: period protection combined in underwear.
The founders of Thinx—Miki Agrawal, Radha Agrawal, and Antonia Dunbar—created a modern solution to an age-old problem. Instead of accepting the status quo and being women that give into discomfort once every month, these women sought out a solution. We can’t say for sure who exactly invented the tampon, though it’s often reported that it was a man. But who better to create female products than those part of the audience they are intended for? So many inventions could be improved if only women were consulted in the design phase.
Billie is an affordable DTC women’s razor brand that has cut out the ‘pink tax’ that women often have to pay for a female version of what should be considered gender-neutral products like deodorant and shampoo. Billie created a robust product and embraced a subscription model that is tailored to fast-paced modern life. Billie targets products at real women with hair. By being honest in its advertising and refusing to give in to visions of Barbie-like hairless figures, Billie has gained a cult following from women who want to know that they are investing into brands who understand everyday women’s issues.
Since mass marketing emerged in the 1920s, women have been sold unobtainable images of perfection. But it seems the tide is finally turning and the success of real women is prevailing, (the rise in popularity of musical artists promoting body positivity such as Lizzo are a testament to this). Billie is a brand that takes female empowerment seriously, aiming to normalize body hair instead of pretending it doesn’t exist. Sometimes, shaving isn’t glamorous but it’s part of the female experience and by being a brand that is aware of the reality, Billie has earned a place in the hearts of many.
Strong women surround us in business and in life and there’s a lot we can learn from them. It’s worth taking note, ladies (and gents!).