#thefutureisfemale – Insights from Immaculate's Female Founders

We have so many amazing #femalefounder brands at Immaculate, so in celebration of International Women's Day on 8th March, we asked them to tell us what made them want to start their brand, what's the biggest business risk they've taken, and what advice they would offer to other female founders. We hope you find their answers as inspiring as we do!

 

 

Marion Hanania, Good Guys Don’t Wear Leather

What made you want to launch your brand?

I was a freelance shoe designer for several brands and traveling to China a lot at the time to meet suppliers for the companies I was working with. One day I came back from one of these "Chinese trips" and decided I had had enough, and was going to do things "my way”. I decided to produce my collections close to where I lived and within the European community, and to follow my aesthetic and my ethics.

I was a vegetarian, now vegan and I wanted to design shoes that would be "cruelty-free" and stylish. So as I was working as a freelancer I started building my company, looking for the right suppliers and materials and distributors. Then a few months later I launched the first French vegan shoes collection, almost 10 years ago now.

What's the biggest business risk you've taken?

I often took risks without even noticing it, like quitting all my freelance jobs when Good Guys started to pick up and the sales were growing. Jumping right into my project and not even second guessing it, I think that was the biggest risk. I am thrilled by the challenge, and often when a difficulty comes my way, after the fear of dealing with it, I am excited at the idea of a big change and how I will deal with the "new".

What's the one piece of advice you'd give to other female founders?

Don't let the industry "patronise" you. Try to show your strength as well as your sensitivity. Be good to other women and stick together, I often end up working with a complete team of women and I LOVE it, there's no BS, we work, we tell each other what we want and what we like, and we really focus on our work. I feel very comfortable with women in my line of work.

Daphna Rowe, Lovorika

What made you want to launch your brand?

It was a perfect storm of sorts. I had a severe allergic reaction to something and was rushed to A&E. My face blew up with large red swollen hives. They gave me steroids but I wasn’t going to live on them! So I went to a Chinese doctor who gave me herbal tea and acupuncture. The allergic reaction disappeared within a week. This peaked my interest in herbalism which led into Aromatherapy which I then studied and became certified.

As I already had a Masters in Psychology I knew scent was processed in the same part of the brain as emotions and memory. All this together sparked my creative side and I decided to create natural fragrances that were ethical and sustainable as well.

What's the biggest business risk you've taken?

The biggest risk is that initial leap of faith. It’s listening to that voice inside that encourages you to start your own business. Once that risk is taken, the common risks associated with any business can be taken in stride.

What's the one piece of advice you'd give to other female founders?

From day one girls are told how we should feel, what we should want and how we should behave. Going against this and finding our own voice is one of the hardest things to do as we’ve been conditioned differently. So my advice? Find your voice and then do things for the love of it. Not because someone told you it will or will not sell; not because it looks good on social media; not because your friends or partner or family want you to; not for any other reason other than it lights a fire in you. That’s it. Once that fire is lit, you’re unstoppable.

Laura Stageman, Votch

What made you want to launch your brand?

A few years ago I suffered a condition called Topical Steroid Withdrawal, an excruciating illness that saw me lose all my skin. During my illness, I educated myself a lot on the benefits of a vegan diet and adopted this lifestyle quickly, but whilst educating myself on veganism I also came across the horrors of the leather industry. As someone who had felt the pain and suffering of losing their own skin, I vowed never to wear the skin of another being again.

Then, when an old watch strap broke, I searched everywhere for a vegan replacement and I couldn’t find any, so the idea for Votch was born! It’s so crucial for me to show the world that you do not need to harm animals in the name of fashion and we donate a percentage of our profits to a different animal charity every 3 months.

What's the biggest business risk you've taken?

Quitting my job as a TV producer and running Votch full time! I had a secure job before starting Votch, and invested personally in to launching the business. Fear is one of my biggest drivers however and I completely believed in the brand. It was a huge risk but one that has paid off for sure as I’m lucky enough to work Votch around watching my beautiful son grow up too.

What's the one piece of advice you'd give to other female founders?

Find your tribe and lean on each other for support, it’s so important to find others who can relate. It can be a lonely place at times running a business and the mental load can be overwhelming. Taking ‘you’ time is crucial, you don’t need to work every hour and finding the balance is so important to staying on top of your game and giving yourself the energy you need to be the best version of yourself.

Sugandh Agrawal, GUNAS New York

What made you want to launch your brand?

I went from designing appliances for Kitchenaid to starting my own line of vegan handbags. When I first came face to face with an entire animal hide during one of my fashion  internships during grad school, I experienced my first aha moment! I could not fathom how we don’t make a connection between the products we use and where they are coming from. I knew I had to figure out a way to create fashion without causing any harm to animals. This is how the idea for GUNAS was born. 

What's the biggest business risk you've taken? 

I’ve risked my entire career for my crazy idea of turning the fashion industry around and making people realize that leather is not luxury, it’s murder. I set myself up for challenges, went against the flow even if it meant being ridiculed for my thinking or not getting paid for years. I’ve risked moving productions from country to country in an effort to stay true to my brands ethos.

GUNAS is where I’ve put more than just my time and effort on the line. But nothing wonderful is born without a crazy idea. So I’m proud of having pulled it through all these years and making beautiful cruelty free fashion so my customers don’t have to sacrifice their ethics for style. 

What's the one piece of advice you'd give to other female founders?

Do something you really love with a passion. Because that’s what will help you get out of bed, even on a day when everything seems to be going wrong, and trust me as an entrepreneur you’ll have many such moments. Believe your inner voice. Our intuition is our strongest tool. Believe in lifting each other up and help when you can. Focus on self-care.

Theresa Jentzsch, OSIER

What made you want to launch your brand?

My mom was pregnant with me when my parents started their own company, setting up renewable energy projects. Needless to say, sustainability and entrepreneurship run within the family DNA. I always knew that I wanted to run my own company, based on sustainability and ethical practices, inspired by my parents’ example. When I went vegan 5 years ago, I knew I found my calling. This is how OSIER came about. Our mission is to transform the fashion industry, with a focus on sustainability, transparency and quality.

What's the biggest business risk you've taken?

Quitting my job to dive into entrepreneurship last June was the most daunting, nerve-wrecking and rewarding business decision I have ever made. Removing that layer of security of a steady income seemed scary but it also allowed me to focus on OSIER full-time. 

What's the one piece of advice you'd give to other female founders?

Collaboration over competition: acknowledge that we’re stronger together and that you don’t have to do it all by yourself. Since I have my team of strong, beautiful women by my side, we make bigger steps, achieve goals faster and it’s a lot more fun to work on projects together. Working as a team also helps to gain insights into other perspectives. OSIER would not be where we are without these stunning ladies in my team!

Jessica Kruger, LUXTRA

What made you want to launch your brand?

Frustration at the lack of beautiful non leather handbags available at the time.

What's the biggest business risk you've taken?

Funding the business completely myself. I've spent 20x what I originally planned!

What's the one piece of advice you'd give to other female founders?

LET'S DO THIS LADIES!

Elizabeth Vince, Fulfilled

What made you want to launch your brand? 

I wanted to a more eco-friendly solution to all the bathroom products I was using but couldn't find anything that ticked all my boxes; a high performance product, good for the planet and looks great on my bathroom shelf. Inspired by the trend for designed metal water bottles, I got to thinking that if more refillable products actually looked good then we might all be inclined to try, use and keep them. 

What's the biggest business risk you've taken? 

We're still a very young brand so the biggest risk so far has been creating the brand itself, as it's been funded with personal savings.

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to female founders? 

Try and share as many opportunities with other female businesses. Need a designer? A photographer? An accountant? Explore the great female talent out there to help you achieve your vision.

Nicola Kearney, FACT + FICTION

What made you want to launch your brand? 

When we launched in 2014, I had been working in Handbag & Accessories design for over 10 years, but everything on the market was so similar. Gym and sports bags were unimaginative and really not tailored to women’s needs, and basic handbags couldn’t provide the level of function that our customers needed for all areas of their busy lives. I wanted to make a product that stood out, and changed the way we carry our day;  Starting the brand with my Co-Founder Helena, gave me that opportunity. 

What’s the biggest risk you’ve taken?

Getting our first large loan for stock was probably the biggest risk. It felt like a huge step, as everything else before that was self-funded by the two of us. But over time I’ve come to accept that loans are an integral part of running our business and maintaining our cashflow, very few businesses can run without them, especially if you sell products that have long lead times or need to service retail partners.

What’s the one piece of advice you’d give to female founders? 

Get a mentor! I now mentor a female founded brand through my work with the British Library Business Centre, but when we started the company we had several mentors and coaches over the first few years and we still draw on people’s expertise where we can.  Their experience is invaluable, especially if you are on your own and don’t have anyone else to springboard your ideas.

Megan Stacy, MESA Shoes

What made you want to launch your brand?

I designed and ran a jewelry brand for many years (Salty Fox Jewelry) but realized I was feeling a creative pull toward footwear, more specifically cool, unique, well-made, cruelty free options. I felt that there was a big hole in the marketplace for shoes that were interesting and special yet were ethically made in small batches (we use only USA production) and do not utilize animal materials. I'm super proud of how far we've come in the last year! 

What's the biggest business risk you've taken?

Just the overall decision to jump into designing and running a shoe brand :) I have a background in design and styling, but also had to learn a lot along the way. I also invested in everything on my own, so it was a big risk for me monetarily. I wanted to keep the batches small in order to keep costs down as well lower the amount of excess production.  There are definitely ups and downs in running your own business, so taking those responsibilities on felt risky... but also exciting! It's a whirlwind.

What's the one piece of advice you'd give to other female founders?

My advice is to do your research on both the business and creative sides. Knowledge is definitely power. But at a certain point, you just have to dive in and go for it!

Liz Thomas James, Taylor + Thomas

What made you want to launch your brand?

As co-founders, Jess and I (Liz) knew we wanted to make shoes in a better, more ethical and sustainable way - better for people, planet, and animals.  We just couldn't find the fashion-forward, luxury shoes that we wanted in cruelty-free materials, so, we decided to do it ourselves.  

What's the biggest business risk you've taken?

I think just starting the business alone is the biggest risk!  Launching a business is taking a big gamble on yourself, but a most fulfilling one. 

What's the one piece of advice you'd give to other female founders?

Stay true to yourself, your beliefs, and your vision.  Doing so will ensure that every day is fulfilling, even if it's stressful, hard, or tiring (which many days are!). 

Ciara Perrone, Brinn

What made you want to launch your brand?

As a professional photographer, I was on the search for a work bag that held style, ethics and function at the same level. Everything on the market felt super masculine and was made of animal skins. Running into dead ends as a consumer, I decided to take things into my own hands. I was so driven by the fact that beyond making a product myself and others would truly love, that I would be able to educate my audience that you can enjoy the same kind of luxury in a product without animal cruelty.

When I began the concept for Brinn is when both the vegan and sustainable fashion industry was really starting to grow. I still am so beyond grateful to be a part of and witness all of the new advancements. There’s nowhere I’d rather be.

What's the biggest business risk you've taken?

Honestly, every new step I take feels like a big business risk. When it comes to Brinn, I have always acted from a very intuitive place and went with what felt right. I’ve built Brinn from the ground up on my own, mostly bootstrapping the business so most decisions are tough ones to make. My rule is that everything must come from a place of intention.

What's the one piece of advice you'd give to other female founders?

One piece of advice I’d give to other female founders is that when you hear no from someone, you are talking to the wrong person. If you feel passionately about something, there is always a will and a way to make it happen.

Giovanna Sessi-Knott, The Morphbag

What made you want to launch your brand?

I felt the urgent need for multi-tasking women to have an everyday bag that 1. Matches not just a small section of wardrobe colours, 2. Serves a busy lifestyle from work to leisure and 3. Looks and feels like traditional leather but is cruelty free.

What's the biggest business risk you've taken?

Taking leaps of faith in so called ‘experts’ to cover areas outside of my personal skill set, and investing money for their services in the hope of ROI.

What's the one piece of advice you'd give to other female founders?

Founding and running your own business can easily take over your life and if you have also have other commitments or a family to take care of, it is very easy to forget to carve out ‘me time’. It is absolutely essential to preserve our own well-being as we are the heart of our businesses and our creativity. Also productivity flows best when we are balanced.

Katrin Bielawski, WOODSTRK

What made you want to launch your brand?

My Partner Finn and I were both working corporate jobs, but it didn’t fulfil or made us happy in any way. It was our first proper job after we had finished our studies, the pay was good so we weren’t chasing our dreams nor what we’re really passionate about. Instead, we decided to go down the conventional path, but quickly realized that this is not the world we see ourselves in.

At the time, there weren't many other brands that were making sustainable swimwear here in Europe that I would actually want to wear, so we decided to make our own instead. We want to close the gap between design and sustainability and try to make pieces that everyone will love, which also happen to be sustainable as this should not be an option any more, but a necessity.

What's the biggest business risk you've taken?

The obvious answer for this would be giving up our jobs and the security of a steady monthly income. But it’s more an accumulation of small risks rather than a single “big” risk. One of those more significant risks would be starting out with just the two of us. We had worked for start-ups before, but we’re talking 20+ employees, specialized in different fields.

We do finance, marketing, product/website design, logistics, communication, account management, PR, operations and so on – all by ourselves. And we don’t really mind. Frankly, we would like to keep it that way as long as possible. There nothing more fulfilling than creating something that’s truly yours.

Another one is probably putting in all of our savings, no outside capital (no bank loan, no investors) as we wanted to stay true to our values without having the pressure of delivering numbers to a bank or people outside the company.

What's the one piece of advice you'd give to other female founders?

Be honest with yourself and focus on what you’re good at. Everybody has their own weaknesses & strengths, which is beautiful as this is what makes us human. It’s important to know what you CAN do and what you CAN NOT do. And don’t take returns personally. Sometimes it’s just not meant to be.

July Choi, Agenda by July

What made you want to launch your brand?

The lack of tailored, mature fashion in sustainable fashion market.

What's the biggest business risk you've taken?

First production! All came from my savings!

What's the one piece of advice you'd give to other female founders?

Research and plan – take time.

Nicky Roughan, The Natural Edition

What made you want to launch your brand?

While working in luxury fashion (I had a luxury lingerie and sleepwear brand for 15 years) I was becoming increasingly concerned about the escalating climate crisis and how the fashion industry was contributing to it. The Natural Edition was created out of a dream for a lifestyle brand that has a positive impact on both people and the planet. The fabric we use is GOTs certified organic cotton (so no pesticides, insecticides and 91% less water used), our factory is FairWear audited which means living wages are paid and staff have decent employment conditions, our packaging is paper, and for every order we plant a tree.

I chose to launch with a capsule collection of essentials from Sydney where style is more laid back and understated, we wear a lot more essentials such as t-shirts as building blocks in our wardrobes. While living in Europe I was always struggling to find great quality and fitting essentials at a fair price. The essentials seemed to be either an afterthought of the high street and poor quality or a luxury item and too expensive. The Natural Edition was launched in 2019 for modern women everywhere, with busy lifestyles and a desire for simplicity and understated luxe in their wardrobes.

What's the biggest business risk you've taken?

Deciding to close down a profitable and successful business because I was no longer passionate about what I was doing and start a new business from scratch (The Natural Edition). Impact, sustainable and ethical practices are difficult to retrospectively add to a fashion business as the supply chain is so complex and difficult to shift, there is also lack of traceability… you really need to embed sustainable practices into the brand from the beginning.

What's the one piece of advice you'd give to other female founders?

Support other female founders or females looking at starting a business. Also connect with as many amazing women as you can and build a network of great women around you who will support you when you need them.

Cover image by Taylor + Thomas

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