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Of all the industries to still be a boys’ club at the top, you would think that women’s fashion wouldn’t be one of them. It only makes sense that fashion brands run by women would be more likely to know exactly what today’s modern woman wants, right? But if you take a closer look at the upper echelons of big-name retailers, high-fashion houses, and buzzy new brands, you might be surprised by the male-to-female ratios.
Just last year, only two of the ten CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalists were women (both are on this list), while Business of Fashion found, from a survey of 50 major fashion brands, that women led just 14 percent of them and made up only 25 percent of board members of publicly traded fashion and luxury companies.
Those disappointing numbers aside, there are still legions of impressive, inspiring women running their own shows in fashion, whether as top designers like Donatella Versace, Miuccia Prada, Rebecca Taylor; business-side leaders such as Isabelle Guichot at Balenciaga and Karen Katz at Neiman Marcus; or independent entrepreneurs like the women you’ll meet below. In honor of International Women’s Day on March 8, we’re highlighting some of our favorite female-run fashion brands—and nudging you to show your support, too.
People throw around the phrase “the future of fashion” a lot, but Chromat founder Becca McCharen is the real deal. A pioneer in the fashion-tech sphere, the designer puts her architecture background to use creating smart, structural lingerie, activewear, and swimwear, and consistently scores points for being ahead of the curve in terms of inclusivity, casting people of all shapes, genders, races, abilities, and ages. She also has an ongoing partnership with Intel, last season creating a sports bra prototype that adjusted in response to the wearer’s body temperature and sweat, and this season venturing into responsive hand accessories that controlled the glow of electroluminescent garment. And this is just five years in—just think of what she’ll be able to do when tech catches up with her imagination.
In some ways, Chloe Lonsdale was destined for denim. The daughter of blue-jean entrepreneurs—her parents founded ’70s chain Jean Machine—she relaunched her godfather’s Made in Heaven label in 2006 under the updated name M.i.h. and has since turned it into a global brand. As chief creative officer, London-based Lonsdale has cultivated a reputation for superb fits and an updated, vintage-inspired aesthetic. Plus, with the company growing its wholesale business in more than 43 countries around the world, it recently brought on Beverly Hill as chief executive officer, meaning you get twice the girl power for the price of one.
It’s not easy to hit upon something truly original in fashion—trying to reinvent the shoe is kind of like trying to reinvent the wheel—but when Aurora James debuted her first collection of footwear in 2014, something felt fresh about the designs. Inspired by traditional African shoe styles like “vellies” (desert boots), babouches (Moroccan slippers), and rubber-soled tyre sandals, the label has its roots in a backpacking trip James took across the continent in 2011. And while the designs have gotten more high fashion over the past few seasons—Spring 2016 features $1,500 hand-beaded sandals, and counts Kanye West as a fan—James’s commitment to sustainability and to promoting the African artisans she works with remains as strong as ever.
Founded in 2013 by Toronto-based sisters Chloe and Parris Gordon, Beaufille has fast become a label to watch among those in the know. Last year, the pair picked up the Swarovski Award for emerging accessories designer at the Canadian Arts & Fashion Awards, and with their elevated, minimal clothing designs and complementary sleek jewelry, they’ve also caught the eye of some of our favorite boutiques.
Fleur du Mal
Jennifer Zuccarini has been around the block in the lingerie industry, cofounding luxury brand Kiki de Montparnasse and working as design director at Victoria’s Secret before founding her own line, Fleur du Mal, in 2012. The breadth of experience comes through in the detailing and range of her designs, which include dusty pink satin bodysuits, reimagined bullet bras, and, as of last season, a line of femme-fatale-worthy swimwear. She also inked a collaboration deal with Playboy, yielding a cheeky selection of bunny-ear playsuits, silk smoking robes, and tulle tail pins.
Originally published March 2016. Updated March 2017.