October is National Women’s Small Business Month, an initiative focused on promoting female-led business operations.
In 2020, this month-long spotlight on female business owners is especially important, as recent reports show the impact of the pandemic has been dramatic on women in the workforce: Many aged 25 to 54 have stepped out of the professional environment to care for children and family.
Despite this year’s challenges, the 2019 State of Women-Owned Businesses Report indicated upward growth in the world of female-helmed businesses.
Findings from the research indicate there are nearly 13 million women-owned businesses in the US that employ 9.4 million people and generate $1.9 trillion in sales.
Additionally, women-owned businesses grew 21% between 2014 to 2019, while businesses owned by women of color doubled that growth rate: As of 2019, women of color accounted for 50% of all women who owned businesses.
Within the retail and direct-to-consumer sector, there are many emerging female-led businesses that have found a way to thrive in 2020 despite its many obstacles.
I spoke with a few founders to hear their stories and to see how their retail operations are doing during the ups and downs of this year.
Marcy Capron-Vermillion and Coco Meers: Equilibria
Coco Meers (Co-Founder of PrettyQuick, acquired by Groupon in 2015) left Groupon in early 2018 to found Rebelle Collective, an early-stage investment fund focused on female entrepreneurs.
When recruiting founders for her portfolio, she spoke with Marcy Capron-Vermillion, a technologist with whom she had built early versions of PrettyQuick.
While Meers had the intention of investing in one of Capron-Vermillion’s new projects, their first conversation led them down an unintended path: Both were candid about recent mental and physical health struggles.
That single conversation led the duo down a greater path to co-found Equilibria in March of 2019, a premium CBD platform offering women personalized dosage support.
Today, the tech-forward tele-education platform has grown 20X since last August via differentiation as the only direct-to-consumer CBD company offering personalized dosage support, which is led by a team of cannabis educators.
Sasha Plavsic: ILIA Beauty
After working within the fashion and beauty industries as a branding executive, Sasha Plavsic moved home to Vancouver for a short sabbatical.
During that time, she worked on creating a lip balm that was effective and natural, without any harmful ingredients.
This single product was the start of ILIA Beauty, which she went on to found in 2011.
From there, the brand’s product line expanded into additional cosmetics, including skincare and eye products.
Fueled by user-generated social content, the brand has experienced dramatic growth and reports year-to-date sales are up 300%.
With this growing consumer demand, new partnerships became available as well, leading to the products appearing on shelves in major retailers like Sephora.
However, the rapid uptick in demand has also come with supply chain challenges, too: Many items have been out of stock, resulting in waitlisted shoppers.
As Plavsic and her team work to resolve inventory issues and get products back in stock, consumer interest continues to grow—which means that product is flying off digital and physical shelves as soon as it’s made available.
Hayley Elliott: Purusha People
For Hayley Elliott, the founder of eco-friendly direct-to-consumer yoga wear brand Purusha People, the journey of owning an apparel brand has had many ups and downs: In 2019, her business was suffering—to the point where she believed it would fold.
With less than $10 left in her account, she decided to pivot her product line, moving away from the metallic leggings her brand was known for and going a completely different route, focusing instead on producing pieces made only from Lenzing-certified eucalyptus tencel fibers.
This new material, which is an environmentally friendlier alternative to organic cotton that also uses a closed loop manufacturing process, allowed Elliott to reposition her company in a way that speaks to the growing consumer demand for sustainable apparel.
Today, many of the brand’s products quickly sell out and their limited quantity releases are highly coveted.
“I was scared to give up selling my metallic leggings, as they were the only income I had at that point,” Elliott said.
“But now, I’ve found my niche and the brand has grown to be even bigger than it ever was before. I wish I hadn’t compromised myself in those early years of business, but I wouldn’t be where I am today had I not failed, so I’m grateful for all of it.”
Celebrate National Women’s Small Business Month
These are just a few of the many women-led businesses finding success despite challenges in 2020, and it’s important to spotlight these operations throughout this month-long awareness campaign.
More gender diversity in the retail business sector means more opportunities for a variety of voices and perspectives to be shared with consumers.