Beauty Fashion

30 Female-Founded Fashion Brands We’re Shopping in 2021

It’s no surprise that editors love the thrill of the hunt. There’s just something about spotting talent shine through a stunning runway collection or spotting a resurging shoe trend out in the wild. But none surpass the experience of unearthing a sensational new female-founded fashion brand. And while it may seem trite to care about such a specific detail, it’s not. According to a study by Business of Fashion, women design fewer than 50% of well-known womenswear brands, and women hold less than 25% of leadership positions in top fashion companies. Of course, great clothes can come from anywhere—and Who What Wear champions that—but today, it’s more important than ever to rally behind marginalized communities within the fashion industry, which includes women.  One of the easiest ways to show support is by learning more about the female founders that make the fashion industry what it is today. Ahead, you’ll hear from 29 female founders (from the OG glass-ceiling breakers to the rising stars) on why they started their brand, their advice to young designers, and of course, shop some of their favorite pieces.

WHO: Tacharra Perry. WHAT: Designer and Creative Director of Char. Why did you start your business?  TP: I started designing after high school; I upcycled vintage Levi’s and resold them to my peers for income. I have always been inspired by my grandmother, who also made clothing and had a reupholstery business. I like to think of how proud she would be of my brand’s growth if she were still here.

What is one hero piece you love from your brand?  TP: The high-cut cheeky shorts are hot right now, and they’re having their moment. It’s crazy because when I developed the first sample for short, it wasn’t doing it for me, but over time I started to love them, and it’s been a prominent piece since our relaunch in August. What advice would you give a young entrepreneur looking to break into the industry?  TP: It’s okay to make mistakes as long as you learn from them. Don’t expect overnight success in this industry, and don’t take anything personally.

WHO: Simonett Pereira. WHAT: Founder and Creative Director of Simonett. Why did you start your business?  SP: I wanted to create a brand with unique and empowering pieces for women with an individualistic approach to fashion. In 2020, I launched the Simonett store as a platform for discovery and inspiration, working with independent designers worldwide celebrating sustainable practices and intentional design.

What is one hero piece you love from your brand?  . SP: I’m very proud of the fit on our Kika pants that we originally released in black with white contrast stitching and now comes in bone white. It resembles a workwear pant but in vegan leather and will be a staple in my closet for years to come. What advice would you give a young entrepreneur looking to break into the industry? SP: Identify one thing you’re good at, like better than anyone else, and nurture that. The rest will come intuitively and with hard work, dedication and strategy.

WHO: Amira Rasool. WHAT: Founder and CEO of The Folklore. Why did you start your business?  . AR: I founded The Folklore because I recognized that there was a vast continent full of up-and-coming designers that were producing some of the most innovative styles in the world, and yet, they still struggled to attract global distribution opportunities. I wanted to use my network to help solve this problem in a sustainable way that was conscious of the designers’ needs and the thousands of people we hope we will help them employ.

Since your business is all about curating great brands, can you share one piece you’re currently loving and why? AR: I love a mid-length dress that allows you to breathe and still turn heads, and the Ella Multi-Print Dress by our first designer from South America, Angela Brito, is just that. It’s incredible how the dress combines so many contrasting elements without coming off too busy—there’s an art to making a piece this special.  What advice would you give a young entrepreneur looking to break into the industry? AR: Before you start anything, obsessively research every element of the industry you are in and find answers to all the questions that might come up during your journey. Even after you embark on your career journey, continue to make time for research and development. You always have to know what’s going on around you, and you have to continue learning to stay ahead of the competition and enhance your skills and knowledge.

WHO: Lauren Chan. WHAT:  Founder and CEO of Henning. Why did you start your business?  . LC: I built Henning because despite having spent years as a savvy plus-size consumer and as a fashion editor invested in discovering emerging brands, I could never find a desirable luxury brand that made clothes in my size. While my smaller peers regularly wore designer clothing, I was wearing cheap, fast-fashion. I absorbed the message over time that I was of lesser value than them—the exact message that fashion aims to portray by leaving plus-size women out of the luxury conversation. Henning seeks to change that narrative and to tell women of all sizes that they are high-value people.

What is one hero piece you love from your brand?   . LC: I’m excited about our new cashmere pieces—you’ll have to keep an eye out for them as they’re the perfect pieces to make you feel sumptuous this spring and avoid a one-year-in-the-same-sweats rut. But all of our pieces are great staple wardrobe pieces made ethically on-demand in New York City. What advice would you give a young entrepreneur looking to break into the industry?  LC: Find your niche. Be flexible. Stay intentional.

WHO: Telsha Anderson. WHAT: Owner and Buyer of T.A. Why did you start your business?  TA: Ownership in the Black community is significant and often not seen within the fashion and retail industry. Ownership was the main driver in opening T.A. I wanted to create a space where I felt seen not only in the brand matrix but in the artwork and overall ethos of the brick and mortar. I see myself in T.A. and I hope other women who visit do, too.

Since your business is all about curating great brands, can you share one piece you’re currently loving? TA: I’ve been obsessed with everything Julia Heuer as of late! Julia Heuer is the perfect brand for Spring/Summer because of the colors and fabrication. Nothing compares to walking outside your New York apartment in digitally printed pants featuring four to five different colors. What advice would you give a young entrepreneur looking to break into the industry? TA: Keep your integrity!

WHO: Xenab Lone. WHAT: Creative Director and Founder of Auné. Why did you start your business?  XL: The multibrand store was founded because I wanted to support emerging designers and promote season-less designs and sustainability. I later created Auné Collections, my made-to-measure clothing brand, to be size-inclusive and encourage the idea of slow fashion.

What is one hero piece you love from your brand?  . XL: Our glove-scarf is one of my favorites because it reminds me of 1940’s glamour with a modern twist. What advice would you give a young entrepreneur looking to break into the industry? XL: Don’t be so hard on yourself and try not to compare yourself to others. Social media can make you feel insecure, but always believe in your abilities and don’t let anyone underestimate them.

WHO: Sami Lorking-Tanner, and Evangeline Titilas. WHAT: Co-founders of With Jéan . Why did you start your business?  . SLT + ET:  We were both 24 years old and working in jobs we weren’t particularly passionate about. Ee knew we had nothing to lose, so With Jéan was a dream we decided to pursue relentlessly.

What is one hero piece you love from your brand?   . SLT + ET: Our Andy Dress. We love that it is versatile and flattering in all shapes and sizes. What advice would you give a young entrepreneur looking to break into the industry? SLT + ET:  Be resilient, accept setbacks as essential lessons, and move forward.

WHO: Fisayo Longe. WHAT: Owner and Creative Director of Kai Collective. Why did you start your business?  FL: To make attainable clothing with luxury aesthetics that would be intentionally crafted to make women feel like their most confident selves. We are building a community of limitless women who use fashion as a means for self-discovery, expression, and actualization.

What is one hero piece you love from your brand?  FL: Many people are familiar with our Gaia pieces that have become very popular over the last year, but I love our Bea Dress because it’s a statement dress that transcends trends, and we keep bringing back every season. I love its simplicity but also its uniqueness. Your presence is felt in any room when you’re wearing it. What advice would you give a young entrepreneur looking to break into the industry? FL: Build an intimate relationship with yourself by spending time alone—journal, read books, and discover who you are. That will help you develop a strong intuition to trust and be honest with yourself about your product or service. After that, ignore the noise and trust your gut.

WHO: Alexa Leigh . WHAT: CEO and Founder of Alexa Leigh. Why did you start your business?  AL: I always used art as my creative outlet, and I began to sketch designs that reflected my everyday life. Eventually, I realized this approach resonated with others and decided to start Alexa Leigh. My vision was to cultivate a jewelry line that could be worn every day and look good on any occasion.

What is one hero piece you love from your brand?  . AL: I love the 4mm Gold Ball Bracelet because it looks good with everything and on everyone. It can be worn as a stand-alone piece, but it can easily be stacked with other bracelets for more of a statement look.  What advice would you give a young entrepreneur looking to break into the industry? AL: Be yourself! There are bound to be good days and bad days as an entrepreneur, but they are easier to navigate if you stay true to yourself and your values. Don’t get caught up in the noise and own your uniqueness.

WHO: Karen Perez . WHAT:  Founder of Second Wind . Why did you start your business? KP: During the height of the pandemic, I was inspired to create a mask line that would empower women. Prior to Second Wind, my full-time job was styling, and my clients were coming to me with mask requests, and I could barely find any to my taste. I started this brand to create a face mask that felt empowering to wear and not hide your entire face while also accentuating your attributes.

What is one hero piece you love from your brand?  KP: One of our hero pieces is the Tina mask in Black linen with our gold chain. It’s the most requested and most popular style. The Tina took months to perfect, from the fit, cut, construction, and unique materials sourced. What advice would you give a young entrepreneur looking to break into the industry? KP: My best advice I would give to a young entrepreneur is to believe in yourself and your product because if you don’t believe in and love your product, then why would others?

WHO: Alana Pallister. WHAT: Founder of I.Am.Gia. Why did you start your business?  . AP: I founded I.Am.Gia to empower the wearer to be their boldest, most beautiful selves. To live uniquely, be proud, and always stand out in the crowd.

What is one hero piece you love from your brand?  . AP: I love our new Gia Glam category, particularly the Karlie Dress. Making Gia gowns and exploring red carpet styling has been a fascinating new project for me. What advice would you give a young entrepreneur looking to break into the industry?  AP: As a self-taught CEO and creative director, my biggest and best advice would always be to follow your gut; you can achieve anything with strong will and drive to succeed. I learned by giving everything a go. Taking risks is my life motto.

WHO: Sarah Staudinger. WHAT: Co-Founder and Creative Director of Staud. Why did you start your business? SS: I founded Staud in 2015 with the vision to offer a collection of accessible and timeless pieces. I’ve always been inspired by the past and vintage clothing. Thus, I wanted to create a not-trend-focused line but a mindful one. I wanted to instill an emotional reaction in our customers the same way high brands do through innovative pieces at an accessible price point for the contemporary woman.

What is one hero piece you love from your brand?   . SS: We pay a lot of attention to our customers, and what is going on in the world, a lot goes into each piece. The Shoko sweater dress and Bean bag are customer favorites. I like that both pieces offer a sense of versatility.

What advice would you give a young entrepreneur looking to break into the industry? SS: Knowing what you don’t know is one of the most valuable assets I think any entrepreneur can have. When it comes to creativity and design, go with your gut. Trust your vision and remain authentic.

WHO: Jasmin Larian Hekmat. WHAT: CEO and Creative Director of Cult Gaia. Why did you start your business?  JLH: I was born to create and make women feel beautiful. I am very antsy when I can’t find the thing I like in the world, so I resort to finding a way to make it.

What is one hero piece you love from your brand?   . JHL: The Ark bag was how we reached a more critical mass and taught me about the anatomy and magic of a trend that takes off. Also, the willow dress was really our first piece of ready-to-wear that took off when many people didn’t believe we could go past the It-bag moment, so this was huge for me.

What advice would you give a young entrepreneur looking to break into the industry?  JLH: I believe in not waiting. I don’t think you need to have all your plans figured out to start something. In fact, I think that creates delays and procrastination. Just begin. Plant the seed and it will grow. Flowers aren’t born overnight. 

WHO: Martha Calvo . WHAT: Creative Director and Founder of Joolz by Martha Calvo. Why did you start your business?  . MC: I was always fashion-forward and wanted to create timeless pieces that are ahead of the trend. I have never thought outside the box; I have always made a new box.

What is one hero piece you love from your brand?  . MC: Our donut Pierced Hoops for sure. It’s the perfect everyday hoop, and it has come to be known as the Martha Calvo earring.

What advice would you give a young entrepreneur looking to break into the industry? MC: You must love what you do. Be content and grateful with your work but never get complacent.

WHO: Wannasiri Kongman. WHAT: Co-Founder and Co-Creative Director of Boyy. Why did you start your business?  WK: I was trying to put the pieces together to find something that would give continuity and the potential for constant growth in my life. The fashion industry was a great passion of mine and because of this, I found the blind courage to jump into it. 

What is one hero piece you love from your brand?   . WK: Our Bobby bag. It changed our lives totally and has become one of our most popular bags.

What advice would you give a young entrepreneur looking to break into the industry? WK: If you have preconceived rules and guidelines in your head of the “right” and “wrong” way to do things, wash them away. The best opportunities await as unexpected cracks between these lines.

WHO: Barbara Boccara and Sharon Krief. WHAT: Co-Founders of Ba&Sh. Why did you start your business?  BB: We founded Ba&Sh with a shared vision to bring to life our dream wardrobe for all women worldwide. We wanted to make fashion that makes women feel beautiful and strong, confident and joyful.

What is one hero piece you love from your brand?  . SK: We say this every season, but we truly believe our new spring collection is the best one yet! I love the Lony Cardigan (we made it in three colors because we knew it’d be a bestseller). I’m obsessed with how light it feels on, and the ruched shoulder details.  BB: My favorite piece from our spring collection is this matching backless top-and-skirt set, the Wink and Wonder. It’s feminine and easy to wear but subtly sexy.

What advice would you give a young entrepreneur looking to break into the industry? SK: Seek advice from experts but always follow your intuition and trust your gut. We’ve always had an innate sense of what is authentic to us and our brand and tried to follow that no matter what!

WHO: Alexia Elkaim. WHAT: Founder and Creative Director of Miaou. Why did you start your business?  . AE: I started Miaou in hopes of making clothes that make women feel good. It felt to find that special and unique vintage piece at a flea market in the same way. I wanted to bring that kind of novelty to the market.

What is one hero piece you love from your brand?  . AE: Our Imogene Corset (my favorite is in the brown toile and solid red). It feels so good and sexy without any abrasive corset boning and is guaranteed to dress up any outfit. The Elvis pants are the only pants I wear now? Thank you, COVID-19, and thank you, Lycra.

What advice would you give a young entrepreneur looking to break into the industry? AE: This may sound corny, but be yourself. The industry is so saturated now, and I think authenticity and a real perspective are so important. You can never go wrong as long as you’re telling the truth.

WHO: Jennifer Zuccarini. WHAT: Founder and CEO of Fleur du Mal. Why did you start your business?  . JZ: With Fleur du Mal, I wanted to create a brand inspired by powerful women who are not afraid to embrace their femininity and sexuality, with beautiful lingerie and clothing made for dressing up and undressing. At the time, I didn’t see anything else that spoke to that woman.

What is one hero piece you love from your brand?   . JZ: Our Lily Embroidery Demi Bra and thong in black. This is a very iconic collection for us. I never get tired of it and the fit is incredible. I always travel with our cowl neck slip dress, it’s so flattering, works for a night out but I’ve also worn it with sneakers and a cropped sweater during the day.

What advice would you give a young entrepreneur looking to break into the industry? JZ: With so many brands on the market, it’s essential to define your brand voice and clarify why the world needs another of what you want to offer. I would also add that design talent and vision is only one part of the equation; you are the brand and have to be willing to put yourself out there. In the past, if you made it into Barneys (R.I.P.), it was a big deal for a designer. Now you need to focus more on your social following.

WHO: Tina Rodiou. WHAT: Co-Founder and Designer of Aya Muse. Why did you start your business?  . TR: I founded Aya muse because I had difficulty finding good quality pieces with a minimalistic feel at a reasonable price point. It started as me trying to fill a gap in the market.

What is one hero piece you love from your brand?   . TR: From S/S 21, I love the Aya knit skirt. It’s different and can be worn in so many ways, and the fabric is so forgiving and heavyweight. 

What advice would you give a young entrepreneur looking to break into the industry? TR: Start designing pieces that you would wear, don’t follow trends, accept criticism but don’t let it break you, and be patient. Your hard work will pay off.

WHO: Tina Xu. WHAT: Founder and Designer of I’mmany. Why did you start your business?  . TX: I wanted to build a brand where I can create unique designs that inspire people to discover the splendor of nature and appreciate the small joys of life.

What is one hero piece you love from your brand?  . TX: Yellow roses are sentimental to me. My grandma loves yellow roses, and for years she grew them in her garden, where I spent many childhood summers, so these rosebud earrings are very dear to me.

What advice would you give a young entrepreneur looking to break into the industry? TX: Stay laser-focused and be open to various inputs in the meantime.

WHO: Nasrin Jean-Baptiste. WHAT: Founder and Designer of Petit Kouraj. Why did you start your business?  . NJB: I founded Petit Kouraj to be an example to myself and my daughters to never let fear stop you from going for your dreams. It was also to serve my relentless need to create and build an accessories line full of personality and meaning.

What is one hero piece you love from your brand?  . NJB: I love being hands-free and traveling light, so I enjoy the versatility of our micro mini baguette named Les Petit Petit. It comes in nine different colors and has detachable/adjustable straps, so it can even be worn as a crossbody or as a belt. I also will forever have a deep connection to the Large Fringe Shopper. Not only is it deceptively big and super functional, but it was also the first bag I made that would ultimately birth the brand. 

What advice would you give a young entrepreneur looking to break into the industry? NJB: I always say the most challenging thing about starting your own business is beginning. My advice to anyone with an unrelenting dream in the fashion industry is to just take the first steps no matter how small and work it into your life as a daily practice. One day you may look back and realize those little steps were the foundation of something much bigger.

WHO: Jessica Tse. WHAT: Founder and Designer of Notte. Why did you start your business?  . JT: When I was living and working in Florence, Italy, my apartment was right next to Ponte Vecchio, which is lined with some of the world’s best jewelry shops, and I would walk by them almost every day. That inspired and fueled my dreams even more, so I decided to just go for it and created Notte. I wanted to offer playful yet thoughtfully made fashion jewelry that would last.

What is one hero piece you love from your brand?  . JT: I love making multipurpose pieces, and so our Change of Heart hoop earrings are designed to be interchangeable so you can wear the hoops alone when you feel like it and the charm can be worn as a pendant on your favorite necklace. The Yin To My Yang hoops are my feel-good go-to’s. I mismatch them with pearly pieces when I’m in the mood for a bold ear moment.

What advice would you give a young entrepreneur looking to break into the industry?  JT: Stay focused on your goals, don’t be afraid of making mistakes; they’re a part of becoming an entrepreneur and the best way to learn the business. Be authentic with your products and find time to connect with your audience and other creators. You would be surprised by how amazing and supporting the creative community is!

WHO: Stephanie Li. WHAT: Co-Founder and Creative Director of JW Pei. Why did you start your business?  . SL: My husband and I felt passionate about starting a brand with sustainability at its core. We set out to create a line of minimalistic, vegan handbags using high-quality canvas, polyurethane, and certified fabrics made from recycled plastic bottles. We wanted to create bags that were accessible to all.

What is one hero piece you love from your brand?  SL: My new favorite style is our Maze bag in white and blue. I love the texture and the color combination.

What advice would you give a young entrepreneur looking to break into the industry? SL:  First and foremost, believe in yourself and your idea! Don’t be afraid to seek out help and connect with mentors along the way. Starting a business is hard work so staying focused on your goals is vital.

WHO: Cami Téllez. WHAT: CEO & Co-Founder of Parade. Why did you start your business?  CT: I started Parade because I felt like my peers needed a new kind of underwear brand—one that didn’t project a one-dimensional image of sexiness. We believe that our identities are not one-dimensional, and Parade is here to rewrite the American underwear story by championing expression, creativity, social good, and sustainability.

What is one hero piece you love from your brand?  CT: The pair of underwear that I always reach for is our Universal Thong. Universal is a new fabric platform that we launched earlier this year. It’s the world’s first carbon-neutral edgeless underwear made from recycled fabric. It’s designed to be buttery soft, super smooth, and feel like you’re not wearing anything at all.

What advice would you give a young entrepreneur looking to break into the industry? CT: I believe that if you have an idea or a vision that you want to see through, the most important thing you can do is execute. Learning and being iterative is part of the process, and if you don’t hold yourself to goals of just getting things done every day, you won’t learn. It’s the hardest thing to do but the most rewarding.

WHO: Ainsley Hansen. WHAT: Head Designer and Creative Director of Hansen & Gretel. Why did you start your business?  AH: I first launched the brand in 2012 to create and capture the essence inspired by a woman’s intelligence, strength, and grace. Hansen & Gretel has always been a homage to the many women we are, striking a balance between the fun and sophisticated through a series of prints and textures.

What is one hero piece you love from your brand?   . AH: We love to create pieces that harness the harmony between female power and play. 

What advice would you give a young entrepreneur looking to break into the industry? AH: Things don’t go to plan all the time, so you have to be flexible with what you do, but work to your deadlines and don’t let minor setbacks get in the way of your success.

WHO: Fiona Morrison . WHAT: Owner of Wolf Circus Jewelry. Why did you start your business?  . FM: I founded the brand in 2010. At the time, I wanted to create jewelry for the bold, beautiful, brainy, and badass. It all started as an afterschool side project.

What is one hero piece you love from your brand?   . FM: I love easy wearable pieces that add the right amount of shine and statement, and our Woman Vase necklace is just that. 

What advice would you give a young entrepreneur looking to break into the industry? FM: Listen to your customers’ needs and always look for ways to pivot.

WHO: Alexandra Waldman . WHAT: Co-Founder and CCO of Universal Standard. Why did you start your business?  AW: We founded Universal Standard because everyone deserves the dignity of representing themselves to the world the way they want to and not being locked out of things just because someone else thinks they shouldn’t participate.

What is one hero piece you love from your brand?  AW: All of our denim. It’s interesting to see how it’s a discovery process for women. When they put on our denim, they’re like, “Oh, that’s how this should fit and feel like.” So we’re very proud of all the engineering and thought that goes into making great jeans for all sizes.  

What advice would you give a young entrepreneur looking to break into the industry? AW: Never be afraid to contradict what the successful establishment is telling you “the way” to do something. Being able to see past the established norms is what a visionary person does, and that is how we push things forward. 

WHO: Theresa Ebagua. WHAT: Designer and Founder of Chelsea Paris. Why did you start your business?  TE: I’ve always been fascinated with footwear and was moved by Jimmy Choo and Manolo Blahnik’s stories. Once I realized there were very few Black female designers in the space, I named my brand after my two daughters. I wanted my young daughters to be encouraged by my success in business and to follow their passions. It was also crucial that the brand honor my Nigerian heritage with unique material combinations juxtaposed with art-deco influences.

What is one hero piece you love from your brand?  TE: I’m currently living in my Ace mules. I’m in Los Angeles, so I can get away with these this winter.

What advice would you give a young entrepreneur looking to break into the industry? TE: I would advise budding entrepreneurs to refine their craft season by season and remind them to return to what initially inspired them to pursue fashion continually. Amid market pressures, finding a balance between being commercial and remaining true to your vision is what will set you apart and create a lasting brand.

WHO: Tory Burch. WHAT: Founder of Tory Burch. Why did you start your business?  TB: I wanted to build a company that focused on positive change and create extraordinary, timeless products that promote confidence and optimism while supporting a foundation that helps empower women.

What is one hero piece you love from your brand?   . TB: I love our new T Monogram collection, which was inspired by traditional Pennsylvania Dutch quilting. I grew up surrounded by this early American artistry. Our home was filled with it, and my parents took us to visit the Pennsylvania Dutch and Amish country on weekends to see how quilts and baskets were made.

TB: I also love our Tory sneaker, which is inspired by ‘70s track shoes. They’re soft, lightweight, and extremely comfortable, I wear them all the time. In addition to our sneakers, I love our Tory Sport All-Weather Color-Block Jacket. It’s super functional, wind and water-resistant, and beautifully made. 

What advice would you give a young entrepreneur looking to break into the industry? TB: Have a unique point of view and be tenacious and prepared for hard work! Believe in yourself and think of negativity as noise.

Next: It’s 2021, and These 29 Female-Founded Beauty Brands Are Thriving

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