Female entrepreneurs have historically faced economic and social obstacles when attempting to launch their own businesses. In many parts of the world, women still lack the financial independence to establish credit and are less likely to be approved for bank loans. Much of the labor women traditionally perform is unpaid, and women who work outside the home still perform more domestic duties and childcare than their male partners. Running a business while raising a family, especially as a single mother, is a balancing act that would put any funambulist to shame.
The rise of ecommerce, however, has created opportunities for women to enter a global marketplace with minimal startup capital. Through platforms such as Shopify, Facebook Marketplace, and Etsy, they are able to monetize work or hobbies they would otherwise do for free. With increasing access to high-speed Internet, women can operate their businesses out of their homes and set their own hours but still engage with customers through social networking.
While many women run successful fashion Shopify stores, some use their platforms specifically to address the problems and needs of women like themselves, creating products, business models, and social movements that benefit underrepresented female demographics. Here are three women-owned businesses with the potential to change women’s lives.
Peruse the racks of any lingerie store, and it’s obvious that women’s undergarments are designed with the eye of the beholder in mind. Those push up bras, corsets, garters, and thongs may make women look sexy, but they can feel like Medieval torture devices (and not in a fun way).
Negative is a brand of bras, underwear, and sleepwear that puts women’s comfort first. Founders Lauren Schwab and Marissa Vosper didn’t have to create fictional buyer personas; they spent a year trying on undergarments themselves in stores all over New York City and surveying real women to identify their struggles with flimsy materials, poorly fitting bras, and irritating straps and panty lines.
The company describes its approach as “operating in the negative space. We focused on the essentials and ditched the rest. No lace, no padding, no bows, no decorations.” This functional, minimalist approach has earned high praise from Vogue and InStyle, and fans include celebrities from Gwyneth Paltrow to Miley Cyrus.
Black Girls RUN!
When runners Toni Carey and Ashley Hicks began attending races, they found they were the only women of color present. Other runners stared, ignored them, or asked if they were lost. Tired of being ostracized, they created a Facebook group to encourage other Black women to join them, and Black Girls RUN! was born.
In an interview with Shopify, Carey and Hicks describe how the revenue from their online store allowed them to quit their day jobs and focus on running BGR full time. Their merchandise included t-shirts, mugs, fitness accessories, and downloadable playlists for running.
Now with more than 160,000 members, BGR is open to all women, but outreach focuses primarily on African Americans, 80 percent of whom are overweight or obese and at increased risk of heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. Its mission is to improve those statistics by empowering Black women to prioritize their health and fitness. The Atlanta-based organization holds annual races and health conferences, while regional ambassadors organize running groups across the country.
While we honor those who serve our country, the sacrifices their spouses make also deserve recognition. Because military families move so frequently, non-enlisted spouses, most of them women, struggle to find work. Employers are less likely to hire an applicant with a resume full of rapid-fire job changes and equally reluctant to promote an employee who will be leaving in a year. Consequently, the unemployment rate of military spouses is four times higher than the national average, and employed spouses make 38 percent less than their civilian counterparts.
Cameron Cruse and Lisa Bradley knew military spouses like themselves needed a flexible and mobile source of income. Although they had no prior manufacturing experience, the two women taught themselves to sew handbags, sold two, and used the money to buy materials to make four more. When their spouses were transferred to different military bases, Cruse and Bradley kept the operation going by dividing up tasks between them, planting the seeds for the manufacturing model that would become R.Riveter.
Named for the WWII icon Rosie the Riveter, the company contracts with military spouses across the country to handcraft components of its handbags and other merchandise, from signature leather backpacks and dog leashes to military insignia jewelry and throw pillows. R.Riveter also employs teams to assemble the finished products at its workshop in North Carolina. A successful Kickstarter campaign and an appearance on ABC’s Shark Tank led to the opening of their first retail location.
What other entrepreneurs are empowering women through ecommerce? Give your favorite women-owned online store a shout out in the comments.