Women Redefining Entrepreneurship

 #raiseyourvoice

Today, women continue to make notable advances in business and the entrepreneurial terrain, but what does it mean to be a woman entrepreneur in today’s environment? The past few years have brought about some big topics and conversations. The #metoo and #genderwagegap movements have shown the struggles of women in the workplace, especially highlighted the difficulty of being recognised and taken seriously as women in business!

As 2018 has been tagged the #yearofthewoman we take a closer look at the challenges faced by women in business by talking to three young brands from different areas of the world.

But first, let’s take a look at what it means to be a woman and an entrepreneur.

What is an entrepreneur? They are visionaries, risk takers and go-getters who seek out and take opportunities to make their own path, but women entrepreneurs face a disproportionate number of challenges to their male counterparts.

Why is that? What are the main challenges and obstacles faced by women? Studies show that society still views business ownership as a male endeavor and women face stereotypical attitudes and outdated perceptions (like the gender-role stereotype, the lack of equal pay and limited access/lower funding offers. You know… ‘The old boys club’ isn’t called the ‘Inclusive Group of Feminists’ for a reason).

Forbes/major-challenges-women-face

But there is some good news! The progress is promising but the tangible changes are small. Women are breaking into underrepresented spaces, crushing stereotypes and showing that you don’t need a penis to run a business successfully. We talked to three brands who have women at the helm, steering through the stormy waters of business. We find out who they are, what it is like being a woman entrepreneur in this male-dominated arena and celebrate these “Boss Women” for being part of the change!

 

“Women accounted for 26 percent of current business owners, an 18 percent increase compared to 2017. While this is a strong indicator that more women are chasing their dreams of business ownership, it’s still far from equal representation.”

Guidant_Finacial/Women-in-business

 

MEET UNTOLD REBEL

(SAN FRANCISCO)

Untold Rebel is a young brand making waves in the high-quality sock scene. Although they are relatively new on the scene, they have been working on their company for about two years and have just had a lot of success in their recent Kickstarter campaign. Their socks are available for pre-order and will hit feet worldwide in 2019. UntoldRebel.com

Their vision is to create socks that are functional, beautiful and technologically advanced. On top of that, they believe that design holds a special ability to draw attention and raise awareness. Their socks are an artistic take on social issues they care about and so they give back 10% of net profits to causes that inspire their designs. They are rebels with a cause.

Tell us about yourself? (Meet KK Lin And Wen-Yan King the co-founders of Untold Rebel)

(Wen) I’m a daydreamer and an idealist. Ideas seep in my brain and invade like a virus, taking over my waking thoughts and controlling what I do. Born in Taiwan and raised in Minnesota, I spent a few vagabond years in the exile hilltown of Dharamsala on the Indian side of the Himalayas where I volunteered. While there I started my first business working with local craftspeople and got hitched. But after a while, a new chapter must be written in the book of life. My husband and I rolled out of the Downtown Berkeley BART station in a city we’d never been to before to start a new life and a new business. It was there in that fateful apartment building where I met an awesome neighbour named KK and before you know it, our sock baby, Untold Rebel, was born.

(KK) I was born and raised in Taiwan and moved to New York at the age of 25. Life before the U.S was entirely different. Taiwan has very competitive educational systems and I spent the majority of my time just trying to pass school entrance examinations. Moving to New York City was one of the most significant turning points in my life. It planted the seed for me to want to see more of the world. I moved to San Francisco in 2011 and worked in the design industry. Life was good, but I always felt something was missing. In 2016, I quit my full-time job to travel. I met a lot of amazing people while I was traveling and I was glad I paused to think about life. After I came back to the U.S, Wen and I decided to start a business together and we have been working on Untold Rebel since.

 

What motivated you to launch Untold Rebel?

Like many good stories, ours starts with daytime drinking, a vague idea, and nostalgia of our home country, Taiwan. After all, there’s so much to love about our tiny tropical island. The people, the food, the night markets, and the socks. That’s right, SOCKS. Realising that Taiwan is a leading manufacturer of high-quality performance socks but seeing they were void of fun designs, our light bulb moment went off and the idea of Untold Rebel began to take shape. We also learned that Taiwan used to be the world’s largest exporter of socks. But in recent years, many factories have shut down due to the 2012 US-Korea Free Trade Agreement. The once bustling town of Shetou in central Taiwan is now struggling to compete on the global stage. Many local businesses, like our partner factory, is pushing innovation alongside entrepreneurs like us to manufacture superior quality products.

Apart from the concept of hybrid quality mix and mismatch socks, having a company that connects us to our roots and brings us back home is something close to both our hearts. After all, all roads will eventually lead you back home. We’re committed to manufacture our socks in our home country of Taiwan and help revitalise the industry in Shetou. 

Who are the Untold Rebel women?

It’s you and me! At Untold Rebel, we believe there’s a rebel lying deep in all our souls. That rebel spirit may not be so in your face or outwardly shown, but just like our socks, it’s hidden there underneath your trousers and stands as unique and funky as you are!

What it’s like to be women starting a business in the U.S?

(Wen) I’ve been amazed at how many resources there are to help entrepreneurs in the US. From non-profits that run free workshops to the ease of calling the local tax department for help on filing a payment. Having a great partner to start a business is essential because when we work together, it gives us more motivation.

(KK) My struggle with starting a business has always been the fear of leaving a comfortable life and entering an unknown world, which I think is a common struggle for people working 9-5 jobs.

What quality do you think you need to be a successful entrepreneur and businesswoman?

If you’re lucky enough to have your cards lined up right in terms of time and finances, one trainable quality that’s often found in successful entrepreneurs is grit. It’s that persistence to follow through no matter what. If you run into a roadblock, then bulldoze through or find some other way around. Hell, dig a tunnel underneath if you have to, but find a way to keep going forward.

Do you think women feel intimidated in business?

Let’s face it. Sexism is all around us in every corner of the world. It’s an uphill battle half the world goes through. I feel that as women, we have to be collectively proactive to offset that intimidation. Take back the floor and challenge that colleague if you’re being mansplained. Confront harassers and call out BS. Hey, It’s not easy, but if we expect to be treated as equals, we have to stand our ground as an equal. This comes down to the small stuff, both professionally and personally. Why should the guy pay on dates or be expected to carry heavy stuff for us if we’re equals? So ladies, let’s raise our voices and carry our own. Change begins in the mind and it starts with you and me.

What do you wish you had known before launching Untold Rebel and becoming female entrepreneurs?

(WEN) After we launched our Kickstarter, I learned that my biggest personal weakness as an entrepreneur is my reluctance to ask for other people’s help. I feel extremely uncomfortable asking people for their time and pushing my product on friends. It’s not a very conducive trait to have when you’re running a crowdfunding campaign!

(KK) The good thing about crowdfunding is that you get to experience a little bit of everything, from branding and marketing to logistics and customer service. As a two-person team, I am proud of what we have accomplished. At the same time, I also know we couldn’t have been this successful without other people’s help.

 

MEET SOUQ SAMURAI

(ISTANBUL)

Souq Samurai is a Mediterranean fusion fashion brand. This womenswear brand cleverly combines the Middle-Eastern and Asian aesthetic which reflects the history of their country. The brand’s styling is luxury while keeping an underlying sustainability and ethical ethos at the heart of all the products. Eighty percent of their collection is created from deadstock fabrics. They rescue deadstock “pre-loved” fabrics and give them a second life before they end up in the landfill. Souq Samurai believes in giving back and supporting the community. Their plan is to continue to help local factories and artisans from Turkey and India to create a beautiful fusion fashion. SouqSamurai.com

Tell us about yourself? (Meet Gozde Nadire Bicakli And Ceren Turan the co-founders of Souq Samurai)

(CEREN) I was born and raised in Istanbul into a big family where Sunday family brunches were a big thing. In my family, there was always an emphasis on independence. I was always encouraged to find my own path and this led me to spend many happy years in New York at Columbia [University] from where I gain my graduate degree. I moved back to Istanbul, and I have been working as the head of buying for the past six years for well-known retailers in Turkey. Souq Samurai is our new baby and we have been working on it over a year with excitement.

(GOZDE)  I grew up with a Mediterranean culture in Antalya, Turkey. In my childhood, we loved to hang by the seaside. I remember many family conversations about crafting, designing, constructing and building. Now, I understand that these conversations inspired me to become a designer, an artist. I am currently working as a womenswear designer at one of the most established denim retailers in Turkey and have been working on ‘Souq Samurai’ for over a year.

What motivated you to launch Souq Samurai?

It is a very powerful instinct that we had from the very beginning. We are not trying to find a gap in the market. What we do is to provide an alternative way for our customers to understand that fashion is not all about consumption and beauty, it’s about feeling comfortable too. Our main motivation comes from the idea of using what we already have in hands in a creative way. That is why 80% of our collection is created by using dead-stock or, as we would like to call, “ pre-loved” fabrics.

Travel plays a very special role in our design process. We can easily say that the brand created itself from our professional backgrounds and travels.  We dreamed about a sustainable way of doing what we love and it came alive.

Who are the Souq Samurai women?

Strong, confident, conscious, effortlessly chic & super ready to take on the world.

What it’s like to be women starting a business in Turkey?

It is such a male-dominated ecosystem and you should simply start by not thinking of yourself as a woman, you are just a startup entrepreneur. Turkey is a country where 70% of women are still not joining the workforce. When you are living in Istanbul, you do not really face that reality but you know it is there. Since both our work experience is in textiles we knew who and how to contact the right people. However, this does not avoid the wondering eyes when you enter a factory. You feel the question in their eyes  “just 2 girls?”. It just takes time and energy to convince them that you are actually good at what you do and they should trust your judgment. We are very lucky that people in Turkey are very welcoming by nature!

What quality do you think you need to be a successful entrepreneur and businesswoman?

Today’s world is all about giving your customer a good reason to be loyal to you. One of the advantages of running a small business is that we are close to our customers and can understand what they really want to cater to that experience. Nobody in our target actually needs another shirt or pair of pants. We believe being a good entrepreneur and businessperson lies behind the idea of “seeing your brand through your customer’s eyes”. Otherwise, it is just your point of view and that is not enough.

Do you think women feel intimidated in business?

There will always be insecure people who use their position/ power to prop up their ego. You just have to stay focused on what it is you are trying to do.  You have to understand that limitation is your own mindset.

What do you wish you had known before launching Souq Samurai and becoming female entrepreneurs?

We wish we had known that “no, means next!”

 

MEET BIRDSONG LONDON

(LONDON)

Birdsong London is a breath of fresh air. They are a groundbreaking clothing brand rejecting the fashion industry model, creating ethical and sustainable clothing while working with local artisans, women’s group and charities, shooting diverse campaigns with unretouched models, and funneling the cash they make into women organisations. All the while, they are promoting feminism and worker’s rights through their practices and their awesome, fun and witty product. Birdsong.london.com

Tell us about yourself? (Sophie Slater and Sarah Beckett brought Birdsong London to life, I interviewed co-founder Sophie Slater.)

I’m a co-founder and brand manager for Birdsong London, originally from Tameside, Newcastle. Growing up, I always had a strong point of view and feelings toward feminism and workers’ rights. As a teenager, I worked as a model and in retail which ignited my love of clothing and fashion but I also saw the downside of the industry, how un-diverse and ethically damaging it is. This led me to work with women’s charities and being involved in the feminist and activist scene.

Things seemed to fall into place four years ago when I met Sarah, my business partner while working with women’s charities. We met so many talented and remarkable women who had great skills and were locked out of the industry because of their background. Wanting to build something for women with an ethical backbone, we saw that there was a way to help these women show and sell their craft. We decided to do something about it and Birdsong London was born. More recently we hired Susanna Wen, our designer, and the rest is history.

What motivated you to launch BirdSong?

Back in 2014, while Sarah and I were working for different women’s charities, we saw a way to help these women in a new and creative way.

It’s estimated that 60 million women worldwide, aged 18-35, work in the garment industry making less than a minimum wage. These women become hidden in the fashion supply chain, making it near impossible to track where your clothing comes from and who made it. Unlike traditional retailers, we’re doing things a bit differently by working solely with women’s groups and charities in order to produce our clothing. Many women’s groups produce beautiful clothing but face barriers when it comes to selling. Ninety-two percent of women’s charities in the UK have faced funding cuts or crisis since 2010,  and we recognised a growing need for these groups to find a sustainable source of income. All the women we work with are paid a London living wage and have access to a range of holistic support.

Who are the BirdSong women?

We’re our own customers. We wanted a fun way to do fashion that didn’t make us feel sad about our bodies, or anybody for that matter. We believe that making things makes people feel good. Making things that other people want, and that allows you to contribute to a bigger project makes you feel even better. That’s why we design, shoot and shout about the clothes our women’s groups and charities make. That way, they can get on with surviving, feeling better, and practising their craft.

What it’s like to be women starting a business in the U.K?

Starting the business was relativity easy, £40 and we were registered, but running a business is extremely difficult. We were told by investors that we were naive and not serious or ambitious enough. We rejected these comments, as what we were doing was creating a new blueprint for a better fashion industry. Fact is that only about 8.5% [UK] of women are awarded funding is telling!  It was almost impossible to find external funding, which led us to fundraise and this is how we kick-started Birdsong London.

What quality do you think you need to be a successful entrepreneur and businesswoman?

A good support system, great relationships and knowing your worth.

Have you experienced self-doubt and how do you deal with that little doubting voice?

[Laugher!] Everyday but if you have a good team and network it helps. It’s knowing what that self-doubt is routed in, whether it something superficial or something which has some grounds. And this is when you fall back on your self-esteem reserves. Which you have to keep stocked up, so every time you have those little wins, celebrate them and keep hold of that feeling.

What do you wish you had known before launching BirdSong and becoming female entrepreneurs?

I’m kind of glad we didn’t know too much about how difficult it would be. We made our own path and way of doing things, it didn’t follow the traditional fashion process and that’s what we wanted to achieve. It’s been hard, and we have failed and learnt a lot along the way, but every time you mess up, you learn (Sounds corny but it’s true)! 

In conclusion, It may be a male dominated world but women are making huge strides. This generation of women entrepreneurs are not only breaking ground in the business arena there are finding new and better ways of working to improve the life of others, communities, and the environment.

As we see more women in leadership and entrepreneur roles, the next generation of women are seeing more and more businesswomen who look like them, talk like them and led like ‘Boss Women’! After talking to these incredible ladies, I’m looking forward to the next few years of change on all fronts.

#raiseyourvoice

 

I’m a contributor to The NuWa where I cover innovation within fashion and design. I am most interested in trends at the intersection of fashion, graphics, women’s interests, and sustainability. Get in touch at carla.l.stout@gmail.com or www.clstout.com

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Carla Louise

Carla Louise is a curly-haired senior fashion and graphic designer. Originally from Manchester, United Kingdom, Carla has worked in the industry since 2006. Her design aesthetic has been influenced by her Jamaican, English & Irish roots, travels and cultural experiences. She has lived and worked internationally for most of her career in Shanghai, Hong-Kong, London and Istanbul. Her designs have been featured in Vogue, InStyle and Cosmopolitan. Carla brings her curiosity, love of life and colour to her designs and dance moves. Her life's mission is to create fresh, original and effortless designs that make your eyes go wow and your heart go boom!