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Suite Creative Studio
  -  Fashion Business   -  Female Founders   -  Highlighting Female Founded Brands for Women’s History Month

4 Brands – 5 Women

It’s women’s history month, as many of you know. It was less than 200 years ago that women first earned the right to earn her own money in the United States. Maine was the first state to pass this law in 1844. It wasn’t until the 1960’s that women could even own bank accounts of their own. Although the Fair Labor Standards Act in 1938 was passed, at least in part, to level the previously unequal pay of men and women employees, equal pay is still a hot topic in our country today because of the failure to actually make this a reality until this day. International Women’s Day, celebrated on March 8 every year, is a focal point in the movement for women’s rights and started after women gained suffrage in Soviet Russiain 1917.

According to the Department of Labor, 36% of all businesses in the US are women owned. As majority and joint business owners, women entrepreneurs generate $2.5 trillion in sales. That’s a long way from where we came, but we’ve got a long way to go! 

One of the greatest things about what we do at Suite Creative Studio is to help build other women owned businesses. We work with both men and women owned companies of course, but in the spirit of March, International Women’s Day and Women’s month, we wanted to shout out some of our female founded brands. These ladies are at varying stages of their businesses, from pre-launch to selling out, and they’re all a pleasure to work with and continue to inspire us everyday. We love supporting our clients and we hope you support them, too. 

Here, we sat down to ask these 4 brands, 5 ladies a few questions about how they got started in business and what lead them to the fashion industry. 

Mownika Chawla,Hava

https://havacollection.com

Instagram: @Hava

SCS: Tell us a little bit about yourself and your brand.  

Hi! I’m Mownika Chawla, I am a doctor by education but after I graduated from medical school I finally decided it was time to switch directions! I had no idea what I was going to do but I’ve always been drawn to entrepreneurship. Last August I started a children’s clothing company bringing together my American upbringing and my Indian roots. Clothing that is comfortable enough for a fun playdate and stylish enough to go to a wedding! We are set to launch July 2019! 

SCS: How did you get started in the fashion industry?  

I have always been intrigued by fashion but was scared of the instability that may often come with a career in the industry. My mom had a very successful jewelry business and was always a source of inspiration. She was a great “trend forecaster” before I knew what that was, always coming across the most amazing finds at her trade shows that 6 months or a year later would be everywhere! I had lost touch with all of it since 2004 but have had so much fun being reintroduced into the world of wonderful creative energy.  A lot of late nights after putting my son to bed and long meetings pretending to know what I’m talking about but I’m getting there!

SCS: What have been the biggest challenges and the best rewards of being a female business owner?

Guilt! I feel a lot of guilt when I’m not attentive to my son, the house is not clean, I just barely know how to turn the stove on. What I had imagined and know of a wife and mother to be is very different than I am now and accepting that its ok has been hard. My mom always made it look easy, the constant business travel, the start up in a foreign country, the bratty teenage daughter that always demanded more. 

The best part has been how happy it makes me, I feel productive and energized, always excited to find creative solutions. The cherry on top; I feel very connected to my mother. Even though she isn’t here, I feel like I’m following in her footsteps and it makes me feel very proud!

If you could give one piece of advice for other women who are considering, or just starting a business of their own, what would it be? 

Advice to women starting a business, I’m just getting started, but what I’ve learned is that there’s never a perfect time. JUST GET STARTED in whatever small way you can. Everyone is a resource, talking to your Uber driver might strike a chord leading to a solution to a problem you’ve been obsessing over. People are very willing to help. Reach out to anyone and everyone that inspires you because a good support system will make all the difference.

Leigha Field + Phoebe Kunitomi, Okko

https://www.loveokko.co

Instagram: @okko.co

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your brand.  

We grew up very differently (Phoebe in downtown LA; Leigha in Northeast Ohio) but ended up on pretty parallel paths. For undergrad, Phoebe went to Georgetown and Leigha to UVA, then both lived in NYC working at startup firms before coming to Philly for grad school. We met on the first day of the term while waiting in line at a Shake Shack and immediately hit it off as friends. From day one we knew we had each other’s backs, well before we ever thought about starting a business.  

We began working on Okko in 2017 and launched in November 2018 with the aim to provide the luxe, invisible underwear essentials that women deserve, no matter their style, size, or skin color. Okko stands for “Our Kind of KnockOut.” We want to help our customers feel as incredible as they look, and in doing so create an empowered community of women. We aim to be the one-stop-shop for intimate basics, because women have better things to do than spending time trying to find underwear that “works.” Ultimately, we hope to become our customers “best friend” who supports them every day and for every occasion. 

As a brand, we aim to fill a void in the market between the hyper-sexualized, impractical-for-real-life approach of Victoria’s Secret, and the unrealistic (and even unfair) messaging that women who care about fashion or want to wear form-fitting clothes can’t be real feminists. There is absolutely nothing wrong with caring about both! 

How did you get started in the fashion industry?  

Phoebe: Since my childhood years, I have always been into fashion, generally following the industry but also as an important mode of self-expression (I designed my own prom dress in high school!). During my post-undergrad years, I spent several years running operations at a regulatory consulting firm, then an early stage software company, but I could never get rid of the itch to pursue the one thing that I loved. I came to business school knowing I wanted to take this jump and initially planned to do so by recruiting for roles at an established company.  

A month into grad school, I was headed to a party and had the most perfect white dress for it. When I went to pull my outfit together, I realized every pair of underwear I owned showed through it (I don’t wear shapewear because it’s so uncomfortable and don’t like the riskiness of going commando). After running through stores for several hours before the event, I ended up with an overpriced pair from an athletic-wear brand that was still too light for my skin, created lines, and stretched out after just a few wears! 

During our early days as a company, Leigha and I interviewed over a hundred women across size, age, and geographic demographics, all of whom agreed that finding the right underwear was often a struggle. At best, they tolerated affordable yet subpar products, or had their favorite but could never reliably find it. While it was disheartening to hear, we were encouraged to move forward in building Okko to help fix this. 

Leigha: Prior to school I’d worked as a tech investor and had never considered a career in fashion. Candidly, I left undergrad just focused on jobs that would pay enough to afford living in New York, which is why I initially went into finance. Luckily there was a lot I loved about that work, so I assumed I’d return to it after grad school in order to pay off my student loans as quickly as possible (my parents raised me to be pretty conservative with money and my career). 

Fashion on the other hand was a personal interest – but an important one. The world of tech investing is still very male-dominated and so often emphasized the more “masculine” aspects of my personality; maintaining my own sense of style in my wardrobe helped me internally reconnect with – and outwardly express – my femininity in the midst of this. Fashion also gave me an outlet to connect with my girlfriends in my very limited free time and take my mind off work stress! 

When Phoebe came to me with the idea to start a brand to fill this need in her underwear drawer, I immediately knew this was something I wanted to pursue with her. I’d experienced firsthand just how frustrating it was having to waste time in the morning trying to figure out if I’d have underwear that would “work” under my outfit for the office (especially if I also had to consider the change of clothes I was packing for grabbing drinks or getting to the gym later), and that would be comfortable enough to get me through my long hours. It felt like she’d identified a real problem that needed solving.  

Even more importantly, I knew how insanely driven and talented Phoebe is, and so was absolutely confident that if there was anyone to make this career leap with, it was her. 

Both:We interviewed over a hundred women across size, age, and geographic demographics, and all of them agreed that finding the right underwear was often a struggle. Even more so, these women talked about how frustrating it was not to have an undergarment brand who represented women like themselves.  Instead, they at best tolerated what could be found affordably, or wasted time and money purchasing overpriced basics that worked but were inconsistently provided. While it was disheartening to hear just how many women were unhappy with something that should be so fundamental, we were encouraged to move forward in building Okko to help fix this.  

What have been the biggest challenges and the best rewards of being a female business owner?  

More than anything we see it as a positive! First and foremost, because we are working on the very problems we have personally struggled with, we feel we are better equipped to help address them than our male counterparts could. It’s incredibly satisfying to hear real customer feedback about how our products eliminate a sartorial pain point in their lives.  

Secondly, as a company with two female Co-CEOs (rather than one with a female “face” of the company and a male co-founder who sits behind the scenes taking care of the more substantive aspects of running the business), we are excited and proud to be able to inspire other women to find the confidence to take risks in their careers, whether that means starting their own businesses, asking for that raise, or proactively applying for that next-level position. We’ve had incredible female mentors who have helped us get to where we are today. Now, it’s our job to pay it forward to the next generation of lady leaders. 

If you could give one piece of advice for other women who are considering, or just starting a business of their own, what would it be? 

Starting a business, you cannot avoid making mistakes — this is just something you have to get comfortable with and take care to learn from! The trick is figuring out how to identify which decisions it makes sense to slow down and do some more research on vs. which things you just need to move forward on so as not to miss an opportunity. For us, our personalities and work styles provide a good balance of this. Phoebe is very much the hyper-efficient, get shit done on the to do list one, while Leigha is better at taking a step back to analyze things. If you are starting a business on your own, make sure you’re aware of where you fall on this, and then find coworkers or advisors that will balance you out.  

Magda Lasota, MLM Brand

Instagram: @themlmbrand_

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your brand. 

I’m a political scientist turned fashion designer on a mission to rebrand modern motherhood. My goal is to empower women to breastfeed in style by creating dresses that can take modern, busy moms through the day feeling confident.  After nearly a decade in survey research and public opinion polling, I decided to pause my career, focus on my young family, and pursue a passion project. Most importantly, I wanted this season of my life to be about raising my family and supporting my husband as he continues his medical training. 

How did you get started in the fashion industry? 

I have no formal background in fashion, other than my passion for fashion. When I had to go back to work at the end of maternity leave in 2014, I couldn’t find a nursing and pumping friendly dress that could take me through my busy day. I needed a dress that was versatile and comfortable (and long) enough to hop on a bike in the morning (which is how I got my son Adrian to daycare before heading to the office located in downtown Chicago), and “office-y” enough to wear around the office. This is how the “wear-it-like-a-boss” style came about.

What have been the biggest challenges and the best rewards of being a female business owner? 

The biggest challenge so far has been the fact that not everyone takes me seriously, but perhaps that’s also the nature of the fashion industry and newcomers to any industry. The biggest rewards: meeting and connecting with amazing women who make a difference in their communities every day. 

If you could give one piece of advise for other women who are considering, or just starting a business of their own, what would it be?

Every day do something (even if it seems small) to advance your business or learn something new that can be beneficial to your business down the road.

Dione Laufenberg, Swurly

https://www.swurlycurls.com

Instagram:@swurlyco

Tell us a little bit about yourself and your brand. 

My name is Dione Laufenberg, I am the founder of SWURLY. I grew up on the Northside of Madison, WI and met my husband on UW-Madison campus. We have two school age daughters with beautiful biracial curls. I am a creative writer with a lifestyle blog. I write about my experience as a Midwest mama in a multiracial family. On the blog we share our travels, our parties and haircare regimens!  

My expertise in wellness and self-care is fueled by my fascination with people and how they treat their bodies.  I have a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from GSU and license/certifications for massage therapy, nail technology and Aesthetics.

Recognizing the needs of my daughters’ bounty of curls, I decided to use my knowledge and research on natural haircare regimens to help other multiracial families like ours. Our blog has hair tutorials, product reviews and inspirational protective styles for biracial kid’s natural hair.  

How did you get started in the fashion industry? 

Exploring my passion for the girls’ curls lead to the development of SWURLY. I was willing to spend the time to create beautiful protective styles, however, I was frustrated with the kid’s sleep bonnets on the market because they didn’t stay on. I wanted to find a solution to make the hairstyles last longer.

SWURLY is a silk sleep hair accessories line including adult silk sleep caps, adjustable kid’s sleep caps, silk scrunchies and silk pillowcases. I developed this line to save time in the morning styling for both my girls and myself. I never considered that I was entering the fashion industry; I just wanted my daughters to be proud of their curls. I didn’t want them to be embarrassed to wrap their hair or protect their curls.

What have been the biggest challenges and the best rewards of being a female business owner? 

I am a serial entrepreneur, I opened my first company in September 2008, while the entire global economy was crashing and the whole world was melting down, I was putting the finishing touches on the build-out of my boutique day spa on the east side of Madison.

It’s scary to think that while other businesses were going under, I was undertaking a new company. My staff and I worked hard through the recession to build a business and a brand that I was so proud of. I faced many challenges in those first years of ownership from the economic climate, to unexpected expenses of a brick and mortar business to staffing hurdles.

The growth of the company, the feedback from clients and the relationship I built with my thirteen staff members were the rewarding elements of my first business. In September 2016, the timing was right; my business was busting at its seams and ready to expand, I sold my spa for a healthy profit. That was bittersweet but also rewarding.

I am a visionary so the ability to take an idea and turn it into a reality, to create a service or product that enhances someone’s life is an amazing feeling. Launching an ecommerce business has come with its own challenges. New challenges include the IT components of coding the website, multiple rounds of sampling with factories for the product line and writing concise marketing messages. What keeps me encouraged are messages from our readers stating how our hair tutorials helped them care for their child’s hair, hearing positive feedback from happy consumers who bought our sleep caps and the time I spend with my daughters teaching them what it takes to own a business.

If you could give one piece of advise for other women who are considering, or just starting a business of their own, what would it be? 

Be resilient. It’s easy to be attracted to the concept of being an entrepreneur but it is hard work. You will experience stress, you must work hard, and you will feel discouraged at times.  You should do your research and look before you leap. No amount of preparation can prepare you for the unforeseen challenges that you will face. When you are driving your business you must be armored with resilience.

Ashazel Tenille,Arizen

https://weararizen.com

Instagram: @weararizen

SCS: Tell us a little bit about yourself and your brand.  

Arizen is focused on several things, the most important being how to create our visions in alignment with our earth and all of it’s inhabitants. Then comes the attention to detail, and the freedom to create in ways that we feel good about, and in ways that make us feel good about ourselves. And taking it a step further, we really like to be mindful about the way we do things, all things.  

We have made it a point to search out some of the best ways to turn our visions into reality. Everything currently gets made in Bali where I used to live full time and still consider to be my heart home on the planet. I have spent the past 6 years weaving in and out of this island and feeling the inspirations well up in me, it’s a highly creative place and one that also elicits a strong sense of self within the feminine. My hope is for women to feel beautiful and feminine, and to be able to drop into that with confidence and a desire to be the best version of themselves in everything that they do.  

Ethical practices, and fair labour are a standard here, and we’ve made sure that whom we are working with, are keeping to these. We use low impact, non-toxic dyes, and use fabrics that have gone through eco certified processing plants such as Lenzig. We aim to dress the divine woman in the finest of natural fibers with excellent design and craftsmanship.

I feel most passionate about being the change that I want to see in this world, it all starts within first. I believe these practices will inevitably lead us all to a more peaceful place within our hearts and amongst each other.

SCS: How did you get started in the fashion industry?  

Fashion is something I have always been interested in. Even as a young girl, I remember when I was little, I used to change about 3 times a day, I needed a different outfit for school, after school play and dinner…. I just really liked playing dress up.

Creating and designing was something I always played with at home, making different skirts and outfits on my home sewing machine just to have something original and different. When I landed in Bali and decided to live there, I found that there were many resources, tailors, natural dyes and organic fabrics available for me to play with and start getting some samples made. It has bee a process and learning curve for me to get pieces and full collections off the ground here, and at the same time highly rewarding to have my visions come to life. I fully believe in freedom of self expression and having our bodies be the perfect canvas to do so, so while I like to design for originality I also love the idea of beautiful natural and sustainable fabrics draping on a beautiful silhouette. 

Iv’e learned a lot about the fashion industry as I have embarked on this journey. Not having gone to school for fashion may have presented me with some challenges, but I’m a true believer in “if theres a will, theres a way.” I really like to research things and find solutions to any problem to get things done. 

SCS: What have been the biggest challenges and the best rewards of being a female business owner?

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