Seven Female-led Brands That Break the Bias
by The Dieline on 03/07/2022 | 7 Minute Read
The number of female-owned businesses is on the rise—according to the latest American Express report, that number now sits at 42% of all US companies. And when better to celebrate this than International Women’s Day!
The theme of this year’s event is Breaking the Bias, so we asked some of our industry’s most inspiring female creatives to share their thoughts on the women entrepreneurs and brand owners that are breaking down barriers and challenging preconceptions in their categories.
From ballerinas launching tech companies and pioneers of inclusive ethical fashion to the entrepreneur behind the first-ever female cereal mascot, these remarkable female-led brands actively strive to make the world a better place.
It’s the playfulness and defiance of cult brand OffLimits that draws me to it.
Cereal culture is rooted in misogyny, racism, and deceptively bad-for-you ingredients. Decades without change had left cereal craving newness, inclusivity, and transparency. Something founder Emily Miller recognized and looked to challenge with OffLimits, committing to breaking the category’s outdated rules.
Enter the first-ever female cereal mascot, DASH, an energetic hustler, showing kids—and adults—that success bears no relation to gender. A pink bunny in a suit, DASH is fun and quirky with an underlying serious message.
Beyond tackling themes of gender, OffLimits sets out to destigmatize hard conversations society has around wellness and mental health. Alongside DASH sit crew members Zombie, Flex, and Spark, each flavor a direct function of the character’s personality, representing moods and emotions ranging from anxiety to depression. There’s something for everyone. One day you might be channeling DASH, another day, the more chilled out and non-binary Zombie.
A brand that encourages us to question the status quo and challenge how things are—what’s not to love?
Stella McCartney has long been one of my go-to brands for reference and inspiration.
Since the launch of her fashion house in 2001, McCartney has been one of the pioneers of eco-friendly, cruelty-free, inclusive, and ethical fashion, pushing boundaries and making waves in the industry, leading and disrupting with her zero-waste vision and sustainable values.
McCartney has continued to revolutionize the fashion world—winning awards from Green Designer of the Year to Woman of the Year—making her work and her brand impossible to ignore. What I find most remarkable, from a packaging perspective, is how this translates to the brand’s design approach, specifically when it comes to sourcing new materials and implementing innovative solutions to achieve a more sustainable product portfolio.
The interactive packaging design for the Stella Kids underwear range (created in collaboration with illustrator Stevie Gee) has to be one of my favorite examples of how the identity flexes. The collection of brilliantly bizarre characters featured in 11 stackable boxes serves as a perfect illustration of how to make packaging not only functionally fit for purpose but also more sustainable. It's also responsibly sourced and intentionally designed to have a second life.
The range promotes creativity through play and exemplifies how to break binary biases with its gender-neutral approach—so important when designing for kids in particular.
I came across LESSE while developing an identity in the skincare space. Neada Deters, LESSE founder, has a clear vision: to elevate rituals by living with less. That shows through each decision their team implements and makes them a compelling brand. Philosophy, name, product ingredients, typography, photography, models chosen, packaging design, shipping materials, and digital experience—every decision along the way matters. And why make decisions that make the world a worse off place?
It’s hard not to want to shout it from the mountaintops when a woman founder puts a stake in the ground that drives consumers’ standards higher, creating a more competitive space in which (hopefully) even more responsible and beautifully branded products will emerge.
For me, the fitness brand Mirror is extraordinary in so many ways.
Firstly, there’s the product. An understated mirror at first glance, it has a screen embedded—and when turned on, shows your workout form while you follow a trainer on the screen. Paired with an app, the Mirror allows you to work out at home any time—even live with a trainer. The best part? It fits into even the smallest New York apartment!
But look beyond the tech, and you’ll find a female founder that’s inspiring in her own right. Brynn Putnam is a former professional ballet dancer who founded Mirror in 2016 while pregnant, signing her first round of seed funding (at an impressive $3m) on the day her son was born.
Marry that with some powerful branding crafted by Tina Smith—including a custom-lettered logotype inspired by the slick, tech nature of the product while still being bold and full of movement—and you have an inspiring brand that breaks multiple biases.
There’s always one that you wished you’d worked on or thought of, and that’s Sparkke. This female-founded and led business operates in the male-dominant world of beer. They felt the old boys club had too many members, so they established their own brewery. Sparkke is a conversation starter, literally. And the owners say: “Sharing a drink is one of the social glues of our society, a great conversation starter. And by mixing social with change, we’ve made the conversation a lot more interesting.”
Every can of Sparkke carries a message to raise awareness about a current social issue. These range from racial equality (R-E-S-P-E-C-T), sustainability (The Last Straw), wildlife preservation (To Bee or Not to Bee), asylum seekers (Advance Australia Fair?), gender equality (Girls Just Wanna Have Funding), and sexual consent (Hottest Sex Tip Ever? Ask, Baby, Ask!). When an issue becomes topical, this brand moves fast. In a matter of days, seemingly, there is a new product released that will “sparkke” a conversation. The product is also released with a position paper on their website, which gives the interested consumer in-depth information to generate further action.
The contemporary, pared-back designs stand apart from the “sea of sameness” created by the old boys club. The cause takes prominence over the Sparkke identity, positioning the Masterbrand as the supporter of the cause rather than dominating the conversation.
There’s an abundance of incredible female founders tackling feminine issues—which makes sense. One that really sticks out is the femcare brand Daye.
Founded by Valentina Milanova, Daye is a tampon subscription service that exists to raise the standards of women’s health. With the option of "naked" or CBD-infused tampons, Daye offers a personalized D2C service that is sustainable from product to delivery—think sugarcane applicators, recycled packaging, and CO2 neutral deliveries.
There’s also an agility to their eco-initiatives, adapting to consumer behaviors to ensure the lowest possible impact on the planet. For example, early products used compostable tampon wrappers, but research found that these were still getting thrown away. So Daye switched to water-soluble wrappers that dissolve when flushed.
The brilliance of Daye’s branding is that they haven’t let sustainability overwhelm their identity. It’s generally assumed, but with added detail within the brand story for those that want to learn more. Staying away from traditional codes of bright pink and purple, they adorn the brand world with a poetic, dreamy illustration style and muted, neutral tones. Whether it’s their tarot-style tin box or drawstring carry pouch, Daye’s products are something you want to show off.
But Daye’s biggest triumph is bringing femcare into the open. Through its blog, podcast, and social media content, the brand is normalizing honest conversations around periods—making medical information accessible to everyone and, in doing so, removing the confusion, secrecy, and shame that many of us are all too familiar with.
IWD’s 2022 theme is "Break the Bias." As I age, I think about wealth. Not just salaries, but the accrued value over decades of hard work. Because while white women earn 82 cents on the dollar compared to white men, she owns just 32 cents. For black women, earnings drop to 61 cents and plummet to only 1 cent. Yes, one penny to the dollar. Aargh.
My flag-waving brand is Ellevest because it addresses a life-limiting systematic bias. But also because Sallie Krawcheck proved that building something for women wasn’t "kind of dumb." Go, Sally. As the only kid to a single working mother, I was acutely aware of our financial limits. But I was oblivious to how my mother underinvested in her own future, sacrificing for our present. I watched her work like crazy to play catch up. Which she did, and I’m in awe.
But there was nothing in the market that was made for her. But now there is for me with Ellevest. They’ve recently announced $1bn AUM. The algorithm accounts for longer lifespans and earlier peaking earning cycles. They’ve helped many women counter the pandemic’s "she-cession," and have started to bring women of color to the fore of fighting for women’s wealth.