In recognition of International Women's Day on March 8, Entrepreneurs' Organization (EO) is focusing on female founders who represent this year's theme, "Think Equal, Build Smart, Innovate for Change."

Fran Dunaway is an EO member in Seattle and co-founder of TomboyX, purveyors of eco-friendly and comfortable underwear that is gender neutral and inclusive. Fran was named to Inc.'s Female Founders 100, a list of innovative women who are changing the world and rattling industries far and wide. She was further lauded as one of the 17 female founders on the list who created brands that started social movements. Her company was also ranked No. 231 on the 2018 Inc. 5000 list of the fastest-growing companies in the US. We asked Fran about her entrepreneurial journey. Here's what she shared.

What does recognition on Inc.'s Female Founders 100 list mean to you?

It was incredibly rewarding to be included in that prestigious group. And it was nice to see Inc. recognizing female founders. The statistics around women-led companies and institutional funding clearly suggest that the entrepreneurial path is harder for women than for men, so it's great to see so many women enjoying significant success and inciting positive social change, despite the obstacles. We still have a long way to go to reach gender parity, but every step counts.

Tell us about your entrepreneurial journey.

My co-founder and wife, Naomi Gonzalez, and I started this company because I wanted a cool button-up shirt―in the Robert Graham or Ben Sherman style―but made to fit a woman's body. We chose the name TomboyX because we both considered ourselves tomboys as kids and thought it was cute, but about a week into our Kickstarter campaign to pay for the shirts, we realized that the name was resonating in a profound way.

We had stepped into a white space in the fashion industry, and women from around the world were reaching out to thank us for launching a brand for them. What we weren't sure of was what our hero product should be, so when customers started asking for boxer briefs for women, we listened closely and obliged. Eventually, underwear became our company's main product focus. We changed our product focus, but we kept diversity and inclusion at the forefront from the start, which has helped our brand resonate even more strongly with women.

Our brand transformed. It was no longer about a look that others see, but rather about how you feel on the inside. Because everyone should feel comfortable in their own skin.

If you could relay one sentence to your younger self, what would it be? 

Trust your gut.

Have you had advisors during your career who have changed you or impacted your journey for the better?

Absolutely. When we started this company, we didn't know a knit from a woven or a P&L from a balance sheet, so we had a lot to learn. We actively sought out experts in the various areas where we had questions and plied them with food and drink as we asked questions that helped us get to the next level. 

As we developed our brand values, Naomi and I were adamant about being completely inclusive. Meaning that we would sell all of our styles in sizes to fit every body, from XS to 4X―and at the same price. Since we were launching the first boxer briefs designed explicitly for women, it was critical that our fit and quality were a top priority. We did our homework, took our time, and sourced the right materials. Then we asked real customers to fit-test our final product.

We've seen upheaval in the sphere of women's rights and women in power recently. As a successful woman in business, do you see things generally moving toward the better, remaining the same, or moving backward? 

It depends on the day! But seriously, I feel like we are making change because women are recognizing the power in helping each other define, identify and expect change to happen. The #MeToo movement is really about women being fed up with the status quo and recognizing that we all have endured―and continue to endure―bias and unfair treatment based on our gender. We live in a man's world, and men aren't going to change it. But we're going to change it.

We feel fortunate at our company to have a platform that supports diversity and inclusion in every sense, and to have attracted brand ambassadors who aim to right many of the world's wrongs and make strides in bringing all women closer to gender parity.

I would hope that in our lifetimes, we will see women in business enjoy the same access to funding as their male counterparts and that our ideas will be seen as valuable, viable businesses.

We feel honored that our company helped bring together an international community of strong, empowered women. It's motivating to see how women are giving back, inspiring each other and changing our world. I'm excited about what will happen next!

Published on: Mar 5, 2019
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.