For raising the bar on everyday ingredients.
Rising costs. Paper shortages. Bottling facility closures. Last year brought unexpected challenges for Brightland, a direct-to-consumer seller of organic olive oil sourced from small U.S. farms. On the other hand, a pandemic that forced most everyone to stay home and cook more did have its silver linings for the company. “Market demand didn’t slow down,” says founder and CEO Aishwarya Iyer. Indeed, Brightland has gained a cult following for its products: Its $70 set of mini bottles of two oils and two vinegars has sold out three times in the past year.
So while everything else seemed to slow down—particularly the process of shipping and designing products with a dispersed workforce—Brightland’s eight-person team shifted into high gear. The company applied its ethos of carefully sourced, unadulterated ingredients to a slew of new products, including vinegars (balsamic, champagne, and a limited-edition strawberry) and olive oils infused with garlic, chili, lemon, and basil. In September, Brightland launched a line of raw, unfiltered honey produced by two fourth-generation beekeeping families. And the company is planning its first pop-up retail space this holiday season in New York City.
“Our north star is working directly with organic farmers and producers who prioritize sustainability and want to be a part of the world we’re creating,” Iyer says. “We’re uncompromising with our traceability.”--Lindsay Blakely
For making tough workout wear that's easier on the planet.
Through the course of training, managing professional fighters, and her own workouts, Natlyn Jones, a boxer, had a thought: “Wouldn’t it be great to actually wear a brand in the gym that implemented and represented the fighting spirit, especially for women?” It would also have to be sustainably made--a must for Jones, who was appalled by the negative impact clothing has on the environment. So, in 2019, SheWarrior was born.
The activewear brand has since found ample support among a growing customer base—save for several months during the pandemic. SheWarrior apparel is made to order, which Jones says is great for the environment, but it was crushing when her manufacturer shut down for six months and she had no inventory to sell. “It definitely slowed everything down,” Jones says. “I couldn’t fill any orders.”
Today, after much of that backlog has cleared, she remains adamant, she says, about building a company with values and that’s sustainable. “It is great to have a brand that I can put on and be proud of, and actually have it resonate with women in the name,” says Jones.--Alicia Doniger
For concocting better hair and body care solutions.
Growing up in New Jersey, Jasmine Lawrence was a pageant girl. “Looks were everything for me,” Lawrence says. “I got feedback from judges that they’d love to see me with straight hair instead of the naturally curly, Afro-centric hair that comes out of my head.” So, at 11, in an effort to increase her odds of winning, she got a perm. The horrible result—she had chemical burns on her scalp and lost 80 percent of her hair—was a pivotal moment. In school, she had learned about the scientific method, so she read up on natural ingredients that would heal her scalp and started concocting her own all-natural shampoos. She founded EDEN BodyWorks in 2004 in her parents’ New Jersey kitchen. She was just 13 years old. At first, she sold her products door-to-door, at church, and at the local beauty supply store, but a buyer from Walmart heard about her products and placed an order, and she had to hire her sisters and neighbors to fill it. Then came a 2007 segment on Oprah, and orders spiked to 1,000 a day. Today, Lawrence works works full time in the robotics industry, but she is still CEO of EDEN, whose products are on the shelves at Walmart, Target, and other national chains. EDEN’s hair care lines include papaya-castor, coconut shea, hibiscus honey, jojoba, peppermint tea tree, and almond-marshmallow. All are certified as cruelty free by PETA. Lawrence, now 30, says her core value remains educating and empowering women. “When you look at our brand, it’s not about, ‘Let me help you have the perfect hairstyle and grow your hair down to your butt.’ [It’s about] why would you use castor oil, and what are the benefits of papaya? I want you to be an informed consumer.”--Hannah Wallace
Kim Caudle Lewis
For saving jobs--and standing up for her community.
In 2002, when Caudle Lewis founded her Huntsville, Alabama-based engineering, logistics, and manufacturing company, she was a divorced single mom. “My family and friends said, ‘You can’t leave your full-time job with benefits. You don’t know anything about running a business!’” Caudle Lewis recalls with a laugh. But she did it anyway, working in the evenings and on weekends to get it off the ground. Today, PROJECTXYZ is not only a successful company—its revenue nearly doubled to $43 million in 2020—but also a community builder. During Covid, Japanese firm CBC INGS was about to shutter a plastic injection molding plant that it owned in Muscle Shoals. The community contacted Caudle Lewis and her husband, Larry (who joined the company in 2007), and asked if she could save those jobs. “The work was still there but the company didn’t want it,” Caudle Lewis says. “We were able to save those 137 jobs.” PROJECTXYZ’s name reflects the variety of its work. The company does IT jobs and government contracting (including running a factory in El Paso that repairs old missile systems), but also owns a Darnell Ferguson restaurant in Tuscumbia and a local TV station in Athens. “I’m involved with all of them!” Caudle Lewis says. “We like to partner with the community to create something bigger and better.”--Hannah Wallace
Milana Rabkin Lewis
For providing a financial lifeline to musicians.
When Milana Lewis thinks back on 2020, one metaphor that stands out is the massive Ever Given container ship stuck in the Suez Canal. Lewis’s startup, Stem--a platform that helps indie musicians distribute their work and track down their online streaming revenue--was stuck, she says, both from a product and culture perspective. In late 2018, Lewis parted ways over a difference in vision with her two co-founders. To grow, she wanted to focus less on distribution for emerging artists--which she viewed as slowing down the company and sucking up too many resources--and more on building out financial tools for artists who are further along in their careers. It was a big enough change in direction that she hit pause on product development and spent 2019 reorienting and rebuilding trust with Stem’s team. In February 2020, Stem announced Scale, a $100 million cash advance program aimed at giving artists a way to access alternative funding with fewer restrictions than a label typically imposes. The startup takes a one-time flat fee of between 5 and 25 percent of these advances. A few weeks later, of course, the pandemic hugely disrupted the music business, canceling live shows, and sending artists back into the studios and looking for ways to leverage their existing music catalogues. And Scale took off: Lewis says Stem ended 2020 with $60 million in requests for advances. “2020 was incredible for the business,” she says. “We started to chip away at unsticking ourselves and get the ship sailing again.” --Lindsay Blakely