She put the work of African artisans on the covers of American magazines.
Look away from Michelle Obama’s dazzling smile on the cover of December’s Essence magazine and you might notice a graceful brass ring and necklace—both from Soko. That photo “was such a validation of what we do,” says Catherine Mahugu, who co-founded the business with Gwendolyn Floyd and Ella Peinovich. After Obama’s cover, Oprah Winfrey flashed a Soko bracelet and earrings on the cover of April’s O magazine— and fashion pace-setters like Reformation, Zolando, Amour Vert, and Nordstrom’s have taken up the brand. But what’s more important to Soko’s co-founders is the income provided for the 2,300 artisans in Mahugu’s native Kenya. To advantage African workers, Mahugu also just launched Chiswara, a company trying to digitize the agricultural supply chain, first by partnering with small farmers in Kenya to sell their coffee internationally. “In the U.S., we pay $5 for a cup of coffee, but the lives of the farmers don’t reflect that,” says Mahugu, whose parents grew up on coffee farms. “We are giving farmers a seat at the table.” --Leigh Buchanan
This Jimmy Choo co-founder is taking luxury shoe sales direct to consumer.
Tamara Mellon is the past of footwear retail and its future. After co-founding Jimmy Choo, Mellon launched a namesake shoe line that went bankrupt. She parlayed the lessons of that bankruptcy into a leaner, direct-to-consumer brand that she’s determined will be the luxury shoe of choice. By doing its prototyping stateside while keeping production in Italy, Mellon’s namesake company has cut the typical development time on a new style from three months to one. That’s increasingly necessary as Mellon ditches the industry’s standard seasonal collections in favor of frequent, small releases. Drawing from a $91 million VC war chest, which includes backing from private equity firm NEA, Tamara Mellon opened its first store in November. It’s currently doing an impressive $3,000 per square foot--and doubling year-over-year sales. --Kimberly Weisul
She uses her platform as the founder of a $100 million fashion brand to support women-owned businesses
Two decades into building her $100 million namesake brand, New York City clothing and handbag designer Rebecca Minkoff is still on the rise--with space in 900 stores worldwide and business growing by double digits--and she's taking other female entrepreneurs with her. The Female Founder Collective, which Minkoff launched last year, is a network of women-run businesses boasting a seal that its 50,000-plus Instagram followers can recognize, support, and promote. The group harnesses the talents of its members--from Draper James founder Reese Witherspoon to scrappy Nashville-based meal-delivery company Dinner Belle--"to enable and empower female-owned and led businesses to positively impact our communities, both socially and economically." --Christine Lagorio-Chafkin
She is the first woman to create a fashion house with luxury behemoth LVMH.
At just 31 years old, nine-time Grammy-winner Robyn Rihanna Fenty is a one-woman empire, with deals in music, film, fashion, and cosmetics minting a reported $600 million every year. In May, her portfolio got even bigger: The native Barbadian became the first woman to create an original fashion label with French luxury behemoth LVMH—and the first woman of color to run one. Fenty is a patented line of clothes, shoes, and accessories designed to complement the entertainer’s already successful makeup line, Fenty Beauty, which reportedly pulled in $570 million last year. The artist is designing her new clothing line--the first new fashion house created by LVHM in over 30 years--to operate solely via e-commerce, without runway shows or flagship boutiques. It will also offer up to size 14 U.S., a more inclusive range than is typically shown on Fashion Week runways. It’s a fitting gesture for an artist who’s building her fashion label in her own image--to “thrive beyond traditional boundaries.” --Zoë Henry
The IPO of her luxury resale site proves that even high-end shoppers like a second-hand bargain.
That vintage Dior saddlebag you’ve coveted? Julie Wainwright bet big that you’d sidestep eBay to buy it on her site, the RealReal. During a period of eight years, the former CEO of Pets.com raised a stunning $358 million to hire more than 100 gemologists, horologists, and other experts to build the leading authenticated luxury retail site. Along the way, she formed a partnership with Stella McCartney and received honors from Parson’s School of Design for her commitment to innovation and sustainability. Like many direct-to-consumer efforts, the RealReal has also opened physical stores where shoppers can ogle almost-affordable (at least to some) fashion and accessories in person. She took her company public in June. --Kimberly Weisul