With her software, big brands can behave like hand-picked subscription services.
When Christine Hunsicker launched plus-size clothing rental service Gwynnie Bee in 2012, the goal was to prove to investors that consumers would actually rent clothing, thanks to the digital platform Hunsicker had created. It worked so well that, by 2017, a handful of clients, including New York & Co and Ann Taylor, were paying Hunsicker to manage logistics such as the shipping and cleaning for their own web orders. Today, Hunsicker’s "Clothing as a Service" company--rebranded as CaaStle (get it?)--employs more than 500 employees, who have shipped more than five million orders globally to date. With over $200 million in capital and a dozen retail partners, Hunsicker says she’s just getting started. “There are a lot of things we still have to build to maintain the position we’re in,” concedes Hunsicker, nodding to a pilot program that includes physical store locations. “The journey is a thousand of these little steps together.” --Zoë Henry
Rent the Runway
Her $1 billion valuation proves renting fashion is as good as owning it.
In 2009, when Jenn Hyman and co-founder Jennifer Fleiss started women’s-clothing rental business Rent the Runway, people saw the idea as either radically new or cute but trifling. “That will be so fun for you, to have all these fancy dresses,” one condescending would-be investor told Hyman, who considers herself a trend-spotter. She’d noticed that the younger generation was starting to value experiences over things, and that social media was turning the world into one big fashion show. She was right about all of it. Earlier this year, Rent the Runway’s valuation topped $1 billion, making Hyman one of the only female founders to pass that milestone. The company, which has 1,800 employees around the world, recently entered two new markets: kids and home--the latter through a partnership with West Elm. Says Hyman, “This is really just the beginning of what it will mean to have a subscription to Rent the Runway.” --Tom Foster
Evolved by Nature
Chanel backed her silkworm-sourced healthier fabric care.
When 38-year old Rebecca “Beck” Lacouture underwent three grueling months of chemotherapy a decade ago, her skin became painfully tender. So, an oncologist advised her to avoid a list of harmful chemicals commonly found in skin care products. A researcher with a PhD in biomedical engineering, Lacouture turned this advice into Evolved by Nature--a startup that uses proteins found in silkworm cocoons to manufacture a "liquid silk" alternative to damaging ingredients in skin care, consumer goods, and textiles. The company, which launched in 2013, recently won the backing of luxury fashion and beauty label Chanel, bringing its fundraising totals to $51 million. It also doubled revenue this year. “In the last year or so, we’ve realized that what we’re really creating is a chemistry company,” says Lacouture, who is now cancer-free. “Our silk can potentially be used anywhere." --Zoë Henry
Women spend over $70 million a year on her chic, personalized workwear.
Women’s workwear brand M.M.LaFleur first gained a following by curating “Bento Boxes” of coordinating looks—think tailored suits and sharp dresses—that busy women could try on at home. The strategy helped M.M.LaFleur hit more than $70 million in revenue in 2017—but it won’t keep the brand growing. More women are dressing casually for work, and an increasing number still want the in-store experience. LaFleur has responded to these trends by leaning hard into seven brick-and-mortar retail showrooms, where same-store revenue is up 13 percent from 2018. The company is also designing more lines for the formal and casual ends of their 25-55-year-old customer base—launching a high-end suiting collection this fall and designing a machine-washable, wrinkle-resistant travel line. “Releasing these two collections allows us to target both the C-suite exec and the younger, more casual woman on the go,” says co-founder and CEO Sarah LaFleur. --Lindsay Blakely
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