She's using her $500 million brand as an R&D lab for improving fashion's carbon footprint.
Eileen Fisher knows the value of trash. Her eponymous fashion brand has been buying back and recycling old clothes since 2009. Today, under the rubric Waste No More, the company is transforming whatever fabric can’t be recycled into installations of wall hangings and interior design murals on view from Brooklyn to Milan. “We consider Waste No More to be a form of aesthetic activism--what many people consider waste, we consider beauty,” says Fisher. Ninety-seven percent of Eileen Fisher’s cotton and 91 percent of its linen are now organic. The company has also been conducting a process revamp; its goals include giving factories more production time, so more product can be shipped by boat, as opposed to air. What's more, Fisher embarked on research with Harvard University researchers to ensure that new purchasing practices don’t harm her suppliers’ employees. She hopes these efforts will inspire consumers to “acknowledge the tendency toward overconsumption in our culture and reevaluate their behavior." --Leigh Buchanan
The Groomsman Suit
She went direct-to-consumer to hack the wedding suit rental.
When Jeanne Foley got married, her mother blew $500 on two ill-fitting tuxedos for Jeanne’s brothers to wear just once, at the ceremony. The Under Armour veteran knew she could do better. In 2016, she launched the Groomsman Suit with childhood bestie and Sloan School of Management grad Diana Ganz. The direct-to-consumer startup sells tuxedo separates for under $200--much less than traditional rentals. But Foley says the real key to the company’s success has been its “amazing service.” Orders ship within 48 hours, and returns and exchanges are free. As a bonus, the Groomsmen Suit will ship new items before they’ve received the originals. The group-ordering service even nudges groomsmen by email to get it together and order their tuxes--it may be the best thing that’s happened to weddings since candy stations. --Jill Krasny
Last year, medical professionals spent over $100 million on her tailored scrubs.
Heather Hasson and co-founder Trina Spear correctly diagnosed the problem plaguing the medical scrubs industry: Options were limited to ill-fitting uniforms that were available for purchase only at inconvenient hours in uninspiring places (think medical supply stores also specializing in knee braces). Figs redesigned scrubs in high-tech fabrics and trendy silhouettes, and it brought in just over $23 million in revenue in 2017, and then over $100 million in 2018. The co-founders also decided to branch into brick-and-mortar retail with a pop-up shop in West Hollywood. “A bunch of our Instagram fans kept stopping by the office wanting to see the clothes. That’s when we decided we need a physical location,” Hasson says. This year, Figs became profitable and started expanding internationally (to Canada). More permanent outposts are planned for 2020.--Lindsay Blakely
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