For spotting--and filling--a lucrative gap in the pet market.
When Parisa Fowles-Pazdro adopted a French bulldog, she found she had to choose between spending a few dollars on cheap pet accessories or thousands on designer ones. But what about something in between? With that question in mind, she founded Maxbone in 2017 to sell affordable luxury items including dog clothing, toys, freeze-dried food, carriers, and more. Boosted by an increase in dog adoptions during the pandemic, in the past year, the Los Angeles-based company grew sales 300 percent year-over-year and attracted more than 8,000 new customers.
Collaborating with well-known brands, including Disney and Away, Fowles-Pazdro looks back at the year with pride knowing she's serving shoppers who have been ignored in the past. "There are a lot of people who are grateful that we are making good quality food for their dogs,” she says. “And we’re educating customers about why they should have a certain approach to their dogs—and why they're like family members.”--Anna Meyer
For building a brand that broke through the male-dominated booze industry.
Alix Peabody got into entrepreneurship after she started throwing ticketed pool parties at her family’s house in Sonoma to raise funds for medical debt. (She brought in guests by the busload, literally, on a borrowed, Google-branded commuter transport.) She discovered that she wanted to start a socially conscious business, but events didn’t seem like the ticket. “I realized pretty quickly that if I wanted to have a company that actually has something to say, they probably had to, like, sell something,” she says. That’s when Peabody created an alcohol brand centered on women, now called Bev, a purveyor of canned wine. The mission was obvious, she says, because of trauma she’d experienced years earlier—she was sexually assaulted in college and sexually harassed at her first job, and both incidents involved alcohol. She sees Bev as something of a Trojan horse for changing drinking culture by creating a brand focused on empowering women. “When you walk into a bar, look at the back. What does that say about whose space that is?” she says. “Jack Daniels. Johnny Walker. Budweiser.” Her customers got it: DTC demand for Bev skyrocketed in 2020, and the company saw 1,700 percent year-over-year revenue growth. Brick-and-mortar was a tougher sell because, she found, alcohol distribution is controlled mostly by older white men. But, with the DTC success, Peabody finally broke through and partnered with E&J Gallo for nationwide distribution in 2021. “DTC was originally intended to show people that people really wanted a product like this and a brand like this that spoke to them,” she says. “And 2021 is when that story—that fairytale—is starting to come true, which is really exciting.”--Gabrielle Bienasz
For making sustainable sofas that won't end up in landfills.
When Phantila Phataraprasit graduated from college, she was disappointed by the lack of options for buying sustainable furniture on a budget. So, in 2019, she co-founded DTC furniture company Sabai Design to do something about it. One year in, Sabai launched two initiatives: the Closed Loop Program and Repair Don't Replace. The first is a national program where Sabai buys back a couch at up to 20 percent of the secondhand price in credit or 15 percent in cash. Sofas in good condition sell at a discount in Sabai’s pre-owned line, and any that are not resold after three months are donated. With Repair Don't Replace, the company sells individual sofa parts so customers can fix what they need instead of buying an entirely new product. "Our generation really cares about transparency when it comes to sustainability,” Phataraprasit says. “And so our focus is to look at sustainability with respect to our products and company holistically."--Anna Meyer
For stepping on the gas when the world slowed down.
Sasha Plavsic had worked for years to grow her sustainable, natural-beauty brand, Ilia. She’d started with just a small line of credit, courtesy of her father, hoping to get her out of a slump. But she took a leap in 2018, using $3 million in seed funding to bring in a CEO and new game-plan: use the safest of synthetic ingredients to create products that weren’t just pigment--that actually improved skin. It was clean beauty, amplified. A big re-launch in Sephora was ill-timed, though: “We had a big coming out party, front of store. And it was the day the mall shut down in March,” Plavsic, now Ilia’s chief creative officer, says. She took her sales and field teams and repositioned their jobs to online marketing and customer service. “We bought ads, even as other people pulled back,” she says. “We stepped on the gas. It worked.” Most of Ilia’s sales are now in-store--the brand’s best-selling foundation is something individuals match to their skin tone before purchasing. Super Serum Skin Tint, $48, has zinc-based SPF 40, as well as moisturizers that target damage and wrinkles, including hyaluronic acids, plant-based squalane, and niacinamide. It also sells an anti-pollution primer, and talc-free eyeshadows. Plavsic and her team used the pandemic slowdown to hone their giving-back efforts, too: the company partnered with Feeding America, 1 Percent for the Planet and One Tree Planted. “This isn’t just marketing for us; as we grow it’s really important we minimize our impact on the planet,” Plavsic says.--Christine Lagorio
For giving women's health tests a much-needed makeover.
After running into her boyfriend’s mom while buying a pregnancy test, Cynthia Plotch thought the women’s health industry could use a fresh approach. Her friend Jamie Norwood, who had recently fainted from a UTI, agreed. The two conducted some market research, found a need, and co-founded Stix, a direct-to-consumer women’s health brand, in September 2019: Their first product was a discreet, easy-to-use pregnancy test. But when the duo set out to raise money, more than 100 investors turned them down. “Most of venture capital is run by men, and this is a problem that mostly women face,” says Norwood. “So not only are we pitching the business and explaining why it makes sense as a business, but we're also explaining the problem.” Another complication arose in April 2020, when Plotch fell ill with mysterious symptoms and was eventually diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. “When you get sick, I think you realize how much you need to prioritize,” Plotch says. For Stix, that meant clarifying its mission to become a one-stop shop for women’s health education, not just products. The founders raised a $3.5 million seed round in April 2021, bringing Stix’s total funding to $5 million. The Philadelphia company is now a nine-person operation offering products to test for, treat, and prevent UTIs and yeast infections, in addition to pregnancy and ovulation tests and prenatal vitamins. Next up: launching new product lines and expanding its online library of health resources and digital tools.--Sophie Downes