by Deborah Anderson
Here at One Wear Freedom we are always celebrating women and this week is no different. To commemorate Entrepreneur’s Day, we are celebrating some amazing (past and present) women in business! These women paved the way for us – literally us! We are a female founded brand and we owe these women so much for daring to dream in a white man’s world.
Madam C.J. Walker – Born in 1867 to 2 freed slaves, this amazing lady eventually made her fortune creating her own line of cosmetics and haircare specifically intended for black women. After having her own scalp problems including dandruff and baldness, she decided enough was enough. She learnt more about haircare from 2 of her brothers who were barbers and in 1905, her business was born. Her empire grew and by 1917, the company claimed to have trained nearly 20,000 women. She is recorded as the first female self-made millionaire in America by the Guinness Book of World Records. Not only did she give black women the tools and knowledge to better care for their hair, she also encouraged them to be more financially independent, showing them how to budget and even how to start their own businesses. Throughout her life, she donated to various causes and charities including the National Association of Coloured Women’s Clubs, anti-lynching funds and orphanages. In recent years, she has been the subject of a TV series, a stage play and in 2016, Sephora collaborated with Sundial Brands to launch the Madam C. J. Walker Beauty Culture line in her honour.
Coco Chanel – We have all, of course, heard of Coco Chanel – it’s one of the most recognisable brands around today, but you may not know about its history. She was born in a French poorhouse as Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel, and when her mother died when she was just 11, she was sent to live in a convent. This was where she learnt to sew and after realising she wouldn’t make it as a stage star, she started making hats as a diversion. She became a licensed milliner and opened her first boutique in 1910. Her range expanded and by 1918, she was selling hats, clothing and accessories in 5 properties, by 1927. It has even been said that she invented the Little Black Dress! Her clothes allowed women to look sophisticated, feel powerful and be comfortable, without catering for the male glaze. She may have died in 1971 but the brand has since become a powerhouse in the fashion industry.
Elizabeth Arden – The long-standing beauty empire was built by Florence Nightingale Graham. She was born in 1881 in Canada, and later dropped out of nursing school, moving to New York to work with her brother at R.S Squibb Pharmaceuticals Company as a bookkeeper. Whilst there she developed a fascination with skincare and learnt as much as she could. Under the trade name of Elizabeth Arden, she started opening beauty salons as well as creating her own range of rouges and tinted powders after a visit to Paris. By 1929, she owned 150 salons in the United States, as well as throughout Europe. Before her, make up had been associated with the lower classes and prostitutes. She helped to normalise make-up, making it more accessible to all women, as well as slightly bridging the societal class gap. She was a dedicated suffragette and for the 1912 women’s rights movement, she provided the marchers with red lipstick as a token of solidarity. At the peak of her career, she was one of the wealthiest women in the world and was the sole owner until her death in 1966. Her legacy continues, with Elizabeth Arden still one of the biggest cosmetic brands today.
Isatou Ceesay – She is a social entrepreneur known in The Gambia as “the Queen of Recycling”. Born there in 1972, she grew up seeing the problems that plastic presented. Without a proper waste collection service like we have in the UK, piles of plastic waste were littered across the village, harming animals and compromising the health of the crop-growing soil. In order to show people the environmental damage that was being done, she founded the Recycling Centre of N’Jau with 4 other women as well as the project One Plastic Bag. The goal was to encourage people not to litter but has become something so much more wonderful. The disposed plastic bags are collected and skilfully crocheted into bags and accessories by local women. The beautiful items are then sold, providing them with an income and independence, allowing them to support their families and send their daughters to school. In 2012, she was awarded a Making A World of Difference Award from the International Alliance for Women and in 2015, the Gambia’s government banned the use and import of plastic bags. The One Plastic Bag project is still running today and Isatou now works with more than 11,000 people to make it happen. She really lives up to her nickname of Queen of Recycling!
Susie Hewson – Susie founded Natracare, a company that sells ethically-sourced, organic cotton menstrual products. Being concerned about the waste that comes from menstrual products like pads and tampons and the toxic chemicals that can be found in them, she wanted to change that. After trying to get big companies to change their production processes to no avail, (without any business background) she decided to create her own range and in 1989, Natracare was launched. In 2009, they were given the Nordic Eco Label Award but are continually trying to better themselves to become more sustainable, with all their products now being 100% plastic-free and fully biodegradable as well raise awareness of the damages of plastic period waste.
So there you have it - some incredible women with amazing stories, all of whom faced challenges such as racism, sexism, classism and just plain ignorance from others. They all not only survived these struggles but managed to thrive, while making the world a better, more balanced and more sustainable place and for that we can’t thank them enough!
If you want to make the world a better place, why not browse through our collections next time you get the lockdown boredom shopping bug? Every item comes with a label filled with wildflower seeds, which the bees will love!
Also, join us for our Virtual Games Night on the 26th November on Zoom! We will play games, give out prizes and you’ll also get a sneaky peak of our winter collection all for just £3 a ticket! Get yours here, it’s gonna be a fun one!