Despite the frequent interchangeability of phrases like “women-owned” and “female-founded,” the two terms aren’t always related — a female-founded brand might not be owned by a woman anymore and a presently-women-owned business might not have been founded by a woman. During social-minded instances like International Women’s Day, understanding what each label denotes could mean the difference between supporting a brand that’s actually run by women, or one that happens to have women working within it, for example Proactiv was founded by two female dermatologists is now owned by Nestlé.
So what’s the difference? Female-founded means that a business was created by a woman or women, according to a spokesperson for nonprofit Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), which certifies women-owned businesses in the United States after they meet a set of eligibility standards, like a woman heading up the day-to-day operations of a company. But when it comes to women-owned businesses, things can get trickier. The Department of Defense, for example, defines a women-owned business as one wherein at least 51 percent is owned and operated by a woman or by women — that is, a women-owned business can have male co-owners, as long as they don’t make up the majority of ownership.
The Small Business Administration (SBA), which is designed to support small businesses no matter who owns them, uses the 51-percent requirement when brands apply to its Women-Owned Small Business Federal Contracting Program, which offers government contracts for small businesses. These "set-asides" were implemented to help guarantee at least 5 percent of federal contracting budgets involve women-owned businesses. In 2019, the SBA noted that women-owned small businesses received $26 billion of eligible contracting dollars, equating to more than 134,500 jobs.
Women-owned businesses in 2021
“Ambitious women can face hurdles that men don't in terms of family planning,” said Katie Kaps, co-founder of HigherDOSE. She called a woman’s 30s “an incredibly important decade for career advancement,” but noted wanting to have kids during that time frame “puts a lot of pressure on women.” There are plenty of significant challenges that female entrepreneurs face, otherwise, including gender bias from investors, managing child care and pregnancy discrimination. And just over 30 years ago, things were much worse. With former President Ronald Regan’s signing of the Women’s Business Ownership Act of 1988 into federal law, women were (finally) no longer required to have a male relative cosign a business loan and various resources were made available to women entrepreneurs — the law included the formation the National Women’s Business Council, among other things.
Still, identifying women-owned businesses isn't straightforward. This month, the WBENC partnered with Target to put a women-owned logo on products meeting the aforementioned 51 percent standard. With this Target collection, you can find more than 200 woman-owned brands, ranging from Good Dirt’s potting mix to nail polish from Olive & June. Target is also part of the organization’s Women Owned in Retail education and outreach program, which aims to help female entrepreneurs better navigate the retail industry. Since any WBENC-certified brand can use the women-owned logo on their packaging, you may find the logo on products regardless of where you’re shopping.
Women-owned businesses and coronavirus
The ongoing Covid-19 pandemic has hit women-owned businesses particularly hard. According to a July 2020 poll conducted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, only 47 percent of female business owners considered their company’s overall outlook as “good,” compared to 62 percent of the men polled.
For Black women, business ownership can be even more difficult, according to a February 2021 survey from Visa, which partnered with market trends firm Wakefield Research to survey more than 250 Black women business owners whose revenue is less than $1 million and who employ less than 100 people: 71 percent of respondents predicted they’ll have to shut down their operations if current pandemic conditions continue for one more year. And though more than half (54 percent) of Black women respondents said their businesses received support during the Black Lives Matter movement last summer, less than a quarter (22 percent) saw that financial support flow into 2021. Widening the aperture on the effects of Covid paints an even more grim picture: By April of last year, more than 40 percent of all Black-owned businesses had shuttered.
When Ju Rhyu, owner and founder of Hero Cosmetics, reflected on what it means to be Asian American and running a company in the U.S., she noted the role is accompanied by “a lot of responsibility” to support her community, “especially as a business owner, since there is privilege and influence in being in this position.” That sense of responsibility — and privilege — are only accentuated given that 44 percent of unemployed Asian American women have been out of work for at least six months. Last year, the Asian American Federation also found the unemployment rate of Asian Americans in New York jumped from 3.4 percent in February to 25.6 percent in May.
Women-owned business resources
Rhyu credits networking with helping her successfully navigate her business. For example, after launching the brand’s signature Mighty Patch, she wanted to expand into face masks for your skin. However, a female investor encouraged her to “dominate patches and to be really known for that.” Rhyu ended up scraping the idea and “really changed the trajectory of our company, because I thought she was right.”
Among Rhyu’s tips for aspiring female business owners is patience. "Creating your business will not happen overnight. It's a series of actions that you take every day that accumulate and become the business you aimed to grow," she said.
Social media and networking
Although Rhyu considers networking to be “critical,” the Columbia Business School alumna didn’t utilize formal organizations like her university’s career network or the WBENC. Rather, she found success on LinkedIn, cold-emailing and messaging people because “a lot of times you’re one or two degrees away from other people.” She advised readers to introduce themselves and briefly describe their company and key stats to “hook their attention in case they don’t know the brand.”
Who to reach out to? One group Rhyu said is “important” to connect with is other founders. "They will be extremely helpful and crucial as you build and oftentimes they will be the only ones who can empathize and understand what you are going through in successes and failures," Rhyu explained — the SBA recommends reaching out to industry leaders through SCORE, too, its volunteer network of mentors for both women and men.
Rhyu “definitely recommends” female entrepreneurs join Twitter to connect with other founders, as well. A few of her favorite Twitter accounts for “interesting and cool” e-commerce takeaways include Web Smith, Jaime Schmidt (“a must follow”),Chris Cantino,Patrick Coddou andTaylor Sicard. Another pro tip from Rhyu is to look out for profiles whose bios say they’re “open to DMs” in their bios, “which signals that they're more than happy to connect with folks.”
“Sometimes I joke that it's better than an MBA,” she said. “I've learned a lot.”
Slack isn’t a traditional social media site, like Instagram and Facebook, but there are specific Slack channels for women on it, like Female Founders, which is targeted at women in the tech industry, and you can apply for free online. Rhyu, herself part of Lean Luxe (for luxury business news), DtoCEcommBrainTrust (for e-commerce news) and designer Rebecca Minkoff’s FemaleFoundersCollective (for networking with other female founders), called these groups a “great way to meet other people and just share knowledge and learn from each other.” Those three Slack channels are also free and open to join.
Beyond social media sites, there are formal organizations offering resources with an eye toward female entrepreneurship, like New York Women in Business, which has a directory of more than 570 female-owned local businesses. The organization also hosts virtual webinars and uploads free videos on its YouTube channel, like how to run a business remotely. The WBENC offers various scholarships and networking opportunities for women in business. In 2017, they launched NextGen, which focuses on providing resources like mentorship matchmaking and coaching to millennials and Gen Z.
Before the nonprofit Asian Women in Business (AWIB) shut down in 2020, the organization spent 25 years helping female Asian entrepreneurs through various corporate task forces, forums and scholarships. One AWIB database still available online is its resources page, which includes domestic and international Asian and Asian American organizations, guidance on general business development by state and resources for anyone facing foreclosure.
The SBA compiles information for aspiring female business owners, too. The organization offers content ranging from how to launch your brand to tips for discovering which business structure is best for your needs.
Our favorite women-owned products in 2021
Here are 20 items from women-owned brands that stood out to us, from coronavirus-related essentials and period-related products to vegan-friendly snacks and home goods.
Mirror is the best compact gym offering live classes – it boasts on-demand workouts that require relatively low commitment, from five to 60 minutes per session. You can decompress by practicing tai chi and yoga or opt for more intense bootcamp and boxing classes if you’re in the mood to sweat.
2. Parachute Linen Duvet Cover Set
Direct-to-consumer bedding brand Parachute created a relatively lightweight duvet set made from Oeko-TEX Standard 100-certified linen, meaning that every thread and accessory on this duvet set was tested for harmful chemicals. The linen set includes a duvet cover and matching sham set made in Portugal from European flax. There are ten neutral colors to consider, from Clay and Fog to Shore and Surplus.
3. Saalt Menstrual Cup
Saalt is best known for its array of sustainable menstrual cups, made from medical-grade silicone. The brand makes three versions of the cups — Teen, Soft and Original — and two bundles. The Teen cup absorbs as much as two tampons while the Soft and Original models equal to three or four tampons, according to the brand. The cups are available in vibrant colors like Wild Rose to Aqua Green and Himalayan Pink and Ocean Blue.
4. Hero Cosmetics Mighty Patch Original
Rhyu launched her company on Amazon in 2017 with just a single product: Mighty Patch Original, a small and thin hydrocolloid pimple patch that moves dirt and moisture away from acne to help calm inflammation. Hero says this top-rated pimple patch can shrink breakouts within six hours compared to other options on the market, which typically need to be left on overnight.
According to Rhyu, Hero sells a box of Mighty Patches every 15 seconds, with over 3 million boxes sold in over 8,000 stores like Target, Ulta Beauty, Urban Outfitters and Neiman Marcus. She also told us the brand is on track to surpass $80 million in retail sales for 2021.
5. Megababe Rosy Pits Deodorant
One of Megababe’s signature products is Rosy Pits, a stick deodorant made with natural ingredients like coconut, which has antifungal properties and vitamin E to help calm inflammation from razor burn. As its name suggests, Rosy Pits has a light floral scent, but you can also order the aluminum-free deodorant Sunny Pits, which smells like lemon. Megababe founder Katie Sturino’s first big product launch was the Thigh Rescue, a stick that prevents chafing between the thighs.
6. United Sodas of America
The Brooklyn-based brand claims to incorporate organic ingredients to sweeten their beverages and offers 12 different flavored sodas, like classic Ginger Ale, tropical-inspired Toasted Coconut and slightly tart Lemon Verbena and Sour Blueberry. If you’re not sure where to start, opt for the 12-piece variety pack which includes one of each flavor, or order a theme pack like The Finer Things Club, which has Strawberry Basil, Pear Elderflower and Lemon Verbena.
7. Hatch Anaelle Dress
This colorful and breezy maternity dress made from a combination of silk and cotton blend has a high-low hemline and is designed to hit a few inches above the ankles. It sports flirty ruffle trimming along the shoulders and comes in two color prints: Pink Poppy and Blue Poppy.
8. Hatch Calm Bath Soak
You don’t have to be expecting to shop at maternity brand Hatch, as the brand also sells bath and body products to help create a spa-like experience at home. Hatch claims this bath soak is dermatologist- and allergy-tested and free of dyes and parabens. It’s made from natural ingredients like pink Himalayan sea salt to help you relax, acacia fiber to help soothe and coconut milk to help moisture and calm skin.
9. Cocokind Oil To Milk Cleanser
Skin care brand Cocokind’s No. 1 bestseller is this top-rated gentle face wash made with a blend of natural and organic ingredients like vitamin E, known for helping reduce inflammation. It is also made from six organic oils, including sunflower seed, grape seed and Roman chamomile oils to help hydrate and calm your complexion. The brand claims this facial cleanser also helps remove dirt and makeup, and smells like a combination of chamomile and geranium.
10. CUUP Balconette Bra
“The sheer power mesh fabric is lightweight and feels as though you’re wearing nothing at all,” wrote Shopping production coordinator Rebecca Rodriguez about the CUUP bra in Espresso. The lightweight Balconette bra is available in 10 colors and a variety of sizes, ranging from 30 A to 38 H (sold out).
11. Rellery Cuban Link Bar Necklace
Looking for expensive-looking jewelry under $200 and want to support an Asian-American female business owner in the process? Rellery, a contemporary jewelry line favored by Shopping associate editor Nicole Saunders, offers pieces crafted from precious metals like 18-karat gold and sterling silver rather than steel, brass, zinc and nickel. The Cuban Link Bar Necklace is a bestseller, and you can now personalize your new jewels with a combination of words, initials, meaningful dates and coordinates.
12. Better Off Alone Jumpsuit
“Pandemic chic” clothing exists, according to Saunders who likes to rock the flattering Navy jumpsuit while running essential errands. The long sleeve, 100-percent cotton jumpsuit is biodegradable and treated with SilverPlus, an antimicrobial treatment. Better Off Alone also sells a travel kit equipped with an eye mask, pillowcase and seat cover, along with antimicrobial face masks. As we’ve previously reported, antimicrobial face masks do not prevent coronavirus. However, if rocking any garment treated with antimicrobial properties helps give you peace of mind while traveling or during socially-distant meetups, this comfy jumpsuit might be worth trying out.
13. Resoré Towels
Other Shopping editor-approved antimicrobial products are body and face towels from Australian brand Resoré. The line of super-soft White and Almond towels are made of hypoallergenic Turkish cotton. These fast-drying towels are made with sustainable Tencel lyocell and infused with Silverbac fibers, which Resoré claims will help prevent bacteria from rubbing back into your skin and, as a result, reduce acne.
14. Partake Foods Double Chocolate Chip Cookies
Partake Food founder Denise Woodard created a healthy snack brand available at Target stores nationwide and recently brought on Rihanna as a Series A investor in the company. Partake Food offers various gluten-free vegans snacks like crunchy birthday cake, cookie butter and chocolate chip cookies, the latter of which are made with organic ingredients like buckwheat flour and sugar cane.
15. Omorovicza Hand Cream
Washing your hands or applying hand sanitizer frequently can strip your skin of moisture. To help combat dryness, invest in a hydrating hand cream like this one from Omorovicza, which is infused with shea butter and beeswax.The top-rated product is also made with vitamin C to help brighten dull skin and infused with the brand’s signature Hungarian thermal water, which Omorovicza claims has an anti-aging effect.
16. Ellis Brooklyn Myth Hydraparfum
In between penning a book and balancing motherhood, Bee Shapiro, an Asian-American entrepreneur, founded Ellis Brooklyn in 2014.Our associate editor keeps a shortlist of perfumes on rotation and this offering from Ellis Brooklyn, a clean fragrance and body care brand, makes the cut. Unlike traditional fragrances that mist out just liquid, Myth Hydraparfum comes out like a lightweight hyaluronic acid-infused gel with top notes of warm bergamot, ambrette seeds and cassis. Ellis Brooklyn earned the Clean Sephora tag, meaning it’s free of more than 50 harmful ingredients like parabens and sulfates.
17. Sigma brush cleanser
After stocking up on new makeup, you’ll need to carve out time to clean your makeup brushes to help prevent the spread of bacteria. Board-certified dermatologist Hadley King, MD, previously explained that dirty brushes are a “breeding grounds for bacteria,” and can cause acne and skin irritations. A simple solution favored by our associate editor is to squirt the cleanser onto the brand’s cleansing glove, mix with a few drops of water and then swirl her brushes into Sigma Beauty’s liquid brush cleanser. Sigma claims this antimicrobial brush cleanser is made with gentle-yet-effective ingredients like sustainable palm and virgin coconut oils.
18. Gr8nola Original Granola
While there’s nothing wrong with snacking on your favorite sweet or crunchy treats, you can opt for relatively healthier options like Gr8nola’s low-sugar granola. A bag of the Original flavor includes flaxseed and almonds sweetened with honey and cinnamon. The brand recently released a new Peanut Butter flavor that is free of gluten, soy and refined sugar. This month, Gr8nola teamed up with the Girl Up Campaign to host leadership programs aimed at promoting social justice change and equality.
19. Sicily Hill Oversized Champagne Candle
Jessica Hill Howard, an alumna of Southern Methodist University, launched Sicily Hill, her line of cocktail and beverage-inspired candles in 2017. She claims the company’s e-commerce sales increased by 622 percent from 2019 to 2020. Her 26-ounce soy wax candle boasts three wicks compared to the one wick found in the 7-ounce version. The larger candle is available in two other scents: A calming Lavender Tea and Cappuccino for the coffee lovers in your life.
Women-owned brands to support in 2021
On top of our favorite products from women-owned brands, we rounded up companies that meet the 51 percent female ownership threshold and are aligned with Shopping reader interest across various categories like food and beverage to kitchenware, home goods and wellness products. Our list of women-owned products isn’t exhaustive, but we aim to actively update this feature to help keep you in the loop about female-owned companies worth considering.
Women-owned skin care brands
Elevate your self-care routine by rolling away puffiness on your face with Mei Apothecary's jade roller or mist your skin with Omorovicza’s Queen of Hungary Mist when your complexion is looking a little dull.
Colleen Rothschild Beauty
Melanie Grant Skin
One Love Organics
Urban Skin RXVisha Skincare
Olive & June
Rituel de Fille