Women have always been an important part of history. Yet, much like in daily life, the achievements of women have gone largely under-recognized. According to a study conducted by Slate, popular history is still a male preserve. Slate examined a set of 614 works of popular history in 2015, and found that over 75% of the total titles had male authors. This reflects a continued gender disparity among academic historians. In short, history is about men, written by men. Early history texts excluded women altogether, with the exception of those in power, such as queens. The 20th century’s women’s rights movement challenged the existing “great man” theory, which dictates that history is largely shaped by male heroes and their struggles. This push for recognition of women’s achievements resulted in the birth of women’s history as an academic discipline, which then led to the establishment of Women’s History Month. Women’s History Month has been celebrated every March since the 1980s, and is a time to reflect upon the contributions women have made throughout history and continue to make.
This recent pandemic has shone a light on many cracks in our society, one of them being persistent gender and racial inequality in the workforce. For three months in 2020, women held more jobs than men in the US economy, something that had only happened one other time in history, a decade prior. But, in December of 2020, US employers cut 140,000 jobs. Black and Latina women accounted for all of those job losses. Although the advancements that women have made in ‘breaking the glass ceiling’ have been great, it’s clear that there is still much work to be done. To celebrate Women’s History Month and International Women’s Day (March 8th), we want to elevate some women-owned businesses and honor those who challenge the barriers that women face in business everyday. On International Women’s Day, we asked you to nominate your favorite woman-owned business, and you all rose to the challenge beautifully. Below are some of the businesses you nominated to be featured today:
Handmade bows and hair accessories
Founder and owner Kimberly Dunson was inspired to open Intentionally Darling when she was dog-sitting for her in-laws. She had brought along her sewing machine since she hadn’t used it in a while, and after watching a few tutorials, decided to try her hand at making bows. Pleased with the adorable results, she kept making more and more. After she had a small supply, she looked up different bow shops to learn more about the small-shop world, and was surprised to find that the shops only offered a choice between the bow on a headband or a clip. Dunson thought, “That’s silly. When the baby is a newborn, they will need the headband, and then as they grow hair, they will still want to continue using the bow.” This was the inspiration behind her Bows to Grow, which offers both a nylon headband and a clip, when it’s time to transition the bow.
When asked what the biggest challenge of entrepreneurship has been, Dunson replied that there are many challenges in the beginning. “There are so many unknowns, and, like the saying goes, ‘you don’t know what you don’t know.’” When she started the company, she had no business training, and all she knew was that she wanted to share her bows with whoever was interested in them. She says the biggest challenges are giving herself grace as she navigates new skills and accepting that it’s okay not to have everything figured out. Her advice to aspiring entrepreneurs? “Surround yourself with people who will support you.” In the early days, Dunson made it a point to reach out to moms who were interacting with her shop. These conversations led to friendships, and now what started as a business has blessed her with a community of women that love and support one another.
Accessories (scrunchies, watch bands, clips, and bandanas)
ANDi is an accessories shop that gets its brand name from its owner’s childhood nickname. Founded by Adrienne, a Georgia native who now lives in Utah, ANDi started as a scrunchies shop, and has now expanded to claw clips, scrunchie watch bands, headbands, scrunchie keychains, and more. On the website, Adrienne writes, “I never imagined starting or owning my business, but my love for entrepreneurship has grown so strong. [...] I want ANDi to inspire women that they can do whatever they put their mind to and embrace who they are while looking danggg good doing it!”
BluffCakes is founded and owned by Chloe Sexton, a former news producer turned baker. The company is named after Bluff City, a nickname for Memphis, Tennessee, where it is located. After losing their jobs during the pandemic, Sexton and her husband focused on BluffCakes, promoting the products on social media. Through the power of social media, this mom turned her love of baking into a business that sells enormous cookies. She has amassed a huge following on TikTok, first going viral for raising money toward activist movements.
Environmental art and jewelry
Jessica McGhee is the founder and owner of Hey Lola, a company that sells art and jewelry at various markets throughout central Illinois. McGhee started Hey Lola in 2003 as a small retail boutique that sold gifts and handmade jewelry. Today, she is an environmental artist who works in paint, jewelry, and marine debris, making jewelry from mostly bio resin, recycled metal, and plastic. The majority of her work is aquatic themed and references her deep connection to the ocean. McGhee also spends time doing beach cleanups, and believes we all have a responsibility to care for the planet for the sake of future generations.
Handmade jewelry made by Maasai women in Kenya
Nashipai began in 2019, when its founder, Jenny Behrens, was on a work trip in Kenya. Behrens made a close connection with Jenipher, a woman in the Entonent community, who gave Behrens the name Nashipai. Nashipai means ‘ever happy’ in Maasai, the language of the Maasai people, who are a semi-nomadic and pastoral tribe in Kenya and Tanzania. Before Behrens left Kenya, the Maasai women asked her if she would be able to support them in selling their jewelry abroad, and this is how Nashipai was formed.
Behrens says the biggest challenges concerned the supply chain and the logistics of how to get materials to the Maasai women in their remote village. The pandemic has put even more strain on the supply chain, but with the help of a logistical coordinator, Mercy, who is based in Nairobi, the team behind Nashipai is able to transport supplies to the women. Another ongoing challenge for Behrens is getting the word out about their products, which are not only beautiful, but socially conscious.
Founded as an opportunity to provide fair wages to the Maasai women, the company has evolved into much more by donating menstrual kits and supporting youth through work experience stateside. The female artisans who make Nashipai jewelry are all mothers, and enjoy going to church, reading, gardening, tailoring, singing in choir, and cooking in their free time. 40% of them have never had the opportunity to go to school, and 55% have a primary school education. Many of them will use the money earned from Nashipai to pay for their children’s school fees, medical expenses, and the basic needs of their homes.
Nashipai sells bright, colorful, beaded bracelets, earrings, and necklaces. They have recently added a brass line of jewelry, and their most unique product is a beaded leather dog collar that comes with a matching bracelet for Mom or Dad. Behrens writes, “My advice to aspiring entrepreneurs is to take the leap and start your business. Everything does not have to be perfect in the beginning, and you can start small. If you don’t take that leap, you will regret it.”
Modern and natural foam mats
Eli Yonas is the founder and CEO of Toki Mats, a company that makes all-natural foam play mats for bump–free play time. When asked what the inspiration behind Toki Mats was, Yonas named three things. The first? A need for a safe and comfortable mat for floor play that did not exist. The second? The pull to create something for her kids that they would truly love. The third source of inspiration? Witnessing the rise in other woman-founded businesses. These three things led Yonas to create her very own product: soft, organic play mats that are non-toxic and safe for littles to play on.
As a working mother, Yonas somehow found time during her children’s naps and late hours to design and build these mats. After much research to make sure she had the best materials, designs, and partners, Toki Mats was born. The brand name is a play on the Hebrew word matoki, which means ‘my sweetheart.’ Since its first sale in 2017, the company has amassed a considerable fanbase of parents, who love having a safe, comfortable space on the floor for their children to play.
The biggest challenge of entrepreneurship for Yonas was simply getting the word out about her product. Marketing for small businesses is no easy feat, and Yonas worked hard to let families know that their search for the perfect play mat was over. When asked what advice she would give to aspiring entrepreneurs, Yonas wrote, “My motto has been to do just one thing every day to move forward, especially in the beginning when I was balancing a newborn, toddler, full-time job, and starting Toki: just keep putting one foot in front of the other, and that will take you to your goal and beyond!”
Postpartum gift boxes and organic muslin swaddles
Founded by Maria Berglund, In Kind Boxes is a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that sells postpartum boxes and swaddles to fundraise for its nonprofit work. The postpartum boxes are filled with natural and organic essentials for both mom and baby, and for every box sold, one is donated to a mom in need. The swaddles are made from organic cotton muslin that come in three gender-neutral patterns.
When asked what inspired her to start the business, Berglund wrote, “I was inspired to start a nonprofit to support moms in need because my mom was that mom. We had very little growing up, and needed a lot of support from our community. After having 3 kids myself, I can't imagine how hard that must have been. When my youngest was 1.5 [years old], I felt called to help postpartum moms in need, in particular, because of the lack of support they receive in the US.”
Berglund’s biggest challenge as an entrepreneur has been pushing through her anxiety. Putting herself out there and being the face of In Kind was initially nerve-wracking, but realizing her mission to help others outweighed her fear helped her get out of her own way. Her advice for aspiring entrepreneurs is, “You have to believe in yourself the most. There might be times when people don't understand what you're doing, or why. That's ok. It's your dream. You are worthy of making your dreams a reality.”