4 Designers On The Hardest (& Best) Parts Of Being Women In Fashion

Photo: Courtesy of Diego Uchitel/Spring.
Chromat's Becca McCharen.
Fashion is a female-fueled business. Many glossies have mastheads filled with women; there are tons of female designers; public relations, a key cog in the fashion-industry machine, is two-thirds women. Yet gender inequality is still a legitimate issue in the field — very few European design houses are helmed by female talent, and women have only recently begun to catch up in terms of top-level executive roles at places like LVMH.

We’re still a ways off from having gender parity in the most influential roles in fashion, not to mention equal pay, and better parental leave policies. But there are some advantages to being a female designer — an innate understanding of the female body and what women truly want to wear, for starters. In honor of International Women’s Day on March 8, shopping app Spring gathered 33 of its female-led brands — including some of our favorite forward-thinking names in the biz — for a campaign called #SpringStories. The original shoot, lensed by Diego Uchitel, explores dozens of designers’ experiences in (and contributions to) the fashion industry.

As part of #SpringStories, users on the e-tailer’s app will be able to “swipe” to donate to I Am That Girl, a charity that aims to “help girls establish physical, emotional, and mental well-being and transform self-doubt into self-love by providing a safe space to have honest conversations about things that matter,” according to the organization’s site. Spring will then match all contributions to the charity.
Photo: Courtesy of Diego Uchitel/Spring.
Apiece Apart's Starr Hout & Laura Cramer.
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"A man will never know the feeling of [investors] calculating your age, your marital status, and your child-bearing readiness."

Laura Cramer, Cofounder, Apiece Apart
A handful of the app’s featured designers shared with Refinery29 the ongoing challenges they face as women in the fashion industry, as well as the highlights of getting to design for other women.

Getting the necessary capital to put out collection after collection is tougher for female talents, according to Laura Cramer, cofounder of Apiece Apart. "To build a grounded business poised for growth, you either need to raise money or have deep pockets. The uphill battle for women raising money is much steeper, particularly if you look at data around VC funding, where women-led companies get less than 5%," Cramer says. "Early in our pitching days, I was pregnant and would watch eyes fall to my enlarging belly as we described our road map to success. A man will never know the feeling of people calculating your age, your marital status, and your child-bearing readiness."

And once funding has been achieved, some designers feel a lack of support between women in the industry. “I think a lot of women don't support each other in the ways they should, and it always blows my mind that support and love isn't people's default setting all of the time," says Aurora James of Brother Vellies. "There are a lot of women in this industry, and there is enough success for all of [us]."
Photo: Courtesy of Diego Uchitel/Spring.
Brother Vellies' Aurora James.

Camaraderie is important, certainly, but it's necessary to have women installed in powerful, well-financed creative director roles at the biggest fashion conglomerates to truly work toward having equal opportunities in the industry. "There are many female designers, but not in the top tiers of fashion," says Becca McCharen of Chromat. "The brands backed by companies like LVMH and Kering are predominantly run and owned by men."

Women are especially adept at "designing for changing bodies, with curves, and incredibly diverse days," Cramer explains. Yet there's a (albeit, generalized) contrast in what drives designers' ideas, according to Tanya Taylor: "Men design for desire and women design for purpose," she says. "The biggest challenge is how you make purpose desirable."

Though there certainly are ways to make clothing that elicits desire without being overtly sexy. "Becca [McCharen] from Chromat — she has an incredible understanding of the female body in all of its many incarnations and she designs for that; she basically builds scaffolding for the body," James raves. "She supports women both ideologically and literally. It's lingerie, but it's not about sex — show me a man who has done anything like that."

#SpringStories' eclectic roster also includes labels like Negative Underwear, Misha Nonoo, Marcia Patmos, Rebecca Minkoff, Outdoor Voices, and Eileen Fisher — check out the full array of portraits on Spring's site.
Photo: Courtesy of Diego Uchitel/Spring.
Tanya Taylor
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