Designed by Julia Sadler.
It sure is a fascinating place, this World Wide Web. Fast growth, rapid change, and constant experimentation are the norm. And, we here at Refinery29 thrive on it. Sure, we may not be the new kid on the style block anymore, but we're always on the lookout for likeminded companies — and the talent behind them. That's why we rounded up 10 standout women who are revolutionizing the digital space.
From innovative startup founders to savvy social-media mavens, these ladies are taking their wit, ambition, and innovative ideas to the next level. The result is a world that has game-changing shopping experiences, video DIYs for how to rule at life, and cancer support communities with a raw "eff you" attitude. To spotlight these badass broads in the biggest way possible, we partnered up with Cadillac, a company as dedicated to empowering style-driven, forward-thinking women as we are.
Take Pam Fletcher. She’s the fierce, digitally driven chief executive engineer of the Cadillac ELR. Like Fletcher, the 10 women ahead aren't afraid to be the only woman in the room. Get ready to meet the new class of women who are fearlessly forging their own paths and completely crushing it along the way.
Photo: Courtesy of Cheryl Han and Elenor Mak. Designed by Julia Sadler.
Cheryl Han and Elenor Mak are willing to bet you're already a Keaton Row woman — you just might not know it yet. Whether you're overwhelmed by fashion or just too busy to shop, the 1.5-year-old startup has advice at the ready (and who doesn't want free advice?). It matches users with recommended stylists who pull together customized, shoppable lookbooks. And, if your inner Rachel Zoe won’t stop knocking, you can register to become a stylist yourself.
It all grew out of something Han had been doing for years: dressing her friends. “I was the one giving fashion, shopping, and styling advice,” she explains. “I’d go online and pull up the URLs and email them to my friends." But, it wasn’t until Han linked up with Elenor Mak that she realized it could be a real business for real women.
“We didn’t want personal styling to be reserved for the people you’d expect: celebrities or the very wealthy. We wanted every woman to enjoy the luxury and convenience of it,” says Han of their free-to-use service. “Keaton Row is a woman’s best friend when it comes to shopping," adds Mak.
A best friend, sure, but if you ask us, you’re getting far more than that. You’re getting the sartorial support of an entire online community — all making sure you look your absolute best.
Photo: Courtesy of Mona Bijoor. Designed by Julia Sadler.
Good news for us all: Mona Bijoor has set out to change the way we shop, and she’s doing it by reinventing how fashion-buying works. “If you’re a buyer, you have to physically go to every showroom and trade show to find brands to carry, which is insane,” laments Bijoor. And, she would know. She used to be one.
As a denim buyer for Ann Taylor, Bijoor needed to know everything about the customer — even though she wasn't one of 'em. There were so many questions to ask: Where does the waist hit? Is it too high? Too low? Is the fabric too rigid? Over time, she amassed some serious knowledge, which she tapped to build Joor — a digital matchmaker that allows buyers to flirt with new, international, or indie brands. It's like OkCupid for fashion insiders.
This all might not sound like much to civilian shoppers, but for these pros, it's gold. And, Bijoor's persistence has paid off. Since launching four years ago, Joor has grown out of her apartment to an actual office. She now rolls 40 team members deep, has over 750 brands on board (up-and-coming designers all the way to mass names), and operates out of NYC, L.A., Milan, Sydney, and soon, Paris. Whew! We're tired just writing about it.
Photo: Courtesy of Geri Hirsch and Erin Falconer. Designed by Julia Sadler.
“When you’re running a new business, you wear so many hats. And, you need to learn how to wear these hats properly," says Geri Hirsch. "And, we have a video for that!” — for how to wear a hat that is. Hirsch is one-half the brains behind LEAF. Since launching in December 2013, LEAF has produced hundreds of high-quality, under-two-minute DIY videos that teach users how to rule at everything in life, from mastering the headstand in yoga (yes, you can) to perfecting iced coffee (it's not the ice) to becoming a gift-wrapping goddess (you'll be a star at the next bridal shower).
"When we looked around, we didn’t feel like there was a really comprehensive ‘how-to’ brand — beyond just DIYs and cooking — that really could engage the Pinterest and Twitter generation in a meaningful way. We wanted to create something that could inform as much as it could entertain. That’s our niche," says Hirsch. And, the women have spoken. "If there is one thing that’s made us realize, ‘Hey, we might have something here,' it’s when girls, by the hundreds, started making the tutorials on our site and sharing their experiences," says Falconer.
To them, it's evidence of a new type of feminism emerging, one where women want to be good at everything. It doesn't matter if it's building a business, putting together an outfit, or throwing the dinner party to end all dinner parties. "There is a hunger to be the best version of ourselves," says Falconer. "That empowerment is what LEAF is all about."
Photo: Courtesy of Jake Rosenberg. Designed by Julia Sadler.
When The Coveteur officially launched in January 2011, the fashion blogosphere was at the height of its street-style malaise — it seemed everyone from professional photographers to suburban teens were documenting their OOTDs. Its birth was a response to all that noise and an effort to deliver something different — everyday style in a fresh way.
“The original idea for the site came from taking street style one step further,” says cofounder Stephanie Mark. “We wanted to see inside all of these tastemakers’ homes and explore their process of getting dressed and how the convergence created a story of who that person is.” But, instead of letting actresses and models get all the attention, The Coveteur’s mission is about tapping the unexpected key players, the behind-the-scenes heroes of the fashion industry.
The result is a voyeuristic look into the living spaces of must-know influencers and the ability to shop their closets directly. The site's nailed converting editorial to e-commerce, turning the ogling experience into an interactive one. “I think what is special about The Coveteur is that we have a mandate of exclusive content and access," says Mark. "Even if it is a post about something lots of other people are covering, for example the Victoria’s Secret show, we always make sure our coverage is different." And, that difference is why we can't get enough.
Photographed by Nicolas Bloise. Designed by Julia Sadler.
One reason Chondita Chatterjee loves working at Lyst is that she gets to be a part of the solution to her own problem: the endless time-suck that is online shopping. A true union of style and technology, the site takes all the open tabs you inevitably accrue while brand-hopping and condenses them into one shoppable page.
Her role at London-based Lyst is to spread its good word and drive business in the U.S. As a veteran in the fashion-tech scene — Chatterjee hails from Rent the Runway as its VP of business development — she experienced firsthand what it’s like to be at the center of an explosive startup. With her Rent the Runway learnings in tow, Chatterjee hopped aboard Lyst, so all that business know-how could benefit customers like us.
“I am a problem solver in life and in work. If you tell me there is a mountain blocking our path, I am already wondering whether we can drill through it, find a road around it, or call an Uber chopper to take us to the other side! I think believing that there is always a solution is the first step to creatively brainstorming what it is,” she says. Miss Chatterjee, we’re very much looking forward to what’s to come. We’ll stay tuned.
Photo: Courtesy of Stefanie Keenan. Designed by Julia Sadler.
YouTube. Ever hear of it? Lisa Donovan was uploading videos on YouTube before its name was a part of our vocabulary — if you can even remember that time. She started her unapologetic, no-hold-barred comedy channel LisaNova eight years ago, and she didn't even bother telling her friends or family about it. But, she posted early and she posted often, and that paid off big time.
To date, she has well over 573,000 subscribers and 140 million views. You may have even seen her dead-ringer impression of Sarah Palin, her insanely hilarious half-hour interview with Katy Perry, or her woman-on-the-street Q&As where she asks men about vaginas, and you know, the usual. Now, she's running the show in a whole new way — from behind the scenes at Maker Studios, a media company she cofounded in 2009.
Maker scouts unique content creators and develops original online series (think Epic Rap Battles of History and The Mom’s View). “I think what's so exciting about the Internet is that it’s about the niche audience," she says. "Not everyone has to like everything. You just need to capture the attention of those that relate to you, and spend your time cultivating that audience and community."
And, the era of the made-for-Internet shows is here, she says. You can't ignore it. "I think I’ve been saying, or hoping, this would happen for the last eight years. I’m just glad it's here now!” So are we, Lisa. So are we.
Photo: Courtesy of Clarke Tolten. Designed by Julia Sadler.
A name like Fuck Cancer doesn’t go quietly in to the night, and Yael Cohen would never want it to. After her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer five years ago, she made her a T-shirt that said "Fuck Cancer." Cohen never expected her to wear it, but when she did, people wanted to know about her mom and her story. They wanted to talk about it. And, from their raw, authentic response, an idea was born.
With one look at the Fuck Cancer site and its graphic-heavy, middle-finger-up attitude, you know this isn't your typical charity. “We focus on the youth. We knew we had to go where they are, which is online, and speak their language with irreverence, humor, wit, and edge,” she says. It asks questions, like "How do you sit with your parents for the cancer talk?" "How do you talk to your best friend’s mom who has cancer?" "What was the most troubling or worst thing someone’s said to you?" It's all about, what Cohen calls, "the human side of cancer."
When it's not doing that, Fuck Cancer is educating young people about prevention and early detection with interactive infographics and no-BS facts. And, it was through early detection that Cohen’s mother was able to recover completely. But, even once she was well, Cohen couldn't stop seeing the benefits of open dialogue for others and kept going. And, hopefully, she never stops.
Photo: Courtesy of Felisha Tolentino. Designed by Julia Sadler.
Designer Yael Aflalo is reinventing how the fashion industry works by doing things her way. Her eco-conscious line Reformation — born out of how wasteful she saw her previous brand, Ya-Ya, could be — avoids excess by constructing everything from vintage pieces, sustainable fabrics (made in house), and deadstock materials that would otherwise end up in landfills.
And, it’s not just the material that’s eco-friendly, but its manufacturing is, too. The tencel tees use dramatically less water when produced than regular ol' T-shirts (6 gallons vs. 250), and costs are kept down with streamlined operations. This allows Reformation to manufacture all its products and sell them directly to shoppers at its stores in NYC and L.A and online.
The brand doesn’t follow the regimented fashion calendar, either. Instead of being driven by seasons, collections are niche-focused and super-limited. "Reformation was my vision for a new approach to fashion," says Aflalo. "I really want women to be able to dress eco-conciously without sacrificing their style."
In short, it's breaking all the rules — and is wildly successful for it. It's not only made Reformation’s unique business model work, but it has more than doubled its production, moving into a bigger factory in L.A. and demanding other brands take note. And, they are. After all, this just might be the future of shopping.