The Effect International Women's Day Had On Female-Owned Brands

Photo: ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images.
For International Women's Day, the Women's March organizers called A Day Without A Woman, a demonstration where those who identify as female would abstain from contributing to the socio-economy system. To do such, three tenants were suggested: Take off work, wear red in solidarity, and withhold spending in order to patronize women- and minority-owned businesses. And it seems like many did indeed commit to the latter: We rang up some small, female-run fashion brands in New York to find out how this call-to-action affected their traffic, both in-store and online, on March 8, and their reports were equal parts fascinating and encouraging.
Veda, best known for its street style-favorite leather jackets, noticed a bump in its online traffic and sales — a surge that founder and designer Lyndsey Butler said didn't translate to the brand's brick-and-mortar location in Soho. To commemorate International Women's Day, though, Veda designed a jacket exclusively for Shopbop bearing the Venus symbol; Butler didn't have precise stats for how it was selling on March 8, but did point out it was being featured prominently on the e-commerce site and was promoted in an e-mail campaign. As a female-owned company that employs mostly women, Butler said this type of project "is always something that we want to get behind."
The decision to even open up shop today was one Butler went back and forth on, she told Refinery29, where she considered the impact it would have on employees and anyone who works on commission for her company. "For us, we just decided we're all leaving at 4 p.m. to go to Washington Square Park and be at the rally," she explained. "That's what we decided to do."
William Okpo, founded by sisters Darlene and Lizzy Okpo, saw similar behavior. "We've had online foot traffic spike literally 9x our daily foot traffic," Lizzy wrote in an e-mail. "Sales were great online — [we] even received a few positive emails, including one from a lady who wrote in the subject line 'I love William Okpo and I'm 62 years old.'" The store in South Street Seaport wasn't bustling as much, but the designer recalled two separate hour-long conversations with customers who came in. "We talked about working together, sharing information, travel aspirations, community outreach, women embracing their beauty — everything," Lizzy said. "I've made a new friend today from the shop." Though she lamented the decline of brick-and-mortar, Okpo noted that the in-person interactions bring a different level of accessibility that you can't get through e-commerce.

Shop your favorite looks @ William and 6 Fulton Street Store Location ?Thank you #ackimesnow and Billy Ennis

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Similarly, Hannah Richtman, owner of the Williamsburg vintage boutique The Break, focused her International Women's Day efforts on fostering that type of engagement in her store by turning it into "a safe place for women who are striking to come, have a glass of wine, mingle, converse with [each other]." Richtman noted that The Break "had people coming in pretty consistently," although that most of the credit is likely due to the gorgeous weather in New York, which has led to more passersby wandering in than any other weekday, probably.
Whether that translated to folks actually shopping didn't concern The Break; however, the store did have a special promotion on March 8. "Everything is 20% off, which is indicative of the [fact] that women are paid 20% less than men," Richtman noted, referring to a pay equity report conducted by the Institute for Women's Policy Research in 2015. She described the mood in the store as "celebratory," with people greeting each other with "Happy International Women's Day" and blasting music. Plus, she said that "every single person" who had walked in the door that day had bought something.
Back in Manhattan, Rachel Shechtman, founder and CEO of Story, observed that roughly 60% of the clientele in the Chelsea boutique today was female, but that the staff usually doesn't usually keep track of the demographics coming in and out, so they have no margin of comparison. She did mention, however, that her go-to lunch spot next door was disproportionally filled with women mid-day. Whether that trickled down to Story's visitors that day is hard to confirm, but Shechtman pointed out that they just changed out its windows to display the work of illustrator Samantha Hahn. The retailer also paused its social media posting in solidarity with the A Day Without Woman strike.
Meanwhile, in neighboring Flatiron, activewear retailer Bandier saw one of its most noticeable spikes not online nor at its flagship, but, rather, at a pop-up at Facebook's New York office as part of a wellness event for employees timed to International Women's Day. "We've done [this [pop-up] before, but we were there for about half as long as last time and it was the same amount of sales [we saw previously]," Ashleigh Hults, public relations director for Bandier, said. "It's cool to see other like-minded corporations all coming together around wellness." At its Fifth Avenue store, which hosts workout classes in a built-in studio space, Hults noted the classes "were even more full than usual," with more women coming in wearing red leggings and gravitating towards the red sportswear on shelves.
For some brands, the big boost occurred on social media. AYR founder Maggie Winter described International Women's Day as "business as usual" for the womenswear label, although it did see some more engagement online and in its Soho pop-up. "We have a sandwich board in front of the shop and all day people have been taking pictures of it," she said. The message? "Girls, girls, girls."

Pretty much.

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"It's obviously a cause that's impossible not to get behind, and we're glad people are talking about it," Winter continued. "Hopefully the effect we see extends beyond a 24-hour period of time and into a year-round conversation." As part of this effort to keep the momentum going, the AYR founders are participating in a panel and concept store alongside other female-run fashion startups (like Outdoor Voices, Away, and Negative Underwear) in New York on Wednesday evening.
Online marketing also proved successful for Of Mercer, the workwear company that focuses on affordable, professional apparel for women: When the brand sent out an e-mail for International Women's Day detailing its plan to donate 20% of its sales in March to Let Girls Learn, co-founder Dorie Smith described some of the highest engagement the brand has seen in a while. "We saw a big uptick in open rates and clicks, because the message of supporting a women-owned, for-women company really resonated with them," she relayed. "We got a bunch of responses from people forwarding [the e-mail] back to us, saying how it really made a difference to them and how they felt proud supporting us as entrepreneurs." Co-founder Emelyn Northway noted Of Mercer also saw a lot of first-time buyers after the e-mail, who "decided that this was the day to make a purchase, so it may have been that [charitable aspect] that pushed them."
Like Bandier, Of Mercer also has a store in Manhattan's Flatiron neighborhood, which saw about 20% more foot traffic than the usual weekday on International Women's Day, Smith said. It set up signs announcing an International Women's Day celebration, inviting people to come in on March 8 to drink champagne and check out a gallery of women the brand admires. "[The flagship] has become a conversation-starter, which we love because we want this space to be a community that people come into to engage with us as a brand and us as women," Smith described.
These anecdotes might not conclusively indicate a massive shift towards small-business spending, but it does illustrate how the women's strike (and the socio-economic behavior the Women's March encouraged to go with it) did indeed touch the lives of female entrepreneurs. Even outside of the Big Apple, e-commerce platform Lyst confirmed a slight increase in searches for select women-owned fashion brands on March 8, such as Veronica Beard (6%), Zimmerman (17%), Araks (9%), Lela Rose (4%), and lemlem (23%). While the numbers aren't jaw-dropping, a representative for the company noted that these are all very small labels on the site and don't usually fluctuate in terms of performance — yet, on International Women's Day, they did.

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