The glass ceiling has a few cracks, but it still hasn’t shattered.
For Dee Poku Spalding, devising a collective effort — and venue — to share experiences, best practices and networking opportunities with emerging and existing female entrepreneurs has been realized in her venture, the Other Festival. The two-day conference has drawn speakers ranging from Katia Beauchamp of Birchbox, Mara Hoffman, blogger Garance Doré and poet Cleo Wade among many others.
Here, Spalding discusses what necessitated the development of the summit, how the role of female executives and entrepreneurs is shifting, and empowering the next wave of young talent.
WWD: How did the Other Festival come about? What in the market and/or larger climate necessitated a festival of this sort?
Dee Poku Spalding: The idea for the Other Festival came to me a few years ago after I attended several large-scale music festivals and noticed a disproportionately high number of young women in the audience compared to female performers on stage. It made me realize that, despite the fact women drive 80 percent of consumer purchases, our economic influence is not reflected in social positioning.
Women are launching businesses at a rapid rate yet have fewer employees and generate significantly less revenue than our male counterparts. To feed this ever-expanding appetite for entrepreneurship, I decided to create a platform that actively encourages and promotes female business and cultural leaders through networking opportunities, events and practical training seminars which allow both audience members and participants to learn from and support other career-driven females.
WWD: Who are key panel speakers joining this coming conference?
D.P.S.: All of our speakers this year are brilliant thought-provokers who are generating ideas pushing boundaries in their respective fields. Katia Beauchamp, founder of Birchbox, is speaking about inventing new rules in established industries; Jennifer Hyman, founder of Rent the Runway, will discuss the value of tech-enabled businesses; Amanda Chantal Bacon, founder of Moon Juice, will look at selling new concepts; designer Mara Hoffman will explain how to transform into a sustainable business; Misha Nonoo is looking into how marketing innovations can help small businesses compete on a budget; Jayne Harkness of Barneys will demonstrate how a retail business can best allocate capital, and Sarah Sophie Flicker from the Women’s March will talk about creating a movement.
There is an entire section dedicated to female-owned brands, titled The Other Shops, which highlights the best emerging and established retail and design talent. It is highly curated — you have to be invited or apply to participate — but it’s an incredible platform for innovators to showcase their work and sell to our audience.
We also have master classes on everything from photography to idea pitching and digital marketing. Most importantly, this is a festival so there will be female-led bands, art, food and so much more.
WWD: There’s been a major uptick in the focus on feminism, equal rights and with that, authenticity. In your opinion, what have been a couple of the driving factors causing this? And accordingly, how can aspiring female entrepreneurs capitalize on this?
D.P.S.: When Hillary Clinton lost the election, it was a stark realization for a new generation of female voices. The system was never going to change on its own. It became apparent that we were the ones we have been waiting for.
Various celebrities and major brands saw the groundswell in the women’s movement and jumped on board. This upsurge of advocacy presents somewhat of an opportunity. People want to write about women, partner with us and potentially offer funding. If the opportunity is right, female entrepreneurs should take advantage of this, especially when it comes to fund-raising.
Entrepreneurs can also tap into the public’s drive to support female-owned businesses. For example, I make it a point to wear clothing by designers such as Mara Hoffman because I share her values.
WWD: What are frequent challenges women entrepreneurs are encountering? What advice might you provide to overcome these?
D.P.S.: The primary challenge faced by female entrepreneurs is access to capital. Women receive approximately three percent of available venture funding. These types of issues are overcome through the power of your network. It is important to have the support of well-connected individuals who are willing to advocate on your behalf and make introductions that help you gain access to finance. We need to conquer our fear of networking and develop the relationships that will help us prosper and grow. We also need to get better at asking and utilizing our contacts to elevate one another in the workplace.
Business owners are also challenged by marketing, particularly the core skills that would allow them to generate awareness and sales. Our programming is very focused on marketing to help address this.
WWD: As a conference, how do you continue the dialogue for your attendees after the end of the summit?
D.P.S.: As an organization, we are consistently pushing out useful, practical content while creating opportunities for women to continue to learn and connect with one another. This will continue through our monthly master class series and networking events. For high-profile entrepreneurs and creatives, we host a more curated invitation-only supper club that allows members to connect to a more valuable peer network. We are also working on an app that will allow entrepreneurs to stay connected over the long-term and facilitate partnerships. Last year, fashion brands Voz and Studio189 developed a business partnership as a result of meeting at the festival. We want to see much more of that.
WWD: In your opinion for female entrepreneurs to be successful, is it about becoming equal with male colleagues or changing the conversation entirely?
D.P.S.: We still have a lot of glass ceiling-breaking to do. From a women’s leadership standpoint, we have made very little progress in the last 20 years. However one component that’s greatly improved is the focus on inclusivity and equal opportunity for all.
Earlier movements were not as intersectional. Additionally, we are redefining success and acknowledging that not all women want the same thing, or what has traditionally been equated with success as largely defined by men. Every choice should be open to us without judgment. If a woman wants to stay home and raise her kids — that is great. Alternatively if a woman also decides to have kids and work outside the home, we need have structures in place to support that such as paid parental leave, flexible hours, affordable child care and equal pay for equal work.
WWD: What’s the future of the Other Festival?
D.P.S.: In the short-term, I want our marketplace, The Other Shops, to become a really robust platform for the female creatives who exhibit with us — a place to discover the best and most exciting female creative talent. I also plan to expand to other cities — domestically and internationally — creating a platform that is truly global in nature.
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