The Bay Area has long been home to budding entrepreneurs seeking success. But there’s a new wave of female-founded companies that are creating ways to woo and delight consumers via reimagining retail shopping experiences. Tamar Miller, founder of Bells & Becks, said she feels “so fortunate to be part of a sisterhood of female entrepreneurs, many of whom have cut their teeth in corporate settings and have now pivoted to do things differently to drive innovation in the retail space.”
Miller said she’s also benefited “from the culture of collaboration that exists [in the Bay Area] with other like-minded founders that are willing to partner, share ideas and support each other.” Here, WWD spotlights 10 of these female founders:
Tamar Miller, founder of Bells & Becks
Bells & Becks offers luxury shoes that are wearable and made for “modern women” who require versatility. Handcrafted in Italian footwear factories and sold directly to consumers, Bells & Becks touts footwear that has the same “luxury quality and craftsmanship as high-end designers, but at a significantly lower price point.”
“I’ve worked in corporate retail most of my life, and I developed a deep knowledge of the shoe category — what women want, what works, and what doesn’t,” Miller said. “Over the years, I started to see a pattern emerge — the same product everywhere, and a huge downgrade in quality as retailers focused more on price and promotion. Finding something that was special and delivered on quality seemed nearly impossible. Eventually, I started to feel a strong pull to do things my way and drive change. I saw the opportunity to build a collection of distinctive and chic luxury shoes that women could wear for ‘real life’ and still look and feel put together. Of course, it helps that I am a woman making shoes for women.”
Karin Sun, founder of Crane & Canopy
Crane & Canopy was founded in 2012 with the mission to change the way women shop for home goods, starting with bedding. And what began as a small collection blossomed into an expansive line of bedding, sheets, duvet covers and home décor. Crane & Canopy’s products are “beautifully designed, accessibly priced and made from the highest-quality materials so anyone can bring their dream bed to life,” the company noted.
“I started off my career at Procter & Gamble as a brand marketer where the simple idea that ‘consumer is boss’ was instilled in everything we did in building brands and products,” Sun said. “If we developed ideas and products that solved real problems for our consumers, and listened to them, the rest would fall into place. The idea for Crane & Canopy came shortly after buying my first home. Once I started decorating, I saw a gap in the market. I couldn’t find luxury bedding that didn’t break the bank. That was my ‘a-ha’ moment for starting Crane & Canopy.”
Margaret Coblentz, founder of Frances Austen
Frances Austen makes “quality staples from luxurious fabrics — 100 percent silk and cashmere that you can wear over and over again.” The company said it designs clothes “for the modern woman, with forever in mind.”
“Frances Austen is a direct reaction to my career in big-box retail. It is truly slow fashion,” Coblentz said. “I was inspired by my grandmother’s hand-me-down cashmere sweaters and the quest to find that kind of heritage luxury quality at a not-astronomical price, that led me to Scotland where I work with Johnstons of Elgin, the sweater maker to big European fashion houses, in a direct-to-consumer capacity so we pass on that value to our customers. We only release two collections per year, our hangtags are hand-letter-pressed by our friend in downtown L.A. and we think about what the modern woman wants to wear today, but also what will stay in her wardrobe for years to come.”
Tracy Sun, Cofounder of Poshmark
Founded in 2011, Poshmark is a social marketplace for fashion where anyone can buy, sell and share their style with others. Poshmark’s mission is to make shopping “simple and fun by connecting people around a shared love of fashion, while empowering entrepreneurs to become the next generation of retailers.” The site is positioned as a “go-to shopping destination for Millennials” and its “community of over four million Seller Stylists who help shoppers discover the perfect look from over 75 million items and 5,000 brands,” the company said.
“I’ve always had an entrepreneurial spirit to embrace the challenge of building something from scratch and seeing it through from ideation to existence,” Sun said. “I started my entrepreneurial journey in fashion in New York City — where I founded my first start-up — but quickly learned that to build and scale a brand in today’s world, I needed to be at the intersection of fashion and technology. I wanted to be at the forefront of innovation, so I came to Silicon Valley and teamed up with some amazing minds in the tech space to launch Poshmark. Together, we’ve built a technology company that’s redefining the fashion industry and pioneering the next generation of retail.”
Theresa Lee, founder of Future Glory
Future Glory is positioned in the market as a socially conscious maker of handcrafted leather bags and accessories where a portion of proceeds is donated to support women in need. All products are designed and manufactured in the company’s San Francisco factory.
“I always knew I was going to run my own company, but it was just a matter of when it would happen,” Lee said. “After a decade of working for corporate, I felt fully equipped to move forward on my own terms. Looking back, nothing can actually fully prepare you for what’s about to come, but mentally, I was ready to take the plunge and take on the financial risks associated with the endeavor.”
Jillian Bremer and Emilee Hefflefinger, founders of Sweet & Spark
Sweet & Spark touts itself as a feminine lifestyle brand that sells “one-of-a-kind, vintage accessories and new contemporary clothing to style it with.” The brand is inspired by the “timeless aesthetic and quality of fashion from the past and its seasonal collections reflect that,” the company founders said. Most recently, Sweet & Spark launched a designer vintage collection featuring Chanel, Cartier, Gucci and Hermès, among others.
“Both Emilee and I come from corporate retail careers; Emilee comes from the design side, most recently working at Kate Spade and Marc Jacobs, and I from merchandising at Gap Inc. and American Eagle Outfitters Inc.,” Bremer said. “We’ve been able to leverage our experiences to build a strong internal process that functions similarly to a large retailer. Combine that with passion and autonomy over what we each do best, and that is how we are able to keep up with the fast pace of retail and make magic happen.”
Catherine Cason, founder of Gem Breakfast
Gem Breakfast is an online fine-jewelry store that features alternative diamonds in “deliciously unique rings that are handcrafted, ethically sourced, and one-of-a-kind,” the company said.
“I worked for a large beauty retailer for five years where I specialized in driving the trends and finding up-and-coming brands,” Cason said. “Now I get to take what I learned in beauty and apply it to a business I’m truly passionate about — fine jewelry. Gem Breakfast has always been focused on finding exceptional independent design and approaching a traditionally stuffy, highfalutin topic with fun and grace that appeals to the Millennial customer.”
Hannah Franco and Nancy Taylor, founders of Epoque Evolution
The brand’s positioning is one of fashion “evolved” that is also for “real life” and for “everywhere and everything,” the founders said. Epoque Evolution “believes in experiences first, and that life is too short and good and full of wild potential to worry about what to wear.” The company’s ethos is anchored by “the power of effortless, impeccable style.” Meaning the founders “design what is essential: well-edited, versatile pieces to take you from 6 a.m. to 11 p.m., from the plane to Pilates, to the workspace to rosé after, from spring to summer to fall.
“We are inspired to make better clothes, better decisions,” they said. “To dress better, to pack better, to live better, to be better. After working in the corporate world for the past decade, we saw the opportunity to change some of the practices in the apparel industry regarding fast fashion and sustainability. We believe that it’s possible to be eco and stylish. It’s time for fashion to evolve. We believe in dressing for yourself, and in the empowerment that comes with that. We believe that style doesn’t need to be exclusive, or uncomfortable, or limiting, or destructive, or delicate. We believe that we can look good and feel good and do good.”
Sara and Ashley Brady, founders of Kin the Label
Kin the Label is a brand that “brings to life the ease of California cool and sophistication of the city.” The founders said they’re “inspired by the process and traditions of hat making” and described its hats as timeless, “blending millinery craftsmanship and modern aesthetics.”
“We had always dreamt of running a business together and working with our hands again,” they said. “After falling in love with the millinery process of hat making, sitting behind a desk and executing projects for other design and advertising agencies became mediocre. Once you hit the glass ceiling, you take what you’ve learned from big business and apply it to your next venture.”
Vicky Tsai, founder of Tatcha
The Tatcha skin-care collection is formulated from scratch “like a couture dress, marrying time-tested natural ingredients with advanced extraction technology to create a collection worthy of our clients,” the company said.
“I created Tatcha to share the treasures I’ve discovered along my journeys,” Tsai said. “I realized early on that if work was where I would spend the waking hours of my life, that I needed my work to have purpose. I spent a decade trying to find purpose in corporate work, but it kept coming up empty for me, so I quit my job and starting traveling. The rest just happened by following my heart.”