International Women’s Day 2017: The Kick-Ass Women Behind Your Favourite Brands

This year, like every year, there’s going to be a big focus on the gender pay gap for International Women’s Day. Some people will say it’s a huge issue, others will say it’s a myth, and Buzzfeed will post GIFs of women rolling their eyes.

Me? I don’t think we should get too hung up on it. I’m not saying it’s not an issue. Yes, the hurdles might be greater, the path a little rockier, the current stronger to swim against, but we’re steadily moving into more and more leadership positions every single year.

Women now account for over 26% of FTSE 100 directors, which is over double the amount than in 2011. In 2008, we set up more businesses than men for the first time. And the UK is now the best place in Europe for women to start a business, and 3rd in the world.

The numbers still aren’t there, and they won’t be for a while yet (the World Economic Forum predict that the gender gap won’t close until 2186), but there’s so much that we, (men and women!) can do every single day. Maybe just maybe, we can make this come a little sooner. 

So here’s what we need to do. We need to focus on inspiring women to go after what they want, no matter what. Just think – if everyone says ‘GO FOR IT GIRL’ to just one person – and that gives them the belief to work for that promotion, or start that business, or ask for that pay-rise…. That adds up to a heck load of amazing possibilities.

So, let’s start right now by celebrating 5 (or 6, technically) badasses in the beauty and fashion industry. Women who despite challenge and adversity, bossed their way to the top. Girls that went for it and won.


1. Toni Ko – NYX


‘A business selling value? You can’t go wrong.’ – Ko

Toni moved from South Korea to California when she was 13. Like many teens, she developed a love for the shiny make-up counters selling beautiful things she couldn’t afford. So she tried to make her own. She’d go to the local drugstore, buy ‘cheap, terrible’ brands and improvise.


‘I did R&D myself…..these other cosmetics guys, they were old men. They were in the business to make money. A lot of them couldn’t tell the difference between a lipstick and lip liner.’ – Ko

At just 25, she launched NYX. She lugged the boxes, pitched in with suppliers to keep costs down, and made sure they created the exact products she wanted. In 2014 she sold the company for to L’Oreal for $500 million.

2. Harriet Vine and Rosie Wolfendon, Tatty Devine

Credit: Twitter @harrietvine

‘Rosie and I started to make things together for fun. It was all about fun. We sparked off each other and we could make things happen’ –  Vine

After finding 14 bin bags of fabric and leather sample books outside a London furnishing store, Harriet Vine and Rosie Wolfendon looked at what we’d think was rubbish and said, ‘hey, we could make some cool accessories out of this’ (not quoting here)….


They set up a market stall in Portobello and Spitalfields to sell their customised leather cuffs. Needless to say, it was a roaring success. 

Buyers and press flocked to see their eye-catching jewellery, and within six months, they’d been approached by Urban Outfitters, Harvey Nichols and featured in Vogue.

In 2013 they were both awarded MBE’s for their services to fashion. They now employ 30 staff and release 2 seasonal collections a year.

3. Dame Anita Roddick – The Body Shop


‘She was a real pioneer, she put green and environmental issues on the business agenda, when other people laughed at her’ – John Sauven, Director of Greenpeace

Anita started The Body Shop in 1976 to support her two daughters. With zero business experience or training, she pioneered revolutionary cruelty-free beauty products. 

The first ever store sold 15 lines and was squeezed in between two funeral parlours. 6 months later, she opened a second store and her husband joined the business.

They reused, refilled and recycled everything they could, believing that businesses had the power to ‘do good’. She was the first to bring this ‘green’ idea to the high street.


Anita went on to lead dozens of campaigns in fair trade, renewable fuels, sweatshop labour, AIDs awareness and third world poverty. She even helped human rights activists to free American political prisoners.

She passed away from a brain haemorrhage as a result of Hepatitus C in 2007, leaving her entire £51 million fortune to charity.

4. Jacqueline Gold – Ann Summers


‘People think women in business are these hard-nosed b*****s and I can assure you I’m not; you have to be true to yourself and your own personality.’ – Gold

Defying an all-male board, Jacqueline is a woman with guts. She’s previously described how one board member threw down his pen when she proposed making Ann Summers a more female-friendly brand, exclaiming ‘….this isn’t going to work, women aren’t interested in sex’.


They’re now turning over £140 million per year with her at the helm, and 80% of customers in-store are women, compared to just 10% back in the 80’s, when the brand was still associated with backstreet sex shops.

She’s also lobbying the government to improve gender equality in business, and mentors other budding female entrepreneurs.

5. Florence Adepoju – MDM Flow


‘All girls should be encouraged to think that anything is possible, regardless of their gender.’ – Adepoju

You might not have heard of MDM Flow yet, but you will soon. Inspired by the 90’s and early 2000’s hip-hop culture, this is a bold luxury lipstick line for even bolder women.

A self-confessed science geek, Florence studied Cosmetic Science at the London College of Fashion. After getting frustrated that there wasn’t enough focus on beauty products for black women, she took out a government ‘Start Up’ loan and built a lab for her super-pigmented shades in her parents’ garden shed.


‘[Don’t] be put off by science because you think it doesn’t interest you. Science is behind everything, so think about what your favourite thing is, then do some research on what goes on behind the scenes and how that ‘thing’ exists.’ -Adepoju

Her line is now stocked in Topshop and she’s being hailed as the new ‘It’ lipstick brand.

And lastly, purely for being herself, Carrie Fisher


Role model, feisty feminist, and advocate for mental health, she dared to joke and speak so candidly about the things no one else would. She showed us that sometimes it’s okay to not be okay, and how to truly, be kickass.

‘There is no point at which you can say, ‘Well, I’m successful now. I might as well take a nap.’ – Fisher


Visit the to find out more about International Women’s Day 2017 and how you can get involved in this year’s #BeBoldForChange initiative on 8th March.

By Holly Earp

*Main image credit:


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