International Women's Day is a celebration of female achievement and a day to support your fellow female in difficult times as well as the good. It's pretty much a guarantee that cute GIFs will be exchanged amongst your friendship group—heck, you might have already sent one yourself—and social media will be rife with #IWD posts. Which is great—anything that raises awareness about what womankind brings to the world is a wonderful thing. Still, we also wanted to cut through the noise and talk about something that is close to our hearts here at Who What Wear: small, woman-owned brands. These are the lesser-known names that we love shouting about, whether it's down to their innovative products, exciting approaches to sustainability or refreshing attitudes towards size diversity.
As a beauty editor, one of the best parts of my job (aside from testing out new beauty products or getting makeup artists to share their secrets) is the opportunity to discover new beauty brands. Today, I'm bringing some of those brands to you. Scroll below to see the independent, female-founded beauty brands any bathroom cupboard or vanity station would benefit from.
Ericka Rodriguez founded Axiology when her own search for cruelty-free and vegan makeup proved fruitless. She created the brand to fulfil those needs and also champion a plastic-free approach to beauty. The stick products are multi-use and come packaged in recycled paper rather than plastic. The paper is sourced from a woman-run and woman-owned business in Bali that collects used paper from the island and recycles it. The products themselves are wonderful. Think no-fuss makeup that delivers dewy, balmy results in just a few seconds.
Soapsmith is responsible for some of the chicest bodycare products in beauty. Samantha Jameson founded the brand as part of her mission to help restore some of London’s lost craftsmanship. From the fresh lavender of Lavender Hill to the herbaceous grassiness of Hackney, each of the products features an iconic London-inspired scent (each one as delicious as the next), and they look really good on the bathroom shelf.
3. Uoma Beauty
Uoma Beauty (pronounced uh-mah) is perhaps one of the most inclusive and successful beauty brands to have launched in the past decade. Founder, CEO and Creative Director Sharon Chuter spent years in the beauty industry working as an executive for some major players before launching Uoma in a bid to rewrite the rules of inclusivity. The brand’s Say What?! Foundation (available in an impressive 51 shades) and contour sticks have become major industry favourites.
Created by influencer Nikkie de Jager (otherwise known as NikkieTutorials), Nimya is a beauty brand that aims to bash down the concept of labels and instead encourage you to embrace your true self. The small edit of products on offer by the brand delivers impressive ingredients for a comparatively affordable price. The moisturiser/primer is without a doubt the star of the show, containing glycerin for optimum hydration as well as honey and lactic acid to boost glow.
5. Trinny London
Trinny Woodall’s namesake beauty brand has been impressing experts since its launch in 2017. The products are easy to use, seriously inclusive and perfect for every skin type. With over 20 years of experience working in the fashion and beauty industry, it’s really no surprise that Trinny’s products are so great.
6. Jo Loves
Founded by Jo Malone CBE after the sale of Jo Malone London to Estée Lauder, Jo Loves is a fragrance brand entirely dedicated to Malone’s passion and love for scent. Each product, whether it be a candle, perfume or body cream, invokes a rush of joyful emotions that you won’t find elsewhere.
7. Pat McGrath Labs
Dame Pat McGrath is pretty much the most influential makeup artist in the world, and her makeup line, Pat McGrath Labs, has been valued at $1.5 billion—so yes, this stuff is good. She has created some of the most iconic makeup looks in beauty (that Adele comeback Vogue cover, anyone?) using her own makeup products, so you’re guaranteed great value for money.
8. Shani Darden
Shani Darden has worked on the faces of some of Hollywood's biggest names, including Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Emily Ratajkowski and Laura Harrier, to name just a few, so it makes sense that her own skincare line is really impressive. In fact, considering it is a recent launch in the UK market, its success has been astonishing, with particular thanks to its Retinol Reform Serum. It's pricier than others on the market, but beauty editors tout it as one of the best retinol products in existence.
9. Kohl Kreatives
Kohl Kreatives really is a beauty brand trying to make a difference. Founded by Trishna Daswaney, its brushes are designed to be inclusive for everyone, including those with motor disabilities. The brushes have square handles (so they won't roll off the table), are labelled in Braille and, on top of all of that, really are exceptional quality.
10. Ruka Hair
Ruka Hair was founded in 2020 by Tendai Moyo and Ugo Agbai, who both felt that the Black hair industry is dictated by those who don't understand Black women's needs. So, they set up Ruka, which offers extensions, wigs and hair care designed to cater and suit different hair patterns. Ruck's bestseller is the hair perfume, which leaves lengths misted with an addictive scent of coconut, woody notes and creamy musk and vanilla.
Founder and Laney Crowell created Saie after spending almost two decades working for the industry's biggest beauty brands. Saie has also commited to social responsibility beyond the beauty industry, partaking in initiatives such as the #ForEVERYBODY campaign, which saw SAIE and 35 other beauty brands raise awareness and capital to support the pursuit of reproductive freedom following the Roe v Wade ruling. If you only try one product from the brand, make it the TikTok-viral Glow Super Gel, which imparts a luminous radiance to the skin whether worn alone or underneath or on top of makeup.
Not only is Epara one to watch for its incredibly chic packaging that would take pride of place on any dressing table, but the contents inside are just as covetable. Epara founder, Ozohu Adoh, was inspired by her Nigerian heritage and decided to bring ethically sourced African botanicals into luxury skincare. One of the hero ingredients in the range is marula oil, an antioxidant that improves skin elasticity, and can be found in the brand's bestselling cleanser, Natural Cleansing Oil, which effortlessly melts away the day from your skin.
After seeing that the nutritional industry wasn't catering to those from African-Caribbean, Asian and Arab heritage (who are often at a higher risk of nutritional deficiencies), co-founder Simi Launay set about starting her own premium supplements, and Sow was born. If you're looking to boost your focus, mood, memory and energy levels (yes to all of the above, please) then you need to try the Women's Daily Multi Complex. Packed with ingredients like vitamin B12, coenzymes and minerals, it will help to put a spring in your step with each dosage.
14. Hello Klean
Have you ever noticed that your hair and skin feel much better when you shower in another country? In many parts of the UK, we're prone to hard water, which makes our hair dull, our scalp irritated and our skin feeling dry. Karlee Oz has cleverly designed a filter that fits into your shower to remove the build-up that can make its way from the water to our hair and skin. The result? Glossier hair, soothed scalps and smooth skin.
If you've ever wanted to match the perfect shade of lipstick to your nail polish, then Emolyne is the makeup brand for you. Offering 30 shades in both its chic lipsticks and nail polishes, you can easily match your perfect nude to your lips and fingertips. Each shade is also named after a destination in Africa, a nod to founder Emolyne Ramlov's heritage. The Velvet is a must-try from the brand, which leaves lips cloaked in velvety smooth pigment.
Founder Charlotte Yau launched Muihood to reconnect with her heritage and bring the benefits of Chinese Traditional Medicine to her skincare. The brand's Good Chi Cleansing Balm contains goji berry, soy bean oil and ginseng root to revitalise the complexion and make cleansing more of a ritual. Muihood also donates 10% of its profits to GirlDreamer, which helps women of colour with professional and personal development.
17. Freya + Bailey
Founder of Freya + Bailey, Abbie Oguntade, launched her skincare range after experiencing stress-related skin issues. She sought to create skincare that combined both science-led and natural ingredients with therapeutic properties to help bridge the gap between skincare and self care. The brand's hero product is the Surge Advanced Protect Moisturiser + SPF 30, which provides skin with a non-greasy finish, which is great worn on its own or underneath makeup.
Medeau came about when founder Alisson Stubbings was pregnant, and wanted to wear a fragrance that was suitable to wear during pregnancy. As a result, Medeau (pronounced med-oh) was birthed, and the brand includes a range of wearable perfumes that are also vegan, cruelty-free and allergen-free. The brand uses mostly natural ingredients where possible, but also utilises science to help choose bioidenticals where they are more sustainable and synthetics where they are less irritating to the skin. The brand's best seller, Origin, is a pretty floral scent of elderflower, jasmine, cedar wood and cashmere woods to name just a few of the notes in the scent. It's perfect for springtime.
18. Kutemwa Skin
When founder Besa Musama experienced skin dryness and acne, she looked to starting her own range of skincare which uses ingredients sourced from Africa, which also gives back to the local communities. Kutemwa, the Zambian word for ‘love’, and places emphasis on the ritual of taking care of ourselves through skincare. Try the Radiance ACE Serum, which leaves skin with a healthy glow.
Named after the Ghanaian Twi term for 'my home', Mefiye's candles are bound to elevate your interior with its sleek candle vessels and captivating scents. Yawa is the brand's bestseller, which is a luxurious white floral scent that fills the room with sweet jasmine, vanilla, musk and cedarwood. Each candle also has its own Spotify playlist, so you can create an entire mood as you light your candle.
21. Ashe London
Nail colour obsessive? Ashe is the brand for those who love to follow nail colours trends. Founded by Ashleigh Alli in 2021, Ashe offers a range of on-trend hues that are curated and named after a global changemaker. The brand also donates 5% of all profits to Bloody Good Period, who are fighting for global menstrual equality, and 5% of all profits to Cianna’s Smile, a charity supporting individuals suffering from Sickle Cell Disease. Alongside running Ashe London, Alli is a legal diversity consultant working to increase inclusion, diversity and representation within the legal and beauty industries.
Co-founder Claire Triantis launched Dcypher in 2021, allowing customers to have a perfectly matched foundation that is bespoke to both their skin tone and skin type, as well being able to choose the foundation finish and coverage. The foundation comes with a sample which allows you to test the shade out and adjust the formula before receiving your full-sized foundation—you can't go wrong.
23. Sana Jardin
Amy Christiansen's fragrance brand, Sana Jardin, not only produce beautiful fragrances, but the the business model also benefits the indigenous floral harvesters in the brand's supply chain to develop and sell their own products from the waste of the perfume production, receiving 100% of the profits. The brand's best-selling perfume, Tiger By Her Side, is inspired by the mythical high priestesses of ancient Egypt, who could harnessed so much power they could walk alongside tigers. The scent itself is a sensual amber accord with Moroccan rose, vanilla, coriander seed and cinnamon, paired with base of patchouli and smouldering incense. It's absolutely a scent to make you feel empowered this International Women's Day.