Confession: I know without a doubt that I annoy my friends with my rants about fashion. Yes, they love when I tell them what is worth buying for spring or what to pack for their upcoming trip. But they know that in the same breath I’ll lecture them about why it’s crucial to support Black-owned businesses, the impact of fast fashion, and why buying from a female-owned fashion brand is more important than ever. Working in fashion, you become acutely aware of an immense amount of pressure to keep up with trends and realize how much power you have in choosing what to consume. Clothing is one of the easiest ways to express who you are individually and what causes matter most to you. Fashion can be a tool of empowerment for female founders, a way to express gender-fluidity, and even a way to express political dissent. Fashion is so much more than something frilly, which is what a new age of female-founded businesses know to their core.
With so many brands out there, it’s hard to know which ones are not only popular but also doing something different in the overly saturated market. In that vein, I took it upon myself to round up some of the buzziest female-founded fashion brands of the moment. These labels are beloved among stylists, editors, and models alike, and the women behind them are ushering in a new age of fashion.
It’s no secret that there’s a lot of greenwashing happening in the fashion industry. Despite righteous efforts to produce more “sustainably,” often that’s just not the case. This is what drove the French duo and female co-founders Amelie Brick and Lauren Nouchi to launch Apparis. The label was founded in 2016 after both industry veterans became tired of seeing all the unethical production processes in the industry. Originally a faux-fur outwear brand, it’s grown to a lifestyle brand that features alternative-silk dresses, recycled-cotton tops, and faux furs made from corn. (Yes, you read that right.) The founders’ attentiveness to sourcing ethical fabrics, paying living wages, and creating pieces that lend themselves to a capsule wardrobe has made them a rising favorite among the fashion set and a brand you should be shopping.
If you were to check the Slack messages between my fellow editors and me, you’d realize that we have an obsession with Staud. Can you blame us? Founded in 2015 by Sarah Staudinger and George Augusto, the contemporary ready-to-wear label has become eponymous for its exceptional spin on wardrobe staples. For example, the classic baguette is beaded with an almost mosaic-like print or the classic tiered maxi dress comes ins a confection of colors. The small details that Staud adds to each piece make them favorites among our editorial team and beyond.
Before you buy something, are you one of those people who asks yourself how much you’ll wear it? That was the driving force behind the design duo Camille Perry and Holly Wright in creating Tove. The London-based founders started their label to fill the gap they felt the market had: sleek pieces that are intentionally made, priced, and designed for women of different backgrounds and sizes. The result is a collection of minimalistic pieces with a pinch of femininity that not only fit into a capsule wardrobe but also use Global Organic Textile Standard–certified fabrics. So whatever you buy from this female-founded fashion brand, you can feel good about it for years to come.
La Femme Apéro
As an editor, I can tell you it’s rare to find pieces you want to wear all the time, but La Femme Apéro has created plenty of them. Founded by the French duo Léa Enderlin and Sarah Lequimener in 2019, the NYC-based label has slowly carved out a space in the industry as a must-watch brand for its sustainably made classic pieces. The designers are all about creating pieces that “transcend trends,” which is apparent in their traditional floral slip dresses and printed mesh second-skin tops. The intentionality of their work extends beyond the collection itself; it’s how it’s made. They partner with a woman-owned factory in Istanbul, Turkey, to ensure fair wages. And they use GRS-certified recycled fabrics to ensure each piece is not only timeless but thoughtful so that you can spend less time thinking about the impact of your clothing or what to wear and more time enjoying your closet.
For most designers, the onset of the pandemic didn’t equate with business growth, but for Sheena Sood, it allowed her brand to bloom. While the South Asian American designer’s handmade tie-dye face masks may have gone viral in 2020, she’s been in the industry for much longer than that. Sood spent years as a textile designer, freelancing for labels like Cole Haan and Anthropologie until she founded her label, Abacaxi, in 2013. Since then, she’s carved out a space for herself in the industry because the brand has championed rare textile techniques used in India and Peru. But what’s genuinely made it a budding It brand all goes back to how magical the small-batch pieces are. You’re not only going to own a hand-crafted piece with something like an Indian beading technique known as shisha (or mirror work), but you’ll also be supporting a female-founded business, which makes it all the more special.
Do you ever go vintage shopping and wonder why on earth you can’t find the same cute pieces on the rack now? Well, that’s what compelled Alexia Elkaim to launch her label, Miaou, back in 2017. After finding the perfect pair of pants in Paris, she was inspired to create contemporary pieces with vintage details. This approach is visible through a collection of pinched-waist A-line dresses and boned corsets with matching miniskirts, all in modern prints. It’s her truly unique pieces that have garnered a dedicated following (including the likes of Lady Gaga, Paloma Elsesser, and Alexa Demie) and a place in the hearts of the fashion community around the world.
7. Andrea Iyamah
Close your eyes and dream of a far-off destination. Where are you going, and more importantly, what are you wearing? My guess is you’re dreaming of something that looks like a piece from Andrea Iyamah. The resort-wear label was founded by Nigerian fashion designer Andrea Dumebi Iyamah back in 2011. It’s built a devoted following because of its swimwear with aplacé embroidery and its breezy draped RTW pieces made for looking fabulous and catching flights.
8. Aya Muse
Do you ever wish you had something you could easily throw on that would instantly make you feel va-va-voom? Enter Aya Muse. Founded in 2018 by Tina Rodiou the sustainable label began with a simple pair of biker shorts (that just so happened to catch the eyes of Kendall Jenner and Emily Ratajkowski). Since then, the brand has become beloved beyond the modeling crowd for its fusion of minimalistic pieces with sultry details like cutouts and plunging necklines, all in neutral hues made from sustainably sourced fabrics.
9. Kim Shui
Long before everyone was clamoring to embrace the hot girl aesthetic (aka, those risqué trends like micro miniskirts and cutouts), designer Kim Shui set the industry's blueprint. While the female founder launched her NYC-based label back in 2016, she’s built a fan base (including celebrities like Rico Nasty and Solange) not based on her time in the industry but on her approach to design. Shui’s fusion of traditional Chinese motifs with contemporary hemlines and fabrics (e.g., mesh tanks adorned with sequin dragons or minidresses in traditional brocade fabric) brought sex appeal back to fashion.
10. Ciao Lucia
Let me paint a picture for you. You’re sitting at a café in Positano overlooking the water, the sun is out, fresh pasta is on the way, and you’re wearing the perfect outfit. Ideally, what you packed would be from the fashion brand Ciao Lucia. Founded by Lucy Akin in 2017, the Los Angeles–based brand’s idyllic resort wear has become a must-pack for any trip. Its romantic pieces (like cotton ruched stops and puff-sleeve dresses) are the perfect balance of dreamy and practical and make embodying la dolce vita much easier.
11. Rotate Birger Christensen
Some of the best talent comes from Copenhagen at the moment. Case in point: the female-founded fashion brand Rotate Birger Christensen. Founded by former Danish stylists Jeanette Madsen and Thora Valdimars in 2018, the brand has carved out a space for itself due to its unique approach to evening wear. Unlike other brands looking to the aughts for inspiration, this brand draws from the ’80s—most notably seen in design details like oversize puff sleeves, fringe, and sequins. The result is a collection of pieces that are primed for a night out on the town.
Did you happen to watch Euphoria this past season? Then you most likely would have spotted the female-owned fashion brand Danielle Guizio. It only makes sense that Guizio’s sultry designs would find their way on to this show, but beyond being on-screen, what makes this label so special is in between the seams. Guizio founded it in New York City in 2014, and it has become beloved for its sensuous designs. Think miniskirt suit sets, micro-cardigans with faux fur, and black dresses with cutouts. Basically, Guizio is out here giving us our very own form of euphoria through clothing, ofc.
Some of the best contemporary female-founded fashion brands have come from Down Under, and Hansen&Gretel is one of them. The ready-to-wear label was founded by Ainsley Hansen in 2012 and has since blown up globally for its playful yet feminine pieces. With everything from knitwear sets incorporating cutouts and tie-up details to classic slip dresses with exposed seams and sheer pleated tops, this brand is feeding the fashion set just what they’re craving.
14. Cult Gaia
Few brands can really take all my money—Cult Gaia happens to be one of them. Founded by Los Angeles–based designer Jasmin Larian in 2012, the ready-to-wear label first garnered attention through its sculptural handbags. Since then, Cult Gaia has been able to keep the fashion world's attention through its downright dreamy approach to design. You can find everything from pink feather-adorned halter dresses to plissé sets and cutout knit dresses. These pieces put the fantasy back in fashion.
15. Musier Paris
What happens when a French influencer launches a fashion brand? You get Musier Paris. Founded by Anne-Laure Mais in 2018, the brand has set itself apart from other influencer-founded brands for its melding of French aesthetics with timeless, vintage-inspired staples. You can find everything from traditional linen skirts adorned with tie-up waistlines to ribbed knit tops embellished with pearls, so each piece melds the effortless je ne sais quoi of French style while also creating something truly unique. If that’s not enough to sell you on this brand, its partnership with sustainable fabric mills in Paris makes it a must-stop for anyone who wants to build a more sustainable wardrobe.
16. Sandy Liang
Every New Yorker knows and loves one brand: Sandy Liang. When you think of quintessential Lower East Side style, it’s likely been defined by Liang’s eponymous label. She founded the business back in 2014 and has since taken the fashion world by storm due to her fusion of traditionally feminine pieces with tomboy aesthetics. After all, not many other designers will release a collection where boldly hued fleas live alongside cutout babydoll dresses and Peter Pan–collared coats. It’s Liang’s one-of-a-kind approach to design that’s garnered her accolades such as being a 2017 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund finalist and a beloved designer among the fashion set.
17. House of Aama
Not everyone can successfully start a family-owned business much less pay homage to their lineage through their work—but then again, most people aren’t Rebecca Henry and Akua Shabaka. The mother-daughter duo began House of Aama back in 2015, sparked by their love for remaking and updating thrifted pieces. What started as a passion project for them turned into a label that dedicates each collection to exploring the history of the Black experience through extensive research, thoughtful storytelling, and timeless pieces. Their work not only won them the 2021 CFDA/Vogue Fashion Fund Award but also established them in the industry as a brand that’s teaching history one thread at a time and changing it too.
It’s not a new concept for a designer to explore and pay homage to their heritage through their work, but for the designer, Svitlana Bevza, it’s more important than ever. The Ukrainian designer is based in Kyiv and founded her label, Bevza back in 2006. Since then, the world has changed dramatically, but the designer’s work pays homage to her heritage by reimagining ethnic symbols through softly hued pieces with clean silhouettes and sharp tailoring. The result? It is a collection that is as brave and beautiful as the country it’s inspired by.