11 Women-Owned Companies Creating Real Change With Good Design

11 Women-Owned Companies Creating Real Change With Good Design

By Kate Reggev
Devoted to creating a more sustainable, ethical, beautiful world, these entrepreneurial women are the names to know.

Smart, compassionate design can make a resonant change in the world, and no one understands that better than the pioneering women behind some of our most beloved brands. From empowering artisans across the globe, to modeling climate-conscious practices, to streamlining our day-to-day experience at home, these women-led businesses are making waves with big ideas and good design.

Nicole Gibbons of Clare

Interior designer Nicole Gibbons saw that the paint world was riddled with problems. Not only are there thousands of colors and an overwhelming number of product lines, she says, but "store environments are completely uninspiring, and there’s a lack of design guidance to help you through the process." These issues inspired her to start Clare, a new line of paint products that can be delivered to your home.

Paint, according to interior designer Nicole Gibbons, has "traditionally been a hassle." Her work familiarized her with the overwhelming number of colors and product lines in the industry—and the simultaneous "importance of color in the design puzzle." She finally decided to take on the traditional experience with the mission "to make paint shopping simple, and help people everywhere create the spaces they love." 

The result is Clare, a direct-to-consumer paint company that delivers designer-created colors and supplies. Its Color Genius quiz offers consumers a personalized color recommendation, too. The lean operation means that "everyone is wearing many hats and working really hard," says Gibbons. The experience has helped her grow as a leader, forcing her to be "confident in what [I] know, and equally confident in what [I] don’t know."

"I founded Clare to create an easier, more inspiring way to shop for paint," says Gibbons. But, of course, that doesn't happen in isolation: Gibbons notes that in establishing and growing a business, "being able to build a strong team is important."

Hana Getachew of Bolé Road Textiles

Bolé Road Textiles founder Hana Getachew recalls her pivot from working in architecture and interior design to sourcing textiles from Ethiopia: "I've always had a passion for specifying fabrics and finishes."

After working in architecture and interior design for a number of years, Ethiopian-American designer Hana Getachew decided to make a change and marry her desire to create Ethiopian products with her love for textiles. Her Brooklyn-based studio Bolé Road Textiles brings bold, traditional fabrics that are handwoven in Ethiopia to a broader market.

Establishing her company has provided Getachew both freedom and challenges. "Starting and growing business in any capacity is difficult, but being a solo founder, a mom, and also bootstrapping my business is especially intense," she says. However, she values the ability to choose those she works with: "Back in my architecture days, I found myself remaining in instances that I would not tolerate today, ranging from remarks that were racist, sexist, or just demeaning. Now I love and enjoy everyone I work with, whether it’s my vendors, artisans, or consultants." 

All pieces from Bolé Road Textiles are handwoven in Ethiopia, where Getachew was born. Photo by Tory Williams

Carly Nance and Rachel Bentley of The Citizenry

Carly Nance and Rachel Bentley are the founders of The Citizenry, a home goods and design company that works with artisans around the globe to create modern wares that are sustainably and ethically sourced.

Carly Nance and Rachel Bentley met in college. After graduating and working on opposite coasts, both uninspired by what they found at national and global retailers, they "set out to create a brand that gave people that next-best experience of traveling the globe and meeting amazing artisans personally." 

They created The Citizenry, a home furnishings brand with products ranging from handwoven baskets from Colombia, to pillow cases from Mexico, to linen bedding from Portugal. The goal was to "set new standards of quality, transparency, and social responsibility for the home décor category," says Nance. Together, the friends travel the globe in search of artisan partners with whom they develop designs using traditional techniques that are, in many cases, on the verge of being lost.

"I believe what we accomplish with our artisan partners everyday is profoundly important, even though it’s deeply challenging," says Bentley. "We are in the trenches solving challenges alongside [our artisan partners]. It is so rewarding to see their success as a result of The Citizenry, and I want to further that impact."

Ariel Kaye of Parachute

"I was a super consumer of home goods, and when it came to bedding, I couldn’t find a single brand that was high quality, affordable, or easy to buy," says Parachute founder Ariel Kaye, who was able to marry her love of design with her skills in advertising and brand development.

While working in advertising and brand development in New York, Ariel Kaye—a self-described "super consumer of home goods"—was frustrated by the lack of accessibly priced, high-quality bedding. "I recognized a true business opportunity—there was a serious void in the market," she says. To fill that need, she launched Parachute as a direct-to-consumer, online-only purveyor of premium bedding. 

Since then, the company has expanded beyond the bedroom, developing collections for the living room, bathroom, kitchen, and beyond; Parachute has also opened several brick-and-mortar stores around the country. The best part about starting her own business? Kaye says that "creating something that people care about and that has impact are my favorite parts of being an entrepreneur."

Known for their everyday essentials, Parachute offers goods ranging from bedding to bath towels, and slippers to bathrobes.

Miki Agrawal of Tushy

"Since the late 1800s, we have been lead to believe that toilet paper does the job," says Tushy founder Miki Agrawal, "but all it does is cost us money every month (to the tune of billions of dollars per year if you add us all together), kill millions of trees per year, and cause chronic infections and disease like UTIs, hemorrhoids, and fissures."

Founded by entrepreneur Miki Agrawal in 2015, Tushy is rethinking the old-school bidet—making it simple, affordable, and beautiful. Determined to alleviate the hygienic and sustainability issues of toilet paper, Agrawal notes that "this area of our body is critical to our health and happiness, and yet we don’t properly take care of it because it’s a taboo area." Her team of "toilet crusaders" are fighting to reduce global waste and the unnecessary felling of trees through the Tushy attachment, which comes in a Classic, temperature-controlled Spa, and portable version.

As a mission-driven company, Tushy funds an organization in India that builds clean toilets for those who are defecating outside. To date, they have helped 57,000 families gain access to clean toilets, and saved approximately two million trees from getting flushed down the toilet.

Michelle Aaro of Cedar & Moss

Michelle Aaro, pictured with her daughter, is founder of Portland-based Cedar & Moss, a lighting company that blends classic designs with modern and midcentury inspired forms.

It was the renovation of her own midcentury, Eichler-style ranch in Portland, Oregon—and her inability to find the fixtures she wanted—that inspired Michelle Aaro to found her lighting company, Cedar & Moss. Drawing from a background in the lighting industry, she developed her own designs that would then become the first Cedar & Moss collection in 2013. The company has evolved from a one-woman show to a busy studio known for its midcentury-inspired designs, subtle palettes, and delicate textures, where each piece is made-to-order.

"It’s not enough for me to make beautiful lighting," clarifies Aaro. "I want to show how nurturing, progressive, and environmentally responsible companies can thrive in the U.S." The company strives to minimize its environmental impact and celebrates diversity; she proudly states that the company is 75% female, 40% ethnic minority, and 25% LGBTQIA+. 

The Ramona lamp designed by Stephanie Dyer Design with Cedar & Moss hangs delicately over a stairwell.

Eileen Mockus, CEO of Coyuchi

Eileen Mockus joined organic and ethically sourced home textile company Coyuchi in 2018.

Eileen Mockus joined Coyuchi in 2011 after a career in performance fabrics and home textiles, becoming CEO in 2018. Founded in the San Francisco Bay Area by Christine Nielsen in 1991, Coyuchi produces organic and natural home textiles including bedding, towels, robes, apparel, infant accessories, and more for a "clean, environmentally conscious home."

Coyuchi’s values, which originally drew Mockus to the company, have only become more pronounced over the years. She says, "As Coyuchi grows, the values become more important to how we do business and connect with our customers. That could be a uniquely female leadership trait, or it’s just good business."

Coyuchi’s coastal-inspired textiles range from bath towels to baby blankets, and bathrobes to shower curtains. "We see ourselves as disruptors in the way home textiles are made and activists for a cleaner and safer planet," says the company.

Mallory Solomon of Salam Hello

Mallory Solomon is the founder of Salam Hello, a company that works directly with Berber women in Morocco to sell traditional, hand-knotted and woven rugs.

The spark for Salam Hello came when founder Mallory Solomon visited Morocco in 2018 and noticed that middlemen, not the female weavers themselves, sold the handmade rugs in textile markets, divorcing buyers from understanding the history and narrative behind each piece. She resolved to meet face-to-face with each artisan to "understand the time, labor, and story behind the weave."

The textiles woven by Berber women are not only their livelihood, but also a beautiful tradition that has been carried out for centuries. The company strives to be a "transparent and empowering outlet for Moroccan artisans," says Solomon, citing the two values as ""the top of the pyramid for us." At the same time, she recognizes the challenges that come with working with other cultures, seeking to "ensure that I’m respectfully walking the line between empowering these artisans to be the confident business women that they are, while not [forcing] any Western ideal of what we might think empowerment should be, or look like." Spending time with the craftswomen and their families allow trust to build, and enables Salam Hello to tell the makers’ stories.

Salam Hello founder Mallory Solomon loved the beauty and handiwork that went into the traditional Berber rugs on a trip to Morocco, but realized that "when it comes time to sell, the stories behind these textiles are lost to bulk buyers, and the artisans are at the mercy of middlemen. The women are often left out of negotiations and rarely make back what they’ve invested in time, material, and craft." 

Sarah Kauss of S’well

"Of course, there was anxiety about jumping into the unknown. But I believed so much in the idea and impact of S’well that there was no holding me back," says founder Sarah Kauss.

In search of a career move with more purpose, Sarah Kauss started water bottle company S’well in 2010 after realizing that something as simple as "a bottle that looked better and worked harder" could be a way to "do more good in the world." The company is known for its reusable, insulated water bottles with a distinctive, curved shape and playful designs.

Kauss developed the concept for the bottle and bootstrapped it with her savings, vowing to "just get started, even when I didn’t have all the answers or know what would come next." With the support of her network and a healthy dose of hard work, Kauss has continued her mission of ridding the world of single-use plastics, and has now expanded S’well’s product lines to include straws and reusable food containers. In 2017, S’well launched the Million Bottle Project, aiming to prevent the use of 100 million single-use plastic bottles by 2020; since 2015, the company has committed $1.6 million to help UNICEF provide clean, safe water to vulnerable communities.

"My north star in life has always been focused on action—for my family, my community, and the world at large," says S’well founder Sarah Kauss. "I was involved in advocacy at an early age and grew up recycling before there were city-wide programs. This continued into adulthood as I took on habits around reusables and learned about the global water crisis."

Jean Brownhill of Sweeten

Jean Brownhill started renovation matchmaking company Sweeten after experiencing her own mishaps during the renovation of her home in Brooklyn—something she thought would go smoothly given her background in architecture.

Jean Brownhill, founder of renovation-matching company Sweeten, says that she started the free service in 2011 "after a maddening attempt at renovating my own Brooklyn townhouse" after selecting the wrong contractor. "I’d graduated from Cooper Union with a degree in architecture, worked in the field for years, and even with that training, made this common mistake and ended up having a terrible experience," she recalls.

"People who’ve worked hard to save up for a house should have a good experience renovating that space," says Brownhill. To that end, Sweeten matches homeowners with contractors and designers that fit their needs, style, and budget. But Brownhill’s vision is not just to bring satisfaction and picture-perfect kitchens to clients' homes; she also believes in building a strong team. As a leader, she declares it her mission to "embrace diversity from the team we hire, to the general contractors in our network, to a wide range of clients."

"Sweeten's mission to transform visions into reality is inherently one of a diverse and inclusive world," says founder Jean Brownhill.

Vicky Tsai of Tatcha

Beauty company Tatcha was established in 2009 by founder Vicky Tsai, who was inspired by Kyoto’s sacred beauty secrets a geisha’s belief that "beauty begins in the heart and the mind"—a motto that continues to motivate her and the brand.

Inspired by a trip to Kyoto and the geisha culture she was immersed in, Vicky Tsai founded skincare brand Tatcha in 2009 after a career in finance and managing global brands. Her first products were Japanese blotting papers made of 100% abaca leaf and gold flakes, which could absorb excess oil without disturbing makeup.

As the brand has expanded its product lines over the years, Tsai has emerged as a leader in philanthropy. For each purchase, the company supports girls’ education through a partnership with nonprofit Room to Read. As Tsai says, "When you educate a girl, you empower a community."

Aburatorigami Japanese Blotting Papers were the first product that Tsai developed for Tatcha.

Shop the Story

Bolé Road Textiles Bertu Pillow - Onyx
Handwoven using ultra soft Ethiopian cotton, this pillow is handmade from start to finish, from the harvesting of the cotton to the sewing. The woven dashes are created with thick cotton yarns, giving this fabric a unique tactile quality. A wonderful relaxed and luxurious aesthetic.
Parachute Percale Sheet Set
The start to making your perfect bed.
The Citizenry Nublado Wool Throw - Ivory
Made from thick unspun wool, this extra chunky throw is looped entirely by hand. Designed in a compact, easy-to-style size, it adds an insanely lush finishing touch to a side chair or sofa.  Handcrafted by one master weaver in Peru, each throw takes a day to knit.
Coyuchi Air Weight Organic Towels
Coyuchi bath linens are made with the same quality, care and fine detail as our bedding. Our Fair Trade Certified™ Air Weight towels are loomed from pure organic cotton, in colors drawn from earth, water and sky.
S'well Onyx 17 oz. Bottle
Embodying translucent hues in the purest form, the Stone Collection emulates the most coveted semi-precious gems.
Parachute Down Side Sleeper Pillow
Break the wake, flip and fluff cycle of side sleeping on a regular pillow. Our medium-density side sleeper pillow offers unparalleled support and perfect plushness.
The Citizenry Mekong Planter
With their matte black finish and modern lines, these planters serve the same purpose as a little black dress: every house plant looks better wearing one.
Tatcha Dewy Skin Cream
A rich cream that feeds skin with plumping hydration and antioxidant-packed Japanese purple rice for a dewy, healthy glow. Ideal for dry skin, but can be used on normal skin for those who prefer a richer texture.
Aburatorigami Japanese Blotting Papers
Soft leaflets made of 100 percent natural abaca leaf and gold flakes absorb excess oil without disturbing makeup for petal fresh skin anytime, anywhere.Size: 30 Sheets.
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