On the evening of February 20, Diane von Furstenburg was at the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., for her 11th annual DVF Awards Gala in honor of extraordinary women including Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and supermodel Iman who, as she says, “have had the courage to fight, the strength to survive and the leadership to inspire.” The theme of the night was women uplifting other women, but to that end, von Furstenburg’s work was far from done.
The next morning she was back in New York laying the groundwork for her new initiative championing women: #InCharge, a partnership with Amazon.
As part of the collaboration—a first for the ecommerce giant, which has never before pursued a partnership to promote women-owned businesses—von Furstenberg will appear on Amazon’s homepage on March 8, International Women’s Day, to showcase diverse and inspiring women-owned small businesses and share her #InCharge mission.
“To be #InCharge is first a commitment to ourselves,” von Furstenberg says. “It is owning who we are. It is respecting and trusting our character, knowing that it is forever the home and core of our strength.”
The inspiration behind #InCharge stems from a simple email connection von Furstenberg made between two female friends a few years back. After making the introduction, one of the women reached back out to say that the email had changed her life and the trajectory of her business. It was then that von Furstenberg realized the power of her own platform and how a quick gesture could have such a significant impact.
“The #InCharge movement is a platform, a place to rally, to use our individual connections to help all women be the women they want to be,” Furstenberg says. “And so I thought it would be fun to work with Amazon which is such a huge platform to expose people to the inspiring stories of women in charge that have started businesses and seen significant success, [in part] thanks to Amazon.”
As a part of the partnership, Amazon has launched an #InCharge page, where consumers can read stories of inspiring female business owners and buy their products. They can also purchase items from an exclusive capsule collection, as well as books from a von Furstenberg-curated reading list, available throughout Women’s History Month.
Among the featured female founders are former Shark Tank contestants Sarah Ribner of natural deodorant brand Piper Wai, and Andrea Sreshta of solar lantern company LuminAID. Other featured founders include Obia Ewah of natural hair-care line OBIA Naturals, Molly Hayward of organic feminine care business Cora and Adva Levin of voice-design studio Pretzel Labs.
Women-owned businesses are a vital part of the U.S. economy. Between 2014 and 2019, the number of women-owned businesses climbed 21% to nearly 13 million and revenues rose 21% to $1.9 trillion, according to American Express’ 2019 State of Women-Owned Business report. Meanwhile, the number of American workers employed by such enterprises grew 8% to 9.4 million.
Even still, fundraising is still among the biggest obstacles female founders face today.
Only 3% of funding went to female-founded businesses last year, according to analysis by Crunchbase. That’s significantly lower than the widely-cited 10% figure previously reported by Pitchbook.
“That was definitely a major obstacle for me personally,” says Piper Wai’s Ribner, who saw over $3 million in sales since launching her products on Amazon three years ago. “If I heard a ‘no’ followed by feedback I’d consider that a win because I appreciate when investors are direct. It was the ‘yesses’ followed by silence that were toughest to reconcile.”
Despite making more than $1 million on Amazon since 2012 and seeing growth every year, Ewah of OBIA Naturals says she faced hurdles, as well. “The most challenging part of running my business as a female founder is gaining respect. When I started this business a lot of my friends thought I was losing my mind and having a mid-life crisis. They didn’t take this business seriously until other people did and then the support came,” she says. “People didn’t think that I would survive past the first year in business and it’s amazing that we are celebrating eight years of business this June.”
Shreshta, who launched and scaled LuminAID as a student, also experienced funding challenges. “You have to get really creative when you’re trying to fund the business early on,” she says. “What we needed were the right resources and guidance to help us get to the next step.” Shreshta and cofounder Anna Stork ultimately made it onto Shark Tank in 2015, signing a deal for $200,000 in exchange for 15% of the company with billionaire investor and entrepreneur, Mark Cuban.
Cuban helped LuminAID ride the Amazon wave by helping the founders understand how to take advantage of the platform. “He helped us with everything from best practices to learning how to convert customers to what to do when there’s a return on your listing,” Shreshta says.
“It’s pretty simple and straightforward,” says Cuban. “We want to be where the customers are and help our companies succeed. There are nuances to each platform and we try to help them maximize their gross margins.”
Today, LuminAID has over 2,000 reviews on Amazon and has seen three consecutive years of 100% year-over-year growth.
Promoting small and medium-sized businesses is a big part of Amazon’s mission, even as critics argue that big tech stifles competition and innovation. Since 1999, third-party gross physical merchandise sales—primarily comprised of small and medium-sized businesses selling in Amazon stores—has grown to $160 billion. Small and medium-sized businesses accounted for $2 billion in sales during the company’s most recent Prime Day and 58% of the company’s sales last year, according to a recent letter to shareholders.
“We launched into Amazon in 2018 and it was honestly a really natural move for us,” says Hayward of Cora. “One of the things that we prioritized was making it convenient for her [our customer]—and putting it where she shopped. We saw an immediate uptick in sales (especially with the subscribe and save feature) and so there’s always a tradeoff whenever you are working with a platform or retailer—it’s inherently an exchange, after all—but we’ve never felt the cost of being on Amazon.”
“Amazon continually strives to be the world’s best partner for small businesses,” says Nicholas Denisson, Amazon’s vice president of Small Business. “As part of our celebration of International Women’s Day, we are thrilled to collaborate with Diane von Furstenberg and her #InCharge initiative to showcase some of the many thousands of women entrepreneurs working with us.”
The powerful stories of the challenges that these intrepid female business leaders faced (and continue to face) is at the heart of von Furstenberg’s #InCharge initiative.
“Something DVF said that was particularly meaningful for me was how we can take a situation where it seems like we have an inherent disadvantage, and by looking at the challenge from a different angle, turn it into an advantage,” says Levin, who founded Pretzel Labs in 2017 after noticing how engaged kids are by Alexa. “It was then that I realized voice is going to be a revolution that fundamentally changes how we interact with technology.”
The #InCharge movement is really about the relationship you have with yourself, says von Furstenberg. “You can lose everything, but you’ll never lose your character, which is the really the core of your strength. That’s how you become #InCharge. And once you’re #InCharge, you have a voice. Once you have a voice, it’s your privilege and duty to help others be #InCharge, as well.”