Fashion, Beauty & Style

9 Inspiring Self-Made Women in Fashion

Fashion is a 1.2 trillion dollar industry around the world. In building our SELF MADE community, we highlight the women who change the face of this booming business every day. In the past 10 years, fashion misfits and moguls have reimagined everything from what defines beauty to how we afford the brands we love. Here are 9 power women, both up-and-comers and booming brands, who’ve made waves, and, in some cases, billions, in the brilliant world of fashion.

1) Diane von Furstenberg: Ever since she introduced the iconic, femme-friendly wrap dress in 1974, (with a mere $30,000 in startup cash!) this fashion mogul has been inventing, and reinventing her brand—with massive success. She shifted the definition of polished professional from a male, boxy silhouette to a female, body friendly form, and has made a killing along the way. Today, she has 85 stores around the world and is the board chairman of the influential Council of Fashion Designers of America (CFDA).

2) Sara Blakely: When the former door-to-door fax saleswoman first pitched Spanx, her line of almost-invisible undergarments, she was practically laughed out of the industry. (You don’t talk undergarments in fashion). Spanx helped many women embrace styles they previously found inaccessible, and Blakely’s outsider status helped her identify a major gap in the market that she’s been cashing in on ever since. After she launched in 2000, she’s become one of the world’s youngest self-made billionaires.

3) Theary Sim: As a successful plus-size model, Theary Sim got sick of the boring, unflattering styles she wore on set, so she launched her own edgy, size 0-24 line called Youtheary Khmer. Inspired by her Cambodian roots, her elegant, brightly colored dresses complement any body type, and the inventory on her site regularly sells out to an engaged, global crowd .

4) Carrie Hammer: After studying economics and women’s studies at UCLA, the young fashionista Carrie Hammer entered the workforce ready to crush. But when she discovered that the styles and role models available to her in the fashion world didn’t flatter her frame or empower her spirit, she knew she had to start her own line. In 2014, she debuted her tailored career wear line at New York Fashion Week, casting extraordinary role models, instead of waify-thin runway models in her first show. Soon, her combo package of inspirational models and sleek, bold pieces would go viral every season. Her concept recently expanded to Shanghai Fashion Week and no doubt will spread quickly around the world.

5) Jennifer Hyman and Jenny Fleiss: Who hasn’t watched models walk the catwalk, silently cursing life because no one can afford or fit into any of those shockingly gorgeous pieces? Rent the Runway cofounders Jennifer Hyman and Jenny Fleiss changed all of that with their now ubiquitous Rent the Runway service, which allows you to see the dress worn, try it on, and send it back when you’re done. At first they were told no one would lend them the dresses. Now they stock more than $800 million in retail value in their closet.

6) Isabel Toledo: The Cuban-American designer’s exaggerated, art-inspired pieces have always unapologetically reflected her heritage, and her own personal quirky, bombastic style. Her designs have brought her multicultural lens everywhere from Michelle Obama’s inauguration dress to the shelves of Lane Bryant, showing women they could embrace their wild style, and culture, at any size.

7) Jin Sook Chang: When she moved to the United States from South Korea in 1981, Chang and her husband had no idea what they were going to do. After living Los Angeles for three years, they finally settled on opening a store, Fashion 21, in a small studio. Living proof of the power of dreaming big, as they built their brand, they focused on the teen market and renamed themselves Forever 21. Now, the company is worth more than 3 billion dollars, making Chang the third wealthiest self-made woman in America, and proving that a simple idea can bring big rewards!

8) Ashley Graham: Who belongs on the cover of Sports Illustrated? Only women with the “perfect” body right? Plus-size model Ashley Graham threw convention to the wind and doubled down on her confidence when she went for the big cover last year—and changed the notion of what a bikini-ready body should look like forever. Did we mention she also has a $1 million-plus lingerie line?

9) Tracy Reese: After working at several top fashion design houses, the designer left a stable position and ventured out on her own to create her own playful, graphic friendly brand in 1998. Michelle Obama immortalized Reese’s retro-chic look when she donned a show-stopping red and silver dress at her game-changing 2012 speech at the Democratic National Convention. Her style icon status skyrocketed from there, and Tracy Reese’s continues to inspire as one of the most influential African-American designers in the business.

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Becoming Empowered, Self-Reliant & Rich in Every Way