“I’m declaring 2017 the year of the woman,” says Kirsten Green, the founder of Forerunner Ventures, a VC firm that has helped launch successful digitally native brands that include Glossier, Away, Bonobos, Dollar Shave Club, and Birchbox. We’re inclined to agree with her.
Green acknowledges that women faced significant challenges in the last year: Women’s reproductive rights were under attack, a new administration holds a record low in installing women in leadership roles, and a nation unearthed decades of sexual harassment.
She makes the case that the current wave of women speaking up against sexual assault–and the companies willing to fire men for these violations–is a direct result of women feeling that the government does not have their back and will not work to advance their rights. We’ve seen women’s activists use social media to raise awareness and protest, from the #MeToo campaign to the Women’s March, both of which we’ve included on this year’s list of innovations that made women’s lives better.
We’re also seeing ripples of change in the marketplace, as brands think carefully about women’s needs and better cater to them. We’ve seen advancements in technology that make mammograms more comfortable, platforms that make birth control more accessible, and spaces that allow women to work, and network, in peace. We’ve seen brands make better-fitting bras, more beautiful size-inclusive clothing, and makeup suited to a wider range of skin tones.
There have been times in 2017 when it has felt like women were under attack. But this list proves that women always fight back.
Social Media Consciousness Raising: Women’s March And #MeToo Movement
Women were a force to be reckoned with this year, thanks in part to viral social media campaigns that allowed women to band together to make their voices heard. The year started with the Women’s March, and the organizers leveraged Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram to encourage people to take to the streets on the day after Donald Trump’s inauguration. The goal was to send a bold message to the new administration that the world was mobilizing to protect women’s rights and fight against misogyny. The organizers succeeded: 5 million people marched around the world, with half a million marching in Washington D.C., breaking the record for being the largest single-day protest in U.S. history.
As the year comes to a close, the impact of the #MeToo movement is still playing out. The hashtag was invented in 2006 by community organizer Tarana Burke. In October of this year, it was deployed again on Twitter by actress Alyssa Milano in the wake of the revelations about Harvey Weinstein’s sexual abuse. Within the first 24 hours of her tweet, 4.7 million people had used the hashtag on Facebook in 12 million posts. All of this has helped move forward the national conversation about the prevalence of sexual harassment in everyday life, and provided the context for hundreds of powerful men to be called out–and fired–for their treatment of women.
Honorable mention: #GrabYourWallet
Shannon Coulter launched the #GrabYourWallet campaign in late 2016, in an effort to get consumers to boycott the Trump brands in response to Donald Trump’s lewd statements about women in the Access Hollywood tapes. In early 2017, several retailers dropped Trump-branded products, and Coulter has continued to respond to Trump’s actions through boycotts.
Leading The Fight Against Pink Tax: Boxed
This year, brands have drawn our attention to the “pink tax,” which refers to women’s everyday products that cost significantly more than their male equivalents per ounce or unit. (Women’s body wash, shaving gel, and deodorant, for instance, cost more than men’s.) In some cases, there is a literal tax on women’s items: tampons and pads are charged a sales tax because they are considered “luxury” items.
Bulk products brand Boxed took a stand against the “pink tax” this year by lowering the prices of women’s products so that they are on par as the same men’s products and absorbing the tax on menstrual hygiene products. All of this has meant a small dent in Boxed’s margins, but it sends an important message to the rest of the industry–and the government–that the pink tax needs to go away.
Honorable mention: Billie
Dubbed the “Dollar Shave Club” for women, the brand delivers razors and blades to your door for $9. This price is carefully calculated to ensure that they cost exactly the same as equivalent men’s razors, thereby eliminating the “pink tax.”
A Better Bra: Evelyn & Bobbie
Inspired by decades of women resenting the uncomfortable underwire in their bras, a group of female engineers redesigned the wardrobe staple–without it. Startup Evelyn & Bobbie introduced a wireless, seamless, and strapless bra design that offers sturdy support by redistributing weight from the wearer’s shoulder to their core muscles and torso. It also reimagined the entire sizing system so that clients can submit their unique measurements (waist, breast, and shoulder) for a more customized fit.
“Women have 10 or more bras in their drawer that they do not wear–that’s a lot of wasted money,” says CEO Bree McKeen. “[Evelyn & Bobbie] is really here to do it right.”
Honorable mention: ThirdLove’s bra you can sleep in
The brand’s new seamless lounge bra was specifically made for the purpose of wearing at home and sleeping in it. It comes with a flexible back closure to ensure proper support and made with a breathable bamboo fabric that allows the body to stay cool.
Designer Plus-Size Clothing: Universal Standard
This was the year that the fashion industry finally started to address the needs of plus-size women, who constitute a full 67% of the market. While many established brands, from Christian Siriano to Nike, have been expanding their offerings to be more inclusive, many women who wear size 14 or up still struggle to find garments that both look good and fit well. In the past, brands have not used a wide range of fit models to create their plus-size outfits, so larger-sized clothes tended to fit awkwardly.
This might soon be a thing of the past. Universal Standard, which launched this year, has changed the game in the plus-size market. It creates beautiful, minimalistic garments–along the lines of Theory of Helmut Lang–that are carefully designed to flatter the bodies of women size 14 and up. The brand has received the approval of Tom and Ruth Chapman, founder of Matches Fashion, and has grown explosively this year, forcing other brands to recognize that it is worth investing in well-designed plus-sized clothes.
Honorable mention: Good American
This denim brand, launched by Khloe Kardashian and Emma Grede, creates jeans that look good on all body types. They recently lobbied Nordstrom to stop separating plus-size clothes from the rest of the clothing in the store, so that all women feel included during the simple act of shopping.
Enabling Better Work Schedules: Werk
Balancing career and family shouldn’t be as hard as it is, say moms and Werk cofounders Anna Auerbach and Annie Dean. That’s why their startup is dedicated to giving women more workplace flexibility without compromising career goals.
Werk is a job board that promotes positions with more adaptable hours, remote locations, and minimal travel commitments. Companies like Deloitte and HBO, it turns out, are happy to make that possible. Werk works in tandem with employers to offer a clear idea of what a modern schedule looks like and how it can help companies thrive and retain talent.
“It’s time for us to demand a work environment that is not designed for our failure but for our success,” Auerbach previously told Fast Company. “Our long-term vision is that flexibility exists in some form across every job search.”
Honorable mention: Fifth Third Bank’s maternity concierge service
The employees of Fifth Third Bank have access to a free concierge service that handles “everything that isn’t work related.” That includes grocery shopping, helping pick a daycare, and even organizing a new nursery.
Space Just For The Ladies: The Wing
The Wing, a Manhattan women’s space that is part social club, part coworking studio, and part beauty salon, officially opened in 2016. But following a remarkably stressful year for women, the franchise has quickly grown, with WeWork leading a $32 million round of funding. Following an onslaught of sexual harassment claims in the media, more women are considering safe spaces just for them, which is propelling the company to launch into new markets, such as L.A. and D.C.
As cofounder Audrey Gelman says, “The air feels different when it’s only women.”
Honorable mention: BumbleBizz
Bumble is betting that its matchmaking technology can do more than foster romantic or personal connections. The company introduced BumbleBizz, a professional networking vertical where women can look for work, find a business partner, or hire new talent.
Related: Bumble’s CEO Takes Aim At LinkedIn
Beauty For All: Fenty
Every day, hundreds of new products burst into the $445 billion beauty industry, but the overwhelming majority of those products are designed for white women. While mainstream beauty brands are slowly including more diverse options in their product range, the industry has a long way to go to becoming more inclusive.
Then came Rihanna. The superstar is using her star power to send the message that the fashion and beauty industries need to pay closer attention to women of color. This year, she launched Fenty Beauty, a makeup line designed to make women everywhere feel included. The brand formulates foundations to suit a wide range of skin tones and contouring makeup sticks that can be customized to specific complexions. It also develops products, such as the Stunna Lip Paint, that are designed to look beautiful on all faces. At $24 for a lipstick and $34 for foundation, the collection is not outrageously priced.
Honorable Mention: Form Beauty
The second brand launched by Tristan Walker’s company, Walker & Co, Form creates products specifically for the needs of women of color.
Birth Control On Demand: Nurx and Lemonaid Health
As Republican lawmakers flamed fears that they would reduce access to birth control and defund Planned Parenthood, telemedicine companies swooped in to offer accessible alternatives. Startups such as Nurx and Lemonaid Health simplify contraception by offering prescriptions for birth control pills, patches, rings, and emergency contraception–remotely. It’s basically “Uber for the uterus.”
“We’re talking about a medication that, in many countries, you can buy over the counter [without a prescription],”says Jessica Knox, medical director at Nurx. While it will be a long, arduous process for the U.S. to get to that point, companies like Nurx are “trying to bridge that gap.”
A More Comfortable Patient Experience: Hologic
In a recent medical survey of 10,000 women, discomfort was the leading reason for why women avoid a mammogram. During these exams, patients’ breasts are painfully compressed in order to thin out the tissue. That’s why medical technology company Hologic has a truly simple way to encourage women to get tested: make it less painful.
Hologic’s new SmartCurve stabilization system features a curved compression surface that mirrors the shape of a woman’s breast, with far less pressure. This adjustment provides a more pleasant experience: According to their own clinical studies, 93% of women who experienced pain with standard mammography have found the new system “to be more comfortable,” and 95% would recommend it to others.
To echo Tracy Accardi, Hologic’s global vice president of research & development, “That’s a pretty big deal.”
Honorable Mention: The Motherhood Center of New York
The Motherhood Center of New York is a first-of-its-kind clinic dedicated to moms. Staffed by physicians and social workers, the center treats new and expectant mothers with a range of services and specializes in the treatment of perinatal mood and anxiety disorders (PMADs).
Fitness Communities For Women: FPC
Tired of being treated like invalids at most fitness studios, two pregnant women founded their own gym–just for moms and moms-to-be. At New York’s FPC, women learn how to treat their body during a pregnancy, prepare for the rigors of delivery, and reconstruct their body after childbirth. And it isn’t just prenatal yoga; these women are doing cardio, lifting weights, and strengthening core muscles.
“There was a gap in the market for something like [FPC],” says cofounder Carolina Gunnarsson, “where you can educate yourself on your workout and be with a community of women who are going through exactly the same stage of their life–with the same problems, the same concerns–and have a challenging, fun group atmosphere.”
FPC plans on opening more studios and expanding their franchise across the U.S.
Honorable mention: Taryn Toomey’s The Class
The Class is a mix of yoga, cardio, and visceral vocal sounds (i.e., sighing, shouting, and yelling). For women who might feel powerless or angry about our current political climate, the combination of movement and sound serves as a necessary stress reliever.
A Work Bag That Works: Dagne Dover
Every year, we put together a list of the best work/life bags on the market. The goal of this list is certainly to help women find a bag that works for them, but it is also a chance for us to think about how women are really living out their lives from dawn till dusk–and how carefully accessories brands are designing to meet women’s needs.
This year, we highlighted the work of Dagne Dover, a bag brand launched by three millennial women who apply an Apple-like design process–that involves focus groups and user testing–to create bags that are versatile, durable, and beautiful. The $395 Allyn tote, for instance, which launched this year, contains a waterproof laptop sleeve with a zipper closure, a water bottle holder, plus special compartments for your phone, metro card, lip gloss, and keys. The brand’s new 365 collection, made of neoprene, is designed for women who are running to and from the gym and need lightweight, waterproof, and sweat-resistant products. The brand stands out not just for thoughtful products, but for obsessively paying attention to how women’s lifestyles are evolving.
Honorable mention: Latitu°
Founder Tanya Pham launched Latitu° this year to provide women with well-crafted, feminine, and functional bags that cost a fraction of the price of luxury brands like Louis Vuitton or Gucci. It’s a much needed addition to a market that focuses on the need of the male traveler.