IWD: Owners of Coco de Mer, OSKIA and more share their wisdom and industry insights

HUNGER sits down with a number of successful women in business, discussing everything from their secrets to success to how we can improve diversity in the industry.

Being a woman in a male-dominated industry can be incredibly challenging, with long-ingrained societal misogyny and stereotypes still leading to a disparity for women in the world of business. Despite statistically receiving less investment and financial support when starting businesses compared to men, plenty of women have laid out a path of success for others to follow. And for International Women’s Day, HUNGER are highlighting the women who have achieved greatly in business across industries including beauty, wellness, fashion and film. Here, they discuss their journeys as women in the industry, their secrets to success and the qualities that every woman needs to succeed.

Lucy Litwack – Coco de Mer owner and CEO

“Being clear on the purpose of the business has been key, putting the focus of Coco de Mer back on women, and keeping it that way with an all-female team and looking at everything through the female gaze,” says Lucy Litwack, owner and CEO of luxury lingerie and sexual wellness brand Coco de Mer. Litwack explains that when she took the reigns at the brand in 2014, she wanted to help put women back in the spotlight. “I wanted to place the focus back on women, on the importance of female pleasure and the female gaze as a path to empowerment,” before adding, “championing women’s causes underpins all my goals for Coco de Mer.” One of the key components for success, according to Litwack, is risk-taking. “Opportunities rarely come with a set of instructions – take risks from time to time, or you’ll never achieve anything. And, crucially, believe in yourself,” she tells us. And while she says there is no one particular surefire way to find success as an entrepreneur, “empathy, resilience, a thick skin and passion all help.”

Eliza Flanagan – KANKAN co-founder

“I think things have come a long way, but the investment is still very much swayed to men,” Eliza Flanagan, co-founder of sustainable soap refill brand KANKAN, tells HUNGER. “2% of investment allocated go to women founders, which is shocking.” Meanwhile, Flanagan’s message for women looking to start their own businesses is to believe in themselves and have self-assurance. “Share your ideas, get feedback and don’t fret about keeping things under wraps – unless you have IP concerns, of course!” she says. And while the business world is overwhelmingly masculine, leaning into your feminine traits is crucial. “I think historically it would have been touted that women needed to be more ‘male’ in character – bossy, pushy, ego-driven etc.,” says Flanagan. “But I actually think leaning into these traditionally female characteristics – empathy, flexibility, the ability to wear multiple hats, curiosity, the ability to ask for support – to be even more important. 

Georgia Cleeve – OSKIA founder

Nutritional skincare brand OSKIA’s founder Georgie Cleeve has an empowering message for prospective business owners: “There is absolutely nothing stopping you.” And when it comes to her own business, Cleeve tells us that her most important business decision was simply to “start it!” However, it’s not all easygoing for the entrepreneur, who details the challenges of raising a family and running a business. “I don’t know how mothers who don’t work for themselves do it because it is tough. There is no perfect work/life balance.” While her experience in a female-led beauty industry has been “phenomenally warm,” she’s grateful for women who helped pave the way in business, which have helped reduce the challenges women like her face today. “It is a very different landscape now than women business leaders did 20 years ago,” says Cleeve. “And we should be very grateful for those that paved the way for us.”

Jane Wong, Cherie Lui and Christine Wong – NOON co-founders

“More often than not, women’s ideas and visions are not taken seriously – we have to work 10x harder to gain respect from a male-dominated business world,” says co-founders of NOON Jane Wong, Cherie Lui and Christine Wong. And when it comes to tackling diversity, women believe that success amongst a range of cultures and genders is crucial. “More examples of success can encourage more people like us to take the leap,” they tell HUNGER. As for the most important quality a woman in business needs to succeed, the trio believes one thing ranks above all – Perseverance. “Having deep confidence in yourself and relentless persistence to keep going when you face failure or challenges that may feel insurmountable is crucial,” they explain. You have to get used to failing and taking things in your stride.”

Catarina Oliveira and Rui Liu – Herbar co-founders

Fungi and adaptogenic-powered beauty brand founders Catarina Oliveira and Rui Liu explain how difficult it can be for women to enter the business world. “The world is undoubtedly male-dominated, and in an environment like such, it is even more daunting to pursue one’s dreams once we are often belittled, underestimated and deemed cute,” says Liu. And as a result of this, Oliveira implores women to become “diligent and militant in the pursuit of greatness.” Meanwhile, Liu also tells us that there are a couple of traits of fungi that can be incredibly important for women in the industry – community and interconnectedness. “We are not only a mushroom-powered brand but also mushroom-inspired,” she says. “One cannot do it alone, and in order to bring magic to the world, we need to rally up the troops.”

Begüm Tiryaki Uyulur – BOULO founder

Begüm Tiryaki Uyulur, the founder of handcrafted fine jewellery brand BOULO, believes the biggest challenge women face in business is fairness. “BOULO jewellery is crafted in Grand Bazaar, Istanbul, and it is a very male-dominated environment,” she tells us. “It takes time for people to take you seriously like they would a man in the first place.” Meanwhile, diversity is another pressing issue for Uyulur. “When we think about gender, nationality, race, and economy, it is still very hard to mention fairness,” she says before adding, “incentives like funding, prizes/awards, or education offers are really powerful in helping those who are less seen.” And when it comes to qualities needed for women to succeed, one thing trumps the rest. “Bravery. Bravery requires self-belief, confidence, and purpose. Without purpose, you’re lost, and without courage, there is no progress.”

Andrea Riba, Sofia Riba and Glüme Harlow – Femina Films

Femina Films aims to cultivate artistic projects across film and digital platforms and was founded by sisters Andrea and Sofia Riba, with Glüme Harlow acting as partner/music supervisor. “We’ve had to pass on scripts that made sense from a financial standpoint but didn’t do justice to the female protagonists we advocate for on screen,” the trio tells us, detailing the importance of empowerment for women to their mission. “It’s about finding stories outside of the male gaze. We are interested in strong female protagonists, or minorities of any kind, and then finding the right people to illuminate that story on screen.” When it comes to succeeding in business, the group reveal that “faking it till you make it,” can be an incredibly useful tool. “Be your biggest advocate with relentless confidence,” they say. “No one has a handbook to starting a creative business, but once you jump in the fire, you’ll figure things out along the way.”

Emmanuelle Moeglin – EPC founder

“I feel that there are less opportunities coming your way when it comes to investment and expansion, even when you have a great quality product and have built a brand yourself from scratch,” says Emmanuelle Moeglin – founder of experimental and bespoke perfume brand EPC – of women’s chances of success in business. She highlights the importance of women taking ownership of their brands and maximising their potential. “ I am yet to see a business that is 100% female-founded and led which got there in perfumery – that is a real shame,” says Moeglin. “As a woman, I feel that not only am I bringing my creativity and creative vision and aesthetic, but I am also very capable of taking business decisions and managing the growth of my company.” She urges women to “go for it” when it comes to business and not back away from their ideas or beliefs. “Be ready; it’ll be hard but extremely rewarding.” And for Moeglin, the key to success all comes down to “resilience – which applies whether you are woman, man or non-binary.”

WriterChris Saunders