People 09 November 2017
The spotlight on gender inequality has been greatly expanded in recent years in industries like business, sports, and entertainment, but what about those who work behind the lens? Film and media represent some of the professions with the highest levels of inequity, yet they're often still being overlooked when it comes to female empowerment.
For a few sobering statistics on this front, consider that women made up just 28 percent of all speaking roles in theatre-released films in 2014, only 16 percent of directors, writers, editors, and producers who were employed in the top 100 grossing films of 2015 were women, and women were found to only makeup crew membership of 17 percent in music, 5 percent in camera and electrical, and just 9 percent of special effects in an analysis of 2000 of the highest-grossing films between 1994 and 2003.
These massive inequalities are what inspired entrepreneur, photographer, and host Amanda De Cadenet to create #Girlgaze, a digital media company that promotes the work of female photographers and directors, by creating visibility and jobs for girls behind the lens. Founded in 2016, De Cadenet created this collection as a way to respond to this lack of gender inclusivity and give the next generation of women who want to work in the photography and film industries.
Despite the quick success that #Girlgaze has enjoyed, getting the attention media outlets like WWD and Paper Magazine, a partnership with Glamour, and a design collaboration with Warby Parker, De Cadenet never set out to be an entrepreneur. It was after experiencing the frustration for women's stories so often being filtered through the lenses of men and male-owned media platforms that she decided to be the change she wished to see. “I've made it a point to bring as many women as possible with me, whether it's that I hire women to work on The Conversation to work in roles that are traditionally male," De Cadenet told SWAAY about her entrepreneurial philosophy. She looks at this company as a way to pay it forward, women supporting other women, as she wants to stop the good old boys club industry practices that often leave women competing against one another for such little real estate or completely out of the equation to begin with. “We need more examples of women who truly are supporting other women, not just paying lip service to it."
“At #Girlgaze, I hire women and girls that don't necessarily have the experience, but have the passion and enthusiasm." says De Cadenet.[thb_image full_width="true" alignment="center" image="9774" img_size="full"]
Her endeavor led to the creation of the #Girlgaze book, which features a curated collection of photographs that capture how young women perceive the world. Co-authored by English photographer and filmmaker Sam Taylor-Johnson features a collective of images submitted from female-identifying photographers around the world, that feature raw, candid shots of life as it's being lived: on the streets of the city, hiking in the mountains, laughing with friends, the realities of life in war-torn countries, and beautiful fields.
With this book and company, De Cadenet is addressing the problems female creators face on a daily basis, by using her power and success to put the spotlight on other talented women." If you look at all of the different industries...there's been men at the top of these organizations, 99.9 percent, there have been so few spaces for us," she explains. In fact, she believes this lack of seats at the table is what causes successful women to feel like they are in competition with one another and often tear one another down instead of build each other up. “It's been ingrained in us that “Oh my god, if I don't get that one space, then she is going to get it!" There's been so few opportunities and openings. It's not even our fault- but that's why we compare as opposed to saying “She is doing great!" #Girlgaze is changing this narrative by addressing this paradigm head on and instead of just talking the talk about empowerment and inclusion, is giving talented women opportunities every single day to have their work be showcased in a way that isn't objectifying, sexualizing, or speculative.
Not only is De Cadenet giving women a platform to tell their stories candidly, but has been candid about her own dark past. As a teenager, she found herself in juvie as a consequence of running away from home, was sexually assaulted, and also had an unintended pregnancy, which are experiences that would devastate many young people. Instead, she rose from this experience and went on to become a TV host at the age of 16, which found her success that she's never looked back from nor taken for granted. “You can't live through what I've lived through and not be humbled!" she says. “I've recovered through everything that I've been through over the years, since I've been willing to find things that work. There's a lot...there isn't just one path. What I do know is that it's crucial to remain teachable and to retain the outlook of 'Hey, I'm still learning.' and you know, I am." Her secret sauce of remaining teachable has clearly allowed her to be so resilient, which is a lesson we can all learn from, in the face of adversity.
Photo Courtesy of Red Magazine
Instead of trying to always make our lives look perfect and beautiful, this exposure of the messiness is a curtain she believes needs to be opened now more than ever, especially in a world that is filled with pressure coming at women from all angles to be flawless.
“This is the common experience for a lot of people and I'm just trying to shed light on it and say, Hey, shit happens. Life is messy; let's stop pretending that it's some curated Instagram version of the reality, so that we can all stop feeling that we're not enough," -Amanda De Cadenet
To put it simply, #Girlgaze (the book, that is) shows what it's like to be female in this world, from all angles, emotions, and capacities. You see women and girls running through fields, reflecting on tragedies, smiling, crying, embracing, engaging in the community, friendships, intimacy, and fun. This book runs the gamut on showcasing what humanity really looks like, without any of the fluff or frills. It's naked in a way that isn't sexual, but is completely raw in its delivery. There's no shame, no fear, just girls living and experiencing the world as themselves and showing it to all of us through their art.
Giving women and girls the power to be themselves, without any pressure or backlash, embodies true feminism and De Cadenet is on the forefront of this entirely new conversation about womanhood. Bringing women together instead of tearing them apart is a central part of her mission in the world, which she believes is the key to changing it. “ I don't want to quote my friend Hillary [Clinton] here but, “We are stronger together," she says. “The more that we can create opportunities and spaces for people to connect and identify with one another, the better it is. I've always felt like that and always known that, that I've made it a mission of mine." Look out, sexism- there's a new sheriff in town.
When their frustration with current fabric care options had fashionistas Gwen Whiting and Lindsey Boyd worn out, the two entrepreneurs made it their mission to start a new niche and launch their very own at-home, eco-friendly laundry detergent line.
With a mission of turning an everyday domestic chore into a luxurious experience, these entrepreneurs not only conjured up an idea for an unconventional product line, but they successfully built their business while turning down the offer of every venture capitalist to knock on their door.
Gwen Whiting and Lindsey Boyd co-founded The Laundress in 2004 after dealing with their own personal frustrations with limited clothing care options. Whiting, having worked at Ralph Lauren in design and Boyd having worked at Chanel in corporate sales, soon accumulated a stylish wardrobe of designer pieces as perks of their jobs in the fashion industry. However, the duo quickly realized that the maintenance required for upkeeping these items were far from adequate. Laundry products on the market at the time did not cater to delicate textures and fabrics such as tweed blazers, cable-knit cashmere and silk blouses. Taking their clothing to the dry cleaners also proved hopeless as their clothing would often come back with stains or even be ruined despite the overload of chemicals used to clean them. With nowhere left to turn, Whiting and Boyd were determined to create their own laundry solutions designed for specific fabrics.
Not only did the entrepreneurs develop the business expertise needed to finally begin their own company, but they also shared the same educational background that equipped them to pursue their unconventional business venture. Whiting and Boyd met in college as students at Cornell University majoring in Fiber Science, Textile, and Apparel Management and Design. The pair was introduced by a mutual friend and instantly knew they would become business partners. "It was inevitable that we were going to have a business together. We are both extremely entrepreneurial by nature, and it was one of the connections that we instantly shared" said Whiting. After focusing on pursuing their own individual careers for a while, Whiting and Boyd quickly discovered a void in the fabric care marketplace when their clients would continuously inquire about the upkeep of their designer pieces.
The entrepreneurial duo was committed to researching and developing their own eco-friendly laundry products and soon launched their own at-home solutions for specific fabrics like silk, wool and denim, which ultimately eliminated the need for dry cleaning for those particular items. Despite their products filling a necessary void in the market, it quickly became challenging for the founders to persuade people to shift their focus away from traditional laundry care options in order to try their products. However, Whiting and Boyd believed in their mission for the Laundress and bootstrapped from the very beginning, refusing all venture capital funding with the goal of growing organically. In order to be successful, they had to get creative in fundraising. "In the very early days, we funded business development by hosting a 'for profit' party at a New York City restaurant and inviting friends, family, co-workers, etc. to support our new venture. That was pre-Kickstarter and an inventive way to make everyone feel a big part of our decision to be entrepreneurs," said Whiting.
While turning down VC funding as new entrepreneurs seems unimaginable, it is as equally unfathomable to consider how these women gained national traction without social media, all the while hustling to fund their business. For Whiting and Boyd, who started their business before social media existed, it was imperative that they promote their brand by leveraging the resources they had available to them. The CEO's were one of the first to sell consumer goods, let alone detergent, online with the goal of reaching a national audience. Despite having limited retail distribution, they leveraged the power of their website and became featured in publications on both a national and international scale. "Before social media platforms existed, we nurtured our own Laundress community with engaging content on our website, step-by-step tutorials on our blog, and one-on-one communication through our Ask The Laundress email," Whiting explained. With technology evolving and the birth of social media platforms, the founders expanded the conversation about their products from website, blog and email to platforms like Facebook and Instagram.
As female entrepreneurs, Whiting and Boyd faced additional hardships as misconceptions about their mission ultimately proved to disappoint more than it encouraged them. As women selling luxury detergent, there existed a preconceived notion that funding would be more easily attainable based upon their gender.
"Everyone thought it was easy to access capital as female entrepreneurs, but it was actually very challenging. We had this unique and disruptive idea within a very traditional space and it was hard to get people on board at first. It's been a continuous journey to educate people in fabric care and home cleaning," said Boyd.
Reflecting on their journey as entrepreneurs, the founders express no regrets about refusing to accept venture capital throughout the process. "Over the years, we could never quantify the cost benefit of VC funding so we continued to grow organically and remain independent by funding ourselves with credit cards and loans," explained Boyd. While their decision proved fruitful, the duo expressed their consideration towards other entrepreneurs who may not be able to fully fund their business as they grow. Because funding is a situational experience, entrepreneurs must ultimately do what is best for their business as no one path is optimal for every entrepreneur or every business.
With an increasing amount of women entering entrepreneurship with their own unique set of products or services, the CEO's offer up one piece of advice on how female entrepreneurs can be successful in their endeavors.
Whiting: "Our advice to anyone looking to build their brands: Have a strong business plan and vision. If you are not disciplined to write a business plan first then you are not disciplined to start a business. Get your ideas down so you ask yourself the right questions; it helps you get organized and plan next steps."
Boyd: "Create quality products without sacrificing the ingredients—no cutting corners. What you create should be the most important piece. Stay passionate, and trust your instincts and follow your gut—something woman are awesome at!"