Inside The Female Founder Collective LA Workshop
I have no other word to describe my car last Thursday morning than to say it was moseying down a side street somewhere in the suburban underbelly of West L.A.
My friend Brittany and I had been stuck in a thick smog of traffic for almost an hour, with two miles left to drive, 250 feet until our next right turn and four minutes until the official start of The Female Founder Collective Workshop LA.
Three minutes. Two minutes.
In the starchy quiet cut only by a ticking blinker, my fingers played percussion on the steering wheel; my right foot stomped a bass line on the brake. Then, against the human symphony of my frustration, Brittany yelled, “Waaait, Melissa, I found another way. Don’t turn right, turn left. Left!”
On a sudden lurch, left we went, toward a matrix of other, much emptier streets and by 9:30(ish) a.m., made it to The Riveter: West L.A., a co-working space with the apt motto: “Built by women. For everyone.”
I realized when I walked through the canopied entryway to sign into the event that its navigational prelude was probably something of a metaphor for the entire day. Yes, as bold entrepreneurs we can dominate board rooms with the confidence of a corseted Lizzo, or move product with the poise of Beyoncé, but in the end, after the deadlines are met and Instagram stories played, we’re just better together.
Maybe that was the unspoken theme of the 10.5-hour workshop, a veritable bazaar of business brilliance that unfurled in three keynote presentations and 12 breakout sessions.
A serious kudos must be given here to Rebecca Minkoff, co-founder of her eponymous global fashion brand and co-founder of The Female Founder Collective, for producing a conference with value-adds dotting the agenda like bright road markers on a highway to success.
You can check out the full line-up of speakers here but it reads like a 2019 Who’s Who of female innovators. Breakout classes, led by the effervescent likes of P.S. – I Made This Founder Erica Domesek (pictured below) and DFlash Founder Laura Mignott, were separated into three categories: personal development & leadership, marketing and funding. With venture capital dollars for female-owned companies stalled at 2.2% of the $130 billion total venture capital money invested over the past year, the funding sessions proved especially meaningful.
All three of the keynote presentations highlighted female entrepreneurs renowned for disrupting industries and shattering the glass ceilings in which they’re contained. Actress, model, author and entrepreneur Molly Sims spoke of professional altruism and strength in conversation with Baby2Baby Co-President Kelly Sawyer Patricof. The Cool Mom Co. Founder Lizzy Mathis expertly moderated a panel with Ariel Kaye, founder and CEO of Parachute; Katie Rosen Kitchens, co-founder of FabFitFun; and Katerina Schneider, founder and CEO of Ritual. They talked candidly about the importance of workplace flexibility, modern company culture and the welcomed unpredictability of entrepreneurship. (Who knew FabFitFun originated from Kitchens’ editorial roots as a lifestyle newsletter and blog?)
For the closing keynote, Alli Webb, founder of Drybar, chatted with Amy Nelson, co-founder and CEO of The Riveter, explaining that Drybar at its core is about building confidence and making women feel really, really good.
Webb explained: “When I see women bounce out of Drybar and there’s this happiness to them that’s the best feeling in the world.”
Like Drybar’s compassionate ideals, Minkoff herself made sure The Female Founder Collective workshop brought all the feels. Dressed casual-cool in a white tee, stylishly frayed jeans and snake-effect leather heels from her namesake line, Minkoff along with her team, in partnership with She’s Next Empowered by Visa and Jennifer Bett Communications, left no female-founder detail behind. From custom, selfie-ready “hey gorgeous” decals on bathroom mirrors to branded wraps along ever bar, wall and food station, messages of empowerment were literally everywhere. Even the sleek staircase leading to the second floor of The Riveter featured the event hashtag—#FFCWorkshopLA—on intermittent steps.
During the workshop, female-founder-ness wasn’t only evident in design but also in practice. All signage was the work of JaneMade, a full-service creative and marketing studio founded by women. Blush-colored blooms on the main-stage backdrop and inside vases scattered throughout The Riveter were the brainchild of Kelsea Olivia, a floral designer specializing in large-scale installations. Susie Sarich’s SusieCakes mini cupcakes were lined up on sweet display. Lady & Larder provided a drool-worthy, handcrafted cheeseboard. Chef Nina Anakar of Ziza brought fresh Mediterranean salad, which was paired with Aishwarya Iyer’s olive oil, Brightland. Female-founded Owl’s Brew boozy tea and Health-Ade Kombucha were available for refreshing sips. Vendors like Sheltered Co., Sagely Naturals, Beekeeper’s Naturals, Tower 28 Beauty, Taylor + Thomas and of course, Rebecca Minkoff had their goods for sale.
The omnipotent presence of female entrepreneurship was fitting for The Female Founder Collective’s official mission “to enable and empower female owned and led businesses to positivity impact communities, both social and economically.” And much of this power can be found in the FFC logo, a burgeoning symbol for something wholly female-made.
I’ve heard Minkoff liken the FFC logo to the non-GMO designation on food packaging. “What if you could turn over something and know it was female founded?” Minkoff asked on an episode of fashion mogul Danielle Bernstein’s podcast, “We Heard What.” The answer to that question, she explained, was how The Female Founder Collective came to be. In the same episode, Minkoff referenced a recent study by advertising agency Berlin Cameron that reported 82% of women would be more likely to support female-founded brands if they only knew how. (Related side note: Minkoff’s podcast, Superwomen is a total must-listen.)
Now, with more than 4,000 brands in the collective and hundreds gathered in L.A., it seems like we do. Or at least we’re getting closer to figuring out actionable ways we can tap into the inter-connective power of female-owned businesses, allowing us to grow and prosper together. Minkoff is proof of this magic at work, a leader touting collaboration over competition, always. It’s not often you’ll see a founder of one of the world’s biggest fashion brands cleaning up plates of uneaten food or moving speakers’ chairs so the audience can better hear what they have to say. But Minkoff did just that, proving to us once again she’s a tireless ambassador for the kind of humility, empathy and support necessary for this collective—and its female founders—to thrive.
I thought a lot about those cleared plates and moved chairs as Brittany and I left The Riveter last Thursday, a brassy 6 p.m. sunshine lighting up the sidewalk like a dramatic spotlight overhead.
“Hey, mind if I drive?” Brittany asked when we got to my car. In the spirit of females helping females, even if just though L.A. traffic, I nodded my head and told her, “Go for it.”
Pictured from left in featured image: Lizzy Mathis, host and founder, The Cool Mom Co.; Katerina Schneider, founder and CEO, Ritual; Ariel Kaye, founder and CEO of Parachute; and Katie Rosen Kitchens, co-founder of FabFitFun.