While gender and sexuality become increasingly fluid, the influence of women within the global economy is more concrete than ever. In lieu of meaningful female representation at the C-suite level of venture-backed startups or Fortune 500 companies, brands struggle to keep up. This economic shift has inspired a wave of purpose-driven brand campaigns, which prioritize brand values as the key selling point. Nike’s recent “Dream Crazier” ad and Bumble’s Super Bowl spot “The Ball Is in Her Court” are examples of storytelling happening on a grand scale that celebrate the female experience.
We’re seeing the direct economic impact of the global movement toward gender parity. In 2017, Saudi Arabia granted women the right to drive, which enabled the community to join the workforce. The economic reverb of this decision projects to add $90 billion to economic output by 2030. The inclusion of women in the global economy consistently drives a multiplier effect, and investors are taking notice. We see higher returns on asset and equity as well as innovation revenues from companies that have women in leadership roles. With that said, only around 2 percent of investment dollars go to female-founded startups, and that percentage is even smaller for racial minorities.
A new ecosystem of startups for women, by women are cropping up to capitalize on the female economy. These challenger brands continue to grow their market share in industries that have historically ignored these consumers’ needs like sextech, healthcare, retail and more.
Sex positivity sells
As an industry sextech, which is technology designed to enhance the human sexual experience, is already estimated to be worth $30 billion and growing. With Pornhub reporting that 80 percent of their mobile consumers are women but is representative of less that 25 percent of their total audience, data shows women are participating in sextech but do not have products tailored to their needs. Mainstream pornography caters to an exclusively male audience, and mass-produced sex products like toys, lubricants and contraceptives contain unsafe materials.
Unbound Box and Maude are new direct-to-consumer brands in sextech that are targeting a female consumer with non-toxic products and positioning the act of sexual exploration as a form of wellness. The burgeoning female-led sextech industry empowers its consumer to take ownership of their sexuality and expect more from the products and services that they use.
Periods are not just for sentences
Sextech is intersectional to reproductive wellness. Thinx, a company known for period panties, recently launched a sex blanket for those on their periods. Female-led companies are normalizing the conversation around menstruation and also offering innovative and safe products. Manufacturers of female hygienic products have historically used harmful chemicals in their commercial offerings. Female-led newcomers like Flex, Cora and Lola produce non-toxic alternatives to traditional feminine care and have piqued the attention of the venture capital community along the way.
The fall of one-size-fits-all healthcare
There is a quality discrepancy between the healthcare treatment delivered to men versus women. Female-led companies like Maven Clinic and Modern Fertility are offering competitively priced, easy-to-understand access to healthcare specifically for women’s issues. These companies empower women with products and services that give them a direct line of sight to their health.
We’re seeing a shift in what categories are included in healthcare, especially within the beauty industry. Not only is natural beauty a billion-dollar market, but skincare is perceived by consumers as a part of holistic wellness routine. The beauty industry is going through its own rebrand as consumers demand their products be holistic instead of atomistic.
Female sexuality resized
Major retail brands are waking up to the fact that women exist across a much larger range of skin colors and sizes than what is being offered in the market. The opportunity for women to find clothes beyond a size 12 is a $200-plus billion industry. Size-inclusive brands like Savage x Fenty are surpassing traditional lingerie brands like Victoria’s Secret in popularity. Effective brand messaging is now reflecting the notion that a woman’s sexuality does not exist solely for the male gaze.
Beyond that, the way clothing is designed for women is being reconsidered. Take the stiletto, which was originally crafted by men. Female-led companies like Antonia Saint or Thesis Couture are examples of next-gen footwear companies that create products at the intersection of ergonomics and fashion. Argent, a venture-backed clothing brand, specializes in garments made for the working woman and uses messaging to empower their consumer to advance her career. These are prime examples of the design thinking that occurs when creative directors and leadership are representative of their consumer base.
It is not just a moral obligation to advocate for women’s needs, but a massive business opportunity. Women represent a growth market bigger than China and India combined. They are also accountable for over $39 trillion, which is about 30 percent of total global wealth. As we correct the current misgivings of industries that serve women, we find there is significant upside for both the economy and society at large. While the future is not pink, it is undoubtedly female.