Being an entrepreneur is difficult for anyone, but it can be even more challenging for a woman. To speak about this problem I went to Antonia Saint Dunbar. Antonia Saint Dunbar is the successful CEO and Co-founder of THINX, Icon, Co-founder of the Brooklyn Shoe Factory and the creator of the Antonia Saint NY. I spoke with her on a variety of subjects — from the challenges facing women entrepreneurs today and how to tackle the problem, her advocacy of women’s issues to her design background and the role she has played in multiple companies.
As more women are creating businesses and setting out on their own entrepreneurial enterprises, there are still many factors that hinder women in the corporate world and it’s an issue for both men and women to understand. “For women in general, things are stacked against us.” Antonia told me, “women in powerful positions are few and far between. Only 4% of Fortune 500 companies have female CEOs.”
Other factors include financing, which is given much more easily to men and support leadership groups like the Young Presidents Organization where it’s 94% men and 6% women. Other problems unfortunately include, how historically women haven’t been each others supporters, due to competition and being competitive to another woman vying for her position because there’s so few of us.
“Things will change once we get together and work together as women and help change policies to help support us being in the workplace” Antonia told me. Looking from the perspective of biology, female bodies are different and it’s not accounted for. This mother of two understands that plight. “Oftentimes you have to go and have your career first and then have your children later, if you want to excel in any way.” Motherhood requires focus and time and often it’s not given in the workplace. “We don’t have practices or operational support in place still… and this country doesn’t give enough leave for mothers who need to be present in the most important time of their child’s lives, where their job will be waiting for them when they get back.”
From biological factors to financing to networking, these are all factors that come into play when we speak about the challenges women face. Networking is often a boy’s club but a new organization has arisen in New York City. Chief is a private network that is focused on connecting and supporting female leaders. The new group is made up of female founding members and CEOs including Antonia, who support each other and help each other rise. “In the past, male leaders such as Firestone, Carnegie, Schwab and JP Morgan had each other. None of them did it alone and some of them were great competitors and inspired each other.”
Finding A Voice
Today, women are finding strength in their voice like the women of the House did wearing the color of suffragists and putting a stunning display of solidarity in white. “Minds working together and people working together that really makes change happen. I feel strongly about this,” Antonia expressed. “It’s going to take more women in the workplace to be able to represent the women that need to be represented. It’s an active role we have to play. And that’s one of the reasons why I created the companies. Not only did I want to create solutions for women in primarily patriarch industries, such as making underwear, or menstrual products for women or a high heel that feels good. Historically all of these designs have been made by men, to look good.” That needs to be flipped and address things with the woman in mind.
“Not only is it about creating products for women and creating a solution but it’s also creating the industry that needs to be able to drive these changes because I know what it feels like to be very busy in my job, my life and working in the world, but there’s only so much one individual can do unless they have a platform to really drive some change.” “I feel very passionately about creating a company that can help drive that change. I’m very proud of what Thinx is doing with my two founders and I’m very proud what we’re doing with the shoe company, and if one can scale these businesses and create an impact, ….then you really can do good at what you’re creating.”
“It’s tough to watch big companies and businesses that don’t take care of the environment and who don’t care about their workers. It’s tough to see big companies that have so much power and so much ability to drive change and they’re just not doing it. I feel like a new wave is coming of conscience leadership and conscience product creators and I feel it’s the time that women will rise up.”
Necessity Of Invention
Creating and designing is in Antonia’s blood. Raised in Farmington Hills, Michigan, Antonia’s father was the chief designer at General Motors. Growing up, she would watch him conceive ideas on paper and then design them in real life. He brought his work home and showed her renderings of the cars that would be designed, before they were built. Living in a world of design, Antonia would see things through her father’s eyes and saw how design could either benefit or head lives. She was always learning, using all her senses, living in this world of design.
It wasn’t until she was cast as the lead designer of Thinx in 2011, that she knew she had this spark of DNA inside of her. Thinx is a stain-resistant underwear used for a woman’s monthly menstruation. Her co-founders gave her the seed of this idea and as the designer, Antonia had to think of what she would want. Inspired by Sara Blakely, who wrote her own patent for her shapewear, Antonia sat down and wrote the patent herself. She had to envision factors such as leak-proof material, layers, fabric, styles, and more and pieced it all together. She set up the operations of the company, and did all sorts of things she didn’t even know she could do. “I was driven by wanting the product to exist for myself, and knew other women would want it too.” Due to the revolutionary self-absorbing undergarment which eliminates the need for tampons or pads she’s been called a ‘feminist genius.’
Another necessity of invention came as Antonia was working at the Centre for Social Innovation in New York. The co-working space is a community of organizations that are on a socially conscience mission. Historically, Thinx’s one for one model, gave a pack of seven washable reusable cloths pads for girls in a developing country. In parts of the world, girls will miss school which leads to falling behind in class to where some will have to drop out just because they have their period. Because of this mission and innovative product, they were asked to be part of the social innovation and won free office space. With their headquarters on one side of the city, and having to go to the west side of NYC, where there were no trains close by, Antonia’s feet were killing her. “I’ve gone to events where I can’t even focus because my feet hurt so much,” Antonia reflected, “you can’t as a woman, be distracted by something as simple as your feet.” That’s when the idea of the shoe company started coming alive.
The High-Tech Heel
Antonia Saint NY was possibly one of the most successful crowdfunding companies in her category, raising over $2 million on Kickstarter in under 2 months. The high-tech heel with a sneaker feel believes that you can’t be held back by something as simple as footwear. Not only technologically advanced, the shoe is one of the most durable ones you will ever know. Available in both high-heels and flats, Antonia also wanted buyers to be able to custom-size their shoes. 60% of the population have feet that are differently sized including Antonia, and wanted to provide women with a more personalized offer and solution in multiple ways. “I’m so sick of fast fashion” Antonia told me, “and creating products that fall apart….that doesn’t keep up with the rigors of life.” Designing for both the shoes and underwear, Antonia wanted the best quality materials and created components and construction for the shoes to last longer.
To push through the challenging times, Antonia has had a circle of people who were there for her. When she started at Thinx co-founders Miki and Radha Agrawal and Antonia were all best friends and inspired by each other and inspired in each others presence. “They gave me the courage to quit my job and focus on (Thinx) full-time.” She was also given courage by her incredible partner, Obed Cepeda. He was the first investor and believer of Thinx and was instrumental in the beginning of their company. “If it wasn’t for a man, this man, I’m not sure if things would even exist.”
Antonia worked 9 months on the Kickstarter video and helping create the product, and Obed was there every step of the way. And he joined Antonia in her shoe company and became a Co-Founder and CFO of Antonia Saint NY. “If you see one figure head, leading a company, know that it’s often a team of people who supports that person. At Thinx there were smart hires in the beginning and key people (Veronica Del Rosario and Matthew Michealson) that were go-getters and sacrificed a lot of time and energy in making the company a success.”
At Antonia Saint NY, the shoe company was supported by many people and who helped make the product happen, which was amazing to Antonia. 7,000 people around the world believed in her product which helped them raise over $2 million in a short amount of time. “It does take a team of believers to make something happen. It’s very hard to do something alone.”
Even though there are so many challenges Antonia is inspired by her team and is dedicated to creating the solution that she knows we all need. “I feel like other shoe companies really aren’t, and not fulfilling the needs due to a things like shareholders, margins, etc. I created a shoe that I would wear….and have faith in the process.” Antonia went on to say, “at the heart of any good business you have to keep getting better. Things change (ie: manufacturing, products, technology, materials, etc.) and as long as you’re keeping an eye on innovation, then I think you can have a very successful trajectory for your product and I’m dedicated to that.” It’s a growing process and it drives Antonia to create a better product. “Preparation and being present in the moment is what you need to help you seize the opportunity so let’s equip you with the most support that you can have to respond to the opportunity when it’s in front of you.”
Bio: Nominated as one of Women 2.0’s “Top Female Founders to Watch”, and called a “Feminist Genius” by the press for the invention of THINX (#17 on the Inc 5000 Fastest Growing Co’s in the U.S. of 2018, CNBC’s “Top 50 Disruptors” of 2018, Fast Company’s “Most Innovative” Co’s of 2017, Entrepreneur’s “Most Brilliant” Co’s of 2016, and one of TIME Magazine’s “Top 25 Inventions for 2015”), Antonia is passionate about disruptive innovation to provide solutions for women.