Inspiring Female Fashion Entrepreneurs: Happy International Women’s Day

Ease Purse Museum with Darley Newman

As we travel the world, we meet a variety of inspiring entrepreneurs of all walks of life, something of personal interest to me as a female entrepreneur and storyteller. In honor of International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month, we’re highlighting three great women in fashion, who’ve carved out a niche and inspire us with their creativity and drive to succeed. Here are three inspiring female fashion entrepreneurs from our global adventures.

#1 Anita Davis in Little Rock, Arkansas

Funky purses and what’s inside at the Esse Purse Museum with founder Anita Davis.

In Little Rock, Arkansas, you can take a look inside women’s purses, exploring their design and contents through each decade of the 20th century at the Esse Purse Museum, the brainchild of Little Rock’s Anita Davis. Though the museum sprung from collector Davis’ personal passion for fashion, it has come to embody much more, defining women’s rights and roles in a sometimes inadvertent and wonderful way.

Each purse on display spills forth with items iconic and relevant to the decade. Dance cards in the early 1900’s transport us to a time when gender roles dictated etiquette. Packets of condoms speak to women’s growing liberation in the 1960’s. Visitors are granted an intimate look inside an often-taboo realm, gaining an appreciation for how things have changed and perhaps a nostalgia for the past.

Purses on display take visitors through history at the Esse Purse Museum.

In meeting Anita Davis, the museum’s owner, I came to have a grand appreciation for this museum’s mission. Though fashion is paramount here, Anita’s goals also encompass a female and mother’s perspectives— wanting her daughters to know the history of the American woman and pass on to the next generation the stories of the trials, celebrations and personalities of each decade. It’s this kind of passionate curator that will make you want to travel inside this small museum. It may encourage you to want to learn more after your visit. I guarantee you’ll never again view a purse as just a simple accessory.

#2 Annemie Verbeke in Brussels, Belgium

Darley Newman with fashion designer Animae Verbeke

Dansaert Street in the Ixelles area of Brussels is where top designers showcase the latest fashions and window shopping is a popular pastime. For over 15 years, Annemie Verbeke has had a shop on Dansaert Street, creating sophisticated, yet relaxed fashion for women. Often recalling the styles of Hollywood screen sirens like Lauren Bacall, Verbeke has been called the queen of Belgian fashion. In a special interview, I met Verbeke in her shop to see her latest collection and learn about Brussels style.

Verbeke studied at what was the Higher Institute Sint-Lucas in Ghent and the Ghent Academy of Fine Arts before launching her collection in 1986. Knitwear is one of Verbeke’s specialties, as are simple yet, versatile designs with fabrics that are ready and easy to wear. As a woman, she has special insight in designing for women, controlling fabrics, textures and shapes to fit women particularly well. Though she creates special occasion designs, she also makes clothing that women can wear daily, a hallmark of her work.

#3 Chailie Ho in Hong Kong

Chailie Ho Designs with Darley Newman at PMQ in Hong Kong

When I met Chailie Ho in her studio store at PMQ in Hong Kong, I loved her and her designs, but her humble, unassuming demeanor masked the talent and awards this female fashion designer has already racked up in her young career. Being honored with the 40 Under 40: The Next Generation of Design Talent Award 2012 by Perspective Magazine, a finalist for the Fashion World Talent Award in 2010 and 100 Best 80s Chinese Designers by Shanghai Designer Club, Chailie Ho designs contemporary womenswear inspired by her city and women’s inner strength.

Silk scarves with Hong Kong’s iconic skyline not only exude excitement, but also a feminine flair for which her collections featuring hand-drawn watercolour prints are so well known. A graduate of the Central Saint Martins College of Art and Design, Chailie Ho is just another example of a woman in fashion we’ve been privileged to meet on our travels and whose story we’re excited to share.

Look for these women in our PBS TV series, Travels with Darley on PBS and Amazon Prime, including in the episodes entitled: “Belgium: Brussels and Beyond”, “Hong Kong Urban Adventures,” and the “Southern States Road Trip.”