To celebrate International Women’s Day this Sunday, we take a look at the women who are changing the retail sector.

Maria Raga, chief executive, Depop

Maria Raga is changing how young people shop – and creating a platform on which many of them can start a business.

Depop, the business she has led since 2016, is a “fashion marketplace for Gen Z” in Raga’s own words.

maria raga

Maria Raga, Depop

It’s a business built on mobile and is part second-hand shopping site, part social media. Think Ebay crossed with Instagram.

Sellers trade second-hand or vintage clothes via the app, which, like most social media networks, enables users to ‘like’ items and follow sellers to keep up-to-date with what they are selling.

The format resonates with young shoppers who are immersed in social media day in, day out. In fact, 90% of its 18 million users are under 26.

The site is helping some teenage sellers make more than just pocket money. In fact, six-figure sums (Depop takes a 10% cut of each sale) are being made by some and, what’s more, the model is also promoting sustainable fashion.

Many simply sell items they’ve worn – and therefore have posted images of themselves wearing on social media – from fast fashion players like Boohoo, Asos and Pretty Little Thing, giving the items a second life.

Raga, a former Groupon director, joined Depop in 2014 when she was 35, working in operations and finance. When the founding chief executive left two years later, she was asked to take charge.

The Spaniard has led cataclysmic growth at the business ever since. Sales surged 85% in 2018, its last reported year, and the Shoreditch-based company is now active in 147 countries.

Depop is now focused on cracking the US and raised $62m last year, which it will use to triple its number of users in the country.

Helena Helmersson, chief executive, H&M

Helena Helmersson is the woman charged with leading the world’s second largest fashion retailer into the new era.

Helena Helmersson CEO HM group

Helena Helmersson, H&M

Helmersson, who took the top job at H&M in late January, is the first women to lead the fast fashion powerhouse. 

She has the sizeable tasks of integrating H&M’s store and digital offers, investing in technology and ensuring the group has the best product assortment to keep her busy.

Swedish-born Helmersson has a Master’s degree in international business administration and has spent nearly 23 years working her way up the ranks at H&M.

She was most recently chief operating officer – a post she held for just over a year – at the fashion retailer, which turned over SEK230bn (£18bn) in its last financial year.

With experience across supply chain, IT and AI, stores, production and sustainability, Helmersson has a broad skillset to help H&M, which grew pre-tax profit by 11% to SEK17.39bn (£1.39bn), keep firing on all cylinders.

Jennifer Hyman, chief executive, Rent The Runway

Another change in how we buy fashion has been driven by Jennifer Hyman.

New Yorker Hyman, along with co-founder Jennifer Fleiss – her classmate at Harvard Business School – launched Rent the Runway, a business that rents rather than sells designer clothing, back in 2009.

Rent the Runway

Rent the Runway

Its aim was to give professional women the option to hire designer labels they might not otherwise be able to afford.

Rent the Runway offers a variety of price points for its membership schemes, ranging from $89 per month to rent up to four items on a monthly rotation up to $159 to rent an unlimited number of clothing items from its pool of more than 650 brands, whenever customers want, for as long as they want.

It now has more than 11 million members, holds a valuation of more than $1bn and has attracted high-profile backers including Alibaba founder Jack Ma and Bain Capital Ventures.

Rent the Runway’s stratospheric rise has made retailers sit up and take notice.

Last year, big names ranging from Bloomingdale’s to Urban Outfitters unveiled plans to launch their own clothing subscription models. And Rent the Runway itself has teamed up with upmarket US department store Nordstrom, allowing shoppers to pick up and return their goods from Nordstrom Local branches. Global giant H&M is also trialling a rental service.

As the practice of renting rather than buying clothes grows, front-runner Rent the Runway will certainly benefit.

Jane Shepherdson CBE, chair, My Wardrobe HQ

But Hyman faces stiff competition from other specialists and British fashion heavyweight Jane Shepherdson has thrown her might behind My Wardrobe HQ, a UK start-up trying to make fashion rental mainstream.

Jane Shepherdson, Whistles

Jane Shepherdson, My Wardrobe HQ

And if anyone knows how to build a brand, it’s Shepherdson. She is one of British fashion’s most high-profile operators.

As brand director of Topshop from 1998 to 2006, she made the retailer the place for young people to shop before working her magic at Whistles, where she was chief executive from 2008 until 2016.

Her desire to make fashion more sustainable led her to take the chair role at My Wardrobe HQ late last year, her first non-executive position since leaving Whistles.

She has already boosted My Wardrobe HQ’s profile and set about widening its customer base by attracting more accessible brands to the rental site.

Last month, the business launched a six-week pop-up in Liberty as it broadens its reach further. 

Shepherdson is a keynote speaker at Retail Week’s Be Inspired conference on June 17, where she will be sharing lessons from her journey to the top.

Don’t miss Retail Week’s Be Inspired conference

Be Inspired conference 2020

Retail Week’s Be Inspired programme exists to promote diversity and inclusion at all levels across retail and to encourage people to fulfil their career aspirations.

On June 17, 2020, we bring the programme to life at the Be Inspired conference. 

Get your ticket here and join us at The Brewery, London, to hear from a line-up of amazing speakers.

Emily Weiss, founder, Glossier

Emily Weiss is the founder of cult US beauty brand Glossier, which is transforming how women buy make-up.

Emily Weiss

Emily Weiss, Glossier

Loved by millennials, influencers and editors alike, her natural-look beauty brand reaches customers through social media – it has 2.7 million Instagram followers – and bypasses selling via traditional retailers.

American Weiss launched Glossier in 2014 when she was just 29 years old. The brand was born out of beauty blog Into the Gloss, which she set up while working as an assistant to the style director of US Vogue.

From the blog, which featured interviews with everyone “from Kim Kardashian to the girl with pink hair who worked at a coffee shop and had cool style”, she gained insights on what women would want from a beauty brand and Glossier was born.

Weiss saw the importance of blogs and social media as consumers started to look to peers and influencers for advice and inspiration, rather than fashion magazines.

Glossier’s digital-first DTC model gives it a communication channel to customers, which the company involves in the creation of its products.

It has certainly struck a chord with shoppers – all 3 million of them. Last year, Glossier closed a $100m series D funding round led by Sequoia Capital that valued the company at $1.2bn.

Dame Sharon White, chair, John Lewis Partnership

New John Lewis Partnership chair Dame Sharon White will certainly have an important role in what UK retail will look like in the coming years.

Dame Sharon White

Sharon White, John Lewis Partnership

Former Ofcom chief executive White joins the Partnership at a pivotal time. Yesterday, the group revealed profits plunged 23.1% in its financial year to January 25, 2020, and it slashed its annual bonus to the lowest level for more than 60 years.

Meanwhile, senior executives have been leaving in droves following the unveiling of a baffling new management structure, and trading at John Lewis has been lacklustre as the future of department stores as a whole has been called into question.

Just a month into her tenure, White has called a strategic review to “secure the Partnership not just for the next five years, but for the next 100”.

With everything from store closures to its ‘Never Knowingly Undersold’ promise on the table, White could change Britain’s best loved retailer dramatically over the next few years.

Jessica Anuna, chief executive, Klasha

Alibaba founder Jack Ma predicts Africa will be the next China when it comes to ecommerce.

Jessica Anuna

Jessica Anuna, Klasha

“The digital revolution has the potential to drive tremendous – and inclusive – economic prosperity for Africa. But we need digital entrepreneurs to create the companies that can make all this possible,” he wrote in The New York Times last year.

One of those entrepreneurs is Jessica Anuna, the 27-year-old founder and chief executive of Klasha, dubbed the African Asos.

Based in Lagos, Nigeria, and Dubai, Klasha brings affordable fast fashion to Africa’s millennials.

And it’s a burgeoning market. Anuna told Business Insider that Nigerian shoppers imported more than $4bn worth of fashion into the country in 2018.

Nigeria, where Klasha offers same-day delivery, is just one country it serves. It delivers across all of Africa within five days and even fulfils orders to the UK and US.

Anuna, who has worked at both Net-a-Porter and Amazon, was one of 25 African entrepreneurs selected to join the first eFounders initiative, sponsored by Alibaba and the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development. She was also listed in Forbes Africa’s New Wealth Creators last year.

As Africa’s economy improves – four of the fastest-growing economies in the world in 2019 were in Africa, according to The World Bank – and its mobile-obsessed consumers embrace shopping on their phone, Anuna’s Klasha will become increasingly influential.