Weighted blankets, all-in-one cookware pieces, and sustainable cleaners have made them all household names.

By Jamie Weissman
May 25, 2021
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Have you ever wondered how to turn your dreams of owning your own business into a reality? We can help. Each week, as part of our Self Made series, we showcase female entrepreneurs—as well as their quality, handmade goods—and share their best advice related to starting, maintaining, and growing your own business.

They say the best inventions are ones that solve a problem, and when it comes to some of the best-selling products out there, it couldn't ring more true. From Our Place's Always Pan and Away's suitcases to Hill House Home's Nap Dress and more, there are tons of female-founded businesses creating best-selling products that make life easier—and even more stylish, too.  

To get the scoop on some of the most popular must-haves on the market created by women, we spoke with seven female founders on how they created their signature products. From personal inspiration to career changes, here are their stories.  

Their Inspiration

Personal experience is a common thread that weaves some of the best products out there together. Case in point: Our Place's Always Pan ($145, fromourplace.com). When Our Place co-founder Shiza Shahid and her partner were shopping for cookware, they were hard-pressed to find anything but large sets of pots, pans, and tools. "As home-cooks, we didn't need professional tools and we certainly didn't have the space, time, or budget for them," says Shahid. The result? The Always Pan, one single piece of versatile cookware that's meant to replace eight individual pots and pans. Designed with home cooks in mind, the internet-famous pan is offered in vibrant colors and is gorgeous enough to display all the time.

Personal experience was also a key factor for Kathrin Hamm, who created Bearaby's Cotton Napper weighted blankets ($249, bearaby.com). During her career as an economist with the World Bank, her on-the-road lifestyle led to insomnia that was solved with the help of weighted blankets. "Weighted blankets have been around for more than 60 years, primarily used in the medical community," says Hamm. "But when I couldn't find a weighted blanket that was breathable, stylish, or sustainable, I knew I had to set out to create one." Since they launched in 2018 with The Cotton Napper, Bearaby has expanded with various styles, colors, and sizes. "The most rewarding part of Bearaby's success is hearing firsthand from customers, especially those suffering from chronic conditions and frequent pain that our products have provided them with much-needed peace of mind, bringing them great relief during some of their most challenging times," adds Hamm.

For Blueland's Sarah Paiji Yoo, starting her own family was the catalyst for her brand. After becoming a new mom, the founder began researching the amount of microplastics in both tap and bottled water—a concern for when she began making formula for her son. "I soon realized how difficult it actually is to do so since many household items use single-use plastic in their packaging," she says. "This ultimately is what led me to found Blueland, as no one should have to sacrifice a clean home and clean clothes for a clean planet."

Making a Best-Selling Product

Though there's no crystal ball to predict a product's success, there are a few key considerations to keep in mind that might help. According to Nell Diamond, founder and CEO of Hill House Home, timing, design, and value are what make for a must-have. Such was the case with The Nap Dress ($75, hillhousehome.com), a product now synonymous with her brand. "I wanted a garment I could throw on and still feel put together no matter how busy I was or where I was going," says Diamond. "When the Nap Dress was in development, I did wonder if it was a 'Nell Thing'—something only I cared about. When we launched our first Nap Dress collection, we realized pretty quickly that the combination of comfort, style, and price really worked."

For Jen Rubio, CEO and co-founder of Away (from $45, awaytravel.com), both form and function, as well as an emotional connection to a product, are what it's all about. "Before Away, luggage brands were merely talking about the utilitarian features of their products," she adds. "Companies weren't talking about travel, harnessing its emotional resonance and fostering a community around it."

According to Otherland's founder Abigail Cook Stone, a visually-appealing product will go a long way with customers as well. For each candle collection, the brand works with different artists to make gorgeous designs customers will be excited to unbox. "When their purchase arrives and the customer unboxes each layer of artwork, texture, detail, and scent, they then become the storyteller—sharing on social media what about the artwork and scent descriptions inspired them to buy, and how they're using it," says Cook Stone. "The candle becomes much more than just its scent notes, say rose or red currant, and is part of what differentiates us from traditional candle brands."

The Manufacturing Process

Sometimes when a great idea strikes, the hardest part is getting started. For Sarah Kauss, founder and executive chairwoman of S'well, the first step was using her network for advice. "I was a trained accountant and didn't have a background in product design or manufacturing. So, I started a business plan and designed the bottle in PowerPoint. Then I invited as many people as I could to coffee to learn how I might bring this idea to life," says Kauss. "The process was a true testament to the power of community and one's network."

Creating a Sense of Community

Though the marketing success is naturally a rewarding part of any best-seller, other common themes come to mind: community and connection. Whether it's a stylish dress or dreamy scented candle and beyond, some products truly bring people together. For Diamond, who engages with shoppers online, a community has been a major outcome of the Nap Dress's success. "We have the most amazing community of customers that are constantly sharing photos of themselves wearing the Nap Dress on Instagram. One of the most rewarding parts of the Nap Dress's success has been hearing about when and where they are wearing The Nap Dress and how good it makes them feel," she says.

Cook Stone agrees, citing the way Otherland's fragrances have brought people together. "The most rewarding part of Otherland's success has been building and engaging with our community," she says. "We've used it to connect over a love of fragrance, art, and design while amplifying important voices and celebrating female creators and business owners."

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