Throughout history, women have constantly been in the position of having to prove themselves in order to gain equality and recognition for their contributions. As we come to the close of another year, we end another year of trying times where women were forced to raise their voices and be change makers. It was a year that threatened issues women care about: protections for children, civil rights and the environment, just to name a few. And then came the explosive epidemic of reports of sexual harassment and assault, exposing just how pervasive this problem is for women in all sectors of society. With all that has happened, it’s been hard for many women — and men — not to feel overwhelmed and discouraged. And yet, there is an upside: women are rising. There are 9.1 million woman-owned businesses nationwide, employing 7.9 million employees and generating $1.4 trillion in sales, according to the National Association of Women Business Owners. Through these challenging times, women are not backing down. They are standing strong to the causes they care about and are enacting real change across all sectors of society.

As a female entrepreneur and fashion designer for a company that just turned two years old in such a hectic climate, I was able to reflect and see how these themes have shaped my views on how to run my company. How could I make women feel confident, sexy and powerful in a world where they are in many ways still seen as lesser and are objectified? It led me down a road that I am so effortlessly familiar with: doing things a little differently. To grow my brand and to sell a fashion line entitled “Sexual Aristocracy,” I had to take an out of the box approach to societal norms in fashion. I decided to figure out a way to put my own spin on female empowerment, and I pride my business on its ethical stance of lifting up women at every level.

My goal in everything I do is to instill confidence in women – confidence in buying and confidence in wearing. When a woman puts on one of my designs, I want her to walk into the room feeling bold, beautiful and sexy. She can have every eye in the room on her, yet still feel mysterious. But, this feeling should not be limited to getting dressed up and going out. Women should have this air of confidence and mystique every day. They should be able to boast this style when going to work or running around town. By making my hats versatile, and incorporating detachable parts, it allows women to take a piece and wear it any way they choose. Accents can become belts, chokers, bracelets, broaches, purse accessories, the possibilities are limited only by one’s imagination.

However, this focus on female empowerment begins far before a woman puts on a hat and steps into the spotlight; it begins in my studio. I have ongoing partnerships with Boston University and Simmons for interns who are seeking to break into the fashion industry. They learn marketing strategy, the magic behind photo shoots and how to run a business, however, this is something they could learn in any other studio. I want to go the extra step and enable them to stand out in this elite industry.

My company literally began with a dream one dark night when I awoke with such abrupt clarity, and it instantly drove me into action. I spent the first year studying the classical art of millinery. This is not just a trade from a bygone era, it is a beautiful form of art and expression, both for the milliner and for those donning the designs. Yet, it is an expertise that is less commonly seen today. To this end, I teach this craft to the girls who work with me. It instantly connects them with a niche market, but it can also be applied to any other facet of fashion.

I know from experience how difficult it is to break into the industry. To that end, the models that Soigné uses are girls who have never modeled before, but are looking for their break. I want to give them experience and exposure to jumpstart their career. There are so many challenges to be faced in the fashion and modeling business, so women should build one another up as much as possible, and there is absolutely no down side to setting others up for success.

One of the biggest lessons I have learned so far is the power of networking and using the connections that I have to create opportunities. I strive to use my network to help other women as they look to begin their careers. Soigné would not be where it is today if not for the friends and associates that supported me, and helped connect me with opportunities, and those who have helped spread my brand. If women combine their networks and work together, we can create an even stronger overall impact on society. I am now in a position to give back in the same way that others helped me succeed. All of this is to say, I want those who work with me to leave better prepared and with more connections in order to have more opportunities to break into whatever part of the industry they desire. I have witnessed our models going on to other modeling jobs after the exposure gained through Soigne’s social media and advertisements.  This is rewarding for me to know that I was able to play a small role in helping jumpstart someone else’s career.

It is human nature for individuals to want to prove themselves, which creates an incomparable passion and drive. My interns are learning the ins and outs of the industry so they will be able to make a name for themselves one day.  My models have to demonstrate that they have what it takes to succeed in this era where there is a more critical eye but also huge creative freedom.  As for myself, I want to do something totally different than what is currently being done, and I want to earn the title of the Queen of Accessories. With this goal in mind, I work around the clock, pouring everything I can into this company. My heart and soul go into each hat I make, and I believe that the amount of detail and care that goes into every design shows how much I truly love this craft. Being self-taught, I am still constantly learning and challenging myself to try new ideas and not limit myself. I have found that this has allowed me to become much more creative. I hope that my passion and drive can serve as an inspiration to other women who are just starting out on their own journey.

Boston provides such an inclusive and diverse setting for my company to get established. We are change-makers stepping outside of the box to make our mark. As Soigné continues to grow, we will not only expand our product lines and the number of studios we have, we are also going to grow in the number of people that are positively impacted by our mission. This is only the beginning.