Posted February 21, 2023

The Women Who Shaped L.A. and Local Women-Owned Businesses to Support Now


When the National Association of Women Business Owners did their latest crunching of numbers, they shared this: LA’s women-owned businesses make up nearly 50% of Los Angeles County’s revenue and the number of businesses grows year over year over year. The thrum of thousands of women-owned businesses feed, clothe, inspire, and support locals and visitors every single day. For International Women’s Day, let’s take a trip down memory lane – we’ll start with the pioneers who advocated for arts, the environment, and civil rights and end with our definitive guide to women-owned businesses to bookmark ASAP. 

Los Angeles: The city of female entrepreneurs. (Photo Credit: @sydnesummer)

Lillian Disney

Once upon a time, an ink artist at Disney Studio met Walt Disney and the rest was fairytale history. While Walt ushered in the era of animation and amusement park delight, Lillian wove her magic throughout the city in other ways. Without Lillian, scores of musicians would never have graced the halls of Gehry-designed Walt Disney Concert Hall. A lifelong patron of the arts, the Concert Hall was backed by Lillian’s generous $50 million gift and she also helped fund the founding of The California Institute of the Arts. To top it off, we have Lillian to thank for swapping Mortimer Mouse for Mickey Mouse – phew (sorry to the Mortimers out there). 

Lillian Disney was a patron of the arts and the Walt Disney Concert Hall. (Photo Credit: Jeremy Bishop)

Harriet Strong

Long before it was the norm, Harriet was talking about water irrigation and conservation. After realizing how much water her walnut crop needed, she designed a better irrigation system to thoughtfully manage her water usage. From there, she went on to create multiple water irrigation patents that controlled LA’s dams and reservoirs and, eventually, the Hoover dam. Honored at the Chicago World’s Fair for her innovative inventions, she appealed to Congress to use her work to store and manage floodwater, knowing it would have a lasting impact on local communities. 

Norma Merrick Sklarek

A graduate of Columbia University’s School of Architecture, Norma broke barriers as one of the industry’s first African American architects. She was discriminated against and rejected by countless firms and when hired, was given demoralizing projects such as bathroom design. In the early 60s, she moved out West and became the first Black woman to get her architect license in California, teaching courses at UCLA and USC and eventually founding an all-female architecture firm. Her legacy includes the Pacific Design Center, Terminal 1 at LAX, and the U.S. Embassy in Tokyo – no big deal.

Norma Merrick Sklarek designed Terminal 1 at LAX. (Photo Credit: Ryan Miller)

Caroline Severance

Known as the “Mother of Clubs,” Caroline was the driving force behind many of the city’s historic clubs and societies. She advocated for the Los Angeles Public Library and fought tirelessly for women’s rights. Under her wing, organizations in the city tackled everything from public education to job portals, while family adoption and access to free literature flourished. An abolitionist and suffragist, she rubbed shoulders with Susan B. Anthony and served as president of the LA County Woman Suffrage League. Needless to say, she was widely celebrated when California became the 6th state to permit women to vote. 

Women-Owned Businesses to Check Out in Los Angeles

Still Life Ceramics – Ana Henton + Mel Keedle

Ceramic artists Ana and Mel have created an inviting studio space that features their own work along with local artists, tools, and supplies. Perfect for all levels, their classes cover wheel and hand building basics along with deeper workshops into specialty areas like Raku Firing and Colorful Slipcasting. Budding makers who can’t quite fit a pottery wheel in their apartment can also sign up for a membership for discounts on firings, shelf storage and more. 

When in Los Angeles, treat yourself to a visit at Still Life Ceramics. (Photo Credit: Mel Keedle)

Vinovore – Coly Den Haan

Celebrating unsung women winemakers, Silverlake’s Vinovore is a one-stop shop for all things wine, women, and whimsy. Sommelier and owner Coly Den Haan hand selects varietals each month for its Wolfpack Wine Club and also makes space for women-made sake and beer. For book lovers, Ms. Readmore is a dedicated trove in the shop that features female authors and, you guessed it, wine and book pairings.

Handpicked natural wines every month? Count. us. in. (Photo Credit: The Wine Zine)

Sustain LA – Leslie VanKeuren Campbell

Founder Leslie spent years learning about global sustainability, resource management, sustainable recycling, and environmental studies to open up her dream business: Sustain LA. Catering to both businesses and individuals, the shop’s Highland Park Refill Station’s inventory of household and toiletry essentials make it easy for shoppers to use refillable containers for soaps, shampoos, cleaners, etc (DIY also encouraged). You can rent their partyware to throw a more mindful zero waste party or tap them to consult on sustainable choices for company event planning and production.

Looking for sustainable cleaning options? Check out Sustain LA. (Photo Credit: Svitlana)

The Plus Bus – Jen Wilder + Marcy Guevara-Prete

The Plus Bus is part consignment shop, part styling studio, and 100% curvy joy and body positivity. Back in 2015, BFFs Jean and Marcy had plenty of spare clothes with no way to share them with plus-sized fashionistas. Now with a dedicated boutique in Highland Park and daily Instagram Live sales, The Plus Bus carries a fabulous selection of vintage, gently used, and brand new plus size clothing and accessories. Plan ahead if you want to book one of their in-store styling sessions and keep an eye out for upcoming community partner events like Curvy Babe Yoga and Fat Babe Skate. 

Genever – Roselma Samala, Christine Sumiller, and Tricia Perez

Genever’s Filipina co-founders met at UCLA and bonded over their mutual love for gin. Located in LA’s Filipinotown, Genever was born to pay homage to their Filipino roots, flavors, culture, and history. The speakeasy menu is high-touch, with extra love put into house-made syrups, shrubs, and local ingredients – all elevating the best of gin’s botanical notes. Try the Pinoygroni made with hibiscus, mango, and lemongrass infused gin and coconut oil washed vermouth.   

Love gin? Us too. Check out Genever in L.A. — a speakeasy dedicated entirely to gin. (Photo Credit: Kitera Dent)

Where to stay: The Kimpton Everly Hotel, Kimpton Hotel Wilshire, Kimpton Hotel Palomar LA – Beverly Hills, Kimpton La Peer Hotel 

Check out our full series celebrating International Women’s Day by following the tag below.


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