7 NYC Innovators Making Waves This Year

By Phebe Wahl And Lauren Brocato | March 17, 2021 | People Feature

The next wave of innovators has arrived, bringing a flood of fresh energy to New York.

Marie Kouadio Amouzame

PHOTO BY MEG STACKER KING/COURTESY OF EADEM

Growing up, Marie Kouadio Amouzame didn’t see herself reflected in the media—and not in the image of “beauty” that mainstream media projected. So when she struck a friendship with fellow former-tech employee Alice Lin Glover while working at Google, the pair bonded over their shared disappointment in society’s exclusion of colored women in what is deemed as the standard of beauty and what Kouadio Amouzame dubs “the beauty burden,” the fact that women of color spend more time on their beauty routines and are exposed to more chemically toxic products. And thus, Eadem was born. Founded by Kouadio Amouzame and Glover, Eadem is part skincare, part lifestyle brand and is better described as a movement than a good-skin moment. With thoughtfully formulated skincare products designed for women of color and an online community of writers who share their unique stories and experiences through a lens of beauty, the reach and effect of Eadem are vast, and it’s making waves in the beauty industry. Notably, the brand secured a Glossier grant last year. Born in Cote d’Ivoire and raised in France, the now-New Yorker is leading the charge in reshaping the modern standard of beauty, with her outspoken community at her side.

What is your experience with colorism and how did it lead you to create Eadem? Growing up in America, mainstream media projected an image of beauty that was homogenous, but those beauty ideals didn’t have our diversity in mind. Western cultures have historically tried to push their standards in beauty, promoting things like lighter skin and straight hair, putting this aesthetic above all others and ignoring the needs of our hair and skin with melanin. Things like pretty and dark skin usually don’t coexist in the same sentence. Eadem is a brand for all the women of color who’ve ever been made to feel like they’re not beautiful simply because they don’t align with the Western standards of beauty. There’s someone looking out for them too and [who] simply gets it. Because we do.

What’s the inspiration behind the name Eadem? In Latin, Eadem means the same or all. It started as a joke that people think individuals of certain ethnicities all look the same. But on a deeper level, although we all have different backgrounds, stories and appearances, we share invisible bonds that bind us together. These bonds define our daily lives.

What makes Eadem different from other beauty brands for women of color? Most beauty brands go to a manufacturer and tweak existing formulas to launch within months, but for what we wanted to accomplish that was not an option. It’s important that our product formulas are custom and specifically made for our needs and skin with melanin. Vetted by a dermatologist who is a woman of color herself, we designed products rich in vitamin C, azelaic acid and niacinamide. This is actually why we’ve been working on this brand for years, and we’ve applied here the same techniques we’ve learned in tech: we’ve been testing, iterating and perfecting the product until we were obsessed with it.

Marina Larroudé

PHOTO BY GUILHERME BENITES/COURTESY OF LARROUDÉ

“Larroudé believes in making fashion fun, artistic and empowering,” explains Marina Larroudé, founder of her newly debuted eponymous collection, Larroudé. The 20-year fashion veteran teamed up with her financier husband to innovate and develop cloudlike cushions to make wearing their seriously stylish shoes perfectly painless. “Our products feature reimagined classic staples adding the ability to also think of new constructions, and colorways for customers [to] express their moods and personalities,” she says. The forward-thinking team developed a DTC model that includes an initiative QR system that gives each shoe an individual identification that clients can share with their friends to earn and give credits. “I believe in conscious purchases that will last.”

How do you think your innovation fills a void or need in the community? I once did the math and realized I had seen over 3,000 live shows in my lifetime, excluding private appointments. I’ve spent a lot of my life around fashion products. I could find great dresses, sweaters, jeans, all at attainable prices, but not shoes. All good designer shoes were so highly priced, or the cheap ones would fall apart and feel cheap when you wore them. So I took my 20-plus years of knowledge, combined with an incredible shoe designer-technician, and designed and developed a high-end designer shoe using only the best-quality materials. We also cut a lot of middle men in the development and production process and focused on delivering outstanding quality directly to clients. That was my dream, to bring fashion and high-quality items to a much larger audience. I believe in conscious purchases that will last. I’m happy to say we have achieved that.

How do you hope to bring about change? I hope to use our platform to start tough conversations, to break taboos, to help communities and to enhance women’s empowerment, all in a beautiful way. We are not just about beautiful products. We are about sharing everyone’s stories and welcoming new people into the fashion discussion. For our first campaign, I cast several friends to be part of it: Dominique Castelano, whom I met when we were both working at Barneys, and now is a famous transgender model. Then Erin Hazelton, who kicked cancer in the butt and has been raising money toward breast cancer ever since, and so many other incredible women. While for Valentine’s Day, we partnered with Womanizer to give a free Liberty by Lily Allen x Womanizer [sex toy] with any Larroudé purchase—the real shoegasm. But all jokes aside, women’s sexuality and pleasure are one of the hardest conversations to have, and we think the hardest are the ones worth having.

What other news can we buzz for the year ahead? We’re launching sweats this spring with nonprofit organization Spectrum Designs Foundation. Hundred percent of their proceeds support their mission to provide employment and meaningful vocational opportunities to people with autism and related developmental disabilities. They are an amazing organization, and we couldn’t have chosen a better partner.

Shilpa Yarlagadda

PHOTO BY JENNY TARBELL/COURTESY OF SHIFFON/STARTUP GIRL FOUNDATION

Shiffon founder Shilpa Yarlagadda is on a mission to close the gender gap. “Shiffon Co. is a fine jewelry company fueling a movement for female founders to receive equal access to capital,” says Yarlagadda. “Shiffon strives to be a part of the history yet to be created by donating 50% of profits from Duet pinky rings and 19.65% of profits from Duet hoops to fund female entrepreneurs and companies empowering women.” At the mere age of 20, the brilliant female founder launched a pinkie ring from her Harvard dorm room designed to fund female founders. Worn by the likes of Michelle Obama, Serena Williams and Nicole Kidman, so far that little pinkie ring that is a hit in Hollywood and beyond has funded 11 companies, and some of those companies are in turn funding other new companies. “Beyond the capital we are providing founders from jewelry profits, we are building a collaborative network of women through our mentor board and mentorship programs. Our motto at Shiffon is ‘Wear the Change,’ since we design jewelry that’s meaningful and intentional with its impact for women in our world.”

What first sparked your interest in your industry? I first became interested in jewelry when I was in third grade. My grandmother, whom I was very close to, gave me a necklace that to this day I kept aft er she passed away. It was tied to so many memories of my childhood and to her, and that’s when I started to realize fine jewelry is extremely powerful. It’s a symbol, and I felt symbols have so much power when we give them power. So, I always dreamt up that fine jewelry could be even more symbolic and powerful than it already was if it could provide a meaningful contribution to uplift women in our world. I grew up loving jewelry and loving nonprofits for the impact they could have, but I never knew this could manifest into founding Shiff on so we could help bridge the funding gap women are still facing with less than 2.2% of venture capital dollars backing women-led businesses. Because I grew up in Silicon Valley, I was surrounded by incredible startups and founders, but I just didn’t see many women in the fields I was interested in. I wanted to change that but never knew how until I started to look at the margins in fine jewelry. I realized we could create something impactful by using profits to fund female founders.

How do symbols play a role in your work? I believe symbols can serve as a reminder of what we value and want to see in our world. Our Duet pinky ring represents a pinky promise to pay it forward to support women and is in the shape of a spiral to represent spiraling women upward. Our Duet hoops represent our resilience and strength for the hoops we’ve jumped through and the hoops to come.

How do you hope to bring about change? Fine jewelry is a powerful storyteller for women, and my team and I are on a mission to communicate something that we know is really important to young women right now: gender equality. This is something I’ve always been passionate about, and I wanted to do something to uplift women. In my mind, a social-enterprise fine jewelry line was the perfect way to make an impact and bridge the funding gap female entrepreneurs face. When we created Shiff on Co., we also created the Startup Girl Foundation, our nonprofit arm, which is a 501(c)(3) dedicated to funding female entrepreneurs and companies empowering women. Every time the Startup Girl Foundation provides seed investments for a company, the foundation gets a very small percentage of equity in the company it has funded. Since this equity is held by a nonprofit, it can one day be converted to cash flow and fund the next generation of entrepreneurs empowering women. Essentially, the companies we are funding through the foundation are also paying it forward.

Amélie Brick and Lauren Nouchi

PHOTO COURTESY OF APPARIS

Fashion veterans Amélie Brick and Lauren Nouchi witnessed the industry’s unethical manufacturing practices and left their luxury fashion house jobs in 2016 with a commitment to do better. The French duo dynamique started Apparis by selling vegan clothing in a Brooklyn boutique and quickly noted their top seller was their own faux fur jacket favored by the fashion flock. Today the pair have grown the brand to include categories including ready-to-wear, knitwear and home. Cruelty-free, sustainable and named aft er powerful women—their collections resonate and will undoubtedly be the darling of many seasons to come.

What first sparked your interest in faux fur?

LN: We saw a true need in the market for animal-free fur. No one was offering high-quality faux furs in bold and vibrant colors. We thought that it was time to disrupt the industry and challenge it. We strongly believe that you do not need to harm animals to make fashion.

We bring vegan and animal-free alternatives to fashion essentials. We started with outerwear and in 2020 we expanded to knitwear (we introduced our vegan cashmere first collection in collaboration with PETA) and home.

How do you hope to change the industry?

LN: We hope we can offer more ethical and sustainable options to people. We like to say sustainability is [the] goal, and we want to break the code by offering vegan lifestyle products that are following trends. We will be launching our first-ever plant-based outerwear capsule in the fall, which was a big step toward sustainability for us. We are also very excited to expand our home collection with added designs and lastly our first-ever pet collection as well.

Brock Strasbourger and Andy Culp

PHOTO BY BRANDON DARNTON/COURTESY OF HELI

Founded in 2015 by two friends who wanted to go heliskiing, Heli adheres to the mantra to unite through adventure. New York-and Aspen-based co-founder Brock Strasbourger and Aspen-based co-founder and CEO Andy Culp built a travel booking platform focused on outdoor experiences conceived to be a one-stop shop for adventure junkies (think personally vetted itineraries that include all accommodations, dining, activities and gear). “Travelers can use Heli to both research and book luxury adventure experiences like heliskiing, kite surfing, diving, fishing, cycling, surfing, safaris and more,” says Culp. Business is booming as Heli’s offerings proved the perfect pandemic pivot with socially distanced, outdoor offerings organically built in and an increased demand to check bucket list adventures off the list. “We are connecting consumers to some of the best adventure operators around the world in the hopes of making what many consider ‘aspirational’ experiences more accessible.”

What first sparked your interest in launching Heli?

AC: We are ski bums at heart with a passion for all things adventure and adrenaline-related. Initially, we just wanted to make it easier for ourselves and our friends to go heliskiing.

BS: It was time-consuming and tedious to book these types of trips and work out the details. Lots of Google searches, 1-800 numbers and ‘contact us’ forms. We saw a clear opportunity to create a resource and booking tool for this market, so we started Heli and haven’t looked back.

How do you hope to bring about change?

AC: We are driven by our firsthand experiences witnessing customers have their best day ever. The travel adventures we offer through Heli, like heliskiing for example, truly change people’s lives. We’ve always known that’s the case, and we’re glad we have been able to help others find a new appreciation for outdoor adventure.

BS: We’re proud we have been able to help so many small businesses around the world and are excited to continue finding new operators to team up with. Through Heli’s technology and platform, we enable operators to run stronger and more dynamic businesses. Our operator partners offer the most incredible experiences, and we love that we’re able to help connect them with customers.

Danielle Bernstein

PHOTO COURTESY OF DANIELLE BERNSTEIN

As one of the OG Insta influencers, the founder and face behind fashion blog @weworewhat counts over 2 million followers and growing. The native New Yorker started her blog and brand WeWoreWhat as a sophomore in college and hit the Forbes 30 Under 30 list before she was even 25. Today, Danielle Bernstein continues to set the pace with her own Shop WeWoreWhat brands and give-back efforts through the charitable arm of WeWoreWhat, called WeGaveWhat. Perhaps her bigg est power move to date is the launch of MOE Assist (named aft er her former assistant-turned-COO), a game-changing industry innovation that aims to transform the creator economy. “MOE is an all-in-one tool for influencers to manage their projects, invoice clients and get paid,” she explains. “We created MOE to be able to put the power back into creators’ hands and help legitimize the industry through providing tools and content to an underserved segment of digital entrepreneurs.”

What first sparked the idea to launch MOE? Creating MOE Assist was inspired by my six-year assistant-turned-COO, Moe Paretti, who would keep all of the details regarding our projects and collaborations in her notebook. Over time we tried different online tools but quickly learned there wasn’t a fit for our unique business workflows. We settled on Google spreadsheets and shared notes on our phones. Through our network of influencer-friends, it became a running joke that ‘everyone needed a Moe.’

With the growth of influencer marketing, we wanted to create a tool that made it easier to manage and track details of collaborations so that our customers could be more organized and efficient. Many of our customers don’t have an assistant, and over 90% of them were using no tool at all. With MOE we created one central place to upload contracts, keep track of deliverables and dates, get brand approvals, send invoices to clients and get paid.

How do you hope to bring about change? As a $15 billion industry, influencer marketing still lacks process and tools. We think this challenge exists for the small-business owner and the enterprise. In one of our surveys, influencers revealed that they did not view themselves as entrepreneurs and had not established an LLC. We hope to bridge the gap where tools are needed, but also want to continue to help legitimize the industry.

Lara Eurdolian LaraEurdolianPrettyConnectedheadshot.jpg

After sharpening her skincare skills as a beauty insider working for brands like NARS, Kiehl’s and Jurlique, Lara Eurdolian launched N.Y.-based accessories brand Pretty Connected. When the pandemic hit the Big Apple, the beauty and lifestyle expert was quick to pivot her ultrachic camera chains to meet the new normal of face mask wearing. Spotted on the likes of Sarah Jessica Parker, Kesha, Danielle Fishel and many more, Pretty Connected’s face mask chains are the accessory of the moment indeed.

How did you launch the business? I’ve always had a passion for storytelling and trend forecasting, especially in identifying white spaces in the market. Prior to camera phones being such high quality, I was always on the go, bouncing between events and carrying my Sony mirrorless camera. With a lack of cool strap options, I started making my own. Aft er years of getting compliments and requests from my fellow editors and friends to purchase them, I started manufacturing them in 2017. As I found more uses for the chain over the years, I rebranded it as a multiuse chain and encouraged my audience to inspire new ways to style and wear them. With the pandemic, we discovered another need, an easy way for our audience to wear their mask to avoid forgetting it at home or, worse, leave it on a park bench (which, from the amount of fan notes we received, seems to happen oft en). We then got requests for more versatile chains for men, kids… so we expanded our mask chain offerings for more unisex options, kids as well as simpler, superlightweight styles for frontline workers. Be on the lookout for some major collaborations and new products coming soon!



Photography by: FROM TOP: PHOTO BY MEG STACKER KING/COURTESY OF EADEM; PHOTO BY GUILHERME BENITES/COURTESY OF LARROUDÉ; PHOTO BY JENNY TARBELL/COURTESY OF SHIFFON/STARTUP GIRL FOUNDATION; PHOTO COURTESY OF APPARIS; PHOTO BY BRANDON DARNTON/COURTESY OF HELI; PHOTO COURTESY OF DANIELLE BERNSTEIN; PHOTO COURTESY OF PRETTY CONNECTED

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