From Kitchen Tables to Billion-Dollar Brands: The Unstoppable Branding Queens

We celebrate the second year since the release of the award-winning Branding Queens in bookstores and online. We are thankful for the many readers who have embraced the twenty women in Branding Queens who defied societal norms and gender barriers to build enduring branding empires that have stood the test of time. Their stories of passion, innovation, and perseverance continue to inspire generations of women in business today. Since writing this book, these brands have continued to grow and evolve; in some cases, they have stumbled. Here is an update on the twenty iconic brands:

Sara Blakely | Sara revolutionized undergarments when she founded Spanx in 2000. Over two decades later, the innovative shapewear and apparel brand is valued at about $1.2 billion after attracting high-profile investors like Oprah Winfrey and Reese Witherspoon. With new CEO Caroline Whitton and a 100 percent female management board, Spanx continues evolving Sara’s vision of empowering women through body-positive solutions.

Tory Burch | What began as Tory’s desire to revive a preppy-chic aesthetic has flourished into a $2 billion fashion empire. While her husband now runs operations, Burch remains the chief creative force, ensuring her innovative style guides the brand’s future from her wardrobe to the next generations.

Debbi Fields | Debbi’s simple yet delicious chocolate chip cookie recipe was the foundation for the Mrs. Fields Cookies craze that swept malls across America in the 1980s-90s. Though no longer involved, Fields’ original vision of baking bliss remains baked into the brand’s identity as a beloved icon of Americana.

Oprah Winfrey | For over 25 years, Oprah used her media mogul status to inspire and uplift millions worldwide. This year, at 70, Winfrey courageously acknowledged how her promotion of diets contributed to societal shaming. This self-awareness reflects the authenticity that allowed her to build an empire based on truth and human connection.

Dame Anita Roddick | A true pioneer of ethical capitalism, Dame Anita founded The Body Shop in 1976 with a vision of creating natural, cruelty-free beauty products. Her values sparked a global movement that transformed the industry. However, under Aurelius’ ownership, The Body Shop has faced financial difficulties, including closing all its stores in North America, struggling in the UK, and losing its way without Dame Anita’s guiding vision.

Martha Stewart | Martha built a multimedia conglomerate from her genius for elevating domesticity into an aspirational lifestyle brand. At 82, Martha’s insistence on remaining effortlessly chic and culturally relevant personifies the enduring influence of the empire she created from scratch. Her name alone evokes authority and elegant taste, even in a bathing suit.

Elisabeth Claiborne | Defying norms, Liz founded her eponymous sportswear brand in 1976 to provide affordable yet stylish options for working women. Decades later, the Liz Claiborne brand remains a fashion staple sold through retailers like JCPenney by upholding Liz’s vision of making modern professional women feel confident but, unfortunately, not making the cover of fashion magazines anymore.

Lillian Vernon | A pioneering purveyor of unique gifts and home goods, Lillian Vernon built an iconic catalog business from her kitchen table in 1951. Her brand’s legacy of curating unique personalized gifts and home goods lives on through the Lillian Vernon Company’s popular website.

Queen Elizabeth II | As Britain’s longest-reigning monarch until her death on September 8, 2022, Queen Elizabeth II personified the enduring strength of the Royal Family brand through over 70 years of transition. Her unwavering duty reinforced the monarchy’s stability and continued under her son, King Charles III.

Mary Kay Ash | Tired of gender discrimination, Mary Kay drew from her decades of experience to launch her revolutionary cosmetics company for women in 1963. Her founding principle of prioritizing faith first laid the groundwork for Mary Kay Inc. to become a multibillion-dollar global empire of economic empowerment. In 2022, her grandson Ryan Rogers became CEO, continuing the family’s mission.

Katharine Graham | As owner and publisher of The Washington Post, Katharine oversaw the paper’s groundbreaking Watergate coverage that upheld democracy. Her integrity and leadership transformed the Post into one of the world’s most respected media brands, recently named the #1 digital source among global opinion leaders. As of 2023, the Post has won 73 Pulitzer Prizes.

Ruth Handler | Ruth’s pioneering vision of creating a doll celebrating womanhood transformed children’s toys forever when Barbie debuted in 1959. Over 60 years later, Handler’s creation remains a cultural icon, with the 2023 box office hit Barbie movie reinvigorating Mattel’s sales for new generations. As she said in the film, “We mothers stand still so our daughters can look back to see how far they’ve come.”

Estée Lauder | Estée’s bold entrepreneurial vision sparked a global beauty empire worth billions. The company remains a corporate vanguard for women’s leadership, with females comprising over half of the international executive ranks and 60 percent of the R&D staff. It ranked #2 on Forbes 2023 World’s Top Companies for Women list. Lauder’s original values of quality and opportunity for women continue driving the brand’s innovation and success.

Olive Ann Beech | Olive Ann shattered glass ceilings when she co-founded Beechcraft in 1932 and became one of the first women to lead a major aircraft company. Her pursuit of performance and efficiency guides Textron’s (the company that owns the brand today) ongoing refinements to the iconic Beechcraft Bonanza, celebrated in 2022 for 75 years of aeronautical excellence.

Margaret Rudkin | When Margaret founded Pepperidge Farm in 1937 to bake nutritious bread for her son, she sparked a revolution in baked goods. Her commitment to quality ingredients laid the foundation for Pepperidge Farm’s reputation as a beloved Campbell’s brand for over 63 years.

Coco Chanel | Coco’s namesake fashion house remains an unparalleled luxury brand over a century after its 1910s founding. Under CEO Leena Nair’s leadership, the company pioneers a compassionate yet business-savvy approach with over 60 percent female management, generating billions while championing workplace equity.

Elizabeth Arden | When Elizabeth launched her iconic Eight Hour Cream in 1930, she revolutionized the beauty industry. Nearly a century later, the brand is revolutionizing again by tapping into Gen Z with the Eight Hour HydraPlay Skin Perfecting Daily Moisturizer line. Elizabeth Arden is cultivating the next generation of cult classic products and consumers by strategically merging its prestigious heritage with modern formulas.

Madam CJ Walker | Madam CJ defied racial barriers to become America’s first self-made Black female millionaire in 1906 through her pioneering haircare brand for Black women. Over a century later, her great-great-granddaughter partnered with Walmart to launch Madam by Madam CJ Walker, an affordable haircare line inspiring new generations with Walker’s legacy that goes beyond beauty.

Anna Bissell | Anna transformed household cleaning when her husband invented the first carpet sweeper in 1876, founding the BISSELL company. Today, BISSELL is a leading floor care brand in a growing market, upholding Anna’s vision of innovative home maintenance solutions.

Barbe Nicole Clicquot – Veuve Clicquot champagne became synonymous with quality and innovation thanks to Barbe Nicole’s business savvy after assuming control in 1805. Her daring achievements, like the revolutionary riddling system, solidified the brand’s prestigious identity that still commands luxury pricing today.

The Timeless Power of Customer-Focused Brands

The enduring success of the brands created by these Branding Queens underscores the power of staying relevant, customer-focused, and caring—principles these visionary women understood well before it became fashionable. Their ability to tap into core human needs and desires laid the foundation for branding empires that remain cultural touchstones today. In an era of disruption, the longevity of their brands stands as a testament to the importance of keeping the customer at the center while evolving with purpose and authenticity. The Branding Queens’ stories inspire entrepreneurs to build brands that customers love.

If you haven’t read Branding Queens, you can find a copy here.