Among the revelations found in Forbes’s ranking of America’s wealthiest self-made women are the fact that Kylie Jenner is by far the richest Kardashian, people are still buying a ton of Alex + Ani bracelets, and that women entrepreneurs have always found particular success in fashion and beauty.
Let’s start with the biggest headliner here: Kylie Jenner, the cover star of the issue, came in at No. 27 on the list with an estimated net worth of $900 million. That fortune comes largely from her Kylie Cosmetics empire, which started with a simple $29 lip kit back in February 2016 (just two years ago!) and has since sold more than $630 million worth of eyeshadow palettes, highlighters, and more. She still maintains 100 percent ownership over the company, which means it’s likely that within the next year she’ll beat out Mark Zuckerberg to become the youngest self-made billionaire — man or woman — ever.
“Basically, all Jenner does to make all that money is leverage her social media following,” writes Forbes. Here’s how the rest of the business operates:
Her near-billion-dollar empire consists of just seven full-time and five part-time employees. Manufacturing and packaging? Outsourced to Seed Beauty, a private-label producer in nearby Oxnard, California. Sales and fulfillment? Outsourced to the online outlet Shopify. Finance and PR? Her shrewd mother, Kris, handles the actual business stuff, in exchange for the 10% management cut she takes from all her children. As ultralight startups go, Jenner’s operation is essentially air. And because of those minuscule overhead and marketing costs, the profits are outsize and go right into Jenner’s pocket.
Kylie’s just one of the 17 women on the list (there are 60 total) who have made their name in the fashion and retail space, with seven of those in cosmetics and skin care. There are also two major beauty newcomers: Anastasia Soare, the founder of eyebrow empire Anastasia Beverly Hills (No. 21, worth $1 billion), and Huda Kattan, the beauty blogger and founder of Huda Beauty (No. 37, worth $550 million), which WWD attributes to “soaring cosmetic sales among Gen Z.”
Many of the fashion entrepreneurs on the list are established players — Gap co-founder Doris Fisher (No. 8), inventor of Spanx Sara Blakely (No. 21), Forever 21 co-founder Jin Sook Chang (No. 27), Tory Burch (No. 29), Vera Wang (No. 34), Kendra Scott (No. 40), Donna Karan (No. 43) — but the beauty innovators tend to be slightly newer names.
Besides Soare and Kattan, there’s also Kathy Fields and Katie Rodan, who came in at No. 13. They’re the founders of both Proactiv Solutions and the slightly controversial multi-level marketing company Rodan + Fields, which sells items like the popular Lash Boost and its multi-step skin care regimens.
There’s also Jamie Kern Lima, a former TV reporter who founded It Cosmetics to help cover up her rosacea and later sold it to L’Oréal for $1.2 billion, as well as Jessica Iclisoy, who launched California Baby to create nontoxic and organic lotion, sunscreen, and soap for babies with sensitive skin. And though she’s certainly not a new name, Kim Kardashian West made the list at No. 54, thanks to her barely-year-old KKW Beauty’s $100 million in sales.
Though some have disputed Forbes’s claim that Kylie Jenner, the youngest member of one of America’s most famous families, is a “self-made” entrepreneur (the magazine said they included “anyone who didn’t inherit any part of their money”), the women on the list follow a long tradition of American businesswomen finding success in the beauty and wellness industry.
Beginning in the late 19th century, there was Lydia Pinkham, who marketed her herbal home remedies to women with uncomfortably menstrual and menopausal symptoms (“female complaints”) and created one of the best-known patent medicines of the decade.
By the early 20th century, Madam C.J. Walker became the first (actual) self-made woman millionaire in the US; she was born to formerly enslaved parents just four years after the Emancipation Proclamation. She made a name for herself selling beauty and hair products for black women door-to-door in Denver in the early 1900s, and within the next decade had built a factory, hair salon, and beauty school in Indianapolis.
Around the same time as Walker, Elizabeth Arden started her salon empire in New York City, while moguls like Estée Lauder and the predecessor to MLMs like Rodan + Fields, Mary Kay Ash, would follow in later decades, all companies that today are worth more than a billion dollars.
And yet even with the rise of a new class of women-led beauty startups, from Glossier to Ouai to KNC Beauty, many major beauty companies have few or zero women on their boards of directors or among their senior management teams. But if history has shown us anything, it’s that women will continue finding new opportunities to make money where men aren’t looking.