7 Trailblazing Women We Love #WomenHistoryMonth
YURIYASA is the labour of love by one fearless woman who decided to challenge the notions of comfortable stylish yoga wear that at the same time serves as a platform that supports women’s rights and education.
Did you know that YURIYASA launched our first pants in the color black inspired by Coco Chanel’s love of black? Indeed, Chanel is a legend that continues to inspire even now, and she is but one of many women through the ages who have broken boundaries and raised the bar for generations ahead, women who have made a difference, who had a voice and didn’t hold back from using it. Today we pay homage to seven of these trailblazers in honor of International’s Women’s Day in March.
Gabrielle Bonheur "Coco" Chanel came from humble beginnings, but that didn’t stop her from pursuing her dreams and becoming one of the world’s most famous fashion designers.
Learning the art of sewing in the orphanage she grew up in, she became a licensed milliner in 1910 and opened a small little boutique in Paris named Chanel Modes.
Who knew that this little French designer would go on to revolutionize women’s fashion so drastically and completely? She liberated women from the constraints of the “corseted silhouette” and “dresses in which one can’t move”, boldly mixing what were considered traditional masculine and feminine looks to create the iconic Chanel suit which has withstood the test of time.
She outraged the fashion world when she wore pants in Venice, to make traveling by gondola and on horseback easier – without her, who knows if we might not even be wearing pants right now!
In a world ruled by men, Coco Chanel dared to defy all the rules set upon women and created her own empire doing so.
We will always remember this famous American singer songwriter by her stage name Nina Simone, but Eunice Waymon was also a huge civil rights activist. One of eight children in a poor family, the musically talented Waymon started singing in her local church, but at her debut, her parents were forced to move to the back of the hall to make room for white people. She was just 12 years old, but this sparked something in Waymon and contributed to her later involvement in the civil rights movement.
To make a living as a young woman, Waymon started singing and playing the piano in nightclubs. She had to change her name to Nina Simone so that her mother wouldn’t find out she was playing “the devil’s music”. Simone’s unique concoction of jazz, blues and classical music earned her a loyal fan base and she went on to release over 40 albums during her career. She always used her music as a platform for her voice, including songs that drew on her African-American heritage, addressing racial inequality in America, speaking and performing at civil rights meetings. In her autobiography she wrote, “I felt… alive then… because I was needed, and I could sing something to help my people.”
A champion for human rights who sang from her soul – Nina Simone is a legend whose music has influenced so many other musicians even to this day. In fact, today she still lives on through her music, even on two Kanye West tracks – “Famous” featuring Rihanna and “Blood on the Leaves” with JAY-Z.
“I make clothes for a woman who is not swayed by what her husband thinks,” says design icon Rei Kawakubo and we love her for it. Just like Chanel, this was a woman who dared to dream up subversive, gender-bending clothes for men and women at a time when no one else was.
Interestingly, Rei Kawakubo never trained in fashion design; she studied art and literature but later took up a job in a textiles factory and then became a freelance stylist. Two years later she began making clothes under the label Comme Des Garçons, which attracted a global cult following for her spirited belief in unadulterated and raw creativity and style.
Comme Des Garçons is famous for being “anti-fashion”, a label that rebels against mainstream fashion and challenges established ideas about beauty. Kawakubo says that she “never intended to start a revolution” – she wanted to show “what I thought was strong and beautiful. It just so happened that my notion was different from everybody else’s.” This is an idea we subscribe to at YURIYASA, where we are always challenging the norm and trying to create the most unique shapes and designs.
Kawakubo changed not just the way we think about fashion but also the way fashion and thought can coexist in culture and commerce, inspiring a new generation of fashion-designers-cum-thought-leaders. The extremely successful businesswoman launched her line at the age of just 27 and had more than 100 stores in Japan selling her distinctive avant garde looks within a mere decade. She brought Comme Des Garçons to Paris fashion week in 1981, which set the global fashion industry alight, in turn sparking an empire which today turns over $220 million a year. She credits her success to taking her work seriously – “When things are too easy, you don’t think, and you don’t make progress. Not just in fashion. In everything,” she says. “The only way to hope to make something new is not to be satisfied.”
Billie Jean King
Billie Jean King (Moffitt before she married Larry King) loved sports even from a tender age, and from the moment she put racquet to ball, she knew what she wanted to do with her life. “I am going to be No. 1 in the world,” the young tennis player told her mother back then, and at the age of 23, King achieved the goal she set for herself when she was ranked #1 in the world in women’s tennis, a ranking she held for five additional years. Throughout her tennis career, King won a record 39 Grand Slam titles, but her tennis championship titles are only half her story.
Off the court, Billie Jean King was a huge activist for gender equality. She became the first president of the Woman’s Tennis Association and lobbied for equal prize money for men and women to level the playing field, even threatening not to play the next year if the prize money were not equal. Her threats were clearly taken seriously – that same year, in 1973, the US Open became the first major tournament to offer equal prize money for men and women.
That year, King also defeated Bobby Riggs in an exhibition match – a match which had half the world tuning in thanks to Riggs claiming that the women’s game was so inferior to the men’s that even a 55-year-old like himself could beat the top female players. King said, “I thought it would set us back 50 years if I didn’t win that match. It would ruin the women’s tennis tour and affect all women’s self-esteem.”
Billie Jean King became the first woman to be honored as Sports Illustrated ‘Sportsperson of the Year’ in 1972 and Time ‘Persons of the Year’ in 1975; and BBC Sports ‘Personality of the Year Lifetime Achievement Award’ in 2018. King is also a continuing supporter of LGBT rights in America and was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor in American society. Billie Jean was truly a game-changer in every sense of the word.
Speaking of amazing women, how can we not mention one of the most inspiring ladies in the field of yoga. Maty Ezraty is a woman of firsts. As a young adult seeking meaning in her life, Ezraty found in yoga calmness of mind, confidence, and a strong feeling of being centered. Travelling round the globe to learn the intricacies of this art, she became one of the first women to complete really advanced techniques and poses.
She is also considered one of the original pioneers in bringing yoga to the Western world and one of the first women to study Ashtanga Yoga. At the age of 23, she opened YogaWorks, the first school of its kind to offer different styles of yoga from Iyengar to Ashtanga, when other yoga studios only taught one kind of yoga.
“I created [YogaWorks] because I fell in love with yoga, and I felt that yoga had a place in the world for helping and – this is going to sound corny – to create world peace. I wanted people to see that yoga could be for everyone,” she says.
A prominent figure in the evolution of yoga in the United States, including having trained some of the leading teachers in the US, Maty Ezraty has been called an “innovator” by Yoga Journal. In a world that seems to constantly tear us down, we are thankful for people like Maty Ezraty who reminds us that “when you practice yoga, you’re not practicing to improve yourself. You are perfect. The practice is there to help you know that.”
Melinda Gates’ famous last name comes from her husband, Bill, whom she met at work when she joined Microsoft as a product manager after graduating from Duke. Interestingly, she initially turned her boss down when he tried to ask her out at a company picnic, thinking he “wasn’t spontaneous enough” for her, but undeterred, he called her up that very night and tried again.
After their engagement in 1993, the couple took a trip to Africa, where they encountered people suffering extreme poverty, and it started the conversation between them about how they might use their fortune to help others. That’s when the idea that would ultimately become the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation began to take root.
“It’s not fair that we have so much wealth when billions of others have so little,” Melinda says. She has thus dedicated her life to helping the needy by initiating various charitable endeavors. Through the Gates Foundation, Melinda has donated over millions of dollars to help empower women, uplift the underprivileged and provide equal opportunities to minorities across the globe.
In 2016, Melinda Gates along with her husband was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom by President Barack Obama for their philanthropic efforts. Bill Gates has always referred to Melinda as “the heart” and “the driving force” of the Foundation. She has a keen hand in shaping Foundation strategy, solving tough global challenges from education and poverty to contraception and sanitation.
She has devoted much of her work specifically to women’s and girls’ rights, and that is something that we firmly support here at YURIYASA. Helping others is a core part of the YURIYASA mission, and for every pant purchased from us, a portion of the proceeds go into supporting women’s rights and education.
Lady Gaga has made headlines in the music and fashion scenes since she first stepped into the spotlight. From her outrageous meat dress to her controversial song lyrics, you’d think that Lady Gaga is all show and tell but there’s actually more to her than we think.
Lady Gaga was born Stefani Joanne Angelina Germanotta, who was sent to a private, Catholic girls’ school and introduced to the piano in the hopes that it would make her a more “cultured young woman”. She took to music immediately, and it became her one escape where her artistic oddities were welcomed, whereas her unique personality brought on bullying and taunting at school, making her feel insecure, anxious, depressed and isolated.
Lady Gaga worked as a waitress, at downtown cabaret clubs, and even as a go-go dancer. When she finally got the chance to sign on with a label, they tried to mold her into a mainstream pop star, even asking her to dye her hair blonde to look “more like a pop star”. Finally, enough was enough and Lady Gaga realized she had to take back control and re-invent herself on her own terms.
When she finally made it, she opened herself up to her fans on controversial subjects like addiction, feminism, sexuality, depression and fibromyalgia – and even created her own charity for mental health support called the Born This Way Foundation. “Fight and push harder for what you believe in, you’d be surprised, you are much stronger than you think,” she says. If there’s one thing to take away from Lady Gaga, let it be that!
We hope you liked out list. A big salute to all the amazing women out there. #StrongWomenEmpowerOtherWomen
Who is that one woman you look up to or has always inspired you?