- Insider has compiled a list of 25 Luminaries – women pushing boundaries in their personal and professional lives.
- The list includes women who work in music, travel, food, fashion, art, beauty, and wellness.
- Honorees include the first female captain of a mega-cruise ship, a “Top Chef” winner, and the founder of Black Owned Everything, a marketplace that showcases Black businesses and designers.
Kate McCue is the first female captain of a mega-cruise ship. Zerina Akers is a stylist for BeyoncÃ© and the founder of Black Owned Everything, a marketplace that showcases Black designers and businesses. After Karen Darke was paralysed in a cliff-climbing accident, she has hand-biked the length of Japan, sit-skied across the Greenland ice cap, and climbed El Capitan in Yosemite National Park.
These are some of the 25 women featured on Insider’s list of Luminaries who are pushing boundaries and accomplishing extraordinary feats in music, travel, fashion, food, art, beauty, and wellness.
Read on to meet the Luminaries who are inspiring us in 2020.
Kellee Edwards is a modern-day adventurer: The pilot, scuba diver, and mountain climber is the first Black woman to host an adventure series on the Travel Channel.
She’s visited over 50 countries, many of them solo, and has done everything from climbing an active volcano in Guatemala to flying herself to Alaska’s Aleutian Chain.
You’d think a pandemic might slow her down, but she’s busier than ever, with multiple TV shows on the way, a product line, and a children’s book series in the works. Her travel and leisure podcast “Let’s Go Together” has also been renewed for another 12 episodes.
Edwards says it helps that the type of travel she’s used to is already socially distant and she can simply fly herself to these remote spots, no airport or runway needed.
She attributes her success to seeing something that was missing in the world and making it her own.
“I tell people all the time, ‘What do you do that I can’t do? That most people can’t do? That’s your thing,'” she told Insider, advising people to forge their own paths rather than follow hers.
“I decided I’m not going to prove to anyone that I belong where I belong. I’m going to show them through my actions that I have the right to be there,” she said.
To her, it all comes down to a willingness to be uncomfortable.
“I don’t want people to keep just going with the flow; I want them going against the current,” she said. “I really wish that people wouldn’t be so shortsighted and shortchange their own lives by never learning what they’re made of. I don’t think as a society that we reached our peak because we don’t know how to get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”
– Sophie-Claire Hoeller
Tayla Parx, 27, is ready to be seen as more than pop music’s secret weapon.
“Just that sheer thought of knowing, ‘I deserve to be here’ – it does wonders,” Tayla Parx told Insider. “And I think it all starts with just working on your craft.”
Parx has put in plenty of time to hone her talents.
Born Taylor Monét Parks, the Texas native entered show business at just 9 years old. Handpicked as a “triple threat” by Debbie Allen, she strengthened her performance skills at the legendary Kennedy Centre and landed a starring role in the silver-screen adaptation of “Hairspray.”
As she entered her 20s, Parx pivoted to music and began cowriting songs with artists like Fifth Harmony, Demi Lovato, Mariah Carey, and BTS.
Parx has had a multifaceted two-decade career, and it’s difficult to overstate the vast reaches of her influence. In 2018 alone, she cowrote three top-10 hits: “Thank U, Next” by Ariana Grande, “High Hopes” by Panic! At The Disco, and “Love Lies” by Normani and Khalid.
Parx says she’s embraced her dual role as collaborator and artist. But now, with her own highly anticipated sophomore album on the horizon, she’s enjoyed a flurry of enthusiasm and attention that feels refreshing and, as a bisexual Black woman in a slow-to-progress industry, important.
“I think that we are, as a society, becoming more aware of the people ‘behind the curtain,'” Parx told Insider.
“Getting that recognition has been really, really awesome because, I think, what it does is it allows more people like me to see that it’s possible. And that’s just the beginning.”
– Callie Ahlgrim
Mirror founder Brynn Putnam, 37, is a professional ballerina turned entrepreneur who believes movement is a form of self-respect.
When Brynn Putnam was pregnant with her son, she juggled morning sickness with running a business.
Even though Putnam was operating a chain of boutique fitness studios at the time (Refine Method in New York City), she struggled to find time to work out. Like many urbanites, the former professional dancer at the New York City Ballet didn’t have room at home for much fitness equipment, but she knew home workouts were the only way she could squeeze exercise into her busy days.
After she saw how well her Refine Method clients responded to having full-length mirrors in the studio, a seed was planted in Putnam’s mind. And in 2018 her company Mirror was born.
Putnam’s creation looks like a normal mirror when it’s off and takes up minimal space, but when turned on, it transforms into a screen for livestreaming workouts, showing users both themselves and an instructor.
Mirror has massively taken off since its launch, and in June, the upmarket activewear brand Lululemon announced it was acquiring Mirror for a reported $US500 million.
Putnam’s 3-year-old son inspires her to keep creating.
“Watching him grow and experience so many things for the first time with such wonder is a constant reminder to treat my body with kindness and find joy in helping other mums and dads find confidence in their own skin through fitness,” she told Insider.
The Mirror CEO said she believed fitness should be treated as “a vital form of self-respect,” not just as self-care.
“When you run a marathon or lift a heavy set of weights, you’ve accomplished something,” she said. “This confidence carries over into your work, your relationships, and all aspects of your life.
“As a female entrepreneur in an industry largely led by men, I am particularly excited to change the dialogue around women’s bodies. Fitness is about building confidence from a place of self-love, not self-doubt.”
– Rachel Hosie
Kate McCue, 42, the first female captain of a mega-cruise ship, hopes to inspire other women to follow in her footsteps.
Abandoning ship is not in Kate McCue’s vocabulary.
In fact, McCue, the first female captain of a mega-cruise ship in a world where just 2% of mariners are female, was on her 284th day at sea when she spoke with Insider from the Bahamas, where she’s been at anchor since March.
She’s been working since December, and she’s on call until October 16, when she returns home to Nevada and her husband.
Despite commanding only a skeleton crew and having no guests on board, McCue and her team are busy.
“We have to make sure that we keep [the ship] in ship shape, so when we do get that green light to go back in service, we are ready to rock it,” she said.
But the task closest to her heart is getting more female representation on board, and she calls social media her “biggest tool.”
She recently started a TikTok account and YouTube channel to give people a behind-the-scenes look at her life at sea and often shares glimpses of it on her Instagram, where she has 158,000 followers at the time of writing.
She said Celebrity Cruises went from having a 3% female bridge team – usually consisting of the captain and senior officers in charge of commanding the ship – when she started in 2015 to over 27% now.
“I think you have to see it to be it,” she said. “I’m really focusing on putting the message out there of what the job is, what the opportunities are, and how you can get there,” she said.
– Sophie-Claire Hoeller
Princess Keisha Omilana, 34, is a model, curly-hair advocate, and Nigerian royalty.
Being a member of a royal family is work in and of itself. But for Princess Keisha Omilana of Nigeria, the role of HRH is just one title on a long list of jobs and accomplishments.
After studying fashion in Chicago, Keisha moved to New York and pursued modelling, leading her to star in campaigns for brands like L’Oréal and Maybelline. She became the first Black woman to star in four consecutive Pantene commercials, in which she wore her natural curly hair.
“As an accomplished model, I’ve always wanted to give back – especially to children with big, curly hair to help develop their confidence,” the princess told Insider.
She did just that in 2017 when she founded her hair-care business A Crown of Curls. The organisation hosts virtual workshops and training sessions to create “a much-needed space for mixed-race, natural, curly, and tight-textured hair,” she said. Keisha also has plans to open salons dedicated to natural hair.
A Crown of Curls’ mission mirrors Keisha’s stance on equality. She said she wished people would stop “being wilfully ignorant and turning a blind eye to the injustice and murders of all Black and brown people happening all over the world.”
“In 10 years’ time, I hope that all ‘ism’s’ have all but dissolved into something we talk about that used to exist,” she added.
– Amanda Krause
Chef Melissa King, 36, is expanding the traditional definition of a chef.
The San Francisco-based chef Melissa King describes herself as “a triple minority” – a person of colour, female, and queer.
Really though, she’s a triple threat – and then some. She’s expanding the traditional definition of a chef, hosting virtual cooking experiences and working on both a small-batch sauce line and an apparel line, all while supporting charities close to her heart.
King, an Asian American chef who has helmed Michelin-starred kitchens, is best-known for winning “Top Chef All Stars: Los Angeles,” the 17th season of the show, and taking home the fan-favourite award from “Top Chef,” the proceeds of which she donated entirely to causes she champions.
“I’ve lived through challenges and want to give back where I can to my communities,” she told Insider in an email. “I hope to inspire others to show a little more compassion, love, and support to uplift one another.”
She added: “Any project I work on, I often think, ‘How can we tie this to something bigger and make a greater impact?'”
For example, she says she pairs her virtual cooking experiences with various charities that she donates to and gives part of the proceeds from a limited-edition collection in her apparel line to The Trevor Project, a nonprofit that provides crisis and suicide-prevention support to LGBTQ youth.
The chef and business owner said the pandemic has inspired her to evolve her work, which previously depended on events and face-to-face interactions.
“I made it a mission to find creative ways to continue bringing my food to people,” she said.
– Sophie-Claire Hoeller
Marsha Douglas-Sydnor, 41, is the founder of Shades of Shades, an inclusive eyewear line specializing in sunglasses made for different skin tones and undertones.
In 2018, Marsha Douglas-Sydnor was exercising when she hit her head. She still had a headache two weeks later, and when she finally went to her doctor, she was told she needed to rush to the emergency room because of something unusual in her CAT scan. It turned out that Douglas-Sydnor had a brain tumour.
To keep her mind off the upcoming surgery, Douglas-Sydnor’s husband planned a quick getaway where she went shopping, specifically looking for a pair of nude sunglasses.
“I’ve always been on the hunt but let it go in the past when I wasn’t able to find it. This particular time, I don’t know if I was more emotional, or I was just triggered somehow with everything going on, but I got really upset that I could not find my shade of nude,” she told Insider.
When she came home, the founder decided to start Shades of Shades, an inclusive eyewear line that specialises in sunglasses made in different skin tones and undertones.
“I decided that it was a gift given to me from the universe and placed into my soul. I told myself and my husband that if I didn’t make it out of surgery, I wanted him to bring this idea into the industry,” she said.
In August 2019, Shades of Shades was born after more than a year of planning. It’s been called the Fenty Beauty of eyewear because of how inclusive the shade range is. The line has 14 shades of nude and is expanding into more soon.
On the Shades of Shades website, customers can look up their foundation shade in brands like Fenty Beauty, Nars, and Armani to find their perfect shade of sunglasses.
“Every single shade and undertone was handpicked. The entire brand is 100% intentional and based out of love. I really hope that comes across when our shoppers wear their shade,” she said. “I feel like the brand that we’ve created is a staple brand. It has never existed before, and the fact that it is here now – I feel like it is here to stay.”
– Celia Fernandez
Jackie Aina, 33, is a force within the beauty industry, sharing makeup tips, entertaining fans, and launching a lifestyle brand.
When Jackie Aina started sharing her love of makeup on YouTube through beauty tutorials more than 10 years ago, she couldn’t have imagined what her career would become. Now she’s one of the biggest players in the multibillion-dollar industry.
“People love to say this industry is saturated, and you know what? They’re not wrong,” Aina told Insider. “It’s a lot of people basically doing the same thing.”
Still, the makeup mogul – who now has more than 3.5 million YouTube subscribers – said the influx of microinfluencers, makeup artists, and others trying to work in the beauty space shouldn’t discourage people from pursuing their dreams.
“We’re all offering our own individual perspectives, our own takes, our own humour, our own personalities, and those things matter,” she said.
Aina described her career as being “nonlinear” and full of “twists and turns.”
Her most recent venture is an example of that. In August, Aina launched a lifestyle brand called Forvr Mood, which sells candles, silk headbands, and pillowcases.
Some fans were surprised by the move, as they expected Aina to follow in the footsteps of other beauty influencers by creating her own makeup brand.
“It totally makes sense to me because I’ve always been a lover of scents and fragrance,” Aina said. “For my audience, however, it was a little bit of a pivot.”
“Where we are now with Forvr, I’m really excited,” she said. “I’ve always been ready to take on a challenge, and I’m always ready to take risks.”
– Amanda Krause
Geetika Agrawal, 41, wants to help people find personal fulfillment while ensuring the preservation of global craftsmanship.
After 20 years of travelling around the world, Geetika Agrawal realised it was when she was learning from master artists and experts in craftsmanship that she had the most profound human experiences.
They were “moments of unexplored frontiers, when we are curious, when we rediscover time-honoured wisdom and the miracle of childlike inner creativity,” the Brooklyn-based travel entrepreneur told Insider.
Agrawal says many people today yearn for a sense of personal fulfillment that’s lacking because of conventional work structures and the pressures of modern life.
In 2015, this led to her to create Vacation With An Artist (VAWAA), a curated website that connects people directly with master artists and craftspeople around the world for one-to-one in-person apprenticeships and live online sessions.
The options include learning calligraphy from a grand master in Japan and bamboo-bicycle making in India.
VAWAA has allowed thousands of people from around the world to learn from over 100 master artists and makers in 27 countries and across 17 art forms, according to Agrawal.
“People say it’s been an extraordinary life-changing human experience for them,” she said.
While we regularly hear about endangered species and landscapes, Agrawal says we need to place more emphasis on global crafts at risk of extinction.
“Ageing populations are not able to pass the traditional skills down, as younger generations are now pursuing other professions,” she said. “We are at risk of losing important global heritage, culture, and wisdom.”
– Rachel Hosie
Katie Sturino, 36, is the founder of Megababe, a personal-care line for women, and a body-acceptance advocate.
Five years ago, Megababe founder Katie Sturino was featured in a Repeller article featuring tips for curvy women on how to dress.
“I heard from so many people that they had never seen a body like mine in a fashion blog. I realised neither had I. I didn’t have representation, so I became the representation,” she told Insider.
After that shoot, she started her blog The 12ish Style to spread awareness about body acceptance. She fluctuated between a size 12 and 14 and wanted to address the people that fell in between straight sizing and plus sizes.
After she started the blog, brands like DVF, Veronica Beard, and Madewell reached out to Sturino for guidance on expanding into plus sizes.
“When you’re in the mindset of being a service to other people, you never really feel like you’re working, and that is how I feel most of the time,” she said.
On her Instagram account and blog, she has two ongoing series: #MakeMySize, where she tries on the biggest sizes brands make to show them they don’t fit, and #SuperSizetheLook, where she recreates a celebrity outfit on her frame to show people they can do it too.
Sturino also talks on her Instagram account about body issues like thigh chafing, boob sweat, and body odor. Three years ago, she founded her company Megababe, whose line is sold online and at retailers like Ulta, Target, and Anthropologie, to address these common personal-hygiene problems.
Megababe started off with what she calls her “desert island” product, “Thigh Rescue,” an anti-chafe stick. Since then she’s rolled out natural deodorants, a clarifying butt mask, an anti-boob-sweat powder, a detoxifying underarm mask, and more.
“I see the brand continuing to bring solutions to women and continue to be celebratory and inclusive of women of all shapes and sizes. I think we have a lot of room to grow with new products,” she said.
– Celia Fernandez
Martha Hoover, 66, is a lawyer turned serial restaurateur who’s bettering her community and the restaurant industry from the inside.
Martha Hoover was a sex-crimes prosecutor before opening a restaurant. She hadn’t ever worked in one but dreamed of having her own place since a childhood trip to France.
Her first restaurant – she now runs 12 – broke barriers when it opened in 1989.
Café Patachou introduced Indianapolis not only to farm-to-table dining, then a little-known concept, but also the idea of the female restaurateur, another rarity at the time.
Hoover recalled how her restaurant designer refused to put in a dishwasher because he didn’t want to “waste her husband’s money” – she said he was convinced that a breakfast and lunch joint featuring only locally sourced ingredients would fail.
She proved him wrong, and three decades later Hoover continues to break the restaurant-industry mould.
“Because I made no assumptions and had no preconceived notions as to what a restaurant should be, I created a restaurant that was not templated on anything that had been done,” she told Insider. “It liberated me from a lot of toxic practices that I didn’t even know existed because I had no experience in that industry.”
She runs her company differently than much of the industry: Hoover’s employees all get full benefits and have access to an employee-run emergency relief fund, which she said had provided them with $US100,000 during the pandemic.
Hoover also puts her community first. She founded the Patachou Foundation in 2013 to address childhood hunger and food-accessibility issues in Indianapolis. While the foundation served about 1,000 meals a week to food-insecure children pre-pandemic, she said it has churned out almost 4,000 a week since the crisis hit.
– Sophie-Claire Hoeller
Karen Darke, 49, is an adventurer and gold-medal-winning Paralympian.
The British explorer and full-time athlete Karen Darke was left paralysed from the chest down after a cliff-climbing accident at age 21. Since then, she’s achieved physical feats most people could only dream of.
“I sincerely believe that ability is a state of mind, not a state of body,” she told Insider.
Darke has hand-biked the length of Japan, sit-skied across the Greenland ice cap, and climbed El Capitan in Yosemite.
She also won a silver medal for handcycling at the London Paralympics in 2012, followed by a gold medal in Rio in 2016.
This year, Darke launched her latest project, Find Your Inner Gold, which offers coaching and retreats designed to help people focus their energy to “transform limitation, fear, and suffering into more freedom, peace, and happiness.”
“Through my journeys, I have discovered more deeply than ever how we can rewire our brain, recondition our body, and change our world from the inside out,” Darke said.
Darke says that if people take more responsibility for their well-being, they can live happier lives.
“When we can find courage to try something new (as small as changing a habit, not necessarily embarking on a huge adventure), the change impacts not only ourselves and our wellbeing, but the people around us, the communities we are part of, and, in turn, that can change the world,” she said.
– Rachel Hosie
Aurora James, 36, is a fashion designer and the creator of the 15 Per cent Pledge.
Since starting the sustainable-accessories brand Brother Vellies in 2013, Aurora James has made a name for herself in the fashion industry selling luxury accessories made by artisans in Africa.
In May, after George Floyd’s death, Aurora James started an initiative asking major retailers to commit 15% of their shelf space to Black-owned businesses. She named it the 15 Per cent Pledge.
James described the pledge as a “community ask for economic equality for Black people in America.”
“I created the pledge as what my ask would be as a Black woman, as an entrepreneur, and as a businessperson,” she told Insider. “What we’re really calling on these retailers to do is start casting a wider net.”
Brands like Sephora, West Elm, MedMen, and Rent the Runway have publicly committed to the pledge, signing multiyear contracts to work with James’ initiative to hit specific benchmarks to get them to 15%.
Because of the work she’s done with the pledge so far, James graced the coveted September issue of Vogue. She used the spread to bring attention to the obstacles that Black businesswomen like herself face on a daily basis.
“There are so many systematic things that are put on Black women when we walk into any environment,” she said. “We’re often viewed as slightly less than, which is why there are fewer Black women in our industry – because it’s extra hard for them.”
With the pledge, James hopes to see greater support and investment in Black-owned businesses across the US.
“This is about supporting small businesses in America that are making incredible things but don’t have access to major retailers. I’m proud to be in a position to do this work and advocate for people who deserve that,” she said.
– Celia Fernandez
The Haim sisters — Danielle, Alana, and Este — have helped redefine what rock can be and “rock star” can mean.
As the legend goes, Danielle, Alana, and Este Haim grew up in California’s San Fernando Valley with an art-teacher mum and an athlete dad who played soccer professionally in his native Israel.
The sisters were taught to play various instruments from infancy, then joined their family band, Rockinhaim – but eventually ditched their parents to write songs on their own. Donna Haim told Rolling Stone she and her husband became their daughters’ “roadies.”
Despite emerging with little street cred and even fewer industry connections – plus the obstacle of deeply entrenched sexism in rock music – Haim has become one of the defining rock bands of the century. The trio counts everyone from Stevie Nicks and U2 to Taylor Swift and Paul Thomas Anderson as fans.
Haim’s newest album, “Women in Music Pt. III,” is perhaps its best and most textured music yet, pushing the boundaries of its genre even further. Pitchfork presented it with an 8.6 out of 10, plus the coveted “best new music” label. NME described it as “a thing of great beauty.”
“I mean,” Danielle Haim told The Guardian last year, “there was definitely a time when we wanted to be on the rock stations, and they were saying that we weren’t rock enough, which felt like a big slap in the face, especially when they play so many bands that make the same s— as us but they’re men and they play them.”
“Yeah,” Este Haim added. “I can go toe-to-toe with any male rock band and blow them out of the water.”
– Callie Ahlgrim
Zerina Akers, 34, is a stylist for Beyoncé and the founder of Black Owned Everything, a marketplace that showcases Black designers and businesses “for when the trend is over.”
The first thing that sticks out on the Black Owned Everything Instagram page is the business’ unofficial slogan, “for when the trend is over.”
Zerina Akers, a celebrity stylist, started the page in June as a curated feed of Black-owned brands for when she went shopping for her clients, which include Beyoncé and the R&B duo Chloe X Halle.
“It was something I was doing innocently and blindly. The intention was for it to be private and something I was able to have as a quick source for myself,” she said. “In the discovery process, I just really found fantastic brands that I was thoroughly impressed by.”
What started off as a private Instagram account has turned into an online marketplace set to launch on October 5 with 30 Black-owned brands involved in fashion, beauty, home goods, gifts, tech, and accessories.
“I really want to position it not only as a marketplace but as an amplifier,” she said. “It’s a space we could have for ourselves and where we could tell our stories.”
In addition to Black Owned Everything, Akers is in the process of launching the Akers and Akers foundation.
The stylist and founder’s plan is to incubate three designers at a time and connect them with manufacturers that can help develop products in a cost-efficient way. A portion of proceeds from the marketplace will go toward keeping the foundation up and running.
“I want to help companies really grow and develop to be able to profit in a sustainable way through the foundation,” she said.
– Celia Fernandez
Christine D’Ercole, 49, is one of the only female Peloton instructors to also be a decorated track cyclist.
Christine D’Ercole is more than the average fitness trainer. One of the original Peloton instructors, the New Yorker is the only trainer among the fitness behemoth’s ranks to be a Masters world and national cycling champion.
D’Ercole believes Peloton is about a lot more than physical fitness, though.
“True fitness is not just strength and cardio training but also building our mental threshold and emotional endurance,” she told Insider.
D’Ercole’s classes are, she said, “grounded in the science of cycling and the power of self-talk.”
“I believe that the most powerful thing anyone can say to us is what we say to ourselves and that while on the bike, we have a unique opportunity to hear our self-talk and change the words that do not serve us,” she said.
A crucial mindset to adopt, D’Ercole said, is that of curiosity in place of judgment.
“The moment we judge, we cut off possibilities,” she said. “When we cultivate curiosity, we create possibilities.”
The key to realising those possibilities is giving yourself permission to listen to your gut, she said.
“I believe that even if an initial inkling doesn’t directly pan out, it will lead to another,” she said.
“Think of them like fireflies. Be curious and open. It is your duty to chase them, catch them, hold them. Then write them down and record them,” she added. “On paper, these little inklings string together to make a map. Follow the path.”
– Rachel Hosie
Austyn Weiner, 30, is a painter who’s had solo shows around the world, recently collaborating with Each X Other on a clothing collection.
When the painter Austyn Weiner was in middle school, she had a passion for photography and working in dark rooms. It wasn’t until she was 21 that she took a brush and started painting on canvas without having a photograph underneath.
“Painting really came secondary to a very innate reactionary need to express,” she told Insider. “I started using the medium of paint as another layer to the idea of being able to solve a visual problem.”
Since she started painting full time almost 10 years ago, Weiner has had solo shows all over the world.
Her painting style varies depending on how she’s feeling.
“My paintings are narrative and journalistic with an abstract lens and an ode and a celebration of chaos,” she said.
In 2019, Weiner collaborated with the fashion brand Each X Other to release a capsule collection of ready-to-wear clothing at Paris Fashion Week. Her friend Gigi Hadid has worn clothes from the collaboration and even posed for her paintings.
Weiner is now gearing up for a new solo exhibition at the Carl Kostyál gallery in London.
Because of the pandemic, this will be the first time that Weiner won’t be able to attend her show in person, which opens on October 5.
“It’s a weird experience to not be going to see the show, but I also think it’s an important moment to let it out and let it go. My paintings left on a plane to London but I couldn’t,” she said. “I felt that was comical but in a way beautiful.”
In the past, Weiner has donated proceeds from her art work to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. On the local level, she’s worked with the Downtown Women’s Centre in Los Angeles.
“Sometimes it feels like a mountain and it’s really a mound. It really doesn’t matter what socioeconomic position you’re coming from because everyone has something to offer,” she said.
– Celia Fernandez
Rhiannon Giddens, 43, is an activist and storyteller who sings so people will listen.
Rhiannon Giddens was classically trained as an opera singer and has found widespread acclaim – both with the Grammy-winning folk band Carolina Chocolate Drops and as a celebrated solo artist – for her “glorious,” soulful voice.
But Giddens is, at her base level, a storyteller with an eye on justice and freedom, armed with plenty of material.
“I’ve never been interested in, ‘Hey, this is me, I’m singing a song,'” Giddens told The New York Times.
“I’m more: This is the message I’m trying to transmit, if me singing it will get it out there,” she added. “So this is a great opportunity to bring together what I’ve been doing and what they have been doing.”
Her 2017 solo album, “Freedom Highway,” used banjo-driven folk to explore and reclaim African American slave narratives. One of its standout tracks, “Better Get It Right the First Time,” addresses the plague of police officers shooting Black men, unprovoked.
That same year, Giddens won a MacArthur “genius” grant and wrote an opera based on the autobiography of Omar ibn Said, “a Muslim-African man who was enslaved and transported to the notorious Gadsden’s Wharf in Charleston, S.C., in 1807,” according to The Times.
Most recently, Giddens was appointed the artistic director of Silkroad, the Yo-Yo Ma-founded organisation that encourages cross-cultural collaboration in the arts.
Since its inception in 1988, the organisation has expanded to include educational and social-justice initiatives. Giddens said she hoped to bring a “sharper focus” to its mission and wield its resources more effectively.
– Callie Ahlgrim
Natasha Logan, 38, has displayed standout works of art throughout New York City.
It’s been harder than ever to visit museums and galleries during the pandemic. But despite ever-evolving challenges, Natasha Logan has found innovative ways to bring art to the people of New York City.
As the deputy director of the public-arts organisation Creative Time, where she’s worked for five years, Logan has recently shifted her focus to art projects that are possible in a pandemic-ridden world.
So far, she and her team have curated timely comics created by local artists and launched a think tank to help “collaboratively create radical ideas and ways of working” with the public, she told Insider.
The comics detail the experiences of artists during the pandemic. The think tank, on the other hand, centres on the voices of artists by creating a cohort of members who will be paid $US10,000 each to work on creating “transformative change.”
Both projects are available to view on the Creative Time website.
“I’m really proud that we were able to conceive such a full program for fall 2020 – one that responds to the experience of COVID-19 and civic resistance around issues of equity, liberation, and racial violence,” Logan said. “It really brings the various pandemics we are experiencing, and the underlying issues they bring, to light.”
Logan said that through the grief of this moment in American history, she’s been able to “experience the full spectrum of human emotion.”
“I’ve found grief to be a space where, if you can move through it, you experience the full spectrum of human emotion,” she said. “Ironically, it feels very alive to me, and in that lies a power and a rawness that is ultimately transformational.”
– Amanda Krause
Rea Ann Silva created a new category of cosmetic tools when she invented Beautyblender in the early 2000s.
Beautyblender was never meant to be a cosmetic empire.
Brand founder Rea Ann Silva was simply trying to find a way to blend makeup on the skin of actresses starring in an HD television show when she created the rounded sponge with a sharp tip.
She couldn’t use makeup brushes because they cause streaks, so she would cut the edges off triangular sponges – unknowingly creating the first version of Beautyblender in the process.
“I didn’t look at Beautyblender as a global big brand in the beginning,” Silva told Insider. “I was a professional makeup artist with a challenge, and Beautyblender was my solution to that challenge.”
Beautyblender is now one of the most popular makeup tools in the world. Many people love the iconic pink sponge for its ease of use and effective results. The tool can be used to blend liquid beauty products, blot excess oil, and touch up makeup throughout the day.
“Beautyblender has created a category of tools that didn’t exist before,” Silva said. “The evidence of that is every rounded-shaped sponge available on the market now – those never existed before Beautyblender.
“I didn’t realise it back then, but I’m so proud of this now: It’s so rare to create a complete category within this industry.”
Silva cites women like Bobbi Brown and Ruth Bader Ginsburg as having provided her with inspiration as a female entrepreneur. Of the late jurist, Silva said her “nuggets of wisdom” have inspired her to thrive in an industry that’s “still highly at the top run by men.”
One of her biggest priorities at the moment is encouraging people to vote in the upcoming presidential election.
“I feel like so many people in the last election decided to not vote because they weren’t happy with their choices, but not voting is a choice that has repercussions,” she said. “I wish people realised that they do matter.”
– Amanda Krause
Honey Dijon is a world-renowned DJ known for high-fashion collaborations and celebrating the queer origins of house music.
Though Honey Dijon has skyrocketed in popularity over the past several years, largely thanks to her genre-blending approach to DJ sets, she’s hardly throwing spaghetti at the wall.
In fact, Honey Dijon had a front-row seat to the rise of house music.
Born in Chicago, Honey Dijon was a teenager when clubs began embracing the new sound. She began crafting her famous DJ sets in New York City in the late ’90s and now splits her time between Manhattan and Berlin, collaborating with high-fashion pillars like Riccardo Tisci and Kim Jones of Louis Vuitton.
“I just stuck around long enough for culture to turn,” she told the Gay Times last year when she was honoured with an award for “outstanding impact” in the LGBTQ community.
“The fact that I’ve been able to manifest all of these really highly creative opportunities for myself is political in itself,” she said. “I mean, five years ago that wouldn’t have been possible – two years ago, it wouldn’t have been possible.”
As a Black transgender woman, Honey Dijon is dedicated to paying homage to communities that paved the way for her success. She’s a fierce advocate for trans visibility and an opponent of heteronormativity – especially when it threatens the music and environments that she holds sacred.
“This is a 30-year-old subculture that’s now above ground, and I try to convey that music from where I come from – queer Black culture,” Honey Dijon told Ssense. “This music was started by queer people of colour.”
– Callie Ahlgrim
The chef, author, and food and travel show host Samin Nosrat, 40, is bringing the joy back to cooking.
Samin Nosrat, 40, stands out.
In an industry dominated by daredevil white men and homemaking women, Nosrat’s unapologetic excitement about food and hands-on approach to learning and sharing all things culinary have turned the traditional travel and food TV show on its head.
Her passion is infectious and brings joy back to cooking – especially during a time in which many people have been in the kitchen so much, they have forgotten how to enjoy it.
Nosrat, an Iranian American chef and cooking teacher, is the author of The New York Times bestseller “Salt Fat Acid Heat” and host of the eponymous Netflix docuseries, a show that catapulted her into becoming a household name – and a household favourite – practically overnight when it launched in late 2018.
Her latest project, started during quarantine, is a podcast that she produces with her friend Hrishikesh Hirway called “Home Cooking,” which aims to provide both inspiration and advice to novice cooks.
“The purpose of it is for levity, comfort, and joy,” she previously told Insider’s Rachel Askinasi. “And I think it’s achieving that. So that makes me happy, that people are liking it, and it feels fun for them, and useful.”
Nosrat said she believed post-pandemic “reconnecting to our global community is going to be really huge” and that this will be a priority for her and her work in the future.
– Sophie-Claire Hoeller
Kelly McGonigal, PhD, 42, is a Stanford University lecturer and psychologist specializing in “science-help.”
There are a lot of people in the world today claiming to be wellness gurus. But there aren’t as many who have the scientific knowledge to back up what they’re saying.
This makes Kelly McGonigal, an author, psychologist, and educator, all the more unique.
She has written acclaimed books based on her Stanford University lectures that delve into how to build your willpower, why stress can be a good thing, and the importance of movement for mental health (she is also a qualified group-exercise instructor).
In 2020, McGonigal launched 40 Days to Positive Change, an audio program designed to help people make habits stick.
In her 2013 TED Talk, “How to make stress your friend,” which has been viewed over 24 million times, McGonigal says, “When you choose to view your stress response as helpful, you create the biology of courage. And when you choose to connect with others under stress, you can create resilience.”
McGonigal’s specialty is the mind-body connection.
As a pioneer in the field of what she calls “science-help,” she takes scientific findings from the worlds of psychology and neuroscience and translates them into practical tips that can be used to improve health, happiness, and well-being.
Her mission? “To help each of us find our own strength and the courage to lift one another up. To amplify what is good in humanity, and to support the communities that bring out the best in us,” her website says.
– Rachel Hosie
Kimberly Drew, 30, makes art accessible to diverse audiences through her writing and advocacy.
To make change, you sometimes have to make waves. That’s what Kimberly Drew has done throughout her career.
Drew, who grew up in Orange, New Jersey, attended Smith College to earn a degree in art history and African American studies. She interned for New York’s Studio Museum in Harlem while in school and later worked as the Metropolitan Museum of Art’s social-media manager.
In a “moment of vulnerability,” she told Essence in January, Drew resigned from the coveted position. While the move might have seemed risky, Drew dreamed of pursuing more writing opportunities and advocating for Black artists.
Drew published her first book, “This Is What I Know About Art,” in June and is working on her second book, “Black Futures,” with coauthor Jenna Wortham. The latter book combines essays, photos, memes, and more to help answer “the question of what it means to be Black and alive,” according to Penguin Random House.
She’s also modelled for designers like Chromat and Kate Spade and has used her social-media accounts to show support of the ongoing racial-justice movement in America.
“I’m not a long-term goals person,” she told The New York Times in 2018. “If you’d told me five years ago this is what my life would look like, I wouldn’t have believed you.”
– Amanda Krause
Ann Mincieli is a Grammy winner, founder of New York City’s legendary studio Jungle City, and a rarity in the male-dominated trade of music engineering.
To many in the music industry, 2011 didn’t seem like a particularly auspicious time to build a high-tech, high-cost recording studio.
The New York Times said that year, “It is not the kind of place you would expect for an era of pirated music and GarageBand.”
“I had the Warren Buffett approach – when everyone is going home, you go big,” Mincieli told the Recording Academy in 2018.
Mincieli’s vision for a “seven-star studio” paid off, and Jungle City has become a household name for music lovers – so much so that it was name-dropped on Lorde’s acclaimed sophomore album, “Melodrama.”
A lot of other chart-topping, Grammy-winning artists have recorded songs inside Jungle City’s Louis Vuitton-patterned walls, including Drake, Jay-Z, Ariana Grande, and Alicia Keys.
In fact, Mincieli had long been Keys’ go-to engineer when Jungle City first opened. They both received Grammy Awards when “The Diary of Alicia Keys” won best R&B album in 2005, and then again when “Girl on Fire” won the same award in 2014.
In her acceptance speech for the NMPA’s 2018 songwriter-icon award, Keys said just about 3% of engineers working in music today are female, “and one of them is Ann.”
“Only 2% of producers are female, and one of them is me,” she added. “Our world is 50-50, and it’s time for our industry to reflect that.”
This year, Keys and Mincieli teamed up alongside the Universal Music executive Jody Gerson and WME executive Sam Kirby to create She Is The Music, an initiative designed to increase the number of women working in music.
– Callie Ahlgrim