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Vintage Women Entrepreneurs: Overcoming Constraints and Creating Their Own Legacy


The vintage women, more experienced professionals, bring knowledge, expertise and a wide network of contacts, becoming protagonists and contributing to the success of their ventures.


Three special women


From grief to entrepreneurship: a story of determination and success



It was the year 1930, in the city of Rio de Janeiro, a young and passionate couple lived happily with their four daughters. Her husband, a groom at the Brazilian Jockey Club, was pleased to offer the best for his beloved family. The daily routine began early for the husband, who went out with his assistants to exercise the horses on rides. But he could never imagine that this activity, which he loved so much, would be cruelly interrupted by a serious illness: the flu! At that time, physician Carlos Chagas had just been appointed to head the arduous task of combating influenza, still untreated and with an explosion of fatal cases in Brazil. And what looked like just a flu, evolved into pneumonia, leaving the widowed wife without resources to support their four daughters. It was a very difficult phase for the woman, who at age 29 could not read or write and had no experience in financial administration. With the support of friends, she managed to enroll her three eldest daughters in a boarding school for orphan girls, located in the Botafogo neighborhood and run by nuns. And it was in adversity that the widow revealed her special skill in the art of cooking. Encouraged by friends, she began to provide meals for her late husband's helpers, as well as for the surrounding neighbors. Word spread quickly, and Pensão de D. Elvira, in Jardim Botânico, gained fame through popular word-of-mouth marketing. As the daughters turned 18 and left boarding school, they were prepared to enter the job market, never imagining that they would be part of a generation that would witness major post-war transformations. Her daughters became entrepreneurs who broke down barriers and created their own space in the job market, following the example of courage and determination left by their mother. The story of D. Elvira and her daughters is an inspiring female example of resilience, entrepreneurship and mutual support. They proved that, even in the face of the greatest adversity, it is possible to find paths to success and build a full and prosperous life.



The woman entrepreneur in the 30s


In the 1930s, it was a challenge for a woman to undertake in the face of the many social and cultural barriers of the time. The restrictions and stereotypes that limited the role of women in society and their professional options. For women, domestic tasks and family care were reserved, being less valued and recognized for their entrepreneurial skills. Many women who worked 'outside' were asked by their boyfriends to leave their jobs after marriage and dedicate themselves exclusively to taking care of the home.


Likewise, access to financial resources and opportunities for education and professional training was also limited for women, which promoted a lack of autonomy and financial independence, and made it difficult to start and maintain their own businesses. In addition, there were entrenched prejudices that discouraged female participation in sectors considered "masculine" or more prestigious.


Despite these obstacles, some women of the time were courageous and determined to find ways to undertake and overcome the limitations imposed by society. They sought opportunities in more accessible sectors, such as providing domestic services, handicrafts, selling homemade food, among others. These entrepreneurs faced difficulties, but with perseverance and developed skills, they managed to build successful businesses.


The story of D. Elvira is one such inspiring example for today's vintage teenage generation. Just as she found opportunities in culinary entrepreneurship, today, it is possible to witness significant transformations in the job market and in the field of entrepreneurship.


Female enterprise from the 50s


Between the 1930s and 1960s, social norms began to become more flexible. The achievement of women's suffrage in 1934, through the efforts of feminist activists, represents a historic milestone for the pursuit of gender equality in Brazil. However, in 1937, the Estado Novo imposed a period of repression that affected both men and women. Despite the adversities, the feminist movement remained active, and from 1950 onwards, with the redemocratization process, women achieved important advances, including the breaking of the terrible requirement that prevented many women from having access to the labor market: the authorization husband for this purpose.


But even so, Brazilian women still faced many challenges in relation to entrepreneurship, especially when compared to the current scenario. They were still expected to focus on the role of housewives and child care rather than venturing into the business world.


However, women did business by opening small local businesses, such as grocery stores, bakeries, beauty salons, sewing studios or clothing stores. Others excelled in the world of arts and design, creating their own studios or galleries. Some, like Dona Elvira, took the risk of opening restaurants, snack bars, pastry shops or other services in the food industry. Others worked with direct sales of household items or cosmetics, going door to door to offer their products, bringing to mind the famous commercial "Dim Dom, Dim Dom, Avon calls".


We cannot fail to remember the women in the area of education and care, especially the various teachers who came from the "Normal" course in Brazil. Specific course for teaching that was created in the 19th century and lasted until the mid-20th century. The Normal Schools, specific institutions to train primary school teachers, were attended exclusively by women, having the responsibility of qualifying them for teaching practice.


And what about actresses, pioneers in the quest for freedom of female expression. Names like Fernanda Montenegro, Nathalia Timberg, Eva Wilma, Tônia Carrero, Cacilda Becker and the incredible Dercy Gonçalves, the latter who began her artistic career in revue theater in the 1920s and 1930s, became known for their unique and outstanding talents. Dercy Gonçalves, in particular, stood out for his irreverent humor and direct language, breaking taboos for his time and leaving an important legacy for Brazilian comedy.


Women who, overcoming traditional gender prejudices and expectations, paved the way for future generations, demonstrating the strength and capacity of women to be entrepreneurs and leaders in business.


Famous female entrepreneurs who started in the 50s and influence today's world


The 1950s were marked by the emergence of visionary female entrepreneurs who left a lasting legacy in the business world and significantly influenced society. In this text, we'll meet some of the famous female entrepreneurs who started their careers at that time and continue to inspire the world today with their extraordinary stories of success and innovation.


Estée Lauder: Born in New York, Estée Lauder (née Josephine Esther Mentzer) has had an extraordinary entrepreneurial journey. From a young age, she showed an interest in beauty products and perfumes, and, with the support of her husband, Joseph Lauder, began selling skin creams that she developed herself. In 1946, he founded the Estée Lauder Companies, focused on creating and distributing high-quality beauty products. The brand quickly gained international prominence, expanding to several countries and becoming synonymous with luxury and elegance.


Coco Chanel: Gabrielle Bonheur Chanel, better known as Coco Chanel, was born in France in 1883. She was one of the most influential fashion designers in the history of fashion. Innovative and fearless, Chanel broke the standards of the time by creating more comfortable and functional clothes for women, freeing them from corsets and exaggerated adornments. Her brand, Chanel, released iconic pieces such as the "Little Black Dress" and the famous perfume Chanel No. 5. Its legacy lives on today, and the brand remains a symbol of sophistication and timeless style.


Mary Kay Ash: Born in 1918, Mary Kay Ash was a visionary entrepreneur in the cosmetics industry. After years of working in direct sales, she founded Mary Kay Cosmetics in 1963. Mary Kay has created a unique culture of recognition and encouragement for her Beauty Consultants, offering them opportunities to achieve success and financial independence. The company has grown exponentially over the years and is now one of the largest direct selling companies in the world.


Oprah Winfrey: Born in 1954, she began her career as a television presenter, gaining fame with the talk show "The Oprah Winfrey Show." As an entrepreneur, she founded Harpo Productions, a media company producing films, television programs and digital content. Her personal brand and ability to connect with audiences has driven her business success.


Rachel Ashwell: British by birth, Rachel Ashwell has become a successful entrepreneur in the world of decoration and interior design. She is known for popularizing the "Shabby Chic" style, which combines romantic, vintage, and distressed elements. In 1989, Rachel opened the first "Shabby Chic" store in Santa Monica, California, and since then her brand has expanded globally. His distinctive and authentic style has won a loyal following and influenced interior design aesthetics for decades.


 vintage woman

And we also can't help but mention Iris Apfel, who calls herself "the oldest living teenager" and one of the most iconic women in the fashion and design industry. Born August 29, 1921, in New York, she became known for her daring, unique style and fearless attitude. Although her recognition and fame began in the 2000s, Iris began her entrepreneurial career in the 50s, when, together with her husband, Carl Apfel, she founded the textile and interior design company called "Old World Weavers", supplying exclusive fabrics to high-end projects around the world. Iris caught the attention of the fashion world by mixing vintage pieces with designer clothes, standing out for her irreverence and unique sense of style, whose originality was the subject of an exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, entitled "Rara Avis: The Irreverent Iris Apfel" (Rare Avis: The Irreverent Iris Apfel). Iris Apfel is a true inspiration for people of all ages, demonstrating that creativity and authenticity have no limits, and that it is possible to undertake and leave your unique mark on the world of fashion and beyond.


What about Vintage Women in Today's Entrepreneurship?


Unlike previous generations, who often retired and moved away from the job market, the current generation sees new opportunities to create their own businesses and ventures. With the advancement of technology and easy access to information, it is perfectly possible to start an entrepreneurial career in areas that previously seemed unattainable, even after retirement (whether "at home" or "at work").


In today's world, the possibilities for female entrepreneurship are vast and offer a range of opportunities for women of all ages. The entrepreneurial scene has become increasingly inclusive and diverse, providing an enabling environment for women who want to start and grow their own businesses. And technological changes have opened doors to new market sectors, in addition to the demand for personalized services, specialized consulting and exclusive products, which has driven the entrepreneurship of vintage audacity. More experienced professional women bring with them knowledge, expertise and a wide network of contacts, factors that contribute to the success of their ventures.


No matter what age, entrepreneurship offers significant opportunities for all women, but especially for those whose professional experience and skills have been developed over the years. Vintage women become a valuable source of knowledge and expertise, as they can bring diverse perspectives and a unique set of skills to the market.


The importance of women over 55 in entrepreneurship is evident, as they bring with them resilience, wisdom, maturity and a long-term vision, valuable characteristics for the success of any business. In addition, entrepreneurship in this age group enables financial independence, personal and professional reinvention, in addition to combating stereotypes about age and gender in the business world.


Encouraging and supporting female entrepreneurship, especially for more experienced women, is key to promoting equal opportunities, economic growth and diversity in the job market. Women over 55 have a lot to offer the business world, and their active participation in entrepreneurship is essential for a more inclusive, dynamic and prosperous society.


Some of the possibilities for female entrepreneurship in today's world include:


Digital Entrepreneurship: The digital world offers countless opportunities for women of all ages, allowing the creation of online businesses, such as e-commerce, digital services, blogs, content marketing, among others.


Arts and crafts: The crafts and creative products market is another space that values originality and quality, allowing creative women to turn their skills into profitable ventures.


Social Entrepreneurship: Many women have a broader vision and concern for social and environmental issues. Social entrepreneurship allows them to create businesses that have a positive impact on the community and the environment.


Health and Wellness Sector: With the growing interest in health and wellness, opportunities arise in the fitness, healthy eating, alternative therapies and care for the elderly sector.


Consultancies and mentorships: Women with extensive professional experience can offer their knowledge as consultants or mentors, helping other entrepreneurs or companies in their journeys.

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