Business books don’t typically have the same appeal as a glossy coffee-table tome or a buzzy self-help book, but Design Sponge’s Grace Bonney is hoping to change that. In her second book, In the Company of Women: Inspiration and Advice from over 100 Makers, Artists, and Entrepreneurs (released this week), the design entrepreneur features intimate portraits of 100 women across industries, ethnicities, religions, sexual preferences, ages, and disabilities.

“I loved the ways business books for women were happening, but they seemed to be telling the same story of a thin, white, relatively wealthy straight woman over and over again,” Bonney tells Vogue.com. “At a certain point, I realized we were really missing out by not hearing more voices, and more voices in their own words.”

Photo: Courtesy of Artisan

Bonney then drafted up a list entitled “Bold Women”—some she knew, others she didn’t—and started her outreach last summer. It was an eclectic mix: model Christy Turlington Burns, magazine editor turned actress Tavi Gevinson, director and chief curator of The Studio Museum, Thelma Golden, writer and poet Nikki Giovanni, and transgender pioneer Kate Bornstein. (The only two wish-list women who weren’t able to participate were television host and political commentator Rachel Maddow and First Lady Michelle Obama.) These female powerhouses shared another commonality: Their successes are entirely self-made.

She wanted the book to have a brisk Q&A feel. She set off on a cross-country road trip to interview her “bold women.” She asked questions, like “What did you want to be when you were a child?” (“everybody wanted to be a ballerina,” she laughs); “What would you tell yourself ten to twenty years ago that you wish you knew then?;” and “In moments of self-doubt or adversity, how do you build yourself back up?”

Their answers were always surprising, real, and illuminating. Bonney found herself particularly struck by Gevinson’s response to her question of “What was the best piece of business advice you were given when you were starting out?” Her answer: “Own everything.” “Tavi was nineteen when we spoke, and I loved the idea of her being smart enough at that young age to know how important it is to own really every aspect of your business,” Bonney said. “It’s your brand, your voice, stand up for it—she had so much chutzpah and confidence.”

Bonney wanted to capture these women at their strongest, without diluting the message or sexualizing their appearance. “In the media, women are always on beds, spilling off of chairs and trying to look really sexy,” Bonney said. “Instead, it was important to me to show these women very much in control.”

The book’s impassioned view of diversity was also paramount. “This is what America and the world is today,” she said. “When I came out in 2011, it hit me how important it was to have role models who reminded me of at least one part of myself. If you’re not seeing these diverse stories that represent all types of women, you think your future passions are less possible for you.”

Advertisement

With the election just a month away, the well-timed release date of In the Company of Women was not lost on Bonney: “This is so important, especially right now. Women are running shows, kicking serious ass, and not needing any man’s permission or help to make that happen. It’s our time.”