Arts & Culture

Southern Women in Business

In the fields of fashion, food, and finance, a powerful group of Southern women are paving the way for a new generation of leaders

Clockwise from top left: Chef and restaurateur Nina Compton; designer Cristina Lynch; chef, author, and television personality Vivian Howard; and boutique owner Laura Vinroot Poole—four trailblazers featured in Southern Women and as panelists in the Southern Women in Business event series.

In the fall of 2019, Garden & Gun released its latest book, Southern Women, chronicling the stories of more than a hundred of the region’s most accomplished females. This year, G&G partnered with Synovus to lift these stories off the page, presenting the three-part speaker series Southern Women in Business. The online and in-person discussions featured groundbreaking businesswomen in the realms of investing, culinary arts, retail, and more, including G&G cofounder and CEO Rebecca Darwin, chef Nina Compton, designer Cristina Lynch, and fashion industry leader Laura Vinroot Poole.

When it came to partnering with Garden & Gun on Southern Women in Business, Synovus was a natural fit. The company began in a Georgia textile mill, where one of its founders helped secure the hard-earned savings of a female worker after her money was spilled on the factory floor. “Beginning with that simple act of kindness, we have a rich legacy of supporting women, who will continue to strongly influence the future of the South,” says chief strategy officer Liz Wolverton. To dive deeper into these stories, we chatted with some of the panelists on the joys and challenges of being a woman in their field. 

With as much grit and grace as her adopted hometown of New Orleans, chef Nina Compton has forged an enviable career in the kitchen. As chef-owner of two award-winning restaurants, Compère Lapin and Bywater American Bistro, the St. Lucia native honors her Caribbean roots—and New Orleans’. For the former Top Chef finalist and her peers, the spring of 2020 delivered a season of hardship like few before it. “When you’re used to being in charge and having the answers, it’s especially difficult to feel helpless,” she says. “I had to step back, process, and make a plan for how to deal with it best.” It was a hard-won lesson for the restaurant industry vet, who has long been commended for her leadership: “I learned you always have to be able to pivot,” she says.

For Laura Vinroot Poole, the fashion phenom behind the Charlotte, North Carolina-based clothing boutiques Capitol, Tabor, and Poole Shop, it was balancing the expectations placed on Southern women that proved an ongoing challenge. “Since the beginning, it was hard to recruit women who felt they could have a career and also a family,” she says. “So the business became more focused on leadership development and creating an environment where our employees don’t feel like they have to choose.” The result was a space where joy is contagious: “The best part of the job is the community. I have an incredible team of women who love what they do—making people feel beautiful.”

Community and culture are equally valued by designer Cristina Lynch. Inspired by her mother’s Mexican heritage, the Dallas-based founder of Mi Golondrina works with Mexican artisans and a female-led team in Texas to preserve and share Mexico’s traditional hand-embellished clothing. “As we grow, we work with more artisans,” she says. “I’m responsible for their livelihood, and for creating an environment that empowers and inspires. It’s a beautiful thing, but also a big responsibility.” When asked what advice she’d give her younger self, Lynch says: “It’s funny. I often want more of the younger me now, because I think she was a little more fearless.”

WATCH: Style Webinar with Laura Vinroot Poole and Cristina Lynch

WATCH: Culinary Webinar with Nina Compton and Vivian Howard