Feminism may be en vogue, but brands should think twice before attempting to profit from it.
Mary Wollstonecraft — widely regarded as one of the founding feminist philosophers — would have celebrated her 258th birthday this year.
And yet, confounding as it may be to those who’ve dedicated their lives to the painstaking march toward gender equality, feminism is currently experiencing something of a cultural renaissance. In a society that has yet to establish meaningful equality between the sexes, this sudden commodification of a 200-year-old movement may feel jarring.
Nonetheless, brands of all stripes have been quick to co-opt and mass-produce the spirit of feminism (or at least, their interpretation of it). Let’s take a look at four ambitious brands that have tried — and failed — to jump on the feminist bandwagon in pursuit of monetary gain.
1. Dior’s $710 “We Should All Be Feminists” shirt
One of the tenets of modern intersectional feminism is inclusivity. It’s a movement that welcomes people of all races, religions, gender identities, sexual orientations, and backgrounds. Unless of course you work at Dior, in which case feminism is only for the very, very wealthy.
In an iconic Spring/Summer 2017 Fashion Week moment, the luxury atelier’s first female artistic director included a shirt reading “We Should All Be Feminists” in her debut collection, sending it down the runway to the tune of Beyonce’s “***Flawless,” which features an excerpt from Chimamanda Ngozi’s Adichie’s TEDx talk on feminism. While the brand announced it would donate a percentage of the proceeds from the sale of the shirt to the Clara Lionel Foundation, the price point makes it difficult to chalk this one up as a feminist victory.
2. Forever 21’s Plagiarized “Wild Feminist” Tee
Remember that “Wild Feminist” tee from indie online retailer Wildfang? For a few months, it seemed like you couldn’t open Instagram without seeing one. Fast fashion retailer Forever 21 must have taken notice, because they produced an exact replica just months after the original appeared online.
Shortly after the knockoff’s debut, Wildfox CEO Emma Mcilroy vocalized her anger: “When you rip off that T-shirt, you’re not just ripping us off, you’re also taking money out of the pocket of Planned Parenthood and the ACLU, because 10% of every product that we make goes directly to them,” she told Refinery29. “So, yeah, it’s just shitty.”
Mcilroy also pointed out the dubious ethics undoubtedly at play: “I would love to know how much everyone in the Forever 21 supply chain was paid, because I can tell you that I pay well above minimum wage to everyone in my company,” she said. “I don’t know how you make a garment like that — ethically and sustainably — for 10 bucks.”
3. Prabal Gurung’s “The Future is Female” Tee
The original “The Future Is Female” shirt was designed in the 1970s for Labyris Books, the first women’s bookstore in New York City. It wasn’t until 2015 that the masses began flocking to the design thanks to Rachel Berks, the owner of online retailer Otherwild. After spotting a photograph of the original shirt, she began producing and selling them for $30, donating 25% of the proceeds to Planned Parenthood.
While Berks did not have a copyright on the slogan, her fans were surprised to see an exact replica walk down Prabal Gurung’s runway during his Fall/Winter 2017 fashion show. Sure, the luxury designer was making an important statement on a global stage, but he was also selling that statement for $195 per shirt — with none of the proceeds going toward the cause in question.
4. Brandy Melville’s “Raise Boys and Girls the Same Way” Shirt
In 2015, young women’s retailer Brandy Melville produced a seemingly femme-positive shirt reading “Raise Boys and Girls the Same Way.” Great message, right?
Sure, so long as your daughters are thin! The brand is notorious for selling “One Size Fits All” garments that fit only those who typically wear sizes extra small or small. So go ahead and flaunt your feminism — so long as your body type adheres to traditional conceptions of female beauty that pander to the male gaze.
Are you a size 0 feminist?
Or a size 2 feminist?
Brands: If You’re Going To Do It, Do It Right
So how can brands respectfully participate in the cultural conversation about feminism? Here are a few takeaways from these botched attempts:
1. Don’t do it if your product promotes equality but is prohibitively expensive.
2. Don’t do it if you exploit child workers/sweatshops in the production process.
3. Don’t do it if your design is plagiarized.
4. Don’t do it if you exclude 99% of body types in your sizing.
As long as you keep these guidelines in mind, we encourage you to take a leap into the world of feminist fashion — just do so responsibly!