Fem­i­nist ap­parel shop spurs strat­egy ‘hud­dles’

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS - THE DISTRICT BY MICHAEL ALI­SON CHAN­DLER

The door was wide open for women on strike at a store­front in Wash­ing­ton on Wed­nes­day, a sign in the win­dow of­fer­ing “Free Food!” and “Free Hugs!”

In­side, women wear­ing red in sup­port of the “Day With­out a Woman” protests mixed mi­mosas and wrote post­cards to law­mak­ers that would be mailed with a Won­der Woman stamp.

The gath­er­ing was at The Ou­trage, a “pop-up” or tem­po­rary re­tail store in Adams Mor­gan and on­line busi­ness for fem­i­nist ap­parel that’s be­come part of the grow­ing fem­i­nist move­ment in the District and be­yond.

The store, which at­tracted a line of cus­tomers around the cor­ner in the days lead­ing up to the Women’s March, also sig­naled an eco­nomic boost driven by the swarms of po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated tourists.

“There were busi­nesses that sold out of food the week­end of the march in Adams Mor­gan and through­out the city,” said Kris­ten Bar­den, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the Adams Mor­gan Part­ner­ship Busi­ness Im­prove­ment District. “The crowds were huge, and a lot of own­ers had not an­tic­i­pated it.” Many restau­rants and other busi­nesses are gear­ing up for two more na­tional marches planned for this spring.

Re­becca Lee Funk, 33, launched the on­line busi­ness in October in an­tic­i­pa­tion of cel­e­brat­ing the coun­try’s first fe­male pres­i­dent. From the be­gin­ning, a por­tion of the pro­ceeds went to women’s rights or­ga­ni­za­tions.

Her site went live the day after the third de­bate, when Don­ald Trump called Hil­lary Clin­ton a “nasty woman.” That night, she hastily de­signed a “Nasty Women Unite” T-shirt that launched her busi­ness with a ral­ly­ing cry and be­came a quick seller.

The morn­ing after Hil­lary Clin­ton lost, Funk sat in bed read­ing the news and cry­ing, she said. Her hus­band, who worked for the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, pre­pared to be­come un­em­ployed. At the same time, her sales ex­ploded. By mid­night, she had beat her best day of sales 20 times over.

As the women’s move­ment took off and women in­ter­na­tion­ally be­gan or­ga­niz­ing for the women’s marches in Jan­uary, the fem­i­nist gear was grabbed up. The sud­den rush caused some panic.

“This was just me work­ing in my liv­ing room,” she said. An ini­tial busi­ness part­ner, Claire Sch­lemme, was launch­ing a dif­fer­ent start-up in Cal­i­for­nia. Racks of clothes soon snaked down Funk’s hall­way, filled the liv­ing room and spilled into the bath­room. That soon changed.

She be­came an of­fi­cial part­ner of the Women’s March in De­cem­ber, sell­ing mer­chan­dise with the March logo. And on Jan. 4, she opened the pop-up store in a for­mer women’s cloth­ing bou­tique on 18th Street, of­fer­ing an on-the­ground re­tail venue to pro­mote the march. She se­cured a six-week lease and hoisted a tem­po­rary ban­ner above the win­dows.

In the first four days, she raised enough money to do­nate $10,000 to the march. Ad­di­tional pro­ceeds went to fund buses from five cities for peo­ple who couldn’t af­ford to at­tend.

The week of the Women’s March, lines stretched around the cor­ner, and women in pink hats waited for hours to buy T-shirts. More than 60 women vol­un­teered their time un­pack­ing boxes and keep­ing shelves stocked.

She gave out posters with slo­gans, such as “This P---y Grabs Back,” and put a tip jar on her counter with a sug­gested do­na­tion of $5 for DC Planned Par­ent­hood. In the first three weeks the store was open, she raised $26,000 from that tip jar alone, she said.

Funk, who was in her first trimester of preg­nancy, strug­gled to get through 18-hour days. She pow­ered through on a mix­ture of ner­vous adren­a­line and hor­mone-in­duced nau­sea, buoyed by cus­tomers who brought her gin­ger ale and saltines.

After the march, like a lot of peo­ple, she said she was ner­vous about what would come next. But in­ter­est — and sales — re­mained steady. She ex­tended her lease and has no im­me­di­ate plans to close.

In the weeks since, many women have made re­turn trips to the store, she said. Her mer­chan­dise has be­come a pop­u­lar gift, with peo­ple spend­ing $32 to buy a “RE­SIST” T-shirt or $13 to buy a “Smash the Pa­tri­archy” pin.

In the mean­time, the pop-up store is be­com­ing a gath­er­ing spot for women. Be­hind the racks of clothes, the back of the store is a kind of lounge with a love seat and cof­fee ta­ble, as well as a small col­lec­tion of fem­i­nist books.

Through a com­mu­nity calendar posted on­line, she lends the space to women to host post­card par­ties or have “hud­dles” to dis­cuss pol­i­tics, strate­gies that the or­ga­niz­ers of the Women’s March have en­cour­aged.

“This is not a nor­mal store,” she said. “For a lot of women, they just want to be in this en­vi­ron­ment.”

Many who come in are new to fem­i­nism and want to talk, she said. “I think they feel it is a safe place to ask ques­tions,” she said.

Funk is proud to be lead­ing a fem­i­nist re­tail move­ment. She said she grew up with fem­i­nist par­ents who in­stilled in her a lot of am­bi­tion. Her fa­ther, an or­ganic chemist, used to take her along to talks by fe­male sci­en­tists. “I did not re­al­ize un­til my 20s what he was do­ing,” she said.

She be­came a fash­ion model in her late teens, then opened a cloth­ing store in State Col­lege, Pa., where she earned de­grees in sci­ence, ac­count­ing and phi­los­o­phy at Penn­syl­va­nia State Univer­sity. The busi­ness kept her afloat while she went to grad­u­ate school at Yale Univer­sity, study­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal man­age­ment and eco­nom­ics.

After grad­u­ate school, she worked as an econ­o­mist fo­cused on food-pol­icy is­sues in Africa. But after sev­eral years, she missed re­tail and tran­si­tioned into ecom­merce, work­ing for Liv­ingSo­cial be­fore get­ting laid off when the busi­ness was ac­quired.

As she put to­gether a busi­ness plan, she was in­ter­ested in so­cial en­trepreneur­ship and thought a fem­i­nist line would mar­ket well to fel­low mil­len­ni­als, who, she said, tend to be more aware of their “pur­chas­ing power.”

“For mil­len­ni­als, I think there is great in­ter­est and de­sire to blend ac­tivism and style,” she said.

As her busi­ness has taken off, though, she found the fem­i­nist slo­gans are pop­u­lar across gen­er­a­tions. “I have sold a lot of ‘Nasty Women Unite’ T-shirts to grand­moth­ers,” she said.

The sci­en­tist-by-train­ing is ex­cited about launch­ing a sci­ence col­lec­tion next week. Dis­play ta­bles in her store al­ready fea­ture shirts that say: “I Be­lieve In Sci­ence.”

Her busi­ness is part­ner­ing with the Sci­ence March in Wash­ing­ton, planned for Earth Day in April, as well as the Cli­mate March, planned the fol­low­ing week.

She looks back on the sad­ness she felt the day after the elec­tion and plans she dis­cussed with her hus­band about flee­ing Wash­ing­ton. Now she be­lieves there is no bet­ter place to be.

“It’s a bizarre thing,” she said. “The city is elec­tric right now.”

MICHAEL ALI­SON CHAN­DLER/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Re­becca Lee Funk opened The Ou­trage, a fem­i­nist women’s ap­parel on­line busi­ness, last fall. After Pres­i­dent Trump was elected, The Ou­trage be­came a store in Adams Mor­gan and a cen­ter for the city’s fem­i­nist move­ment. Many who come in are new to fem­i­nism, she said, and feel it is a safe place to talk.

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