Feminist apparel shop spurs strategy ‘huddles’
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.”
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.