Wild Feminist. Girl Boss. Nasty Woman.
These are the political (and, recently, fashionable) battle cries of women on the left – and now, female entrepreneurs capitalising on a climate of mobilisation and the tendency of millennials to wear their causes on their sleeves.
Portland, Ore.-based tomboy-chic brand Wildfang was founded in 2012 with a feminist ethos, but in the aftermath of the election, its clothes have found a wider audience. On Wednesday, it launched their second line of ‘Wild Feminist’-branded apparel, Wildfang told Women@Forbes exclusively.
Its ‘Wild Feminist’ line of goods includes everything from t-shirts and hats to coffee mugs and bomber jackets branded with the ‘Wild Feminist’ logo, sold for between $12 and $88 was their best selling ever, according to founder Emma McIlroy who formerly worked at Nike.
“Fashion is playing catch up to society,” said McIlroy, who incorporated Wildfang in 2012, in part to fill a gap in the market for clothing appealing to people all along the gender spectrum. Now doing millions of dollars in annual sales, it has expanded from one local flagship to an e-commerce operation with a second brick-and-mortar location also in Portland. McIlroy says that the size of the business is doubling every year.
“I believed that this needed to exist and I wanted it done right.”
McIlroy sees her role as a young, queer Irish entrepreneur as inherently political. Wildfang’s biggest sales days have also centred on political flash points such as the election of Donald Trump, the Women’s March On Washington and their #DressLikeAWoman campaign. (Wildfang offered 2-hour delivery for a ‘Wild Feminist’ apparel in New York and San Francisco in anticipation.)
“We weren’t sure if there was a reason for us to exist,” said McIlroy of the day after Trump’s election. Still, its two biggest sales days in history followed November 8th, with four times the volume of online sales, despite no marketing beyond a letter to their listserv.
As gender fluidity and nonconformity become more accepted and mainstream, particularly among the millennial and Gen Z generations, Wildfang is not alone in the marketplace. Some of its competition includes Brooklyn-based Bindle & Keep and west coast designer Emily Meyer, both specialising in bespoke suits.
“We didn’t sit down to find a niche market. The market found us,” said Daniel Friedman, the tailor who founded Bindle & Keep in 2011.
You might know Bindle & Keep from ‘Suited’, a 2016 HBO documentary which tells the story of how Friedman and activist Rae Tutera came together to champion fashion for folks across the gender spectrum while following a few of their customers’ personal stories. It was produced by ‘Girls’ showrunners Lena Dunham and Jenni Konner.
Friedman’s suits are priced on average around $995 and can be tailored to accentuate or minimise masculine or feminine features. Currently, the company is grossing about $1 million per year in sales, according to Friedman.
“We’re not relying on our mission,” said Friedman. “We don’t have to convince anyone. We are market driven. This is capitalism at it’s best.”
The company gives back when they can by providing bespoke suits to those who cannot afford them most recently to Gavin Grimm, the trans teen who took his bathroom fight to the Supreme Court.
Mainstream apparel outlets are catching up to brands like Wildfang and Bindle & Keep. In 2016, Spanish fashion giant Zara launched a gender-neutral line. Competitor H&M will debut a unisex denim line in late March. This gives even those unable to spend extra on bespoke clothes the option to present as they like.
As Wildfang’s McIlroy elegantly put it: “It’s sh*tty when you can’t self-express.”
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