has been an explosion of feminist T-shirts
designed in Minnesota
— The messages are strong and sometimes funny. One is
feisty, another is in French. But always, they’re
Back by popular demand"
feminist T-shirt is having a moment. Fueled by people
who want to express their support for women’s rights
at marches — but also at work, out for dinner, on
Instagram — the shirts are growing in popularity and
power. Sure, luxury brand Dior is selling a $700
feminist tee, but the trend is rooted in a $30 unisex
shirt from the Los Angeles shop Otherwild. "The
Future Is Female," the shirt declares.
artists and designers are creating some of the more
popular designs, using the T-shirts to raise money for
nonprofits focused on women’s health and equality.
They’re also gathering around the messages, hosting
printing workshops and discussions.
think this activism zeitgeist just overlapped with a
renewed interest in graphic tees as a medium for artists
and designers," said Minneapolis designer Maddy
Nye. "Of course it’s only a T-shirt, but it’s
contributing to a larger paradigm shift in awareness and
art and imagery hangs from the walls of Nye’s sunny
home studio. For her "Matriarch" shirt, Nye
used a bulbous typeface that "had its heyday during
the environmental and women’s movements in the
1970s," she said, "but I like to use it in a
with just one word, the design asks questions about what’s
changed since then — and what hasn’t. Some people
have bought Nye’s tees for their mothers, women who
fought earlier battles.
Toner is "not shy" about being a feminist. But
working in the beauty industry a few years back, she had
conversation after conversation with women who eschewed
that label. It got her thinking about the backlash
against the word, the movement. Then she came across a
photograph of a woman holding a sign: "Feminism:
Back by popular demand."
need a sign like that," she decided, if only to
hang on her wall.
asked local sign painter Phil Vandervaart to draw the
design. "The drawing was so great," she said,
"that I was like, you know what? I’d like to move
she printed it onto T-shirts and bags at Gee Teez, a
screen printing shop in south Minneapolis, and put them
on Etsy in 2015: "A Grassroots Feminist Fashion
Action," she calls it. Orders poured in. Since
then, Toner has tried to quit the project a few times,
to move on to new things. "But I’ve kept it going
because anytime I try to let it fade out, someone will
reach out," she said.
day after President Donald Trump was elected, Toner gave
the shirts away on the street. Orders again filled her
and protests are inspiring big retailers to print
"Feminist" on cheap totes and plastic jewelry.
But it’s also fueling local artists and small
companies’ longer-standing projects. My Sister, a
Minneapolis-based company that uses
"sweatshop-free" clothing to help fight sex
trafficking, has been around for two years, raising
$93,000 over that time.
the money, the messages themselves tackle gender
inequality, one of trafficking’s "root
causes," said Mandy Multerer, the company’s
co-founder and CEO. "Stop Traffick" is the
benefit corporation’s bestseller, she said, but in
recent months, a tank is trending. "It’s my
body," the shirt reads on one side, outlining the
shape of a breast. "It’s my choice."
think women feel strong when they wear it,"
image came to Crystal Quinn one night as she was falling
Minneapolis-based artist had been reading "The
Dispossessed," a 1974 science-fiction novel by
Ursula Le Guin, turning over one of its ideas in her
head: Because our culture is a patriarchy, run by men,
then the opposition, inherently, must be female.
night, the idea merged with a classic protest sign: the
abortion-rights slogan "Keep Abortion Legal,"
in bold typeface, within a circle.
just put those two together in a very natural way,"
got out of bed and started drawing. The result:
"Anarchy is female," in ’70s script, pushing
up against the black circle containing it.
it on T-shirts was the first thought I had," said
Quinn, partly because she appreciates how, like those
sold at concerts, they reference a specific moment. The
design has since landed on mugs, buttons and, as women
marched after the election, protest signs. In January,
Quinn co-hosted a workshop for protesters to print the
I came up with the design, it had nothing to do with
politics, at all, or Hillary Clinton," said Quinn,
a multidisciplinary artist who has designed and made
shoes, pompoms and posters.
she has loved seeing how and where it’s popped up —
the conversations it has started. "People have used
it in so many different ways," she said, "and
it’s all correct."
some sketched their designs long before last year’s
election, others were spurred by it: A peach T-shirt for
sale at Mille, a stunning south Minneapolis boutique
with a national online following, grew out of a
postelection conversation between owner Michelle LeBlanc
and designer Nye.
the election, we were kind of devastated," LeBlanc
said. "What can we do to be more active? What can
we do to give back more?"
the proceeds from the "Solidarité féminine"
shirt, which translates to "women solidarity,"
goes to Planned Parenthood. Already, the shop has
donated $2,000 to the health care nonprofit. Money from
a second T-shirt — which quotes Michelle Obama’s
"Go high" in bubbly typeface — goes to
DonorsChoose, a nonprofit that allows donors to pick
projects in public schools.
the kids write thank-you notes," said LeBlanc,
whose shop focuses on female designers. Whenever the
women at the shop are feeling down, they pull them out,
she said. "Oh, let’s read through our
Chelsea Brink, the donations made the difference.
freelance designer and art director had supplied the
hand-lettering — "a fancier version of my own
handwriting" — for a "She persisted"
tattoo party that accidentally went public, then viral.
In February, more than 100 women and a couple of men
lined up at a Minneapolis tattoo shop to get the quote,
referencing an attempt to silence Sen. Elizabeth Warren,
inked on their bodies. Women worldwide followed suit,
turning Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s words
when one of her friends requested a less-than-permanent
version of the design, Brink hesitated.
have mixed feelings about the whole T-shirt-message
culture," she said. "What are we really doing
here and what kind of difference are we actually
the ability to donate convinced her. Profits from her
"She persisted" shirt have gone to the Malala
Fund, She Should Run and the National Women’s Law
Center. Brink chose organizations focused on equality
but that aren’t aligned with a particular political
party, she said: "I wanted it to be as inclusive as
the end, Brink has appreciated that a little lettering
has caused people to think about big issues: tolerance,
inclusion, equality. "If one person sees it and is
affected by it," she said, "that makes a huge
difference to me."