As a market editor, I get thousands of email subject lines like this. It's starting to feel like International Women’s Day — and feminism in general — has become an opportunity for brands to make a buck in the name of gender equality. It’s ironic that as an editor, a customer, and a feminist, all of this leaves me feeling pretty icky — not empowered. The graphic tees, feminist necklaces, girl-power products, and exploitative PR pitches are getting downright disturbing. It’s become obvious that not all brands who are participating in International Women’s Day realize that equal rights should be more than just a one-day thing.
This isn’t to say that brands cannot use International Women’s Day as an opportunity to truly do good. There are plenty of brands that pride themselves on gender parity and support women year-round — and in this case, IWD initiatives do actually advance their efforts and the cause in general. But there are many gestures that are hypocritical. What good is an "I Love Feminism!" sweatshirt when a company doesn't also pay its female employees as much as its men? Or when "10%" of proceeds — the seeming going rate for International Women's Day — only amounts to a couple hundred dollars for charities, but lots of free publicity for the business? Paying lip service to a day that has deep roots in how we hire women, pay them, support them, and advocate for them without actually doing those things is misleading. In that spirit, we're setting a standard to sniff out opportunism. Somewhat of a Bechdel test for fashion brands, this is the Feminism For Sale test.
And so, to warrant coverage on Refinery29’s fashion page this year, we're focusing on brands that 1) will be donating at least 20% of their IWD initiative proceeds to a worthy female-focused cause, 2) practices gender parity 365 days a year, not just on International Women's Day, and 3) is selling a product/design that actually has to do with their business.
Why 20%? According to retail analyst Paula Rosenblum of RSR Research, that is the break-even point where brands would make as much as they donate, given traditional mark-up costs and delivery fees. "Everyone's entitled to make a few bucks," says Rosenblum. "But are they doing this year-round, or are they actually paying the women that sew the clothes 40 cents an hour and then going, 'Yay, it's women's day?'"
With that in mind, you may notice this list is likely a lot smaller than it should be. Nearly every fashion label has an International Women’s Day initiative that’s in "celebration of women." But only a few labels are exhibiting real female empowerment. In fact, out of roughly 100 International Women's Day-related pitches we received, only about 18% of the initiatives pass the Feminism For Sale test. The rest either make no mention of proceeds being donated, do not explicitly state what portion of proceeds are being donated, or will only be donating anywhere from 2% to 15% of proceeds (and thus easily profiting from said product).
In a time when it's all too easy for brands to jump on the feminism bandwagon to get good press, we want to highlight the brands that are truly putting their money where their mouths are, today and every day.
So, with all of this in mind, click ahead to check out of the IWD products that passed the Feminism For Sale Test.