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The Outrage: Where fashion, feminism and resistance meet | Elizabeth Wellington

Celebrating it's first birthday in Philadelphia this month, The Outrage is 3,200 square feet of unapologetic, amazing feminist merch rooted in issues that speak to all women: rich, poor, gay, trans and women of all colors.

Carly Shapiro shows a protest pin part of the sale merchandise at The Outrage/ store located on 321 Arch Street, Philadelphia. Monday, October 22, 2018. JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer.
Carly Shapiro shows a protest pin part of the sale merchandise at The Outrage/ store located on 321 Arch Street, Philadelphia. Monday, October 22, 2018. JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer.Read moreJose F. Moreno

At the Outrage, fashion speaks truth to power.

The Old City boutique — celebrating its first anniversary in Philadelphia this month — is 3,200 square feet of unapologetically, amazing feminist merch rooted in issues that speak to all women: rich, poor, gay, trans, and women of all colors.

There are soft Ts and cozy sweats sprayed with the phrases: "Families Belong Together" and  "Believe Women." Sporty tops are splashed with the first names of modern-day freedom fighters: Michelle (Obama), Kamala (Harris), Elizabeth (Warren), and Ruth (Bader Ginsburg). These are strategically placed next to the candles decorated with solemn faces of the old guard: Harriet Tubman, Frida Kahlo, and Margaret Sanger. Pins warn: Respect my existence or expect my resistance. 

Nestled in the back of the Outrage is an olive drawstring jacket purposely similar to the one first lady Melania Trump famously wore to visit immigrant children who had been separated from their parents that informed us she really didn't give a hoot. Instead, this jacket reads: "November Is Coming" a quote from trans activist Charlotte Clymer. Next to that is an off-the-shoulder white T with the image of a black woman sporting a massive Afro. Printed underneath is the word Resist.

I bought one.

Fashion and speaking truth to power go hand in hand: Afros; wearing red, white, and blue; baggy jeans and hoodies; white sheets; Make America Great Again hats. These things optically telegraph messages that are emotional and spiritual as much as they are political.

One of the reasons I balk at the notion that fashion is no more than a frivolity indulged in by women of means is that one would be hard-pressed to find a movement that has changed the lives of American women that hasn't been marked, if not defined, by style evolution. Discarding corsets, eschewing bras, cutting hair into a swanky bob, even wearing sneakers to work were all sartorial shifts that coincided with increased freedom for women.

These days, however, feminist fashion has moved from wearing mini-skirts through which women explored their sexual power in the 1960s to choosing an ethically made T-shirt with the words She persisted stamped across the bosom. And the difference between then and now, said Martha Lucy, deputy director of research interpretation and education at the Barnes, is that the face of today's fashionable feminist is more diverse, or what scholars describe as intersectional. Think about it: During the early 20th century, only women of privilege freed themselves from corsets because they were the only ones who could afford them in the first place. But in 2018, most people — including women of color and men — can and do wear soft T-shirts and plush hoodies.

"With these T-shirts with messages and logos, you can point to a clear feminist message, and it's accessible," said Lucy.

The Outrage is at the center of modern feminism and this intersectionality simply because here all issues are women's issues and, most important, all women are represented. A pink hat scrawled with the words Viva la Vulva, espousing the idea that women should be able to make reproductive decisions, matters as much as a pin reminding us to take care of the planet because "There Is No Planet B." T-shirts celebrating yesteryear's female scientists, like chemist Marie Curie and Hidden Figures mathematician Katherine Johnson, are a part of the science collection because, darn it, women can excel in the sciences and math.

Rebecca Lee Funk launched the Outrage  two years ago in response to then-presidential candidate Donald Trump's controversial suggestion that it was OK to grab women by their private parts. Shortly after Trump's inauguration, she was still outraged, so she opened a pop-up turned permanent retail space to raise money for the 2017 Women's March in D.C.

Last year, Funk, who grew up in Happy Valley, Pa., opened the Old City locale. Prices range from knickknacks like rainbow pens and pencils for under $10 to a $60 hoodie. In the two years since, after she pays her staff, her bills, and herself, Funk has been able to donate  tens of thousands of dollars to nonprofits such as Planned Parenthood, the Women's March and Families Belong Together.

"Originally, we envisioned ourselves just as a feminist business," said Funk, 33, who now lives in Washington with her husband —  a former Obama staffer —  and their 18-month-old son. "But now we are a feminist business that's about the protest."

Speaking of protest, Funk was in the news a little over a month ago as one of 70 protesters arrested outside Justice Brett Kavanaugh's Senate Judiciary hearings.  A few days after Christine Blasey Ford testified that Kavanaugh sexually harassed her while she was in high school, the Outrage released a T-shirt featuring a pencil sketch of Blasey Ford.  "There is a cognitive dissonance that when people see a super-tall skinny white woman that she's nice. I'm here to weaponize that all day long," Funk said.

Funk works with a team of five who help her design the T-shirts, mugs, and hoodies. Most of the items are manufactured in the United States. But if the garments aren't manufactured Stateside, they are made a WRAP-certified factory, meaning the conditions have been deemed, safe, lawful, and ethical by the Virginia nonprofit.

"You can't run a feminist company on the backs of women in developing countries," Funk said.

Just last week, Funk moved from the original 1,300-square-foot space in D.C. to one more than twice the size that features a dedicated place for community activism. "People needed a place to come, to sit and to cry," she said. She has her eye on opening in spots like Asheville, N.C., or Austin, Texas, pockets of blue in seas of red.

Funk is grateful for the success, but she adds that in a perfect world, there would be no need for the Outrage. Still, she added, the fashion work she does will be important until "there is no need to wear a signal that says, 'I'm not a racist. I'm not a sexist. I'm not homophobic. Or I'm not misogynistic.' "

The Outrage is at 321 Arch St; 215-515-3578. The website is