Women’s Equality Day is celebrated in the US each August to mark the 1920 adoption of the 19th Amendment to the United States Constitution. The Amendment granted American women the right to vote. Today, we mark the occasion by highlighting women founders who continue to fight for equality, nearly 100 years later.
Rebecca Lee Funk prepared to launch her activist apparel brand just as the first woman president would be announced. “There was a bit of a plot twist,” she says. Instead, Donald Trump was sworn into office, and she did what any new business owner faced with an unexpected challenge would do: she adapted. Rebecca introduced The Outrage to the world, along with a campaign to donate a portion of profits to Planned Parenthood—in Trump’s name. It went viral.
What started as an online apparel company with a bent for good-doing, would become a massive force in the activist space.
Since then, The Outrage has been an official partner of every social and political movement from March for Our Lives to Families Belong Together. What started as an online apparel company with a bent for good-doing, would become a massive force in the activist space. But to understand how it got here, let’s rewind to the pre-Trump era.
Rebecca’s past career as a development economist took her to places like East and West Africa and Guadalajara, Mexico. Though she was passionate about international development, she knew that the role wasn’t a fit for her. “I wasn’t meant to sit for eight hours a day building econometric models and not talking to humans,” she says. On self-reflection, she remembered the thrill of her college side gig—a retail clothing store—and pivoted to join Living Social’s ecommerce team in Washington, D.C. Then, her employer sold that arm of the business.
Rebecca was out of work but her then-boyfriend (now husband) had his dream job working for the Obama administration. “I wasn’t going to pull him out of D.C.,” she says. “I was like, Oh shit, what am I going to do?” Around the same time, she was looking to buy herself a feminist T-shirt, ideally from a company owned by women and with ethical supply chain and production practices. “Once you learn that stuff,” she says, “you can’t unlearn it.” But she came up short. So Rebecca spent months in libraries and coffee shops building what would become The Outrage, launching the online store at the height of the 2016 presidential election.
I care less about what you’ve done and more about what you’re capable of achieving.Rebecca Lee Funk
The Outrage is woman-owned and staffed by a diverse team, intersectional in experience, identity, and beliefs—about two-thirds of the team is made up of women of color. When it comes to her hiring practices, Rebecca says, “I care less about what you’ve done and more about what you’re capable of achieving.” The store sells T-shirts and other merch (ethically produced, of course) emblazoned with phrases like “Trans People are People,” “Pay Me What You Owe Me,” and “Votes for Black Women.” Profits from each item support a specific cause in line with The Outrage’s core values.After the unexpected virality of Rebecca’s Planned Parenthood/Trump campaign, the orders started pouring in. “I was like, Oh God, people think this is a real business,” she says. “But it was just me in my living room.” Soon the merchandise was spilling into the hallway—and even the bathroom—of the apartment she shared with her husband.
To keep the pop-up running, Rebecca had T-shirt printers in several states running their presses all through the night. Her friends called in sick to work to help out. And customers, hearing of her pregnancy nausea, brought saltines and ginger ale. Still, they couldn’t keep up with demand. Though the business was intended to stay ecommerce only, Rebecca says, the pop-up provided “very real proof that we would succeed as a brick-and-mortar location.”
The organizers of The Women’s March, which began as a global protest in 2017 following Trump’s inauguration, took notice of The Outrage’s overnight success and reached out. Together, they planned a pop-up to use as a vehicle for fundraising. It was an overwhelming success, Rebecca says, to the point that “leading up to the week of the March, we had four-hour lines.” The event raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for The Women’s March. The tip jar alone, she says, pulled in $26,000 for Planned Parenthood. But the volume wasn’t the only challenge: “I was in my first trimester of pregnancy through all of this,” she says. “So I was puking everywhere.”
The sheer fact that [women’s equality] has been given a day, highlights the need to be holding space for this issue in every single political discussion.Rebecca Lee Funk
Today, The Outrage occupies three physical stores, with one in Philadelphia and two in D.C.—one of which includes a 2,000-square-foot community space. That space has been visited by big political names like US Representative Ilhan Omar and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, who’s now running for president, and it will host events for more 2020 presidential candidates this year.
As we celebrate Women’s Equality Day, I ask Rebecca to weigh in. She is, after all, running a business dedicated to amplifying women’s issues and voices. Though the spirit of Women’s Equality Day is very much in line with her business, she says, “the sheer fact that it has been given a day—i.e., the implicit acknowledgment that women aren’t yet equal in our society— highlights the need to be holding space for this issue in every single political discussion.”Feature image by Luis Mora