By Matt Villano
Photos by Jared Soares
The Outrage is about just that. Outrage at the patriarchy. Outrage at institutionalized racism. Outrage at homophobia, bigotry, anti-Semitism, science-denial, and just about every other hurtful and hateful practice gaining traction in America today.
The company bills itself as “an apparel brand for lovers of equality.” But it’s more. Much more.
Like the “Resist” and “Rebel” lines, which feature shirts, patches, and socks bearing those inspiring commands. Or the cropped sweatshirt with Michelle Obama’s famous slogan, “When they go low, we go high.” There’s the line the company did with writer Lauren Duca, with t-shirts that state, “I like my politics thigh-high.” Most recently, customers have flocked to the pieces done in partnership with the Heather Heyer Foundation, emblazoned with the mantra by which Heyer lived her life until she was killed by neo-Nazi protesters in Charlottesville: “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”
“It’s one thing to be outraged,” says Rebecca Lee Funk, the company’s founder and CEO. “It’s another thing to get together and do something positive about it, to truly try and make a change.”
The biggest way The Outrage seeks to make that change: philanthropy. With every sale, the company pulls out money to cover its overhead, then donates all of the remaining profits back to charity. When Funk started the company in October 2016, she established the goal to raise $1 million for women’s empowerment in the first year. At last check, the company was well on its way. According to Funk, if The Outrage didn’t hit this target by the end of December 2017, it would crest the $1-million mark in early 2018.
To date, The Outrage has donated to a host of organizations including the American Civil Liberties Union, Black Lives Matter, Planned Parenthood, She Should Run, and the Human Rights Campaign Foundation. As the company sells more products, the list continues to grow.
Rage heard ‘round the world
In the months preceding the 2016 election, Funk was furious at the rise of Donald Trump and his anti-Muslim rhetoric, proposed border wall, and rampant misogyny during the campaign. She was fulminating about it. She went to the internet to search for feminist shirts to buy and wear, but couldn’t find anything that had nice designs or didn’t feel like commodification of the movement. As a former fashion model with a background in design, retail, and economics, this only added to her angst. She thought, someone needs to do something about this, quickly.
Then the “grab them by the pussy” tapes went public, and Funk’s anger reached new heights. Her husband, who worked for the Obama administration, made an offhand comment about how he thought her default emotion had become outrage. A company was born.
Over the weeks that followed, Funk, 33, spent her days building an ecommerce site and finding ethically sourced apparel to sell there. To fund the effort, she tended bar at night and drew down personal savings.
The real turning point was the third and final presidential debate, the one during which our current president called Hillary Clinton a “nasty woman.” That night, fueled by outrage, Funk designed a “Nasty Women Unite” t-shirt and put it on the site. She launched the site the next morning and the shirts sold out in hours.
Business remained steady until Election Day, when, in the wake of Clinton’s loss, sales exploded. Funk says that by midnight on November 8, she had beaten her previous number-one sales day 20 times over.
“Through all the long days and nights, I really thought I was building something that ultimately would celebrate the first female president,” she remembers, estimating she has put in about $25,000 of her own money to launch the company. “In the wake of the election, I felt so helpless and devastated, the company became sort of a coping mechanism. The only way I could go on was to help the fight.”
Sometime in late November, she reached out to the organizers of the Women’s March to discuss a partnership through which all proceeds from apparel sales would go straight to the cause. The founders jumped at the chance. By early December, Funk started selling merchandise with the official Women’s March logo. In early January, The Outrage signed a six-week lease to open a 1,700-square-foot physical storefront in the Adams-Morgan neighborhood and sell gear there.
According to Bob Bland, one of the founders of the nonprofit that organized the march, this outpost was critical in galvanizing on-the-ground support.
“It was important to me from the very beginning that as a grassroots movement, the Women’s March had good branding and a robust merchandise program,” says Bland. “We didn’t have the capacity to open up a store, so the partnership worked for everybody.”
To say the partnership merely “worked” is an understatement. In the first weekend the store was open, The Outrage sold enough gear to donate back $10,000. Funk earmarked additional proceeds to fund buses from five cities for people who couldn’t afford to attend the march on their own. The week of the Women’s March itself, lines for The Outrage stretched around the block, and women waited for up to four hours for the chance to buy t-shirts with witty slogans and official pink hats.
As Funk explains it, a jar on the counter for donations to Planned Parenthood raised $26,000 alone—in the first three weeks.
“It was amazing to see that everyone was just as outraged as I was; it was like they couldn’t buy or give enough,” says Funk, who learned she was pregnant with her first child the day before the store opened. “The response was simply overwhelming.”
As interest in The Outrage grew, Funk had an idea: Why not seize the opportunity to facilitate conversation and community?
With this, she decided to turn a part of the store into a gathering place, a safe space for like-minded people to meet and learn how to participate more actively in the democracy. She hosted poster-making parties. She opened it up to book clubs. She even gathered books from friends and colleagues to create a free feminist library.
“We get a lot of these young women and young men who come in asking about things they probably never have asked about before: What does intersectional mean? How do you call your senator for the first time?” Funk explains. “It’s exciting and powerful to be a part of those experiences for people in this climate.”
Elsewhere in the store, The Outrage has set up a special area designed to get customers to take a moment to participate in government. The kiosk offers visitors postcards and technology that provides them with the mailing addresses of elected officials. According to Funk, the idea behind this station is to inspire people to send postcards to their elected officials while they’re visiting the store. Over the course of the year, Funk says customers have filled out more than 2,000 postcards.
Since the Women’s March, The Outrage has grown in a number of ways.
Funk is now a mom—her son was born this summer. She also has expanded the company’s staff; the company now employs four full-time workers and nearly 70 volunteers.
After doing special merchandise for the Science and Climate marches this spring (think t-shirts that read: “I believe in science”), The Outrage now has 150 different products. About 80 percent of the products are designed in-house. The company also has expanded its footprint: A second physical storefront, about 1,000 square feet in all, opened in Philadelphia this summer. It also boasts a meeting space.
Perhaps the biggest step forward has come in the form of new lines in partnership with high-profile feminists and feminist causes. This spring, for instance, The Outrage created a collection with Lauren Duca, a Teen Vogue columnist who achieved national attention when she debated Fox News’ Tucker Carlson during an interview he tried to end by condescendingly telling her to “stick to the thigh-high boots.” All proceeds from sales of those shirts went to Planned Parenthood; in all, the company donated $10,000.
This fall, The Outrage teamed up with the Heyer Foundation for an apparel collection to honor Heather Heyer’s life. All proceeds from sales of those went right back to the foundation. Donations were still being tabulated as of press time.
Susan Bro, the late Heyer’s mother and president of the foundation, says The Outrage collection encapsulates the same message of social justice for which her daughter died fighting.
“I want [Heather’s] legacy to reflect a personal empowerment and youth empowerment for social activism,” Bro said. “People tell me they’ve wanted to do things but felt like their efforts weren’t special enough; my hope is that after seeing someone like Heather take a stand, after being reminded of her activism with [this collection], they’ll want to get involved.”
Looking forward, The Outrage has two major plans for the immediate future—plans that should help continue to grow the brand and spread its missions of compassion and equality.
First, earlier this month the company opened a third retail location—a pop-up store in the NoLiTa neighborhood of Manhattan. The store, significantly smaller than both the Washington and Philadelphia outposts, will remain open through the holiday season; Funk says she expects “big sales” from it during that time. She adds that she plans to open other pop-ups in different cities over the course of 2018, leading up to mid-term elections in November.
Second, The Outrage is putting the finishing touches on a new product line in partnership with actor and activist Sophia Bush. Funk demurred when asked about specifics of the line, but noted that items will be versatile and poignant.
Overall, Funk expects that as the nation moves into year number two of a Trump presidency, growing outrage about the state of the nation will spark increasing demand for more apparel. She adds that once the company meets its goal of donating $1 million, it will aim for an even bigger philanthropic milestone: $10 million.
“It’d be great if there’s no need for us in three years,” she says, “but I doubt we’ll ever run out of causes to support.”
Matt Villano is a freelance writer and editor based in Healdsburg, California. To learn more about him, visit whalehead.com.
Jared Soares was named one of 51 Instagram photographers to follow by TIME Magazine. His work has been featured in the New York Times, The New Yorker and in permanent collections at the Portland Museum of Art and the University of North Carolina.
Copyright © 500 Pens. December 2017.