The Closet Feminist’s third instalment of Feminist Designers interviews Whitney, founder and head designer for Indianapolis-based Strange Women Society. SWS promises “curious good for curious folk,” and is inspired by all things magic and strange.
What inspired you to start your line Strange Women Society?
The catalyst for Strange Women Society was the frustration I felt with my day job designing items that didn’t really interest me, and oftentimes felt like the antithesis of what I wanted to create.
This boredom/frustration lead me to creating a few textile art pieces for a local art gallery. The piece I made for the show was titled Strange Women, and was centred on the idea of the wild woman, the witchy woman, and the mysteries and myths that surround womanhood and femininity. Thoughts and ideas on this concept snowballed, and I ended up with more designs than I had time to create.
Most found themselves in a sketchbook that was unearthed a few weeks later resurrecting my enthusiasm for the project.
In talking to several woman that connected with the pieces I had made, I realized that maybe there WERE other weirdos out there like me who often felt removed from normality, but who didn’t see this as a negative. I decided to make some of the ideas in my sketchbook happen, and hoped that other people would connect with them in some small way. I didn’t really have a clear vision of what I wanted to create, I just knew I wanted to make strange items for my fellow strange ladies, giving them a space to celebrate their strangeness.
What is it about fashion that inspires your feminist activism?
I think fashion is a perfect place to see both the failures and successes of our culture when it comes to equality. There are obvious issues with representation in the fashion industry. Let’s be real, this sucks… but at the same time I’ve witnessed so many small indie labels breaking the stereotypical mould and showing what the fashion industry could be in the future, and this excites me.
Industry aside, fashion from a personal perspective can also be incredibly revolutionary. Wearing something to purposely challenge a societal expectation is a very visible way to confront outdated ideas and expectations.
Even something that seems simple (you know, just wearing whatever the hell you want) can be incredibly liberating on a personal level. Apples, hourglasses, pears, whatever, it’s ridiculous the amount of pressure that is put on us to feel we have to dress a certain way. At the end of the day, who cares, be revolutionary. Be an apple, wear a body con dress, be a man, wear a miniskirt, be a size 22, wear short shorts. Making the decision to stop allowing the fashion industry or beauty magazines to tell us what is okay and what is wrong is an act of revolution in and of itself.
In your opinion, what is the future of feminism within the fashion and personal style sphere?
There is so much momentum in the self-love and sister love movements within the indie fashion sector that I think it’s only going to continue growing. My hope for the future is that more and more people will be able to find clothes they like, will see themselves represented in more brands, and will feel comfortable enough to wear what they want.
What is currently inspiring you as a designer?
I’m always moved by the idea of the mysterious or mythic, so both old and new interpretations of this has always intrigued me. I’ve also always been fascinated by the illustrations and poetry of Edward Gorey.
What have you learned working on Strange Women Society that you couldn’t have learned anywhere else?
How to run a business! I didn’t originally set out to start a business, and I have to be honest in saying that it is so much more work than I could have imagined.
I think the romance of starting your own business, especially in a creative field, typically focuses on the creative end. Making a thing, having other people enjoy the thing, and getting paid for the thing. People don’t often day dream about the late nights trying to figure out inventory, or trying to figure out your taxes at 6 am after three consecutive days without sleep. I love it. It’s hard, really hard, and I’m still learning, but it’s one of the most rewarding things I’ve ever done.
Oh! Also! I’ve learned that there are so many rad, supportive women, and artist communities online. I’m not a social media buff in my personal life, so I had no idea these communities existed until I got involved on Instagram with Strange Women Society. I’m honestly in awe of the other incredibly talented, kind, and supportive people I’ve met, and I can’t say enough good things about the community I’ve found on Instagram.
What is next for Strange Women Society?
Currently I’m working on building a new site, designing more accessories, and teaming up with other awesome artists for a few collaboration items to be added late summer/early fall!
Do you have any advice for folks seeking to start a feminist business?
Just do it. There are going to be a million reasons why you can talk yourself out of doing something you want to do. Don’t let that happen. All of your insecurities will resurface, and you will more than likely fail a few times, but it’s okay. Just keep moving forward. Doing something, keeping with continual forward movement, is the best way to accomplish whatever it is that you are trying to do. Feeling the fear and uncertainty and not allowing that to stop you is the most important thing I’ve ever learned to do.
Women seem to be totally dominating the rise of awesome pin designs. Why do you think that is?
Women are amazing artists! I also think that there is this message of supporting each other and lifting each other up that’s allowed for the rise of so many talented women in the field of pin design.
Instead of competition there is an amazing community of women who have already achieved success in their industry, helping other talented women achieve success, too. There was never a lack of talented women artists, I just think that the atmosphere as of late has allowed for an explosion of incredible designers to be seen and find success among the online communities.
Strange Women Society seems to rely a lot on the idea of a girl gang. What makes the concept of a girl gang important to your work?
Everything! The concept of a girl gang reminds me of the riot grrrl or girl power movements of times past: the idea that we can all be successful. That another woman’s success, talent, or beauty doesn’t take away from our own; it’s not a threat, you know? We should be celebrating our successes, and I think this concept is central to the idea of a girl gang. Sticking together, lifting each other up, celebrating each other’s achievements.
Check out Strange Women Society’s awesome Instagram here.
Want to show your love for Strange Women? Check out their online shop here.
All images used with permission from Strange Women Society.