Welcome to The Closet Feminist’s new series, Feminist Designers! This interview series will be focusing on the work and designs of clothing labels and fashion designers that explicitly identify as feminist.
I am super-excited to kick off this series with Madison Reid of Only Child Apparel, a feminist t-shirt company based right here in Vancouver. Reid discusses the importance of diversity in fashion, giving back to her communities through her work, and what is next for this awesome local line.
The Closet Feminist: What inspired you to start your line Only Child Apparel?
Madison Reid: I was volunteering at WAVAW (Women Against Violence Against Women) while working at a custom t-shirt company, and would daydream about making my own feminist designs.
I did searches online and found the feminist shirt market was seriously lacking in stylish designs. I consider myself a fashionable person, and I’m a graphic designer who loves great typography. I wanted to make shirts that people wouldn’t want to throw out after wearing one time.
I was terrified to take my Etsy shop live. I had such anxiety about putting myself out there. I took the risk, opened the shop with just 2 designs, shared it on Instagram, and it has been an unbelievably rewarding experience. My first Etsy sale was December 2013, maybe a month or so after I opened it. The following December I made my 100th sale.
I wanted to try this as a fun hobby to do outside of my full time job, and it has been one of the best decisions I’ve ever made. I’ve sold shirts to people all over the world, and I love knowing there’s a person all the way in South Carolina, Germany, or New Zealand who cares about the issues I care deeply about. And now they own a piece of my art!
Why did you choose the name “Only Child Apparel”?
I didn’t want to spend too much time thinking on the name of my brand, so I named it after myself; I’m an only child. I also didn’t want to give it an overtly feminist name. I wanted to keep it neutral.
What is it about fashion that inspires your feminist activism?
Wearing a political statement on your body lets others know who you are, what you care about, and that they are not alone. It can connect you to others. It can inspire you to keep fighting, and it reminds you that you are not alone. We are working collectively to change the world.
I’ve had the occasional comment on Instagram from anti-feminists who stop by to say “Wearing a shirt that says ‘Smash The Patriarchy’ does absolutely nothing.” Yeah, no, I disagree with that. I feel like the people who say this are the same people who declare that we have achieved equality in the West—it’s easy to say that when you’re a white, heterosexual, cisgender male. Try saying that to a transgender woman, a Muslim woman, or an overweight woman, and they might tell you a different story.
There are obviously many other ways to be a feminist activist that are more impactful than what I’m doing. This is the path that inspires me most and is how I want to contribute. I’ve learned from this experience that if/when I quit the shirt biz and move onto something else, I am an activist and will keep making feminist art.
In your opinion, what is the future of feminism within the fashion and personal style sphere?
Our generation is very conscious of our impact on the planet. We want to make our purchases thoughtfully. You see more brands popping up that say their clothing is ethically made in the US or Canada, and I consider that feminist fashion. More gender neutral clothing brands would be considered feminist fashion, as well as more inclusive choices of models in fashion shows. I think some great things have been happening in the fashion industry recently in regards to all of these.
What have you learned working on Only Child Apparel that you couldn’t have learned anywhere else?
I had no idea what this project would bring to my life. It has made me into a business person. It has forced me to push through the fear, because in doing so I might be rewarded by connecting with people in ways I never thought possible. I’ve suddenly connected with friends over Facebook I haven’t seen in years, because it turns out they care about gender equality too.
It has taught me self care because there truly are days I’m too overwhelmed with life and I just need to take a social justice break, and not look at my Facebook or Instagram. This experience has taught me a lot about pushing past those anxious feelings, even though I have them a lot. I have so much fear when I expose my heart [through my designs]. I get anxious about being targeted by a troll. I fear crossing the line and offending someone. I get anxious asking people to model for me. Occasionally, I get so overwhelmed I just want to cash in my chips and run out the door.
We are living in a difficult yet exciting time. When I started the Instagram account for Only Child Apparel, I followed a bunch of accounts that share feminist memes, and I eventually realized that the majority of them are run by teenagers. I felt a bit funny following them because I’m a wee bit older, but I couldn’t help but be blown away by these kids. There’s a community of enlightened, informed, and motivated teens who share amazing posts about self love, gender identity, race, etc. They are so fed up with the bulls**t patriarchal system. What’s with all this trashing of millennials these days? I wish I had been that smart when I was sixteen!
[Ultimately,] working on Only Child Apparel has taught me to focus on the positive rather than the negative because the positive truly always outweighs the negative.
Finally, I’m beyond fortunate to have friends who support me tremendously.
What is a typical day for you as the head designer and founder of Only Child Apparel?
I work a day job, so that’s usually what I’m doing Mon-Fri, and I make a few trips to the post office after work each week. Evenings often involve Twitter searches (love/hate it) for interesting articles I can share on Facebook. I use Facebook for more thought-provoking topics that I might say a few words on. Instagram is mostly just for sharing brand pictures or silly stuff. A couple nights a week I will browse Pinterest for inspiration for new designs, or for my photo shoots. I sketch in my sketchbook some nights; the majority of my designs for Only Child Apparel have been hand lettered.
I did a couple markets in 2014/2015, but because of the political content of what I’m selling, and my tendency to get a bit flustered when I’m met with hostility, I haven’t done one in over a year. The trendier markets in Vancouver serve alcohol, and I’m not interested in a hostile confrontation with someone who has been drinking.
What is next for Only Child Apparel?
I’m at a crossroads with this business. I didn’t know what to expect when I first started, and since this has been so successful and rewarding it’s given me pause to think about where I want to take this.
I think I want to start making this into a fashion brand, not just t-shirts. I did, in fact, study fashion design at VCAD when I first moved to Vancouver in 2010… for about 8 weeks, then remembered I hate sewing, and decided to study graphic design instead.
I have really talented friends I made in school that keep me connected to the world of fashion. They are very aware of some of the ludicrousness of the fashion industry, and want to do good things like make the industry more inclusive. I want to think I’ll collaborate with them at some point.
I want to do more local, handmade clothing. Possibly vintage items and non-clothing items. Collaborating more with other artists. Just about anything is possible, I guess!
Do you have any advice for folks seeking to start a feminist business?
I think it’s important to really think about what feminism means to you and what about your business is feminist. Is it just your product or service, or how it’s also made? Is it your brand’s mission statement? Does your business acknowledge all of these things? Since I started this business, I’ve learned a lot more about feminism that I wish I had known then, and I’m evolving my brand as time goes on because of this.
I think having a thick skin can be beneficial if you would really like to join a debate, or fight to have your voice heard while running a feminist business. Anti-feminists can believe all the anti-feminist memes they have created as they want; I know that feminists are some of the most compassionate and caring human beings on this planet. Fully embracing my identity as one has made me a better person.
I admire activists who are out there shutting down the ignorance and not letting the pushback get them down, because it’s tough. But in the end, any harassment (online or offline) is just proof that misogyny is still alive and well and that feminism is thusly needed.
Only Child Apparel donates a portion of every sale to a local rape crisis centre. What inspired you to do this?
I felt that if I want to call my brand ‘feminist’ it needs to be more than just feminist slogans. I need to consider my role in feminism as a business person. Donating to WAVAW was the most obvious choice for me. They are the organization that gave me my empowered awakening nearly four years ago. WAVAW staff were among the first to buy shirts from me when I started making them. They brought an amazing network of women into my life, and I don’t know what I would do without them. The world is a better place for having an organization like them offering their services and supporting women. They are life changers. Donating to them is the least I could do. I’m not into running half-marathons, so I need to contribute a different way.
Body positivity and inclusivity seems to be a big part of Only Child Apparel’s design philosophy. Why is this important to your designs?
I wanted these shirts to embrace intersectional feminism’s message of embracing everyone; not just through t-shirt slogans, but by how my brand presents itself and involves people from the movement. I could be doing better with the inclusive sizing with the shirts: this is a work in progress.
Intersectional feminism is tackling sexism, homophobia, transphobia, racism, fat oppression and ableism (to name a few). If I only use models who would be considered ‘traditional’ (tall and skinny), how can I really say I care about representation when I won’t do it myself?
Intersectional feminism is tackling sexism, homophobia, transphobia, racism, fat oppression and ableism (to name a few). If I only use models who would be considered ‘traditional’ (tall and skinny), how can I really say I care about representation when I won’t do it myself? I want models of different genders, races, and body types to appear in my work because these people exist and are beautiful too.
I will mention that I know that I am white and blonde, and so I am included in the narrow type of woman that is often represented [in fashion]. I do model for my shirts a lot. I feel comfortable putting my face all over my brand, and I am obviously the most readily-available to appear in photos for my work. However, we have already seen women that look like me many times before. Representation is so important because our society is so quick to dismiss that other types of people exist.
There are a lot of brands jumping on the female empowerment bandwagon. I see lots of fun shirts on trendy consumer sites where they still have size 0 models. There’s nothing radical about [these advertisements] and it’s clearly just to capitalize on what’s popular at this very moment.
Anything else you would like Closet Feminist readers to know about Only Child Apparel?
My photos are taken by Jackie Dives of http://jackiedivesphoto.com, who is so talented, so accommodating and so disarming. She did a series of photos on menstruation that were featured in Vice!
Want more of Only Child Apparel? Check out their social media and Etsy shop here:
All photos used with permission from Only Child Apparel.