How A Tough Year For Women Became A Great Year For Feminist Etsy

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If the bleak and oftentimes overwhelming news cycle has given us nothing but anxiety over the past year, it’s also produced an onslaught of feminist slogans and mantras ― often driven by that same news cycle ― to keep in our arsenal. 

In 2017, women from all walks of life accused powerful men of sexual assault.  The government made personal decisions regarding women’s bodies. Regardless of who you voted for in the 2016 election, it hasn’t been the easiest year for womankind. 

As slogans like “pussy grabs back,” “nevertheless she persisted” and “smash the patriarchy” have gained momentum, they have also inevitably gained marketability. Just ask the sellers on Etsy.

The online marketplace has long been a goldmine for both feminist-inspired merchandise and women-owned business. But the demand for these goods  ― and the speed at which the demand has changed based on current events  ― is staggering. 

“Searches on Etsy for items with the term ‘feminist’ or “feminism’ significantly peaked in January 2017, with a 369 percent year-over-year increase,” Etsy trend expert Dayna Isom Johnson told HuffPost. 

Demand has accelerated for general feminist goods, but also for topical, of-the-moment pieces that reflect a particular news event. When Mitch McConnell silenced Elizabeth Warren while she attempted to read a letter written by Coretta Scott King in February, #ShePersisted took off on Twitter almost immediately. 

Such instances have sellers in an interesting position, not only to produce the merch, but to produce it quickly, while the topic is relevant. 

Brittany Kay is the Houston-based owner of EBandJDesigns. According to her site, the shop sells “feminist clothes for your liberal agenda.” She launched eight months ago, after moving out of Washington, D.C., where she was a federal contractor, post-election. 

“I was really mad, and my friends knew I like to craft,” she said.

Kay actually ended up removing her first product, a baby onesie with the slogan “feminist as fuck” written on it. “I think I ended up taking it down because my mom gave me a hard time, but people kept asking me, ‘Could you do this?’ ‘Could you do that?’ … the more it happened, after the inauguration.”

“It” being inspiration for merchandise, including her best-selling “nevertheless she persisted” items. “I got in at the right time [for nevertheless she persisted],” she said. “I had barely any sales, then I put up that design and had like, 30 orders in a couple of days. It was nuts. I was not prepared for that kind of volume.” 

It’s bizarrely rewarding for retail.”

The turnaround time to stay on top of the current trendy slogan varied between sellers we spoke to, ranging from a few days to a month, which, Johnson said, works to their advantage.

“Because Etsy sellers produce small-batch items, they are able to quickly adapt their products to reflect emerging trends and moments in culture, ahead of large retailers,” she said.

It also, though, leaves them having to find new ways to stay relevant in such a competitive market by putting their own personal spin on products.

“I have to sit on a situation before I think of something,” Kay said. “There’s a lot of competition, which is great, but I don’t want to do exactly what everyone else is doing. If I don’t hit a news story first that’s kind of what happens, I put my own spin on it.” 

What sellers agreed on was just how much the news actually impacts the market. 

“It’s funny how it correlates so much, and I love watching that,” seller Meagan Dowling said. “Someone doesn’t agree with something someone did and so they buy a sticker for their phone case to show how they feel ― it’s awesome to see it in real time like that.” 

Kay echoed that sentiment. “It’s so cathartic to be able to kind of have that commentary and then get that sale and realize people are feeling the same way,” she said. “It’s bizarrely rewarding for retail.”

Some slogans, like “pussy grabs back” and “girl gang” have maintained a staying power when it comes to sales, Dowling told HuffPost. Others, like “100 percent nasty,” which was so closely linked to the Hillary Clinton campaign, have dwindled over time. 

Still, the demand is there. Seller Callie Garp told HuffPost there were months this year where she “churned out around 20 illustrations in a month to meet my goal of a new thematic sticker set per month.”

And with the demand also comes critique. When asked if they find making a profit off of the feminist movement to be problematic, all three sellers agreed that while they understand that position, they should not be compared to, say, a giant corporation.

“I can see why people ask that question,” Dowling said. “I think it’s all about supporting a woman and a small business, and I’m not a company that is just making a shirt that says ‘girl power’ for $40 that is going directly back into my company. I think as long as the brand is staying authentic, I see no harm.” 

All three sellers also told HuffPost they donate some of their profits to organizations like Planned Parenthood, and stressed the fact that their customers are supporting women in business, an inherently feminist ideal. 

“I kind of get that it feels icky,” Kay said. “But it helps me to provide for my family. If that’s not part of what feminism is, I don’t know what is.”

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