A year ago, Rebecca Lee Funk saw the election of a divisive president and sudden success simultaneously.
In October 2016, after quitting her day job at LivingSocial, Funk started a feminist apparel company — think T-shirts that say “The Future is Female” —to celebrate the then-predicted election of Hillary Clinton as president. She worked on the website while bartending at night, naming her online shop “The Outrage.”
The Outrage’s name was inspired by issues brought to life during a terse and contentious presidential race, including lawmakers’ sexist comments, their policies, negative and hurtful stereotypes of women and girls, and the gender wage gap.
“When I started the Outrage, a big part of it was because of the commodification of feminism,” Funk says, making reference to merchandise sold by for-profit retailers disconnected from activism. “I thought, if you’re going to sell things in the social justice space then you better be active in that space.”
Funk decided to run her company as an entrepreneur and an activist. A portion of each item sold is donated to a progressive organization committed to social justice and change. Recipients include the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Black Lives Matter, Planned Parenthood and She Should Run. And beyond monetary donations, Funk ensures that the products she sells are ethically made.
But a month after launching the Outrage, Clinton — Funk’s inspiration — lost the election.
Clearly, Funk needed to reevaluate her business plan. When Donald Trump was elected president, her mentality matched her company’s name. She was outraged, but Funk didn’t wallow for long. Instead, the Ivy League graduate — she earned her master’s degree from Yale University — mobilized as a businesswoman.
When Funk got wind of the Women’s March in Washington last year, she leased a space in the city’s Adams Morgan neighborhood to open a pop-up shop. She got her keys on Jan. 1, just 20 days ahead of the march.
A Washingtonian Magazine article pointed marchers to the store, where they could find a head-to-toe “nasty woman” look and official apparel for the Women’s March. Funk persistently contacted the organizers at the Women’s March, too, and they allowed her to sell their official merchandise at her store, marking the beginning of a business relationship. Customers caught wind quickly, and Funk didn’t expect what came next.
Hours-long lines filed the 18th street corridor, with actress Sophia Bush making an appearance. Valerie Jarrett, who served as a senior adviser to President Obama, sent a representative to purchase items on her behalf. Bush kept in touch, and she is releasing a collaboration with the Outrage later this year. So is actress Rose McGowan.
After success in D.C., Funk opened a second store location in Philadelphia last October. She describes the Outrage’s physical locations as activist incubators.
“This very organic demand for a community space came to us, and that really shifted the model of the Outrage,” Funk explains.
Funk lets anyone who needs to host a gathering use the store spaces for free. The D.C. chapter of the National Organization for Women, for example, hosted a poster-making party in advance of Washington’s Women’s March on Saturday. Before the March for Science in April of last year, 500 Women Scientists, a grassroots organization, held a party in the Outrage’s store. The playlist was even science-themed.
She also stayed in touch with the Women’s March organizers, and their partnership continues to grow. The Outrage is the only official retailer of Women’s March merchandise. This year, Funk and the Outrage’s chief operating officer, Poojitha Regulapati, will tour the country with the Women’s March for Power to the Polls, a campaign that is focused on voter registration and electing women to office. On the tour, the Outrage will sell merchandise at each city stop, and Funk is looking to open more store fronts in states that are crucial in the 2018 midterm elections. She’s even eyeing cities or towns in swing states ahead of 2020.
While Funk and Regulapati are on the road, employees at the shops in D.C. and Philadelphia will work with local organizations and activists to host in-store events that educate and empower shoppers.
Funk makes an effort to train her staff to educate customers. There’s a postcard-making stand in-store so that shoppers can write to their lawmakers. The Outrage team will walk customers through finding their representatives, identifying the issues that representatives are voting on and teaching them how to pitch and contact those elected officials. The Outage has mailed several thousand postcards to representatives on their customers’ behalves, Funk said.
“People come in looking for a Nasty Women Unite shirt, but they’re at this cusp where they’re not yet activated, and we’ve been able to do that in a lot of cases,” Funk said. Her goal is to build a “community space” where she can host regular events with mission-oriented organizations the Outrage supports and donates to.
The Outrage is also “very intentional about meeting people where they are,” Funk says.
“We get people in the store that see, for example, a pin that we sell that says ‘Intersectional,’ and they don’t know what intersectional means,” she explains. “It’s not a bad question in the store. If you’re interested, then we’ll tell you about it. It’s okay if you’ve never contacted a representative before. It’s okay if you’re not registered to vote. We’re here to help you learn about things you’re clearly interested in because you walked through the door.”
These opportunities to activate members of “a whole new generation” excite the entrepreneur.
“We get people in the store that haven’t actually done anything,” she says. “Yeah, I’m gonna sell my shirt and donate a cut of that to Planned Parenthood but, if I get them registered to vote, if I get them to show up for stuff, if I get them interested in local government — I just couldn’t imagine anything better I could be doing with my time right now.”