The question I was most asked over the two-day event for female entrepreneurs and thought leaders was also the hardest to answer – why are you here? I was invited to The Other Festival held at City Point in Brooklyn as a blogger to cover the two-day event that blurred the lines between industry conference, pop-up shop, and music festival; however, my involvement was equally participatory, acting as both envoy from the male-dominated world of politics and a small business owner. The event was themed around women entrepreneurs, but also touched on the realms of activism and empowerment, and the conversations I had over the weekend were far flung and poignant.
Brilliant women spoke briefly on their successes to a group of ravenously ambitious listeners, taking elegant notes in crisp notebooks. The main tenants of marketing and branding were discussed, from creating an air of community to the importance of narrative. These tactics follow with my own theory politic of storytelling outweighing logic in an uncontested fight. We’ve been telling each other stories since the dawn of our species, so it comes as no surprise that narrative is a powerful tool to move people, be they political candidates or brand ambassadors.
I also spent some time in the Other Shops, a small popup curated by the organizers to represent women-owned small businesses, many of which were based out of NYC.
Having spent the morning traveling, I turned in early to get ready for the next day. Restless, I reflected on the relationship between good business practices and good intentions. I questioned my position in a cycle of exploitation in which much of what we consume is on some level unethical and the level of privilege that had been displayed over the first day’s events. These successful women encouraged swaths of young, bright entrepreneurs, among whom I may be tempted to count myself, with short talks on coding, pitching, and finance. My hope is that with the tools learned over this event, those present would start businesses that don’t rely on marketing meant to prey on women’s insecurities or rely on exploited women garment workers. This frame prepared me perfectly for day two which featured a more social justice slant.
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In their panel “Telling Your Brand Story” Laura Brown of InStyle, Lola Ogunnnaike of Entertainment Weekly, and the style icon Jenna Lyons advised the audience to be unapologetically authentic. It’s rare in the airbrushed world of social media, and helps someone stand out. The edges of this culture are beginning to crack, and users can smell the bullshit of superficial Instagram influencers with their professional photographs and platitudinal captions. Instead, be interesting and curious. Be a well-rounded person; if all you can talk about is being a brand or your social media presence, you’ll miss human connections. This resonated with me as a blogger who can’t bring herself to use hashtags or posed content on her Instagram and won’t stop talking about politics on Twitter. I’ve always felt left behind by those with the looks or brand more consonant with the current trends of social media, but for me, social is about documentation and communication. I’m glad others can see the forthcoming downfall of the too-perfect influencer, because it’s time we start being honest with each other.
As if swept up by a whirlwind, I suddenly found myself leaning against a bar with Sarah Sofie Flicker as a young woman offered us a bottle of Chandon (of course not, can’t you see me being awkward enough as it is?). Flicker is one of the founding members of the Women’s March on Washington, among a myriad of other creative endeavors from actress to the founder of a protest-choir. Not one to mince words, I asked her about the importance of intersectional feminism, especially having seen a majority of white women vote for Donald Trump in 2016.
“As Linda Sarsour says, the people closest to the pain are closest to the solution. So, I’d say to white feminists who want to make a difference to do a lot of listening to uplift people in marginalized communities instead of speaking on issues that might not be your experience,” she said. These principles are also a founding principle of the Women’s March, whose website still features an evergreen platform called The Unity Principles, which brought together women and femmes from a diverse policy background to show how all these issues interest. The point of these principles is to show that when we talk about women, we need to talk about all women — not just the pay gap or reproductive rights, she says, but also reproductive justice, police violence, education, immigration, and people with disabilities. Women are, after all, 51 percent of the population, so nearly every issue is also a women’s issue.
“We’re not a monolith,” Flicker states. Privileged women need to ask themselves daily what they’re doing to both fight and uphold the status quo and use their position to uplift those whose voices have not been heard and derail systems of oppression. The Women’s March organization is also coming out with a book this January 16th which delves into the march and how the event came together as the single largest protest in US history despite the perceived differences of its founders and the challenges that come with uniting women of diverse backgrounds.
I asked her how activists can stave off exhaustion in a news cycle that’s like an unrelenting stream of bad news, and her suggestion was simple: organize from a place of love and if you’re tired, rest. This might be good advice for me too, as anger has been my modus operandi over the past few months, waking up and reading Politico first thing in the morning (I’m weird, because I love politics. I wouldn’t recommend this lifestyle for everyone). She recommends participating because you love justice or love organizing or love the community you’ve built rather than because you hate a policy or person.
Emma Grey, the Executive Women’s Editor at HuffPost, echoed Sarah’s sentiment about activism. We need to understand that people will need to take time away from the news cycle from time to time, she warns, but then we need to invite them back into the fray after they’ve reenergized. Community is another powerful tool to use when reaching out to political agnostics, making phone calls over pizza or having a letter writing brunch over mimosas are two ways to get people involved in a sustainable way.
“We also need to stay accountable,” Emma Grey adds, “I’ll ask my friends to remind me to text or call my representative once a week. I’m then more likely to do it. If you have a party where we’re raising money for the last abortion clinic in a state, but also having a dance party, I’m going to show up and spend my money.”
We also talked about the need for diversity in many activist communities – I’ve seen it in groups from feminism to environmentalism, they tend to skew towards white middle and upper-class people. This not only excludes other perspectives from these communities, but conjures an image that social or environmental justice is an issue only for wealthy people, which is simply not true. “It falls on the most privileged of the group to reach out and create connections and go to people outside of their own community to ask ‘what do you need? How can I use my resources and show up for you?” Emma said.
She spoke both on the panel and afterwards to me about the dangers of the corporatization or co-opting of movements by brands for profit, which is one of my favorite topics (*cough* Dior *cough*). This is exactly what I needed to hear. It’s our responsibility to also make sure the women and men who made those garments or items are treated well and the factories don’t pollute the surrounding environment. I asked her what she thinks consumers can do to make sure their activism isn’t used to simply line someone’s pocket:
“I think calling out brands work, think about the insane outcry that happened with Pepsi put out that incredibly tone-deaf ad, all the tweets, and all the promises to boycott that brand, and how quickly that ad came down. I think consumers need to be informed and before you go buy your feminist swag, and I love me some feminist swag, who that company is that you’re purchasing from. Take ten minutes and just do a simple google search and don’t support a company that doesn’t line up with your values.”
After this panel, the effervescent Stacy London challenged the audience to reconsider why they dress the way they do and to do so from a place of love (I love my shoulders) than hate (I hate my hips). Many of us were taught to dress ourselves this way, and by doing so, we’re allowing self-hate to have a permanent place in our lives, every morning when we get dressed. She made incredibly clear that what a woman chooses to wear is never an invitation for sexual advances, to a round of applause. “Thank you” someone shouted from the back of the room.
I could go on and on about the other panels such as Eco Warriors panel, the need for diversity in the worlds of modeling and wellness, the way we treat plus-size models of color, and the dangerous beauty standards put forth by large retailers. The biggest takeaways from this event for me were to act out of love, not hate, to let authenticity replace your “personal brand,” to build a company from a place of community, to keep brands honest through social media, and to ask daily what we can do for those less privileged than us.
Next year, I’d love to see more a more diverse range of professions and industries represented – I love women who are changing the worlds of fashion and beauty, but it seems to send a message that for women to be successful, she should stick to the feminine realm instead of pursuing law, politics, economics, healthcare, tech, or any number of other careers. I’m glad to have been given the chance to network with so many amazing women, and I hope the Other Festival is back again next year, stronger than ever.
Pssst! I have more to say though! Be sure to read my interview with the eco-goddess Mara Hoffman here.
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- The Sustainable Fashion Blueprint Report 2018: Industry Overview and Business Opportunities
Title image of a sticky note collage at The Other Festival by participants. All images courtesy of Simply Ric Sechrest Photography.