September 24, 2020

BY LAURIE SNELL

If you don’t like something, change it – or so they say. For 22-year-old entrepreneur Amulya Sanagavarapu, that’s exactly what she plans on doing.

The Waterloo university student is frustrated by the sexual objectification of women and is using her Kickstarter campaign to promote social change through consumerism with her clothing line Feminist Style.

Kickstarter is an online program that provides funding for creative projects without compromising ownership of the product the artist is trying to create. These campaigns rely on supporters to pledge money, promising the product or service upon successfully achieving their financial goal. Creators are allowed a timeline of one to 60 days to accomplish their goals, but the end result is all-or-nothing. If creators are successful in reaching their pledge goal, the backers receive the product or service.

Sanagavarapu stumbled across what was presented as a Victoria’s Secret Pink Loves Consent campaign that promoted positive messages of sexual awareness, confidence and strength in young women. In fact, it was created as a spoof by feminist duo Hannah Brancato and Rebecca Naglem, both Baltimore, MD residents,  who envision a world where sex is empowering and pleasurable rather than coercive and violent. In order to get the message out, they created FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture, a creative activist collaboration to upset the culture of rape and promote a culture of consent.

The fake products included messages such as, “ask first,” “consent is sexy,” and “I love my body.” They were so well-received on social media during this temporary takeover in 2012, where Pinterest, Facebook and Twitter exploded with female enthusiasm and empowerment, that the organization’s webpages were shut down soon afterwards due to copyright infringement. To the dismay of many, Victoria’s Secret appeared to be silencing an effective campaign of anti-rape culture.

Sanagavarapu said she watched all of this unfold and was captivated by the demand for such a simple product. “I always thought if my ideas were marketable, they’d exist already,” she said, adding that that is clearly not the case.

“I always saw products that were advertised in a sexist way – or the products themselves had a sexist spin on them – and I would always consider how I would do things differently … when I saw the Pink Loves Consent campaign and it turned out to be a prank I thought, this doesn’t make sense if there are masses of people tweeting about how they’d purchase this product. Then no lingerie companies adopted the product,” Sanagavarapu said, adding that she is eager to fill the void in the market.

“When Victoria’s Secret launched Pink for their younger generation, they launched with a lot of slogans like “sure thing,” “ready for anything,” and “no peeking” – stuff that taught such sexual objectification to young girls. They didn’t teach consent. In fact, they taught the opposite of consent. They were sort of saying that saying “no,” is a way to flirt and there were all of these bad messages going to young girls.”

From that point – about a year ago – Sanagavarapu began this small side project to meet the perceived demand while continuing to work toward her computer science degree at the University of Waterloo.

In her introductory video to Feminist Style, she uses facts to explain her frustration, stating 63 per cent of girls, aged seven to 10 use makeup, a figure that increases to 90 per cent by age 14; 50 per cent of teenage girls engage in unhealthy weight control and that one in four college women will be assaulted – 67 per cent  by someone they know.

Her Kickstarter campaign goal is $150,000 and as of Jan. 27, has 113 backers with $4,354 in pledges. Kickstarter recommends shorter timelines to create a sense of urgency, Sanagavarapu said, so she opted for a 30-day timeline to heighten the importance of her product and the issues surrounding it. Her all-or-nothing campaign will expire Feb. 16 and her first product, most controversially, is consent underwear.

Underwear for all shapes and styles contain messages such as “ask me what I like,” “you mustache (with a mustache image) me for consent” to “no means no.” There are even styles for men that say “#notthatguy” or “#askfirst,” that suggest another social media campaign is on the horizon.

The prices for the underwear depend on the quantity consumers wish to purchase. The more you buy, the less expensive they become – one pair costs $8, five pairs are $35, 10 pairs are $60 and 20 pairs cost $100.
She believes her product will effectively target sexism and she will use the proceeds for feminist advertising to reach more people with her message to effectively create change.

“I don’t want people to think it’s just a lingerie company. It’s supposed to be products that target sexism in a variety of ways, starting with consent panties. But basically, as long as we see sexism, sexist products or anything that has double standards and gender inequality, then there will always be something to target. We will always need social change through consumerism,” Sanagavarapu said.

Waterloo marketing specialist Jill Clark believes that Sanagavarapu’s intentions are great, but her financial goal is too high with a 30-day timeline. “Her approach seems to be that she wants to sell regular products but in a way that isn’t sexualizing women. One of the challenges though is starting with a line of underwear. Putting the messages that she has on the underwear – I wouldn’t have the word consent on it. It’s a really sticky topic and no one is going to see these underwear when someone puts them on,” Clark said.

Though Clark thinks there are some flaws in the Kickstarter campaign, she believes Sanagavarapu’s intentions are good. “The idea is great – having a line of clothing that you sell in a way that you aren’t objectifying women is a great marketing tactic … I’m not sure that starting with consent underwear is the absolute best approach. I understand why she’s doing it to continue on with the trend. It makes sense,” she said.

With little less than two weeks left, “$150,000 is a really hefty goal for a company that has no press, no sales and is just selling underwear. I’ve seen Kickstarter campaigns for really innovative bikes or technologies and stuff that are way smaller than this – and you can always do more than one campaign,” Clark said.

For Conestoga College radio student Alex Martin, who considers himself a feminist, Feminist Style is fairy unique compared to other, existing products. “I’m not sure what the demand for something like this would be but I like it as an alternative. I think the real difference is in how it’s marketed. Sexist marketing is such a ridiculous thing,” Martin said.

He added he believes consumers of this product are likely already aware of the problem. “It’s the masses that you need to sell it to for there to be a realized difference. It needs to have commercial success for there to be social success,” he said.

For more information on Feminist Style visit www.kickstarter.com/projects/amulya/social-change-through-consumerism-feminist-style.

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