When the PINK Loves Consent campaign debuted last year, the response was explosive. Overnight, the page received over 50,000 views, #lovesconsent was trending on Twitter, and the Internet proffered abundant praise. People were thrilled at the notion of Victoria’s Secret producing a line so wonderfully feminist and subversive to their sexist advertising, even when it turned out that the group FORCE: Upsetting Rape Culture were the pranksters behind the operation.
In conjunction with the faux site, members of the group planted panties emblazoned with pro-consent slogans such as “No Means No” and “Ask First” in over a dozen Victoria’s Secret stores across North America and Europe. The request for consent panties was so overwhelming that Victoria’s Secret attempted to have the site taken down, citing confusion among customers who thought the project was real.
Despite the enormous interest in “consent panties,” the idea never developed into an actual product line, and fans were ultimately disappointed. PINK Loves Consent may have succeeded in its goal to start a conversation about rape culture, but it left everyone wondering, “Why doesn’t this exist yet?” Over a year later, one college student stepped forward to make everyone’s dream a reality.
Inspired by the PINK Loves Consent campaign, Amulya Sanagavarapu took the initiative and founded Feminist Style, a company aimed at fostering “social change through consumerism.” While many mainstream companies are taking baby steps toward addressing sexism in their advertising, Feminist Style’s goal is to combat the issues head on. Sanagavarapu’s first project, a range of consent underwear for men and women, is currently being funded on Kickstarter. She says the idea is to pick up where PINK left off and make a stand against rape culture.
“Our culture has a very poor understanding of consent,” Sanagavarapu explains. “From light uses of the word rape (i.e. “I got raped by that exam!”) to serious victim-blaming (i.e. people still asking what the victim was wearing and suggesting that she failed to take the necessary precautions), our society just isn’t clear on the importance of consent and the seriousness of sexual assault. I think having consent panties as a real product out in the market, as actual alternatives to underwear slogans that teach that “no” is a way to flirt (i.e. “no peeking”), would serve as a small step to shifting the culture around consent.”
So far, one of the main criticisms the campaign has received is that undergarments aren’t an effective means of displaying the message. But Sanagavarapu says that isn’t the point of the product.
“These consent panties aren’t meant to speak for you,” she explains. “This is about the types of products that are out in the market and the type of culture we promote.”
Sanagavarapu, who is currently finishing her last semester at the University of Waterloo in Canada, explained that her ultimate goal is to shift the cultural narrative away from pervasive sexist advertising and objectification and intends to use a portion of the funding received to create feminist advertising—specifically, PDAs related to the issues the product confronts. For the “consent undies,” the advertising would discuss rape culture and sexual assault.
As a part of her work-study program, Sanagavarapu has had the opportunity to work in Silicon Valley, where she was exposed to San Francisco start-up culture, which she says was instrumental for her push to start Feminist Style. Although she’s faced some difficulties along the way, she’s enjoyed the journey. Sanagavarapu says overall, each stage of development has proven to be more arduous and time-consuming than expected, especially when working with the manufacturer to produce product samples and a sizing chart.
As with most crowd-sourced projects, funding is the main obstacle preventing Feminist Style’s launch, though Sanagavarapu is determined to see the project come to fruition. After the first Kickstarter campaign failed to raise the $150,000 it needed to progress to the next phase of production, she narrowed the scope of the project and launched it again. After the early phases of her campaign, she hopes to expand her product line with more designs, including plain underwear without text.
In future projects for Feminist Style, Sanagavarapu says she’d like the pursue a line of non-sexy Halloween costume options.
“[…] as long as we see ads and products with sexism there will always be something new for Feminist Style to do.”
How do you feel about consent undies becoming a real product? Let us know in the comments!