In 2018, almost two years after a reality TV star was sworn into office as the US president, Alexandra Posen finally started to see a silver lining. Formerly the creative director of her brother’s fashion label Zac Posen, she began to take notice of the news stories percolating about the number of women running for the midterm elections. Posen connected with her Washington DC-based friend Dahna Goldstein, an entrepreneur and founder and CEO of the grant asset management software company PhilanTech, and started to brainstorm. They landed on the idea of “a wearable piece of art that inspires activism” and launched it through an ecommerce platform they created called Resistance by Design.
The first item they released was a silk-chiffon scarf they called the “HERWAVE,” featuring an illustration by Posen of the 200 female democratic congressional candidates. “It really resonated with people,” Posen remembers. “I think you can write letters and you can make phone calls and you can go to marches but if you’re doing all of that, there is also often a real desperation for other ways to express your values. I think the scarf and the whole concept of Resistance by Design tapped into that.”
The scarf started popping up on Posen’s social media feeds just after they launched the project. Female activists were gifting it to other female activists. Gloria Steinem purchased one, as did Jane Fonda. Proceeds of the sales went to various organizations including Emily’s List and She Should Run. As the project grew, Posen and Goldstein began to partner with grassroots organizations like Stacey Abrams’s Fair Fight, NARAL Pro-Choice America, and the Women’s March to produce merchandise like t-shirts and mugs. They operate with a revenue share model and recently launched a program called Mobilize Monday, through which they will donate $2,020 (chosen for the year 2020) to a different grassroots organization in a strategic state. There is also Flip It Friday, which encourages Resistance by Design fans and followers to donate to the campaign of a specific democratic Senate candidate.
In the early days of the stay at home orders in New York, Posen began speaking to friends about what was then a mask frenzy: What are the right masks to buy? Are there enough masks and PPE for frontline workers and those with a higher risk of infection? What materials should the masks be made from? She sketched the mask that she knew she’d want to wear, one with the word “VOTE” stamped in a large font across the front. Then, she went to her closet, cut up an old cotton shirt and actually made her own mask with cut-out felt letters. She posted a photo of herself wearing it on Instagram and a flurry of DMs and inquiries came in.
Resistance by Design produced a line of “VOTE” masks which have been seen on Abrams, Dr. Jill Biden, Hillary Clinton, Kerry Washington, Megan Rapinoe, and many more. “We’ve sold tens of thousands of these masks,” Posen says. “It certainly gives me hope and serves as a sign that people are engaging in a really different way. There’s a kind of consciousness of civic engagement and urgency and agency that I feel has been dormant, but awakened by our current situation.”
“What this country has experienced the past few years is unprecedented in most of our lifetimes,” Goldstein notes. “People are feeling the need, as I did, to express their political and social views in all facets of their lives, not just in one-on-one conversations.” She adds, “design and fashion provide an incredible and pervasive channel for people to express not just their views but their values. And we’ve seen those expressions create opportunities for engagement—people stopping each other on the street to ask about the candidates on the HERWAVE 2018 scarf or honking and waving in support of someone wearing a VOTE mask or tee. This creates a sense of community and a shared commitment to the values and issues being expressed through design and fashion.”
Posen and Goldstein will continue to pursue projects for Resistance by Design after the election, no matter the outcome. In fact, they’re about to launch a new capsule collection that shifts the focus from voting to participation in democracy and the concepts of unity and “We the People.”
“What we do with Resistance by Design is try to put wind in the sails of social movements,” Posen notes. “The advantage our company has is that we are responsive with our designs, so we’re able to see and feel what’s in the air and what needs to be said. If we end up with a Biden-Harris administration, there is an enormous amount of work to do to underscore and help prioritize various social justice issues and the liberal agenda. There’s so much to be done, so my hope is that we have a big victory and then we can roll up our sleeves and help fix our democracy and make the world better for us all.”