‘Empowerment’ has become somewhat of a buzzword. Just about anything can now be referred to as being empowering, from taking a selfie to buying clothes. But twin sister-run brand Tease and Totes are committed to empowerment in its true sense; to give people (particularly marginalised groups) the means and autonomy to take control of their own lives.
Female-focused slogans are at the core of the Tease and Totes aesthetic but the message runs much deeper. The first spark of the idea to launch the brand came after Danielle, a tech entrepreneur, had spent the day at yet another tech conference where women were in the minority. Drinking in her surroundings, she noticed that the men present were all wearing t-shirts bearing their start-up’s name or logo, which proved to be a conversation starter. And in a world where who you know can mean everything, a simple conversation can open doors to invaluable connections.
Taking this information back to sister Natalie, a senior fashion buyer, the pair began to discuss the lack of visibility of women in other, traditionally male-dominated industries. Their search for a female equivalent to the t-shirts came up short and they discovered a gap in the market for slogan tees which could have the same conversation-starting effect as the ones spotted at the conference.
Slogans such as ‘Girl Power’, ‘Sister Hood’, ‘Fearless’ and ‘Books Before Boys’ encapsulate the message of female visibility and, indeed ability, that Tease and Totes want to promote. But what’s the effect of these slogans? How far can a message on a top or a tote bag really go? Well, judging by the response on social media, pretty damn far. With t-shirts and sweatshirts available in both adult and child sizes, women are not only buying for themselves but using them as an opportunity to instil confidence and a sense of self-worth in their daughters and the girls in their lives. When I asked the pair to talk me through the effect their products were having on the women wearing them, I heard stories of confidence, conversations started, connections made.
The range spans slouchy sweatshirts, simple cotton t-shirts, baseball tops and sturdy tote bags. Care is taken in the manufacturing process with products from the range being made in Fair Wear Foundation certified factories, crafted from recycled materials or manufactured from organic cotton. Simple in design, the easy-to-wear pieces give the slogan space to breathe, allowing it to take centre stage.
But, whilst the slogans relay a powerful message of their own, from the beginning it was about more than slogans alone. “We knew from the start that we would put part of our profit back into empowering girls who need it most”, Natalie told me. This is where their partnership with Worldreader comes in.
Worldreader is a non-profit organisation which empowers children (that word again) through education. The struggle for parity in education is on-going, so Worldreader’s mission to bring e-readers to every child in the developing world will go a long way to levelling the playing field, helping to break the cycle of poverty. According to Unicef, educated girls are ‘less likely to marry early and against their will; less likely to die in childbirth; more likely to have healthy babies, and are more likely to send their own children to school’. Among the many reasons for barriers to girls’ educations are ‘supply-side constraints’. Worldreader aims to tackle this.
The decision to partner with Worldreader is a reflection of Natalie’s love of books coupled with Danielle’s passion for tech. Once the partnership was settled, their ‘Girl Power’ t-shirt was born, with £10 of every sale (£5 for kids) going directly to Worldreader.
Running alongside the shop is the Wednesday Woman series on their blog. Recognising women from a huge array of social and professional backgrounds, the blog serves to celebrate women and to provide a platform from which other women can become inspired to reach their potential. Their interviews include Assistant Commissioner Dany Cotton, the first women to be awarded the Queen’s Fire Service Medal, Kate Richardson-Walsh, Captain for the GB and England Women’s Hockey team and entrepreneur Emma Sinclair, the youngest person in the country to have floated a company on the London Stock Exchange.
So what’s next for Tease and Totes? Danielle is currently working on her latest book, Female Innovators at Work. The goal is to marry this with the work she and Natalie are doing at Tease and Totes, forming a #FemaleInnovators movement; a support network for ‘female game changers of which, [they] know, there are many’.
Innovation also shapes the future of the brand, with tech integration high on the agenda. Whilst they’re currently focusing on a new range and building upon their community, they also have plans to incorporate RFID (radio-frequency identification) into their clothing. The idea being that every time someone buys a t-shirt they can learn the history of inspirational female innovators via their mobile phone. They admit, however, that this would be a huge investment, so it’s something we may have to look forward to for now as they work on development, of the concept.
Whatever direction the brand takes, their commitment to educating, inspiring, galvanising and advocating for women takes them beyond the realms of your standard fashion label. In their own words, ‘the likes of Topshop aren’t our competitors’. It goes beyond clothes. Yes, the slogans are powerful, but it’s the weight of the movement behind them that distinguishes Tease and Totes as an entity for change.