This past weekend the fairer sex proved it wasn't backing down from its year-old promise to take on the patriarchy and fight for justice in a post-Trump world. Revved up further with the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, millions of marchers hit the streets across the US and abroad on Saturday, a beautifully temperate day that seemed to echo the defiant but focused attitude that centered on a brighter tomorrow.
As women and men organized local marches from Burbank to Shanghai, the message was “vote" and the sentiment was all about change-making.
“I want to make voting fun again; that's a theme running through a lot of the marchers," says activist and founder of the Pussyhat Project, Krista Suh, who marched alongside an estimated half a million others in Los Angeles. “It's so important with the midterm elections that we don't drop the ball on this one. This is a chance for us to flip the house and it's an exciting time."
As it was last year, pink was everywhere. Thanks to nearly omnipresent knotted rose-hued kitty-shaped hats, the brainchild of knitting afficanados Krista Suh and Jayna Zerimann, the pussyhats have quickly become something of modern day feminist lore.“There's something meaningful about making your own protest gear with your own hands," says Suh. “I was a beginner knitter but I thought If I could knit this hat, everyone could."
Krista Suh by Rachael Lee Stroud
How the pussycats came to be is really a testament to what happens when coincidence meets action. In late 2016, Suh, an artist and screenwriter and Zweiman, a design architect who was rehabbing from a serious injury and unable to perform any rigorous activity, decided to take a crochet class at the Little Knittery, a local yarn store in Los Angeles. After discovering a joint passion for women's rights and activism, the two realized that brightly colored crocheted hats-named to reclaim the women's anatomy from the President's choice moniker-could serve as a statement of solidarity for women at the march, and those- like Zweiman, who would be unable to attend.
“It went from one hat to a sea of pink," said Suh, who estimates millions of hats have been made and worn between the two marches. “I thought about the aerial shots from overhead and I got so excited about it. At first there weren't as many sister marches, so this allowed people from everywhere to knit a hat and sent it in, and contributed to all these on-the-ground networks."
To help get as many women involved as possible, the duo called on Little Knittery owner Kat Coyle to design a simple pattern that would be easily executed by those who may not know their way around a pair of knitting needles. Thanks to social media and the word of mouth nature of the international knitting community, more than 60,000 people downloaded the pattern. On January 21, 2017, millions of protesters across 600 countries helped create a "sea of pink" thanks to the hundreds of thousands of pussyhats that helped color the crowd. And just like that, an iconic fashion accessory was born.
Krista Suh and Jayna Zweiman
“Last year we organized and got a lot of first time activists into the fold; now it's about leading them to the next step," says Suh. "We're hoping to transfer the urge to march and protest into a civil action."
This past weekend, Suh tells SWAAY the power of community activism was evident, proving that even those who can't make it to NYC or DC consider themselves part of the Women's Movement. To wit, sister marches sprung up locally in communities across the country and world, including in China, where Suh says expats marched in solidarity with their American sisters. “We've proven we can impact on a huge level and now we're realizing we are everywhere," she adds. "It's powerful to see the sea of pink marching together, but also when you see that woman at the grocery store wearing the hat."
Some might ask if Trump has been the catalyst of change. Would the #TimesUp and #MeToo movements have unfolded in a Hillary presidency? Maybe not. Some would argue that the urgency of the message comes at a time when Atwood storylines are becoming frighteningly feasible. As is evidenced by the solidarity shown at the Golden Globe awards amongst its female attendees and the massive outpouring of women across all industries who are finally calling out sexual predators, it's clear there is a lot on the line, and we are going to fight for all of it.
“All these issues are related, and they are all centered on the idea that it's really hard to be a woman in the US and I don't mean that in a victim way, just a plainspoken way," says Suh. “Caring about yourself is a radical act as a woman. It's about our safety and freedom to exist. It's a human rights issue. The personal is political."
For Suh, changing the narrative means helping women realize that the system was created to keep them out of positions of power, and it's not their fault that they haven't gotten there. Rather than fighting to become the one token female success story, Suh says we need to uplift more women into positions of power by giving them the same tools that are afforded to men, namely sexual respect, mentorship and access to capital.
“In the past people wanted to divide and conquer," she says. “There was this idea of the one exceptional woman. They've always had a place for that woman in the patriarchy- but it's only one spot like say for an Ivanka Trump. If you don't make it, they say it's your own fault. It's a clever trick but women are waking up to that now. The deck can be stacked against us and our sight is set on how to redo the system."
Krista Suh at the 2018 Women's March
In order to get the message out, Suh has just penned a book, DIY Rules for a WTF World: How To Speak Up, Get Creative and CHANGE THE WORLD, which she says acts as a handbook for those young ladies who are looking to help “demolish the patriarchy." “For me, it's a lot of showing people not only can you be politically active, you already are," says Suh. "I want to teach people that whatever wild, crazy idea they have that's really scary to them, they should nurture rather than squelch. Women have great ideas all the time and don't follow up on them or talk themselves out of them. I think the book will create an even more massive revolution than the one we've already started"
And speaking of revolution, which for all intents and purposes began during a knitting circle, Suh reminds women not to underestimate the power of mixing pleasure with protest, as it's an easy way to mobilize. “I didn't have to reinvent the wheel," says Suh. “Women have been getting together and talking in knitting circles for centuries. It's like men fishing or golfing; that's where deals are made. The assumption is women in knitting circles are just gossiping but it's a lot more than that."
According to Suh, this year's iteration of the Women's March is just as much about symbolism as it is activism. She reminds women not to forget the importance of taking part in rituals that celebrate and elevate all of us.“This year's march marks progression but it's also like renewing our vows, reconnecting with what got us so fired up last year" she says." I think it's important because rituals are so important. Men tend to downgrade the rituals of women. When women organize something it's seen as frivolous. We have to reject that as women. Patriarchy is this haze all around us, and when [people] say 'what's the point of the march and the hat,' they are downgrading the rituals of women. I think it's important to recognize that because we don't even realize the goal posts are being moved all the time."
"Steal the mesh underwear you get from the hospital," a friend said upon learning I was pregnant with my first daughter.
It was the single best piece of advice I received before giving birth in December 2013. My best friend delivered her daughter eight months previously, and she was the first to pass along this shared code among new moms: you'll need mesh underwear for your at-home postpartum recovery, and you can't find them anywhere for purchase. End result: steal them. And tell your friends.
My delivery and subsequent recovery were not easy. To my unexpected surprise, after almost 24 hours of labor, I had an emergency C-section. Thankfully, my daughter was healthy; however, my recovery was quite a journey. The shock to my system caused my bloated and swollen body to need weeks of recovery time. Luckily, I had trusted my friend and followed her instructions: I had stolen some mesh underwear from the hospital to bring home with me.
Unfortunately, I needed those disposable underwear for much longer than I anticipated and quickly ran out. As I still wasn't quite mobile, my mother went to the store to find more underwear for me. Unfortunately, she couldn't find them anywhere and ended up buying me oversized granny panties. Sure, they were big enough, but I had to cut the waistband for comfort.
I eventually recovered from my C-section, survived those first few sleepless months, and returned to work. At the time, I was working for a Fortune 100 company and happily contributing to the corporate world. But becoming a new mom brought with it an internal struggle and search for something “more" out of my life--a desire to have a bigger impact. A flashback to my friend's golden piece of advice got me thinking: Why aren't mesh underwear readily available for women in recovery? What if I could make the magical mesh underwear available to new moms everywhere? Did I know much about designing, selling, or marketing clothing? Not really. But I also didn't know much about motherhood when I started that journey, either, and that seemed to be working out well. And so, Brief Transitions was born.
My quest began. With my manufacturing and engineering background I naively thought, It's one product. How hard could it be? While it may not have been “hard," it definitely took a lot of work. I slowly started to do some research on the possibilities. What would it take to start a company and bring these underwear to market? How are they made and what type of manufacturer do I need? With each step forward I learned a little more--I spoke with suppliers, researched materials, and experimented with packaging. I started to really believe that I was meant to bring these underwear to other moms in need.
Then I realized that I needed to learn more about the online business and ecommerce world as well. Google was my new best friend. On my one hour commute (each way), I listened to a lot of podcasts to learn about topics I wasn't familiar with--how to setup a website, social media platforms, email marketing, etc. I worked in the evenings and inbetween business trips to plan what I called Execution Phase. In 2016, I had a website with a Shopify cart up and running. I also delivered my second daughter via C-section (and handily also supplied myself with all the mesh underwear I needed).
They say, “If you build it, they will come." But I've learned that the saying should really go more like this: “If you build it, and tell everyone about it, they might come." I had a 3-month-old, an almost 3 year old and my business was up and running. I had an occasional sale; however, my processes were extremely manual and having a day job while trying to ship product out proved to be challenging. I was manually processing and filling orders and then going to the post office on Saturday mornings to ship to customers. I eventually decided to go where the moms shop...hello, Amazon Prime! I started to research what I needed to do to list products with Amazon and the benefits of Amazon fulfillment (hint: they take care of it for you).
Fast forward to 2018...
While I started to build this side business and saw a potential for it to grow way beyond my expectations, my corporate job became more demanding with respect to travel and time away from home. I was on the road 70% of the time during first quarter 2018. My normally “go with the flow" 4-year-old started to cry every time I left for a trip and asked why I wasn't home for bedtime. That was a low point for me and even though bedtime with young kids has its own challenges, I realized I didn't want to miss out on this time in their lives. My desire for more scheduling flexibility and less corporate travel time pushed me to work the nights and weekends needed to build and scale my side hustle to a full-time business. If anyone tries to tell you it's “easy" to build “passive" income, don't believe them. Starting and building a business takes a lot of grit, hustle and hard work. After months of agonizing, changing my mind, and wondering if I should really leave my job (and a steady paycheck!), I ultimately left my corporate job in April 2018 to pursue Brief Transitions full-time.
In building Brief Transitions, I reached out to like-minded women to see if they were experiencing similar challenges to my own--balancing creating and building a business while raising children--and I realized that many women are on the quest for flexible, meaningful work. I realized that we can advance the movement of female entrepreneurs by leveraging community to inspire, empower, and connect these trailblazers. For that reason, I recently launched a new project, The Transitions Collective, a platform for connecting community-driven women entrepreneurs.
As is the case with many entrepreneurs, I find myself working on multiple projects at a time. I am now working on a members-only community for The Transitions Collective that will provide access to experts and resources for women who want to leave corporate and work in their business full-time. Connecting and supporting women in this movement makes us a force in the future of work. At the same time, I had my most profitable sales quarter to date and best of all, I am able to drop my daughter off at school in the morning.
Mesh underwear started me on a journey much bigger than I ever imagined. They sparked an idea, ignited a passion, and drove me to find fulfillment in a different type of work. That stolen underwear was just the beginning.