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Feminist history, but make it fashion

This 18th-century-style toile pattern looks utterly traditional. Until you spot the bra-burning ducks.

Feminist history, but make it fashion
[Photo: State]

At first glance, State Bags‘s newest backpack and belt bag seem totally on trend, with a blue toile pattern featuring pastoral scenes and farm animals, like something you might see on fabric in an 18th-century French manor. But take a closer look and you realize that something’s amiss.

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[Photo: State]
There are two ducks next to a tree. At first you think they might be spreading their wings to fly, but then you notice that they are throwing bras into a bonfire. Are those ducks seriously bra-burning? Then there’s the pig. The pig is happily sitting in a pen. She’s also flexing her muscles and wearing a banana on her head. Yup, it’s Rosie the Riveter in pig form.

[Photo: State]
This absurdist feminist farm pattern is part of State’s International Women’s Month collection, and the company is donating at least 5% of proceeds to the Time’s Up organization that works to create safer and fairer workplaces for women. It’s the first time that the brand is creating a product for Women’s Month. Jacq Tatelman, who cofounded the company with her husband, Scot, says that they felt like it was important to make a statement this year. “We’re a majority female staff,” she says. “And we just feel like we’re at a critical time for women, with everything that is happening with the #MeToo movement. We wanted to contribute somehow.”

[Photo: State]
Part of the brand’s contribution will be monetary, but this is also an effort to contribute to the current moment with design. State Bags hired the illustrator Andrew D. Zimbelman, who was trained as a fine artist and currently works at an animation director for clients like HBO. Zimbelman collaborated with State to create a pattern that would highlight key moments of feminist history, including the bra burning in the 1970s, the contributions of women during World War II as encapsulated by the figure of Rosie the Riveter, and a “feminism is freedom” sash that a suffragette might have worn.

[Photo: State]
These are important, serious moments in the women’s movement, but in these bags, they’re treated in a clever, slightly subversive way. The original toile patterns that were common in the 18th century often featured pastoral scenes that represented women in very traditional ways. They tend to feature courtship rituals, or women portrayed as mothers, surrounded by their little ones. These are the themes you expect to see when you pick up one of these bags, only to be surprised by farm animals stomping on the patriarchy in various ways. “We wanted to touch on these moments of history, but do it in a fun and trendy way,” says Tatelman.

State Bags is known for its socially conscious mission. Since it launched in 2013, it has been committed to helping children in need by donating backpacks full of school supplies at back-to-school “bag drop” events. Tatelman says that the company has evolved beyond donating one backpack for each backpack purchased, and has instead created a fund so that it can help children in more ways. They’ve recently done a video series telling the stories of children of Flint, Michigan, who are still dealing with the aftermath of the water crisis, as well as providing financial assistance to children who suffer when their parents are in prison as a result of mass incarceration.

With this new collection, it is embracing new forms of activism by donating to causes that involve women’s rights. Time’s Up, for instance, is focused on addressing inequalities in the workplace, including creating a legal defense fund for women who have faced sexual harassment in the workplace. “We really believe that we’re living through an important moment in women’s history,” Tatelman says. “And we want to be part of the conversation.”

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Perhaps, in the future, some illustrator will cheekily incorporate the #MeToo hashtag along with other iconic feminist moments onto a fanny pack.

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About the author

Elizabeth Segran, Ph.D., is a staff writer at Fast Company. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts

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