Not that Bad Men posing as Great Women Defenders should come as any surprise whatsoever, but here’s a story for the books. The founder and CEO of a Feminist Apparel, an “independent clothing company dedicated to furthering the conversations, and empowering the people & organizations, that make up the intersectional feminist movement,” fired all nine of his employees after they discovered his social media posts publicly admitting to committing sexual abuse in the past.
According to Refinery29, the aforementioned CEO is one Alan Martofel, who founded Feminist Apparel in 2013. The company sells t-shirts with slogans like “Empowered women empower women,” “Feminist as fuck,” and “Pizza rolls not gender roles,” and its wares were spotted at anti-Trump rallies like the Women’s Marches of 2017 and 2018. The origin story Martofel’s been touting over the years is that he dreamed up the idea for Feminist Apparel in college, while working on a documentary about sexual assault. “I learned the stats behind sexual assault,” he told Forbes in 2014. “I learned what feminism is and preaches, and I thought it was incredible. I began working on a documentary about sexual assault on college campuses at my alma mater, and while I was brainstorming ways to raise funds to better carry out that project, I came up with the idea for Feminist Apparel.”
Even back then, there was some eyebrow-raising over a straight cisgender white dude launching a woke apparel company, a practice that’s gotten a tad squirrelly in the past. But it appears Feminist Apparel chugged on, and in fact did quite well with the recent rise of the so-called #Resistance movement.
But it turns out Martofel’s feminist lightbulb moment might not have been quite as magnanimous as he’s presented it. Last month, someone tagged Feminist Apparel in a Facebook post alleging Martofel had committed a rape, and after some digging, Feminist Apparel’s nine staffers discovered a Facebook post Martofel himself had written in 2013, in which he’d admitted to sexually abusing women over the years. In fact, according to the post, Martofel wanted to launch Feminist Apparel in an effort to “solve” the very rape culture he’d allegedly perpetuated.
“We’ve all either faced this firsthand, seen it, heard a firsthand account of it, or are guilty of it ourselves,” he wrote. “I’ve grinded up on women on buses and concerts without their consent. I’ve made out with ‘the drunk chick’ at a party because it was easier. I’ve put a woman’s hand on my dick while she was sleeping.” After pontificating on the rise of rape culture, the post announces the creation of the Feminist Apparel LLC, whose products “are meant to spark conversations and give a voice to those of us who may be too afraid or insecure to speak up.” (Martofel’s Facebook is currently private, but you can see screenshots from the post here.)
Though Martofel’s post claimed he no longer participated in rape culture, his employees were shocked they’d been fed alleged lies for so long. “We were all shocked and disgusted. Not only did we discover he had admitted to assaulting people, it was a reason he started the company. He had told us each varying stories of how he started a company we all worked tirelessly for, all of these omitting that it involved his own existence as an assailant,” they wrote on Tumblr, according to the NY Daily News.
The business and platform he created was fostered by many employees over the years to become a place where survivors, victims, and their supporters felt safe to talk about their experiences and how to support one another. Once we finally knew the truth we realized none of us were ever safe to share in these spaces. His silence led us and many others to trust Feminist Apparel as a place to explore our oppression and work to inform others of it. All the while, we were sharing this with an abuser.
Some employees confronted Martofel in a meeting and demanded he step down as CEO, and that’s when the real trouble started. Martofel admitted to the allegations and agreed to step down, but at 6 a.m. on July 1st, he reported emailed all the employees and informed them they’d been terminated “[d]ue to transitions the company is currently undertaking,” effective immediately. The employees received neither notice nor severance.
“The way he’s handled this whole situation has been less of a surprise and more of a shock to the system,” former employee Kerri Grogan told Refinery29. “Not just lying to us about stepping down and then firing us, but the silence. The fact that he could stay silent — aside from one two-sentence Slack message — for almost two whole weeks, about our jobs and livelihoods being at stake? That was really shocking and very telling.”
Martofel, who did not immediately respond to Jezebel’s request for comment, posted on Feminist Apparel’s Facebook page that the company was making “necessary changes behind the scenes,” and released a lengthy statement on the company’s blog admitting to his past “wrongdoing,” and to firing his employees who “do not share my views on either business or feminism.” So, he chucked them.
“After much deliberation, and in accordance with both state law and our employee handbook, I made the difficult decision to proceed without them. I truly believe in Feminist Apparel, it’s [sic] mission, and in the important causes and individuals it supports. As a result, I also need to do what is best for the company’s long-term success,” he wrote.
Sounds like he’s doing a cracking good job, indeed.