Brooklyn social entrepreneur Tareq Brown has seen apparel sales grow post-Harvey Weinstein and #MeToo
The American consumer definitely doesn’t hate him.
Attorney Tareq Brown co-founded New York clothing label America Hates Us during the 2016 presidential campaign. Self-funded on a budget of less than $5,000, his brand was just one of many in the political memorabilia cottage industry. Its first product was a cap with the phrase “Make America Hate Again,” a play off Donald Trump’s campaign slogan and an attack line used by his Democratic opponent, Hillary Clinton.
But America Hates Us didn’t die down after Trump’s election. Since then, the 35-year-old lawyer has released collections that feature the phases “Believe Women” and “White Lies Matter,” the latter a pun on an expression co-opted by neo-Nazis. The former dropped before the Harvey Weinstein scandal triggered a wave of resignations by alleged sexual predators, but interest has exploded since. “There are sales all around the country and to Canada, Germany and the West Indies,” Brown tells Moneyish. “I have no idea where certain customers find us, but I’m ecstatic about it.”
Brown’s interest in women’s rights came from working for a corporate law firm whose pro-bono team helped human trafficking victims. “A major reason for victims not speaking up was that they didn’t think they’d be believed,” says Brown, adding that many of his clients were women of color. “They don’t want retaliation for telling their truth. It’s frightening when you believe you can’t share details about an assault because no one will believe you.”
America Hates Us isn’t a pure for-profit enterprise. Customers who purchase $45 Believe Women sweatshirts and $15 “Underpaid College Graduate” tees will also be prompted to select one out of three charities: the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood and the lesser-known Inanna Project, a women’s rights advocate. 20% of the brand’s proceeds are sent to the picked organizations. The company has donated about $4,000 thus far, which would mean sales of around $20,000 in slightly over a year.
How did he pick his enterprise’s name? “There’s no such time when America was great,” says Brown. “America is a corporation wholly rooted in white patriarchy. The us in ‘America Hates Us’ stands for the United States. It’s a brand crafted for those who feel they are treated as second class citizens.”
Not everyone agrees. After all, the United States still provides a safe haven to tens of thousands of refugees and far greater numbers of migrants yearly— many of them who are neither white, male, rich or heterosexual. Thus, as Brown notes, many have a negative reaction— at least until they figure out what he’s trying to do.
But he was inspired to create something evocative of Cohen v. California, a Supreme Court decision that threw out a man’s conviction for wearing a jacket with a vulgar slogan in a courthouse. The court ruled that his emphasis was protected in the marketplace of ideas,” he said. “Our clothing is a platform for open debate.”
Brown still works full-time at his sister’s law firm though he’s spending increasing amounts of time marketing the brand and running to the post office to ship out orders. And increasingly, some of those clients are socially conscious stars. For instance, Brown sent Lena Waithe, the “Master of None” actress and first black woman to ever win an Emmy for best comedy writing a “Believe Women” tee after she saw it on Twitter. Late last year, she wore it to a holiday party.
“I give the shirts to others with more influence than me because they reach more people,” he says. “I kind of like to handpick who wears them.” The transgender “Transparent” actress Trace Lysette recently received one in the mail that she’s promised to wear soon, as did the cast of the pioneering queer drama “Will & Grace.”
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