A little-known Brooklyn start-up created by an attorney and a childhood friend is trying to give women a voice with its “Believe Women” shirts.
Attending Rutgers School of Law, Tareq G. Brown said he recognized the importance of free speech, political speech and First Amendment law. Now a full-time copyright trademark attorney at his sister’s law firm, he started the America Hates Us clothing line last year as a pet project with Brandon Rivera. Their plan was to create streetwear that relayed the struggles of marginalized groups.
Before earning his law degree, Brown worked in several clinics that helped victims of human trafficking and domestic violence. “I recognized the common denominator of victims not reporting crimes is a fact. They didn’t believe that people would believe them. So aside from their attacker or trafficker, their common enemy was also the public, the police and family members. People were not reporting crimes because they thought they would not be believed. In my opinion, that was outrageous,” he said.
Having heard so many victims’ stories of years of abuse, he decided in July to introduce the $25 “Believe Women” shirt as a way to recognize “that the victimization of women happens so many times and in so many different ways.” After running the idea by female friends and assault victims and getting their approval, the shirt was launched this summer. Interest in the shirt has helped to raise $4,000 for various nonprofits.
AHUS recently introduced a “Believe Women” $45 crewneck sweatshirt and $55 hoodie, due to the ongoing demand. Brooklyn stores have approached the brand about selling select items from the line, but the founders declined. They would prefer to sell the entire range to a retailer to relay its view of influences that are affecting the country. After the Harvey Weinstein allegations, there was a huge uptick in sales.
Aware of how scant funding can be for nonprofits, Brown decided to donate 20 percent of all proceeds to nonprofits. Within a week of buying a shirt or item on the company’s site, shoppers receive an e-mailed receipt from the organization the individual earmarked, Brown said. Before checking out, shoppers indicate which group — the ACLU, Planned Parenthood or the Inanna Project (a Washington, D.C.-based group that strives to reduce rape on college campuses) will be the beneficiary.
“Masters of None” actress Lena Waithe, whom Brown noted became the first black woman to win an Emmy for Outstanding Writing for a Comedy Series, reached out to him for a shirt. She posted on Instagram a photo of herself wearing it at NBC’s holiday party. That created a domino effect with celebrities such as “Will & Grace” actress Deborah Messing, and local artists, poets and activists, having contacted the brand, too, Brown said. “That’s why I’ve gotten orders from all over the country,” he said. (Having sent unsolicited “Believe Women” shirts to other celebrities and advocates, the company is hoping they will show their support via social media.)
Earlier this month, AHUS held its fourth pop-up of the year in Crown Heights, set up as a community event with a DJ. Attendees were encouraged to discuss objectives that could be adopted locally to improve 2018.
Brown said he is often approached by curious strangers, when he wears a “Believe Women” shirt, and many of them tell him about their own abuse “within minutes.” While some assault victims have asked Brown for legal advice, he said he “has to separate the two” and refers them to the law firm where his sister works, or to friends at Legal Aid or the ACLU. (He intends to practice domestic violence and human trafficking law, possibly next year.) More than anything, he wants the shirts to make people “understand that this is an epidemic that has been going on for far too long,” Brown said. “So I’ve created a brand that allows us to not hold back and share.”
Asked if he was concerned that the company’s branding might add to the country’s divisiveness, Brown said he and Rivera “constantly went back and forth” debating the name. “We recognized ultimately that we are not trying to make something that is comfortable for everybody. We recognize that there are marginalized groups in this country that have lived their whole lives feeling uncomfortable,” Brown said. “We didn’t want to do something that appeased the typical white heterosexual male. I feel they have been comfortable enough in this country. I didn’t do anything to agitate them. But there is a recognition here that people feel like second-class citizens — there are women, gay, trans that felt like they were not part of America or America did not like them. It’s not an assault on anybody specifically. We believe that America as long as we have known it as an institution has promoted white supremacy. We wanted to shed light on that.”
Should sales continue to climb, Brown plans to hire someone to help run the business. “Luckily for me, I don’t sleep a lot. You can tell by my voice if I need more sleep. [It was haltingly hoarse Wednesday.] Hopefully, I’ll get that after the new year. But it’s a good thing at the moment,” Brown said.