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Re-inc uses inclusive language for exclusive products

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They talk about “community” - but whose community?

USA v Korea Republic: USWNT Victory Tour Friendly

Women’s soccer players are doing it for themselves. As the sport grows, so does their ability to build personal brands, and consequently to monetize those brands. The latest in player business projects is Re-inc, a clothing brand from founders Megan Rapinoe, Christen Press, Meghan Klingenberg, and Tobin Heath. Re-inc bills itself as “a lifestyle brand to challenge the status quo” and “rejects both masculine and feminine labels and is not confined to gender normative design.” But despite this language, the business itself is in conflict with the reality of many in their target audience.

Re-inc is a challenging of streetwear culture, and of clothing design in general, positioning itself as being gender neutral and “a distinct look for every unique body.” A representative for Re-inc told All for XI by e-mail that they are committed to ethical manufacturing, using ethically sourced materials at a factory in China where approximately 80% of the employees are women that “pays the highest wages in the region,” although they did not respond to a request for confirmation of which region that is.

Their streetwear is priced comparable to the existing market: $150 for sweatpants or a hoodie and $75 for a tee, while a quick perusal of Supreme shows warm up pants for $128. The cheapest option in Re-inc’s current product drop is a $25 pair of socks. The other clothes – pants, tops, and bike shorts – average out to over $100. It’s a part of hype culture, where products have to sit in between desire and exclusivity. If the clothes are too affordable and widely available, they’re not as desireable. But if they’re too exclusive, then customers won’t have access to them, let alone be able to buy them.

It’s not a bad match between player brand and product; the founding players all have reputations, more or less, for being interested in fashion and in promoting individualist, non-gendered forms of expression. And it’s certainly not a problem that they’re trying to earn more money. If they want to sell expensive clothes and reap the financial benefits, more power to them, particularly in context of the historical undervaluation and underestimation of the selling power of women’s sports. That’s all changing now - Megan Rapinoe is a genuine cultural icon, continuing to develop a pathway for the female athletes behind her.

The problem here is in the framing of Re-inc’s products. Look at the language they use in their company’s description: equity, progress, transformative, inclusive, community. But who do they envision as being part of that community? The sizes on the site run through XXL, but every model used in this product drop was thin and presented as able-bodied. And the inclusion of an out queer woman and multiple women of color among the founders implies that this clothing is for the queer and POC communities too - the queer community in particular being very likely to contain people who want or need non-gendered clothing. Yet these communities are among the least likely to be able to afford the very clothes they’re being sold. LGBTQ people in the United States are more likely to be low income, unemployed, uninsured, or food insecure. Black and Hispanic people are more likely to be living in poverty, and it’s been well documented that women of color face enormous pay disparities while queer POC are more likely to live in poverty than queer white people.

It’s good that Re-inc wants to provide options for those who don’t gender conform. It’s good that the players are finding ways to earn more money. But there is a tension to navigate here – the tension between progressivism and capitalism, the clash of interests between bettering your community and profiting from them. The way Re-inc’s language invokes ideas of community lacks an inclusive analysis of the way class intersects with that very community.

In Audre Lorde’s 1980 paper “Age, Race, Class and Sex: Women Redefining Difference,” she included class as one of the categories that we must discuss when considering how women’s differences affect our behavior and expectations. “Unacknowledged class differences rob women of each others’ energy and creative insight,” she wrote, giving the example of how it simply takes more resources to write prose versus poetry, and how cost determines who has access to materials, time, and space. Lorde wrote, “When we speak of a broadly based women’s culture, we need to be aware of the effect of class and economic differences on the supplies available for producing art.” Class is an important axis to consider in the intersectionality of people’s identities, particularly as it has more impact on some identities than others.

The players deserve to get paid, and are free to try and earn more money. It’s not selling clothes in and of itself that is the problem here – no one is forcing anyone to buy a $150 pair of sweatpants. But telling people that buying $150 sweatpants is an act of community and progress is a non-starter. There’s something less-than-rosy about using the language of inclusivity and progress but then making your products unobtainable by poor people. Nothing can be truly radically progressive or transformative if it is inaccessible to the poor.

These players already do a lot of good in consciousness-raising and activism - just look at Rapinoe taking the opportunity to make an award for her about Colin Kaepernick. It’s understandable they want that do-something ethos to be present in all of their projects. But the attempt to inject it into Re-inc shows that, in this context, they haven’t quite grappled with the concepts of fairness and justice they so desire to articulate.

A representative for Re-inc did not provide a response to a request for comment from any of the founders by the time of publication.