With “Women in STEM” sweatshirts, “my feelings are valid” pins, and “cats against catcalls” tote bags, Alan Javier Martofel built up a feminist brand. For some, Feminist Apparel – which amassed more than 200,000 followers on Facebook – even outfitted them on days of protest. The brand supported independent artists and gave part of its proceeds to nonprofit organizations. On the surface, Feminist Apparel was the kind of business you could feel comfortable supporting. But behind the scenes was another story, and now Martofel finds himself in the center of controversy.
On June 21, Feminist Apparel was tagged in a Facebook post that accused Martofel of rape. The employees investigated the claim on their own and found a 2013 post on the same platform where Martofel described his own sexual abuse of women. He ends the post announcing that he is starting Feminist Apparel as a way to amend, according to Refinery 29. “We’ve all either faced this firsthand, seen it, heard a firsthand account of it, or are guilty of it ourselves,” Martofel wrote in the the post. “I’m someone who’s guilty of it. I’ve grinded up on women on buses and at 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.”
For the employees, this reprehensible confession didn’t match the origin story they’d heard. Martofel had told publications that he began the company in college while trying to create a documentary about sexual assault. The employees who, naturally, felt lied to then demanded that he resign.
“As a group of people dedicated to activism and social justice there was only one thing to do: take action,” the former employees wrote in a joint statement. “[We] decided the only thing to do was to demand Alan step down as CEO of the company, separate himself, and issue a public apology to our customers, creative partners, and the larger community of intersectional feminists and social justice advocates that he exploited along the way.”
The employees said Martofel initially said he’d step down, and he left the office. But things went south from there. The company card was declined, so employees stopped taking orders on the site. Four days after his resignation, Martofel told employees not to come into work for the week and that he’d update them by Friday. However, by Saturday, employees noticed their email accounts didn’t work. When they reached out to him about the account, he ignored them. By Sunday morning, they received an email to their personal accounts: “Due to transitions the company is currently undertaking, I regret to inform you that, effective Sunday, July 1, 2018, you are no longer employed by Feminist Apparel, LLC.”
In a blog post on the site, Martofel said that though he regrets his past behavior, they have made him who he is today. He also wrote that the last meeting with his employees, he learned that “they, unequivocally, do not share my views on either business or feminism. It is then that the operations of the company were halted for a week, while all employees continued to be paid and I assessed all available options for how to move forward at this juncture. 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.”