I have very mixed feelings whenever I see slogans printed on underwear. They are usually meant to be witty or clever, but if the meaning isn’t clear (and appropriate) they can backfire horribly.
Most underwear slogans try to be cute, using sly puns or double entendres to send a flirty message to whomever might notice it in the changeroom or the bedroom or anywhere else people might see you in your skivvies.
But the wrong slogan, or interpretation thereof, can create a PR nightmare.
Many brands have found this out the hard way, especially Victoria’s Secret. Its line of sexy little panties bearing slogans like “Call Me” and “Feeling Lucky?” sparked a nationwide protest against its VS Pink brand last year.
How spooked was Victoria’s Secret by the experience? Today, the item in the photo below is the closest thing to a provocative statement you’ll find written on their undies. Makes you wonder why they even bother:
All of this brings up a question: if you really must sell underwear that literally sends a message, why not make it a message worth spreading?
That’s exactly what what Amulya Sanagavarapu, a 22-year-old Canadian student, is doing with a new line of women’s and men’s underwear imprinted with slogans that draw attention to issues like date rape, sexual consent and gender equality.
Amulya’s label, Feminist Style, has raised nearly $23,000 through Kickstarter to help produce her first collection of 20 styles. Slogans on the women’s styles range from the polite (“Let’s Talk About Sex”) to the assertive (“No Means No”) to body-positive mantras like “I’m A Size Awesome”.
“It’s about shifting the culture around the way we think about certain things,” Amulya told Lingerie Talk.
Many of her styles carry blunt, unambiguous messages — “Ask First” and “Ask Me What I Like” — that have the power to slam the brakes on romance and turn an amorous romp into a late-night chat session. Which is exactly what they’re meant to do.
“People have a poor understanding of consent,” Amulya said. “They think when you’re down to the underwear it’s too late to be having the conversation. We have this concept that at some point you lose the right to say ‘no’.
“We’re trying to promote consent education, a slow shift in how people see things.”
Amulya, a senior in computer science at the University of Waterloo, was inspired to start Feminist Style after seeing the Pink Loves Consent awareness campaign that sprang up in response to Victoria’s Secret‘s sexy underwear slogans.
The PLC campaign was created in late 2012 by a Baltimore activist group called FORCE to draw attention to rape culture and promote a national discussion about sexual consent. The campaign gained worldwide attention last year when Victoria’s Secret briefly demanded the group take down its website, which mocks the VS Pink site.
“I always had ideas about products I would like to see on the market, and I thought this would become the next big thing,” Amulya said, referring to the image of a model on the Pink Loves Consent website wearing underwear imprinted with the slogan “No Means No”.
The FORCE group, however, wasn’t actually selling its slogan underwear — leaving the door open for entrepreneurs like Amulya to pick up on the idea.
“The Pink Loves Consent campaign was the hook for me,” she said. “It was an idea similar to everything I was thinking of and it resonated with many people.”
But selling underwear with feminist slogans is only the start of her ambitions. Amulya also plans to create public service advertising campaigns that address feminist issues, funded by profits from sales of her designs.
“A lot of people are interested in the cause for this, but they might not necessarily like slogans on their underwear,” she said. “This is a sustainable way of doing things. Adding consumerism to feminism creates a self-sustaining system in which these ideas can grow.”
Like many women, Amulya said she has been offended by some of the unsubtle underwear slogans that seem to invite sex at all times. The worst example, she said, was a pair of Victoria’s Secret panties bearing the message “Ready For Anything”.
“It was so objectifying,” she said. “It took the voice away from the person wearing them. It creates a culture where ‘no’ is for flirting and blurs the lines on consent.” (One of the pieces in the Feminist Style collection bears the message “No Is Not For Flirting”. Another reads: “Only Yes Means Yes”.)
But Amulya doesn’t see the issue as something only women should address, which is why four of the pieces in her collection are men’s boxers with waistband slogans aimed at male wearers, including “Ask First”, “Not That Guy” and “#Consent”.
The men’s slogans were inspired by a PSA campaign in Vancouver that used the tagline “Don’t Be That Guy” to get men involved in anti-rape activism and awareness.
“You only get so far by talking to women about this,” Amulya said. “You need to talk to the men, who are the primary actors in this. (The slogans) help create a culture where there’s social pressure, and that aids a lot in changing how people see things.”
Feminist Style is seeking to raise $150,000 in start-up capital through its Kickstarter campaign, which ends on Feb. 16. But the campaign has attracted so much attention and support that Amulya said she will go ahead with the young business even if she falls short of her funding target.
“Some people say ‘What you’re doing is putting slogans on underwear — that’s not a revolution’,” Amulya said.
“I’m not calling it a revolution, but it’s a step forward.”