F equals: a new business for a new era

DANIELLE NEWNHAM

Posted on May 04 2017

When we started Tease and Totes, we were just looking to sell t-shirts to make women more visible at tech events. It was a hobby. 

In the summer of 2014, I went to yet another tech event where the lack of visible women was painfully obvious. As a founder who had worked in startups since 2006, I was used to be one of few women at such events but, as I stood on the sidelines yet again, watching my male peers networking, I noticed two things. Firstly, the women who were there were all standing solo, seemingly unapproachable. We were missing out on interesting conversations as well as useful networking. 

The second thing I noticed was how many men I saw approaching others wearing t-shirts emblazoned with their startup logo. It seemed a great ice-breaker because immediately they had a point of conversation. None of us women were wearing branded company tops and so I started to wonder if it would change things if we did.

I went home and spoke to my twin Natalie about the experience and we discussed the importance of visibility for women. After a very successful career in fashion, she was looking for a new challenge and we started researching empowerment tops for budding female founders. We found just one which was Meena Harris’ I’m an entrepreneur, bitch t-shirt. We made a call to Meena and once we had set up Tease and Totes, it became the first t-shirt we stocked.

We soon designed our own range which included Unapologetic, Fearless, Here’s to the Crazy Ones, Misfit Rebel Trouble Maker, Sister Hood et al but we wanted to do more. We saw how fashion was an amazing medium to spread the word about female empowerment, but we wanted to reach the young women in places our fashion couldn’t.

It Started With A Tweet

It was at this point that I put out a tweet asking if anyone knew of a charity which worked at the intersection of tech and female empowerment and, as serendipity would have it, the co-founder of Worldreader was following me and reached out. Within weeks, we had started working on a top where the proceeds from each sale would go to the charity. 

Since we launched the GIRL POWER tops, they have been worn by thousands of women from Hollywood actresses to well-known DJs, skateboarders, Olympics athletes, supermodels, and female entrepreneurs, and we are immensely proud to have helped Worldreader empower close to 1,000 families. 

Sisterhood In The 21st Century

Girl Power was something we knew about and Natalie and I grew up believing women could be and do anything. We went to Queen’s College; founded in 1848, it was the first institution in the world to award academic qualifications to women.

Founded at a time when educational opportunities were restricted for women in Britain, Queen’s College became a pioneer in the field of women’s education and emancipation. At the time, the establishment of the College was met with criticism in the press and the founder F. D. Maurice was forced to defend the intention of teaching mathematics to women against claims of its ‘dangerous’ consequences. 

We were educated in an environment that allowed us girls to dream big and aim high. Past alumnae includes celebrated authors, aviators, activists, journalists and professors. As young girls, we felt empowered.

Little did we know that 20 years later, that notion would be tested and an entirely newly sisterhood would be needed.

After two years of working on Tease and Totes, we recently evaluated the business. By this stage, Natalie was working on it full-time and I was being drawn more into its mission.

We were receiving more and more feedback from supporters who said they felt empowered as soon as they put our tops on. Women were no longer buying them just for themselves but for friends and colleagues. Mentors were buying for mentees and female investors were buying tops for every new founder they invested in. Even prominent male business leaders were wearing them at events to show they were behind the mission.

We heard stories of women who had turned up to board meetings and investor pitches wearing them under their blazers; comedians wore our tops on stage, and hundreds all around the world marched wearing theirs on 21st March (Women’s March), including Thandie Newton.


Thandie at Women’s March, London (Getty Images)

You see, our mission to empower more women had taken on its own life, gaining incredible momentum, in part due to the global political climate which has considerably worsened. And during this time, it became clear how important the inspiration side was — for women to see and learn how other women were rising gave them hope and the tools to do it themselves. 

Whilst we used to post new interviews with inspirational women every Wednesday, we could see traffic wasn’t spiking on the Wednesday — after close to 200 interviews, we were seeing a consistent growth in visitors every day. People were returning to read and share past interviews. Our side-project had become both a business, and a mission, and it was no longer only about the tops.

So what do we do now? We have decided to re-brand to F = to reflect where we are, and we’re putting our focus squarely on telling the stories of inspiring women in the hope we can motivate, inspire and empower many more women to rise. We will continue with our shop and our partnership with Worldreader but the brand and mission has grown up — we now want to become the first platform fully dedicated to female empowerment with a special focus on women in tech.

With both this business and my book on women in tech, we have come to understand the importance of creating a sisterhood and sharing our stories as part of inspiring and empowering that group. And so when deciding upon a new name, we thought about what it takes for women to succeed as a collective. We wanted something that reflected women (F), equality (=) and the force required to move us forward. And we decided on F =.

Taken from F= ma

Newton’s second law of motion describes the relationship between an object’s mass and the amount of force needed to accelerate it. Newton’s second law is often stated as F=ma, which means the force (F) acting on an object is equal to the mass (m) of an object times its acceleration (a)

F = will accelerate the female force through inspiration and empowerment. And we hope to have you join us on this exciting journey.

Danielle and Natalie

 

 

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