Photography Liza Cowan, 1975
A T-shirt created by radical lesbian separatist feminists in America in the 1970s that said in block capitals, "THE FUTURE IS FEMALE," has been spectacularly revived and is selling to modern day feminists like hot cakes after Annie Clark of St Vincent and girlfriend Cara Delevingne wore a contemporary version of the design and the images spread across social media.
The original T-shirt was created for Labyris Books, the first women's bookstore in New York City, which opened in 1972. In 1975, photographer Liza Cowan took a picture of her then girlfriend Alix Dobkin wearing it, which she published in the magazine, DYKE: A Quarterly. "I was just beginning to be a photographer, and asked five friends if I could do a before-and-after story on how a woman's look can change over the course of her life as she matures and comes out," Cowan told the NY Times.
Cowan's image of Dobkin was posted on (the amazing) h_e_r_s_t_o_r_y, an instagram account dedicated to, "herstoric lesbian imagery," where it was spotted by graphic designer Rachel Berks, who sells feminist products from her studio-store, Otherwild. Berks recreated the T-shirt, selling out of a first batch of 24 in just two days, before making more and deciding to donate 25% of the profits to Planned Parenthood, the women's health organisation that recently and controversially had its funding cut by the US government.
As well as managing her design studio and shop, Rachel Berks also curates products for the gift shop of lesbian feminist haunted house called KillJoy's Kastle. It was here that Annie Clark picked up a pair of the navy blue slogan sweatshirts for herself and Cara, who proceeded to be photographed wearing them out and about, making the style insta-famous and causing international feminist fashion fever.
"It's thrilling to see people embrace something that came out of the '70s lesbian separatist movement," Berks told NYT. "The shirt is about a reaction to a misogynist and patriarchal culture that affects a lot of people," she explains, adding that, "People are recontextualising it: trans women, men, moms who have sons". Speaking about the design's massive popularity, Cowan says, "It's taken on a life of its own. I don't know what to make of it"; she acknowledges that many people will have bought the shirt without knowing its 'herstory,' but says, "But I think the slogan is great, I love that women are wearing it. It's kind of a call to arms, and it's a statement of fact."
As well as the navy blue sweatshirt worn by Annie and Cara, a grey version, a white T-shirt, a kids' T-shirt and pin badges are available on the Otherwild site, with 25% of proceeds going to Planned Parenthood.
Text Charlotte Gush
Photography Liza Cowan