Meena Harris, Building That Brand

Meena Harris, a lawyer and former technical executive, worked as a side job making statement t-shirts. Her most famous read, simply, “Extraordinary Woman.” (Perhaps you saw it on Instagram, worn by celebrities including Serena Williams, Lizzo, Ciara, Viola Davis, Louvrene Cox and Eva Longoria.)

He also created hats for “Phenomenal Mother” and sweatshirts for “Phenomenal Voters”. All took advantage of various donations.

But during a summer of mass protests against racism and injustice, Ms. Harris’ costumes took a new echo. Naomi Campbell wore a “Phenomenally Black” T-shirt for a high-end fashion event in July. Regina king In September her lead actress Amy admitted wearing a shirt by Ms. Harris, with a depiction of Bryo Taylor and the words “Say My Name”.

Ms. Harris’s passion project became her full-time job; She relinquished her role as head of strategy and leadership to run her company, called Phenomenal. She also picked up another side-gig – one that brought her more visibility than any previously coveted job: a campaign surrogate for her aunt, Kamala Harris, who is now the vice-president’s election.

At the time, Ms. Harris, 36, made it clear that her clothing brand is “not something I want to use to promote a family member’s candidacy.” In a phone interview, she said: “There are many quiet people in my family who do cool things. And that’s my point. I am doing my work. “

But his relationship to the election of Vice President is a truth that cannot be separated from his story or his business.

As a surrogate, Ms. Harris provided insight into her family to introduce her aunt in the traditional way Video At the Democratic National Convention) and more novels (during the primaries, she defended her aunt’s criminal justice record against Pragya, who humiliated her as a “cop” in a series of Instagram stories).

She also sold several Kamala-related sweatshirts, one of which was with the letters “MVP” for Madam Vice President; Mentioned with a phrase “I am speaking,” Very memorable moment From the Vice President’s debate; And a third by the name of Sororner (Satya), Harriet (Tubman), Shirley (Chisholm) and Barbara (Jordan), which is stacked above Kamala. Partnerships With black women winning.

But chanting a campaign like “Kamala for the People” on a shirt, it would be very clear, Ms. Harris said, crossing the line she has drawn to protect her brand and establish her identity.

“I look at her as another person in history and someone is celebrated,” she said of her aunt – for example, with a holiday sweatshirt reading “Deck Smart, with strong women, Kamala- La-La-La-La-La-La. “

Ms. Harris’s company name comes from Maya Angelou poem, Published in 1978: “I am a woman / original. / Extraordinary woman, / she is me.”

First sold during Women’s History Month in March 2017, the “Phenomenal Woman” shirt was meant to remind people that Ms. Angelou “had come before us, and it was women like her,” said Ms. Harris, who Made it possible for women. ” The Women’s March to be the mass that she undertook. “

She planned to divide the profits from the shirt among seven women’s outfits. “I thought we’d sell a few hundred shirts, if I got enough to support my friends and family,” she said. But on release day, it sold more than 2,000, she said. (It was modeled online by friends including Issa Rae, a college classmate, and America Ferreira.)

At the time, Ms. Harris did not know what to do with enthusiasm, saying: “How do we continue this? What are we talking about? What are we doing? What is our message?” So she gave herself a mission: to raise awareness of how the issues impact communities.

Bryo taylor ShirtReleased in August, Flooded Social media, re-convened by a flock of celebrities. On the front, the black tee reads “Arrest The Cops Who Killed Breonna Taylor” in pink text (Ms. King wore it) Backward On virtual Emmys). The Bryo Taylor Foundation benefited from the $ 45 shirt profits. (Depending on sales, other Phenomenal products raise anywhere from $ 5,000 to $ 150,000 for nonprofits, according to Ms. Harris.)

Essentially, the ordinary T-shirt company has become a multipurpose enterprise with a material arm, Event media (To publish and exclude articles Full page newspaper ads), And a creative agency, Event creation (Which will create videos, products and other content for ideologically aligned customers). On January 19, Ms. Harris will publish her second children’s book, “Ambitious Girl”. And the next day, one of the characters in her first children’s book, “Kamala and Maya’s Big Idea,” which is about two sisters, is taking on a community project for the nation’s second-largest post Will take oath.

Kamla and Maya were raised primarily by their mother, Brunette GopalanA scientist and activist.

When Maya was 17, she had Meena. He raised his daughter with the help of his mother and sister, while he earned a degree and made a career in law and progressive policy. Maya served as law school dean, executive director of ACLU of Northern California, adviser to Hillary Clinton, and her sister’s campaign chairman – in other roles. She has been married since 1998 to Tony West, who was Associate Attorney General during the Obama administration and is now an Uber Chief Legal Officer.

Young Meena Harris, surrounded by lawyers, was not seen as law. His first job, after graduating from Stanford University in 2006, was as a Community Operations Manager on Facebook – the way it was expanding to the general public, now no longer available only to college students.

Ms. Harris also joined the 2008 Obama campaign, organizing youth votes and raising grass roots. But in the end, she decided to start law school, as if it were “the path of least resistance”, she said.

In 2014, two years after graduating from Harvard Law School, Ms. Harris was working as a cybersecurity and data privacy advocate in Washington, D.C., when she launched her first “fun, provocative” idea for a T-shirt. Did, said f. Inspired by early Mark Zuckerberg Business card Said “I am the CEO, bitch,” her tee read “I am an entrepreneur, bitch.” (These were “Lean in” years.)

As of 2015, Tyra Banks was wearing a shirt during a press interview. And Ms. Harris – who had always identified herself as a creative person with an “entrepreneurial instinct”, said – for the first time, feeling like an entrepreneur.

T-shirt Not a new look Of expression, either of values ​​or of opposition. But unrest during the Trump administration – and the continued rise of both political expression and posting on social media – is Inspire a big number Of them. Mugs, villas, belly collars, phone cases and fanny packs, too.

In September 2019, sisters Kate and Lisa Sokolov founded Social goods, An online boutique for activist apparel. All of their sales include a donation – on average 25 percent of income, the founders said – to various related nonprofits. Phenomenal was one of the first brands sold on their site.

The founders see merchants as “catalysts and entry points for change”, said Kate Sokolov – “a way for people to start conversations and keep talking about issues.”

This is part of the “keep talking” that Ms. Harris has been considering herself recently.

“I think this is a big question for us next year. When we do not have the constant drama and attacks that come out of the administration, how do we connect people in a meaningful way? ” He said. “Not only the people who are doing this work, and will continue to do this work, and are literally doing it every day. But regular people. “

Communicating serious messages through a medium such as apparel is difficult. Tone is paramount. Nunes can be lost. There is only so much room on the tee.

“Just because a bunch of people like it doesn’t mean you should put it on a t-shirt and sell it,” said Ms. Harris, of ideas she knew would be popular but fishy.

Everything sold by Phenomenal does not carry the message of social justice. Addressing the work-from-home culture, Ms. Harris released a sweatshirt in 2020 stating “Can everyone please mute?” She also sold pieces without phrases, such as a swimsuit printed on Sonia Sotomayor’s face. The proceeds from these common goods are donated to the spread of nonprofits rather than to a specific cause or organization.

One of those non-beneficiaries is Essay Justice Group, an organization for women with disgruntled loved ones. The group’s founder and executive director, Gina Clayton-Johnson, said working with Phenomenal has brought some relief to the fund-raising pressure.

“My team needs to write policy, run healing circles and organize outside jails and jails. As Ms. Clayton-Johnson said, she doesn’t need to set up chairs in the fund-razor or put cute little sequins in envelopes.

On a phone call in August, the next day after the Democratic National Convention began, Ms. Harris described herself as jovial, but “running.” She spent the night on “drinking wine in a lovely bathroom” while watching videos and speeches she said.

A few months later during a talk, the election was over but the holidays were drawing to a close, and Ms. Harris’s partner Nicholas Ajajo, who works as an executive on Facebook, gave her two daughters (2 years old) Gave letters to Santa. 4) had gone missing. There was a pile of laundry on the couch and there was a “mess” in the house, he said, using an exterior.

Because of her work with Phenomenal, Ms. Harris was already strong in August, before becoming a running mate of her point, Joe Biden. But from that month onwards, she started gaining followers in drawers on Twitter and Instagram.

Accordingly, she has faced more criticism, trolling and general scrutiny for actions involving her family. Is a recurring theme Proposition 22A California ballot measure approved by voters in November allowed companies like Uber to continue classifying drivers as independent contractors rather than employees.

Ms. Harris’s stepfather is the top lawyer in Uber, who spent millions trying to pass the measure. (His aunt Strongly opposed This.) Ms. Harris was dragged into a fight due to her former job at Uber. In November – after the election – he decided make it clear That he voted against Prop. 22.

“I think it’s a very simple thing,” he said. “I am very fortunate to live in a family of a group of successful people who are doing a lot of different things. There is interesting dynamics around that, but I am my own person with my own thoughts and my own platform and my own aspirations.

“Sure, you might be curious about someone’s relationship with their family, or how they have communication about these things,” she said. But at the same time, he said, “I am not an elected official. I am not formally accountable as a public servant, and I think that sometimes, people treat you like this if you have a public profile. “(He later added:” It’s weird to talk about yourself as a public profile. “)

When she spoke about her decision to leave Uber in June, Ms. Harris used phrases such as “breaking up” and “freeing herself”. For years, it seemed to him to be on a “treadmill of checking the prestige boxes” – elite schooling, a law degree, a high-powered technical career, a treadmill from the ambition of his first-generation immigrant family. Is operated.

Nevertheless, that ambition was largely rooted in the world of law and activism, “which are, of course, core to who I am and how I see everything,” she said.

“There is no one in my family, other than me, there is a business-minded bone in his body. I was not made aware of it at all, ”Ms. Harris said. (Her stepfather did not work in the corporate world until 2014.) Thinking of entrepreneurship? “It was completely foreign.”

Now, he is on a new treadmill. “I just haven’t found a way to get there,” he said.


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