My dear friend Jean at NOW NYC first turned me onto the store, and I am SO glad she did, as I have never encountered a more feminist-centric business. I had the wonderful opportunity to connect with and interview store founder Kate Goldwater recently and I was left with only one word: WOW.
From her explanation of her decision to change her last name at age 18 to her views on confronting the sexism of the fashion industry, I was left with no doubt that Kate is one badass, creative, independent woman. Besides being super cool, her business model and store represent the ultimate fantasy for any feminist who aspires to go into business. Not only does the store host progressive events and donate to organizations such as the National Network for Abortion Funds and Women Action Media, they are making a conscious effort to reclaim the fun parts of the fashion industry while providing a fun, unique, friendly, and affordable place to shop.
What feminist could ask for more?
Besides being a Mecca for the conscious feminist shopper, the women of AuH2O are highly supportive of The Feminist Guide and were more than willing to help out with this feature, something I don’t take for granted.
After rushing to AuH2O to update your spring wardrobe, be sure to find them on Twitter at AuH2OShop.
FG: How do you apply feminist values in your business?
“I think the biggest feminist contribution comes from distancing ourselves from the mainstream fashion industry. This is a broad stroke ranging from not contributing to the manufacturing of new clothes in sweatshops to outfitting models of all shapes and sizes in fashion shows (why should every model be 5’10” and 100 pounds?) to designing politically inspired/motivated fashion (Obama fashion shows in ‘08, a Health Care Reform fashion show in ‘09, and there will be more Obama fashion in 2012). In addition, we keep feminism in the conversation whether at the store or on our Twitter and tumblr – we post links that upset us, like when Belvedere vodka used rape as a marketing tactic, and things that we like, such as Feminist Ryan Gosling. Also, our store is very affordable with a permanent $5 and $10 rack and most items in the store under are $20, so we aren’t trying to take advantage of women. Our customers can shop without buyer’s remorse and can try out new trends without breaking the bank.
FG: What is the story behind the name AuH2O?
“Au is the chemical symbol for gold and H2O is the chemical symbol for water. My last name is Goldwater so the store name is the chemical symbols for my last name. I grew up with my father’s last name, but when I was 18 I legally changed it to my mother’s (Goldwater) because I didn’t think it made sense to have my father’s last name when my mother carried me in her body for 9 months, birthed me, and raised me. Why should genealogy be patriarchal? My mom always used AuH2O for her license plate, and so I knew when I opened my own business I would call it that.”
FG: I know how hard starting a business can be! Did you face any hard times or big challenges before the store was successful?
“Absolutely. It was both a blessing and a curse that I began when I was 22. Because I was so young and used to my college work-study hourly rate, it didn’t bother me that I was working 7 days a week and just barely making ends meet. I didn’t really need a salary or a nice place to live, especially since I would pull all-nighters at the store fairly often. I prioritized the store so much that I missed a family Bar Mitzvah as well as good friends’ birthday parties, and I never wanted to commit fully to a relationship because I was in such a serious one with my business. I was also very naive and trusting – within a month of being open I had my computer stolen while I was in the shop. I sometimes would notice empty hangers when customers hadn’t purchased anything. I also had to learn to balance my desire for everyone to like the store with actually managing the store – my time is valuable and not anyone else’s to waste. I knew I was starting to burn out from working so much but I was always hesitant to take on a partner because it felt like failing, like I couldn’t do it all on my own. However, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Teaming with Alexandra has been the best thing I’ve ever done. And it was just in time – I was 26 and just realizing I liked being in a relationship, wanted more time off, and didn’t want to live in a Crown Heights basement with black mold anymore.”
FG: Why is it important that feminists have “feminist friendly” places to shop?
“I think it’s important that consumers “vote with their dollars,” in a way. When you shop at a clothing company or huge corporation that uses sweatshop labor and exploitative practices, or negative body-image ads, or donates their money to conservative and anti-gay organizations, you’re supporting those terrible business initiatives. So when you shop at Urban Outfitters, you know that some of your money is going towards candidates like Rick Santorum (thank God he’s out of the race now, at least) and his anti-women, anti-gay policies. Or when you shop at Forever 21, you have their religious views all up in your face with “John 3:16” on the bottom of all of their bags. But when you shop at a feminist friendly store like AuH2O, you’re spending your money supporting the local economy at a company that is run by feminist women, pays its employees well, provides an affordable, eco-friendly product, and also donates to the National Network for Abortion Funds, New Alternatives for LGBT Homeless Youth, Women Action Media (WAM!), and the East Village Community Coalition, among other charities.
FG: With so many fun places to shop in New York City, why should feminists who live in the city start with AuH2O when looking for new items to add to their wardrobe?
“We don’t try to compete with other secondhand/vintage/thrift stores really, in fact we’re tremendous supporters of them. However, we do pride ourselves on bringing a distinct feminist element to the world of secondhand shopping.”
FG: Why should people visiting New York City put your store on their must-do list? “We’re confident that customers will be thrilled with our unique, eco-friendly finds and great prices, and whether it’s Alexandra, me or our salesgirl at the store, we’ll provide a fun shopping experience!”
Thank you AuH2O Thiftique! You rock!