That Runner's World article: Is Oiselle really a "different" kind of apparel brand?

Have you read this article? Oiselle wants to be a different kind of apparel brand.

I read it with great interest -- Sally Bergeson is a compelling figure, and of course Lauren Fleshman and Kara Goucher have done a lot to make female American runners visible on a national stage.

But I have finally put my finger on what I find so disappointing about Oiselle's "brand."

[[climbs up on soapbox]]

It's tragic that that phrases like "supporting" and "empowering" have been co-opted from feminist and consciousness-raising groups and exploited by corporations, perpetuating this bizarre myth in America that one can "support" and "empower" certain underrepresented groups through consumption -- in this case, purchasing a $48 tank top made in Southeast Asia.

Goucher added that she was drawn to Oiselle by ‘how they wanted to support women. I fell in love with their ideas and their ideals.’

As a former serious college & professional athlete (equestrian sports), I can appreciate Oiselle's mission to raise the profile of elite American women runners. In my (old) sport, too, it was very hard to get paid to train and compete. I see some of the same barriers I experienced in the challenges of elite and sub-elite runners (though the expense and gear requirements are much different: running shoes vs a horse, for starters). It's harder for women than men to break through to elite levels when they face legitimate barriers to accessing the full wealth of resources available to male athletes. And it's linked to all kinds of other feminist issues, especially around the female body, how it should look (sexy), and what it should be used for (sex. oh, and babies). At my best "big break" opportunity, I faced sexual harassment and abuse from the male trainer and owners and it was heartbreaking to treated first as a woman, and then as an athlete. All of this is to say, I'm sympathetic to the plight of female athletes. But this is not a social problem on the scale of global capitalism. While I think it's great that Oiselle does things like pay for sponsorships for female athletes, it should not use the language of supporting and empowering all women when it is quite explicitly supporting a very small, elite group of women. Now, we're "given the chance" to pay to prop up elite athletes via something called "the flock." Personally, I'd like to see Oiselle develop industry-leading labor and environmental manufacturing practices -- you know, things that actually support all women. And rather than buying a ridiculous tank top with the pretense of a vague "sisterhood," it would be great to be able to donate money to an organization which elite women runners can draw from directly. 

‘Not everyone is going to be impressed by [Oiselle] and some will say things against it,’ says Danielle Heffernan. ‘But the point of the company is to bring all women together. It is an inspiration.’

And while I'm up here on my soapbox, women don't need Oiselle clothes or to be a member of a group that costs money to find sisterhood. Look at the girl standing next to you in your corral, fiddling with her Garmin. Talk to her. Ask her what her goal time is, and wish her luck. Find women at work, at school, at church, wherever you are, and share training plans and favorite routes. Run together at night if you're worried about safety. Sisterhood is ours -- not the property of a "brand."