7 Designers On 7 Brands That Don't Fem-Wash
by The Dieline on 03/08/2023 | 7 Minute Read
With Roe v. Wade, the banning of contraceptives in Kabul and Mazar-i-Sharif, and the recent bills seeking to ban gender studies and limit trans pronouns in Florida, there is no room for complacency when it comes to women’s rights. That's why International Women's Day, March 8th, is still so important.
But as brands rush to capitalize on the modern woman, they can fall into the trap of fem-washing—designing stereotypical products with no nuanced awareness or tangible care for the female audience. Opting to "pink it and shrink it" is no longer cute.
So, we asked some of the design world’s most inspiring voices to embrace equity and celebrate the brands who refuse to take the lazy road. From vibrators and Selena Gomez to anti-Mother’s Day campaigns and binary-breaching beauty, here are a few brands getting it oh-so-right.
Ella Palmer, Culture & Insights Executive at LOVE
“For a long time, there was a restrictive cloud hanging over the underwear world, making women believe that “sexiness” and “womanhood” meant subscribing to a particular ideal. Brands like Victoria’s Secret designed lingerie specifically for the male gaze—that’s why its feminist rebrand pledging to become "the world’s leading advocate for women" felt shallow and performative.
The brand Parade, however, has feminine power baked into it. Its founder, Cami Tellez, set out to rewrite the story, showing that sexiness isn’t one-dimensional. It’s more than looking a certain way: it’s a voice, a feeling, an attitude. You can see this in its name and identity, both highlighting a protest against tired tropes and the start of a new movement.
However, Parade’s biggest win is its focus on building a community that celebrates freedom of self-expression. Its first store opening in New York’s Soho transcends typical retail expectations. It’s a playful wonderland packed with 70s design references and surrealism, offering plenty of personalization options and fun events that have made it a hangout destination for experience-hungry women everywhere. This, its messaging, and the fact that it donates 1% of its profits to a cause chosen by consumers each year shows how the brand puts its money where its mouth is.
Beth Vande Griend, Senior Designer at Landscape
Maude’s refined design and honest tone of voice have always stood out to me.
A modern sexual wellness company, Maude was built on simplicity, quality, and inclusivity. Their products, branding, and messaging have effectively shifted the stigma of contraceptives and personal care products.
I’ve always loved how Maude looks and sounds different from the rest of the sexual wellness industry, where products are outdated, confusing, and alienating. From condoms and vibrators to strategic partnerships and educational content, Maude advocates for accessible sex education, affordability, product performance, sustainability, universal design, and equal representation. This holistic approach keeps me coming back to Maude—for products and insights.
As a woman growing up in the early aughts, sex education was minimal and sexual products were associated with shame and secrecy. Interacting with Maude’s brand and thoughtfully designed products shifted my perspective and allowed for my own personal growth. Maude’s messaging challenges traditional and stereotypical notions of intimacy by creating safe and equitable experiences for all bodies.
Oui the People
Jennifer Murtell, VP Strategy, Asia Pacific at Marks
The premise of fem-washing is rooted in the ideology of a binary gender system that maintains the hegemony of male power—it’s a premise still grounded in the assumption of male as a default position and female as other.
That’s why I’m so encouraged by personal care brands like Oui the People—brands that boldly defy the restrictions and tropes of the male/female paradigm. Fueling their brands with cultural flashpoints like collaborative creativity and diversity of self-expression instead of constructed gender narratives, these brands resonate with younger consumers who feel abandoned by institutional power and who long for alternatives that give them cultural permission and space to envision a better, more equitable world.
The brand TOV directly calls out the industry’s use of terms like ageless and flawless, equating them to making consumers feel less than. Instead, they focus on watching their language and creating products that nourish.
Only when we free ourselves from the limits of the gender framework itself are women truly free. That's also why the transgender community is under attack—they threaten the hegemonic structures that hold our current power system together.
Lenya McGrath, Executive Director of Business Development at BLVR
In a world full of brands like Skims and Kylie Cosmetics, Rare Beauty is a shining example of using authenticity, vulnerability, and uniqueness to change the conversation around beauty standards and how women see themselves. It begins with what Rare Beauty believes—it isn’t a makeup brand, it’s a welcoming space that celebrates individuality and self-acceptance.
That isn’t just a fluffy promise; they back it up with their behavior. The founder, Selena Gomez, uses her platform in a refreshingly honest way to challenge the standards of perfectionism. Its "Real Impact" give-back model delivers equitable funding to mental health causes. Overly retouched PDP images get replaced with more authentic product demonstrations. And instead of spending marketing dollars on ad buys, Rare Beauty has built an inviting community of beauty lovers who encourage each other to see themselves in a new light.
It’s not about being perfect. It’s just about being you.
Joelle Friedland, Co-founder and Client Service Director at minds+assembly
I was pleasantly surprised by Hers. The site could have easily been an example of fem-washing after starting as a spin-off from Hims. But it isn’t. Instead, what I love about Hers is that they've gone beyond simply rebranding products for women. They've considered what the female experience entails and how to design and create content and products that address those needs.
Hers has created a space where women feel seen and heard without resorting to stereotypes, stigma, or gender norms. They don't try to appeal to women with generic, polite language or imagery. Instead, they use a direct tone of voice, real language, and pure design. The brand confronts issues and conditions—without hesitation or shame—that most brands avoid. They intentionally designed the full experience of Hers to put us at ease and ensure that we feel understood.
From packaging to product design, Hers has taken the time to recognize what women want and need. And it shows.
Bloom & Wild
Francesca Tenebbaum, Copy Director at Ragged Edge
Mother’s Day, and the weeks leading up to it, can stir feelings that aren’t always positive. Under the veneer of a celebration of women, the relentless high-stakes and hard-selling comes thick and fast. Cards! Chocolates! Flowers! Perfect Family lunches! Perfect Mothers and Their Perfect Families! Perfect Life Choices! Perfect Life Circumstances!
It can make people—and women in particular—feel anything from inadequate to deeply distressed. And it can feel inescapable. Bloom & Wild recognized this and was the first brand to proactively offer an opt-out for Mother’s Day marketing.
A flower company. At the most profitable time of year, saying to their customers, "you might not want to hear about this, so you don’t have to."
It’s thoughtful messaging that offers not just respite from emails, but the removal of Mother’s Day content from Bloom & Wild’s website and app. A gesture that makes no assumptions and, more importantly, no judgments. Bloom & Wild’s brand mission is to help people "care wildly." Sending flowers is absolutely one way to do that. Shielding people from something that causes unfair comparisons, dread, and pain, is an even more powerful one.
Roberta Graham, Associate Director at Space Doctors
True inclusivity cannot just come from speaking more directly to a specific target minority—it can only come from altering the brand context within which everyone exists. Using imagery of empowered women or using a more inclusive tone of voice does nothing unless your actions, internal structures, and products also support and cater to female-identifying consumers genuinely and tangibly.
US outdoor apparel brand Alder is doing a great job of this. Its female founders have focused on creating practical performance and recreation wear built to fit and flatter the female body in all its shapes and sizes from XS to 6X, catering specifically to women's real, tangible needs.
I love the playful brand identity, whether it's comms, socials, or their vibrant packaging. So many brands looking to rally women in recent years have done so from a serious activist stance—while there is room for that, it’s also essential that space gets made to celebrate the joy and playfulness which is such a big part of womanhood.