How Phenomenal Became a Leading Social Impact Apparel Brand

Meena Harris, niece of Kamala Harris, started with a Women's March T-shirt

Phenomenal has partnered with brands like the WNBA and Johnnie Walker on fearless social impact campaigns this year. Zofeea Genota
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Meena Harris, like many American women, was driven to action after the 2016 election.

“I found myself wondering what I personally could do to lift up women, make our voices heard and support issues I cared about,” Harris said, recalling the period just after Trump’s election (and the loss of what many expected would be the first woman president, Hillary Clinton). Harris started making T-shirts to raise money for feminist initiatives. One of her early designs, for the 2017 Women’s March, was a stark statement: a phrase inspired by Harris’ favorite Maya Angelou poem, “Phenomenal Woman,” emblazoned across the chest.

“We thought it was going to be a small thing,” said Harris, “But we ended up selling 2,500 shirts in one day.”

Three-and-a-half years later, Phenomenal is a social impact merchandise company that partners with major brands and reaches over a million people a week on Instagram alone. And the nation stands poised on a moment that mirrors the spark that originally lit Harris into action: Her aunt, Kamala Harris, could likely become not just the country’s first female vice president—but also the first Black woman and first Asian woman to lead the executive branch.

a woman with brown hair smiling while sitting in a store window
The growth of Meena Harris’ brand since the 2016 election shows the power of progressive social impact marketing in the Trump era.María del Río

This year has been the busiest year yet for Phenomenal. Harris is branching out into media work on top of the merchandise, with Phenomenal Media’s first op-ed penned by WNBA players Nneka Ogwumike and Sue Bird in July. But the core of the mission is brand partnerships; this summer, Phenomenal has designed T-shirts for Johnnie Walker to celebrate the anniversary of the first voting rights for women, with Salesforce to encourage consumers to shop at Black-owned businesses, with InStyle on an Ambitious sweatshirt, and—most notoriously—with the WNBA on warmup uniforms that draw attention to the police killing of Breonna Taylor.

July’s WNBA kickoff game was dedicated to Taylor, the Louisville, Ky., EMT shot in her bed by police in March. The league announced that it would use its platform this season to highlight social justices issues, starting by partnering with the #SayHerName campaign and with Phenomenal.

The back of Phenomenal’s design for the WNBA T-shirt campaign shows a painted portrait of Breonna Taylor.Kenny Katz

“Over the last three-and-a-half years of building this brand, we’ve learned that consumers no longer make decisions based solely on product or price—they look at what a brand stands for,” said Harris. “In everything we do, Phenomenal represents authenticity, community and purpose.”

Next up for Phenomenal, Harris said, is a voting-centered campaign just in time for November’s presidential election. Harris declined to comment on her aunt’s historic Democratic Party nomination for vice president on the Biden ticket, but the mission of her company is in line with the other Harris’ platform: amplifying the voices of female leaders with a focus on supporting women of color. Phenomenal boasts an executive team that is “100% Black and brown women,” said Harris, and the company is entirely women-owned.

The list of influencers on board with Phenomenal is seemingly endless, but Harris is specific when it comes to brand partners, choosing brands that “share our commitment to social justice, and value our creative vision so that we can be as bold and impactful as possible.” She doesn’t have a monolithic model for what those partnerships look like; each campaign is designed around the goals, reach and issues or policies at hand.

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@MaryEmilyOHara Mary Emily O'Hara is a diversity and inclusion reporter. They specialize in covering LGBTQ+ issues and other underrepresented communities.