The Brooklyn-based, Grenada-born designer Felicia Noel wants to end income inequality and she is using her fashion to do it.
This season, her brand Fe Noel teamed up with retirement agency services provider TIAA, and its initiative #RetireInequality, to highlight the glaring wage gaps between men and women. This messaging and empowerment culminated in the debut of Noel’s $1.6 Million “Dre$$” at her Spring 2023 show.
On average, women earn 83 cents on the dollar to every man. This number, compounded, means that by the end of her career, a full-time, working woman will have lost an average of $417,400 of income. To determine the symbolic number to make the dress, Noel referenced The Center for American Progress’s calculations.
The group found that with median return rates and investing 20% of earnings, the total money invested would accumulate to an additional $1.6 million in retirement funds.
“We were able to work with Fe Noel to turn that shocking statistic into a visceral, visible and high-impact learning opportunity," TIAA CMO Micky Onerval tells PAPER. "Through this initiative, we are striving to change the conversation around retirement and reach new audiences across age, race and gender.”
For both Noel and TIAA, this NYFW represented an opportunity to bring their joint messaging to a global scale — and to an industry that is still lacking in female corporate leadership.
“As a woman in the fashion industry, this initiative felt especially important to me,” Noel says. “More than 85% of majors from top fashion schools are female, but only around 14% of the top 50 major fashion brands are run by women.”
From the beginning, Noel knew that she wanted this statement to be represented in a couture gown. “The Dre$$ is a structured gown with a solid foundation; the direction of the dollar bills is purposeful; the finishings and corset are all designed to convey strength and structure – something women exhibit,” she says.
This Dre$$, however, is only the beginning of the brand’s fight to #RetireInequality. Noel is excited to continue using the runway as her platform. “Women’s clothing will always be our foundation – we are continuing to build on that business with our classic silhouettes while introducing new creations,” she says.
Photos courtesy of Fe Noel