Under fire for dismissing nearly his entire staff after workers confronted him about his history of inappropriate behavior with women, Alan Javier Martofel says he does not regret how he’s run his company over the last three weeks.
“The reality is that for any manager, firing people is never a pleasant or comfortable experience for anyone,” he said. “I did it the best way I could.”
Martofel, 29, is the CEO of Feminist Apparel, a 5-year-old company based in Somerdale, N.J. (it moved from Kensington earlier this year), that sold T-shirts and greeting cards sporting progressive values such as “Gender is a construct” and “Consent is mandatory.” Most recently, the company has been selling “Families Belong Together” T-shirts, a reference to the current activism around immigrant parents and children being separated at the U.S. border.
But three weeks ago, in a situation that calls to mind recent revelations about men in positions of power who purport to support women but also simultaneously abuse them, the company was thrown into tumult when his staff of nine discovered a 2013 Facebook post where Martofel said he was starting a company to combat rape culture and that he, too, had participated in it.
“We’ve all either faced this firsthand, seen it, heard a firsthand account of it, or are guilty of it ourselves,” Martofel wrote then. “I’m someone who’s guilty of it. I’ve grinded up on women on buses and at concerts without their consent. I’ve made out with ‘the drunk chick’ at a party because it was easier. I’ve put a woman’s hand on my d— while she was sleeping.”
After his staff confronted him about the post, they demanded that he resign as CEO and apologize to the Feminist Apparel community. After that conversation, staffers were under the impression Martofel would step down, according to the Refinery29 article that made the account go viral. But Martofel said in an interview with the Inquirer and Daily News that he did not agree to those terms and instead told staff he was open to the possibility of relinquishing his position and would look into what that process would involve.
Martofel said for now, he would continue as the CEO because the transition process would take a long time but that he’s examining his options. He also realized that dealing with the repercussions from the 2013 Facebook post would be his first priority, and that the fallout might impact his ability to pay his staff. So he fired nearly everyone.
“Sadly, in the meeting that took place with my now-former employees last Friday, I was made aware that they, unequivocally, do not share my views on either business or feminism,” he wrote in a company blog post.
Former sales and marketing manager Loretta Gary said she was “disgusted, saddened, and overwhelmed by the ways in which toxic masculinity, misogyny, white supremacy, and capitalist power-dynamics were all too present in a supposed ‘safe,’ ‘feminist’ work environment.” The experience was a “wake-up call” about how little rights workers have, she said. The staff was let go without any notice or severance pay.
In an interview, Gary said she and her coworkers never really pushed for better protections in their contract because “there was a sense of trust.”
Following the recent trend of capitalizing on progressive, “woke” values, the stated mission of Feminist Apparel is to empower women and to end rape culture. The company made headlines with the “No Catcall Zone” signs it posted in Philadelphia and New York City. Asked to respond to critiques that those values may be at odds with how he treated his workers, Martofel said his company “exists in the weird space of feminism and business.”
“I’ve always tried to run the most feminist business I could within the financial realities I’ve faced, that all small businesses are faced with,” he said.
His nine employees were paid on an hourly basis, he said, and could work anywhere up to 40 hours a week but also fewer than that, if they wanted. They did not have official paid time off until recently, when he instated a policy of five days paid time off for every employee. They did not have health-care benefits. (Gary confirmed the accounting of benefits.)
Martofel said he had many conversations with his employees in hopes of making them understand that the company had a mission and a purpose but that it was also a start-up — one without any outside investors, one that was constrained by “financial realities.”
The company’s fate was “based on us doing our jobs efficiently and people wanting to buy from us,” he said he told them.
For Martofel, he says this experience raises questions of redemption and inclusivity.
He says he wants to know: Is feminism an inclusive movement or not?
“If it is, it can’t simply be inclusive of those with spotless histories,” he said. “If it isn’t, then that’s not the feminism I signed up for.”