An Interview with Jayna Zweiman, co-founder of Pussyhat Project

The Pussyhat has become a symbol of resistance and rebellion. Was that the intended message you had in mind when first designing it, or did its meaning evolve over time?

We started Pussyhat Project with two main aims: (1) to create a strong visible statement at the Women’s March on Washington; and (2) to create a way for those who were not able to march to support the idea that women’s rights are human rights and to visibly support the marchers. Underlying these two aims was the idea that Pussyhat Project was a platform for participation, a way to bring together the community at multiple scales. Anyone anywhere could participate.

It is a project about strength and solidarity for women’s rights. It is about connection. Pussyhat Project began to support the language of the Women’s March as being pro-women versus anti-someone-in-particular. With each Pussyhat, we invited the makers to include a note about what women’s rights issue was important to them along with their contact information. This opportunity for connection allowed a personal relationship on the scale of a detail while creating an overall drone view of a sea of pink pixels. We specifically wanted to create a new image of individuals within a collective that marked the Women’s March as a specific event.

That the idea of equality is an idea of resistance is a reflection on our current times. It has been incredible to see this symbol that we intended to be for the Women’s March grow and become so much more. We dreamt big, we designed big, and yet Pussyhat has become so much larger than we could have anticipated.

Were there any other names that came up before settling on “Pussyhat”?

Pussyhat was the first name! We asked Kat Coyle, owner of the Little Knittery and our knitting instructor for a distinctive design that was incredibly simple and inexpensive to make. She showed us a cat hat pattern she had created before and then simplified it. When she had made a prototype, she put it on and we asked her what it was called. She paused and said, “pussycat… pussyhat!” It was perfect.

Do you have any advice for someone who wants to create social impact through design but doesn’t know where to start?

Go for it! Collaborate with people who have different skills and be open to possibilities. Pussyhat Project took form because of collaborations with Krista Suh, Kat Coyle, Aurora Lady, our knitting circle at the Little Knittery, volunteers who shared their particular skills, as well of the hundreds of thousands of people who participated and joined together.

Find what bothers you most. Decide what you think needs to happen to make it better and try! If there is a group already doing work you want to support, lend your skills. If you want to start something that doesn’t exist, make it! There are so many different ways in which design can play a role in creating social impact.

My academic background is in architecture, visual arts, and economics. I have worked for startups that bridge physical and virtual spaces, worked on campaigns, helped create events for a past inauguration and pop up agoras, developed experience in understanding and designing systems, curated and organized shows, and worked as an architect. For Pussyhat Project, I employed skills from all of these experiences.

Both Pussyhat Project and Welcome Blanket (a craftivism project I created about immigration) developed out of intense frustration and the desire to participate and create community while giving space for individual expression. I couldn’t march because I was recovering from a serious injury and felt incredibly isolated. I wanted to find a way to make it possible for EVERYONE to participate and be seen. It was that limitation that was my inspiration.

More recently, women have become more outspoken on all issues that affect them, from the Women’s March to the #metoo movement. What role, if any, has design and creativity, in general, played in uniting and empowering women to affect change?

With Pussyhat Project, we say “the more we are seen, the more we are heard.” The diagrammatic design of the Pussyhat and the overall project has given a legibility and visibility to the women’s movement.

Design should be leading the way on how we organize, maneuver, and participate politically. Protest movements require creativity, clarity, meaning, and mass, all skills that designers have. We also live in an incredible visual time, and being able to create powerful images can help affect change.

Design and creativity play a huge role in uniting and empowering people. Design is a powerful communication tool. Design can change how we see an idea and how we see ourselves. The Pussyhat Project made visible the millions of people who are supporting one another to push women’s rights forward. Making and gifting Pussyhats connected women’s rights supporters across the country. Because of its multiplicity and use, it has become a symbol of the resistance. The #metoo movement has been incredible in shifting the conversation about sexual harassment and assault. When Tarana Burke started #metoo ten years ago, social media did not have the same reach. The combination of timing in the news cycle and the accessibility of social media helped propel this powerful project to new levels. These designed social mediums created a larger forum for this powerful idea to spread and grow.

By Lauren Forbes
Published November 30, 2017
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