Of all the cool things I saw at WonderCon last weekend, the one that really stuck with me was a bit surprising.
While checking out the exhibit hall, my sister and I dropped by the booth of Hero Within, a sophisticated but geeky fashion company that specializes in men’s wear and recently branched out into women’s clothing as well.
While browsing, we happened to notice a mannequin adorned in a denim jacket with Wonder Woman’s signature “W” stitched across the shoulder blades in a subtle but stylish design.
It took us a few minutes to notice that the jacket was made for men.
This didn’t seem like that big a deal at the time, but after I got home, I couldn’t stop thinking about that jacket. After all, in the world of superhero fandom there is this antiquated tradition that Wonder Woman is for girls and Batman and Superman are for boys.
Merchandising and marketing of comic book properties still tends to fall squarely along gender lines and to me, and lots of other female fans, this feels ridiculous and outmoded. I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that Hero Within’s Wonder Woman Denim Jacket is nothing short of revolutionary when it comes to challenging gender stereotypes in the geek fashion world.
Curious to explore this subject further, I reached out to Hero Within founder and CEO Tony B Kim, who told me the story behind this intriguing piece of Wonder Woman-themed outerwear.
Released in March 2017 as part of the company’s summer collection, the jacket was not initially well received by male comic book fans. It was greeted by many negative comments on Facebook and Instagram, and many of them were – sadly and perhaps not surprisingly – of a homophobic nature.
The design for the Wonder Woman jacket did not originate accidentally. Kim started brainstorming the product in 2016 and put careful thought into it with the intention of challenging industry stereotypes.
“I knew it was time for a change,” he said.
“Since the beginning of fandom, gender stereotypes have ruled who we consider ‘our heroes.’ With such a lack of heroine representation on the big screen, I knew Wonder Woman could potentially change the barriers that existed. I wanted to create a Wonder Woman piece for men that was both smart, masculine and classic — a denim jacket seemed to be the right solution.”
In a blog post about customers’ reaction to the jacket, Kim said he’s been a Wonder Woman fan since childhood, despite “enormous pressure” to only identify with male heroes such as Rambo, Rocky and Mr. T. One of his all-time favorite comic series was George Perez’s Wonder Woman run from the 1980s.
“From that series, I learned that it was OK to have women as heroes. Batman and Superman shouldn’t just be for boys and Wonder Woman just for girls. Being a hero is about courage, sacrifice and honor. Last time I checked, neither sex has a monopoly on those qualities.”
When Kim took the concept of the Wonder Woman jacket to major wholesalers, he found they didn’t necessarily agree with this concept and were “hesitant” to invest in the piece.
“They just didn’t think it would sell.”
Nevertheless, Kim persisted. When he posted the first images of the jacket online in spring 2017, it was met with mixed reactions.
“A vocal minority of men could not understand why a man was modeling a Wonder Woman jacket,” he said. “Soon after, the homophobic responses ensued. I got plenty of hate tweets, messages and e-mails.”
Eventually, according to Kim, fans began defending the product.
“The common sentiment from other females was, ‘We’ve been wearing Batman and Superman for years, why can’t you wear Wonder Woman?’”
When the jacket went on display for preorder at WonderCon 2017, it was met with “plenty of buzz,” Kim said.
“It was really fascinating to hear a couple discuss why it was or wasn’t ok for a man to support Wonder Woman.”
When Patty Jenkins’ record-breaking movie adaptation of “Wonder Woman” hit theaters in June 2017, Kim said the criticism stopped, but wholesalers continued to reject the jacket design.
Kim said this ended up being good in the long run. “I needed the stock because the sales for it has been so strong. In fact, I am almost out of inventory.”
The jacket tends to appeal to both men and women, regardless of sexual orientation, Kim said.
“Honestly, the interest has been all across the board — not just one type of customer (which is fantastic). I think that says more about the success of Wonder Woman and the need to support heroines in culture.”
Kim believes geek fashion has “the potential to provoke and change culture.”
“In a small way it can push the needle of change and help redefine who we consider our personal heroes. Wonder Woman is not a hero for a certain gender but she is a hero for us all. Our clothing should reflect that.”
Founded in 2015 and officially licensed by DC Comics and Marvel, Hero Within remains the only company to create multiple Wonder Woman pieces for men, Kim said. (They also offer a woven shirt for men.)
They plan to continue to do so, as well as create more items featuring female heroes for both men and women.
Photos courtesy of Hero Within.