Felicia Noel, Brooklyn-based, Grenada-born designer 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$$” at her Spring 2023 show.
The Dre$$ features a corseted top and 16-foot cathedral train made from fake paper money that symbolizes the potential retirement savings women miss out on. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, women who work full-time jobs are paid just 83 cents on the dollar compared with men. That results in a $10,435 gap in median annual wages, an amount which—if invested properly—could give women an additional $1.6 million at retirement.
“I knew I wanted this to be a couture gown. Each detail was thought through and intentional,” Noel said in a statement. “It’s 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. This dress is about laying a strong foundation and building on top of that. It represents women’s strength while also highlighting a very real problem in society—the 30 percent retirement income gap between women and men.”
The Dre$$ was part of Noel’s spring/summer 2023 collection, and will be displayed at Broadway and Grand Street in New York City until Sept. 20. Visitors can snap a photo of the dress and share it on social media using the hashtag #RetireInequality. For every post, TIAA will make a donation to Dress for Success, a nonprofit that helps women achieve financial independence.
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“New York Fashion Week presented us with an opportunity to bring the retirement income gap to life on a global stage,” TIAA’s CMO Micky Onvural said.”Women retire with a staggering 30 percent less retirement income than men. We were able to work with Fe Noel to turn that shocking statistic into a visceral, visible and high-impact learning opportunity. Through this initiative, we are striving to change the conversation around retirement and reach new audiences across age, race and gender about the work that still needs to be done to ensure more people have enough income in retirement.”
The average woman is paid $0.83 for every dollar men earn. At the end of a career, this means that she will have lost an average of $417,400 in income by the time she retires. To determine the symbolic number to make the dress, Noel referenced The Center for American Progress’s calculations.
A study by the group found that if you invested 20% of your annual income and earned a median return on your investments, you would add $1.6 million to your retirement fund by age 70.
“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 Fe 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.”
When she designed a couture gown to match the theme of the charity event, Noel knew that she wanted this statement to be represented in a gown. “The dress is structured and strong, with a solid foundation; the direction of the dollar bills is intentional—they’re meant to convey strength and structure—and all of these details are designed to convey strength and structure—something women exhibit,” she explains.
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.
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