Hero Within sparks conversation about Wonder Woman fashion items for men

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Apr 17, 2017, 2:30 PM EDT

For those who want more superhero style in their warm weather wardrobe, fashion company Hero Within recently released a new licensed DC Comics collection that includes pieces you can wear both casually and professionally to show your passion for DC’s heroes.

The line is comprised of four woven short sleeve shirts featuring Batman, Wonder Woman and the Justice League as well as a Wonder Woman denim jacket. The woven shirts are available for preorder for $39, and the denim jacket is available for preorder for $109.

These are the latest additions from a company striving to change what's available when it comes to geek fashion for men, but these new pieces have done more than just add to current merchandise. The Wonder Woman jacket in particular has inspired a larger conversation in the community about men wearing fashion displaying the women superheroes they love.

When it came to initially developing the collection, Hero Within founder and CEO Tony Kim told Syfy Wire that the young company made sure to maintain the values they'd already established in focusing on making subtle, sophisticated and professional pieces. At the same time, they incorporated customer feedback they'd had such as a desire for button-down shirts. According to Kim it was easy to decide on the characters to include since they work with Warner Bros. and know what will be coming soon in the cinematic universe, which offers them a kind of roadmap. That means movies like Wonder Woman and Justice League were front and center.

For Wonder Woman, Hero Within wanted to create a character piece that celebrated feminism and a heroine while still being a masculine piece guys could wear.

"We made a conscious choice to take that route instead of just the safe route with Batman and Superman and all the others. So while the cinematic universe is sort of the roadmap, we kind of made a conscious cultural decision as well," Kim explained.

This route has led to quite a bit of attention focused on the Wonder Woman jacket. Images of the item worn by a male model received enough negative comments to make Kim address it in a blog post on Hero Within's website. Kim said they knew there would be some resistance since there isn't much beyond some graphic tees for guys showing Wonder Woman and based on how conversations went with different companies about potentially carrying the line or specific pieces.

"Their response has been 'We love the idea, but guys aren't buying Wonder Woman, and so we just can't take the financial risk.' Normally for a young company like us it helps to have other companies to help finance the inventory, but we felt very strongly about helping to be involved in the culture conversation about supporting heroes and heroines," Kim said. "So we decided to take the full financial risk ourselves and just take a step forward. We knew that there would be some risk involved just because there wasn't a lot of industry support for it."

When it comes to the negativity from some customers, Kim sees it on three levels.

"The first level was definitely the sort saying that's girlie or sissy or just a very derogatory comment calling it gay, that kind of just very overt feedback. Then the second level was the conversation would go 'But why's a guy modeling the jacket?' and then someone would chime in, typically a girl, and say 'Well, it's a guy jacket with Wonder Woman on it,' and the guy would respond back 'But it's Wonder Woman. I don't understand.' So there's a level of ignorance that we would develop a men's jacket with a woman on it. It was just beyond some people," Kim said.

"The third level of it was people who were complaining that we were calling people out saying we were shaming the people for shaming us, kind of like 'How dare you push back and say we can't have an opinion about something.' So all in all multiple layers of negativity around a simple denim piece."

Kim calls it a vocal minority and while not completely surprised by the reaction, he was surprised by some of the levels of hate it received and said the big surprise was how a simple jacket started a cultural conversation. It's something long overdue, according to Kim. Geek fashion for women includes superheroes of both genders yet there's never an outcry about women wearing anything with Iron Man or Batman or other men on it. No one thinks twice about it. It reveals to Kim a layer of sexism and prejudice that is set in our ideas of what it means to be a man, especially when it comes to merchandise.

The jacket isn't only drawing the attention of men. Women are also buying the jacket, which is now being carried online in the Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment shops as well, and is listed as a unisex item. In fact, there's been a lot of support for the jacket as well as coverage of the collection and the conversation the jacket inspired.

Still, while it's okay to not like the piece or just not want to wear it, what has to change so such hateful responses are a thing of the past? What has to change so that men, like women, can wear clothing featuring their favorite heroes no matter their gender without worrying about backlash or even having any confusion around the idea of doing so at all? Kim believes it will take both sides of the customer base to create change.

"It certainly takes guys to step out and take a risk when it comes to their fashion choices. I refer to this in my blog post but if you're a role model of any sort to a kid, then we have some sort of responsibility to model what it means to have heroes in your life," Kim said. "Because I'm a guy does that mean that I can't have heroines or is it just guys alone? It's going to take guys making the conscious decision to embrace female heroes in order for the next generation to see that it's okay. You don't have to have this stigma where you can only have same-sex heroes."

With the Wonder Women movie coming out, Kim sees now as a great chance for guys to really embrace the character. He also believes it will take the support of women encouraging this conversation with men they know about why it's okay for them to wear Batman but not for him to wear Wonder Woman. The community can also help.

"When we see comments like that especially in an area like homophobia or something like that, as a community we need to call that out. As a fanbase, we're by nature supposed to be very inclusive, embrace the differences, celebrate the weird, and what I love about Comic-Con and cosplay and the whole nerd community is that we have now sort of set the pace in culture. If we're going to do that, then we need to be more inclusive. It can be easy to forget that when we see something we don't like, we have a gut reaction to it, but together we need to call each other out and hold each other to higher standards and just sort of push the conversation along," he said.

As for the impact this response to the line might have on how Hero Within approaches similar products in the future, Kim said it's made them want to do more. The company started with the idea of celebrating being a hero and they want to stand for something. That for them means celebrating heroes in all shapes, sizes, colors and genders. It seems like that would be a wise idea for the company even just from a financial standpoint since, according to Kim, the Wonder Woman shirt and jacket are their best-performing items since they launched.

"We do want to pursue more Wonder Woman merchandise for guys and then we want to take next steps with other heroes. With all this talk of potentially Joss Whedon developing a Batgirl movie that is exciting as well because Batgirl is another hero sorely underrepresented when it comes to menswear. We're going to keep pushing the boundaries and create merchandise that really honors all of fandom, not just a segment of it," Kim said.

As for what else is next at Hero Within, pieces are in the works for Aquaman as well as Superman that will hopefully be ready around San Diego Comic-Con in July. There's a lot to look forward to as Hero Within works to change geeky menswear, expanding options and giving men the chance to display the DC Comics characters they love no matter who they are.