Meena Harris turned a simple T-shirt collection into a viral empire almost overnight. She came up with the idea for "Phenomenal Women" tees shortly following the 2016 Presidential election as a way to inspire other women who, like her, were feeling left out of the political conversation. It was a sentiment that resonated globally as movements like #MeToo and Time's Up were gearing up as well. Since then, her Phenomenal Woman Action Campaign has been able to support women’s-rights focused nonprofit partners like Families Belong Together and the Black Futures Lab. Harris, a Harvard Law graduate, didn't expect the T-shirts to take off. But now that they have, she's developed a personal motto: “Fuck the haters and keep it moving,” she says. “Don’t give up. Don’t cut corners. Pursue things with passion and commitment.”
Harris grew up surrounded by women who lived out this motto. She was taught to have a passion for justice from a young age by her mother, Maya Harris, an advisor on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign; and her aunt, Senator Kamala Harris. Now, she hopes to carry on the family legacy by inspiring more women to take charge and pave the way for others. "When you find that thing that is deep within you, you feel it is your duty and responsibility to commit to it," she says. "And you don't lose sight of that."
Passion for Justice: Harris was a badass long before her T-shirt campaign. After receiving her undergraduate degree from Stanford University, she worked on former President Barack Obama's 2007 presidential campaign. She went on to receive a law degree from Harvard University and assume roles at Facebook, international law firm Covington & Burling, and Slack. And she currently serves as head of strategy and leadership at Uber. But after the 2016 election, Harris says she saw a need to raise spirits and inspire women who felt like they weren't being represented.
“I was thinking about the historic moment we were in and thinking about the women who came before us, who’ve been at the forefront of these fights and movements," she says. "It was about honoring the past while celebrating the moment. I wanted to come up with something that would be uplifting and universal for recognizing that women are phenomenal.”
A Family Affair: It’s no wonder Harris is driven to make change. It practically runs in her blood. Her mother Maya Harris served as a civil rights lawyer, a public interest lawyer, and a civil rights advocate, in addition to working on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign.
And her aunt, Democratic Senator Kamala Harris, was the only African American woman in the running in the 2020 election. Despite having dropped out of the race in December, the California Senator is still an inspiring figure as the second African-American woman and first South Asian-American Senator in history.
Meena says she enjoys lifting up other women in her own unique way. And while she says “hell no” to ever running for office, she believes anyone can make a difference. “We need to be having conversations with women about the other ways in which they can be powerful, badass, and impactful," she says, "And yes, for some people that means through the ballot box running for office. But for other people, me included, that might not be the vehicle through which we make an impact, and that's OK.”
The Thing About Tees: When it came to developing the Phenomenal Woman Action Campaign, Harris wanted to create something that made it easy for women to make a powerful statement. “The reality is people are busy living their lives. People are taking their kids to school in the morning. People want to go to brunch on Saturdays. And that's OK,” she says. “The idea is, we use our platform, community, brand recognition, and other methods to really raise awareness and inspire ordinary people to own bold, important social messages.”
Females of the Future: Harris says she wants her two daughters to grow up in a society where women lead the way. She’s hopeful that they will see a woman in the oval office in their lifetimes, if not in her own. “I have faith in that,” she says. “You can't stop hoping, and you can't stop believing in it because it's what's right.”
While the fight for equality still has a long way to go, Harris thinks that with a little encouragement, future generations have the power to create lasting change. “I want to instill within [my daughters] that fighting spirit and let them know that it is within them to really make a difference,” she says. “They’re going to have to pick up that mantle and carry it forward.”
The Next Step: To further inspire her daughters and many other children, Harris has written an upcoming children’s picture book titled Kamala and Maya’s Big Idea based on her two real-life female role models. Harris hopes kids will see these powerful women of color and feel represented in new ways.
“When I think of badass role models, I think part of it is just working really hard,” she says. “Something I’ve definitely learned from my aunt and my mom is that you've got to keep your eye on the ball. You have to realize that, in some instances, you may need to work twice as hard to get half as much, but you don't stop. You don't stop fighting.”
Kamala and Maya’s Big Idea is available June 2, 2020, and for preorder now at phenomenalgirl.com.