You may not have heard of Louisa Maycock just yet, but you’ll certainly know her brainchild, Girls on Tops, with her t-shirt business turning undervalued women in film into household names.
Remember that iconic ‘Greta Gerwig’ tee? Yep, you can thank Louisa for that one.
Louisa’s tees celebrate female voices in film, stamping their names in black ink on crisp white t-shirts. We’re talking Laura Dern, Jane Campion, Emma Thompson, Isabelle Huppert, Tilda Swinton and Ava DuVernay to name a few.
Louisa’s aim? To create louder conversations about the important work that women are doing in the film industry. But according to the Founder and CEO, this was never part of the plan.
‘There was never an agenda to turn it into a business,’ Louisa explained. ‘I’m so bad with numbers and I’m not a business minded person.’
In fact, Louisa and her boyfriend initially only made the t-shirts to distribute amongst their ‘film nerd’ friends, but after a tee found its way onto Twitter, there was a demand. And the rest is history.
Fast forward to now and Louisa’s t-shirts are a symbol of the importance of women in film – worn by everyone from Timothée Chalamet to Greta Gerwig herself.
Our Women Who Win interview series celebrates strong and inspirational female trailblazers, shaping the future for us all, and Louisa Maycock and her determination to make the world a better place through her business is that in a nutshell.
Jenny Proudfoot sat down with Louisa to find out how tough you have to be to survive as a female founder nowadays and why we should celebrate other people’s success.
Talk me through how Girls on Tops started…
It was all inspired by the Lou Reed t-shirt that Greta Gerwig’s character wears in Mike Mills’ film 20th Century Women. My boyfriend and I were inspired one night to make our own white t-shirts with black type but with Greta’s name on. Lady Bird hadn’t come out yet so she wasn’t what she is now. We just had some free time, so that night we got a notebook and we just wrote down our favourite women in film – we made a list of 35 or so. That was the minimum that we could make so it wasn’t too expensive – we printed them at the back of a record shop in Bexhill. We didn’t have any plan to sell them, they were literally just to give out to our other film nerd friends. One made its way onto social media and the rest is history. People wanted to know where they could get hold of one so we made them shoppable. There wasn’t a political agenda at that time about amplifying the work of women in film because it was literally just months before the #MeToo movement started.
I was planning on it being just a side hustle but I wasn’t getting any responses from job interviews and was just responding to the demand of the t-shirts. I decided to just see if I could do this and really give it my all. That’s when it started to become an actual business.
How does the business help women in film?
As soon as I realised that the t-shirts were selling in a volume that meant that it was making a bit of profit, I wanted to ensure that it was doing something meaningful. It had to be more than t-shirts. I started a blog around women in film – a platform for women and non-binary writers. We take really good care them and nurture their talent. That’s small scale but immediate, but on a bigger scale we also help to fund female-led film projects. Basically, people come to me if they have a project – it’s usually short films just because of scale – and I help them in any way I can, whether it’s a small amount of funding so they can use certain lights or whether it’s for marketing. I’m super proud because it’s always been my dream to help female-led film projects.
What message do you hope to spread through Girls on Tops?
I think my message behind it is just to create louder conversations about the important work that women are doing in the film industry. I think it’s also about the t-shirts – they’ve become a sort of tool in which to connect to people. I’ve heard people say that they will be on their own and then they will see someone with the same t-shirt and it becomes a conversation starter. It’s sort of a way of finding allies. Obviously, I can’t claim that t-shirts can change the state of the film industry but it’s an accessible way of people finding their people. It’s a symbol. People wear the t-shirts and feel more empowered because it can channel some of the energy of the person they’re wearing which is really amazing. It’s such a simple idea and such a simple design but I think it is very meaningful and it blows my mind everyday.
What would you say to the people who think it’s unfair to elevate women in film and not men?
Oh God. I would probably tell them to go back for as long as they possibly can in history. Everything is for men – everything is made for men, with men in mind. They’re 50% and we’re 50% so it would make sense that it would be 50% split of everything. It’s going to take a while to get there, but I don’t think there will be ‘Men on Tops’ anytime soon – it isn’t needed.
Which is your most popular design?
The Greta Gerwig tee is our most popular design. I’m just so grateful that she knows that it exists and I’m so grateful that she’s so cool about it and not weirded out. I think if I saw someone wearing my name I would be like ‘Oh that’s a bit weird’. It’s crazy that all the t-shirts have found their way to the person they’re about.
Have you ever had any feedback from the women featured?
Yeah I have. At the beginning we were all super naive and didn’t know it was going to be a business so we just went ahead with it, but now going forward I won’t produce any t-shirt without approaching the person first. I want them to know the heart of the business – we try to put the money back into projects that help women in film – so I want them to know that going in. We’ve just released the Céline Sciamma t-shirt and she was really moved when we approached her. That was amazing. I’m waiting for someone to wear their own name – nobody has done that yet. Rooney Mara has worn Lynne Ramsay and of course we’ve had Timothée Chalamet wear Greta Gerwig’s. Also there was the time that Tracy Letts, the wonderful actor who plays the dad in Lady Bird, somehow found the Greta Gerwig t-shirt on Etsy and apparently used Carrie Coon’s Etsy account to buy it. I do all the order fulfilment – I saw it and was like ‘Oh God – is that THE Carrie Coon or just a popular name?’. So I packed it up and sent it off and then he wore the t-shirt on the red carpet. That was a moment.
What question do you get asked the most about it?
There are a lot of people who don’t really understand it. It would start really good (and important) conversations like ‘Who is Lynn Randall?’ and people would ask me ‘Are you Laura Dern?’ It blows my mind that someone doesn’t know who Laura Dern is. She is iconic. But that’s why we’re here – it’s all about making these amazing women household names. The film industry is not in a vacuum and it’s something that applies to so many different areas of culture but I think we can’t carry on not giving women awards. The sad thing about when Greta Gerwig got snubbed for another Oscar this year is that I could believe it. I would like to think it’s going to change.
What is your hope for women in film?
I hope that people are willing to give them enough money to make the films that they want to make and that they’re not having to compromise on things because they haven’t received the same budget as their male counterparts. Most of all, I would love for it not to be a huge discussion all the time because when we don’t need to think about it, that’s when we’ve reached equality. But, then I probably wouldn’t have a job!
What could women achieve if we all supported each other?
We could achieve anything we put our minds to. There’s a lot of jealousy still going around successful women – there is so much social media has to answer for. But I think we would all just be happier and more successful if we acted as each other’s support. I mean we can’t support every woman but we can support the immediate women around us. If we gave them a leg up instead of tearing them down, we would all go further. I feel so happy when my friends succeed. I think that is something that is really important to me. We need to stop feeling jealous when our friends succeed because it isn’t ours – wouldn’t it be nice if we could just completely get rid of that feeling and just see everyone’s success as success for us all?
What has been your proudest moment?
It has to be Greta Gerwig wearing one of the t-shirts. When Lady Bird came out and she got the Oscar nomination, she did a cover shoot. I got an email literally a night before the shoot asking for one of my shirts as an option to wear and I happened to be going to London the next day. I got all the t-shirts I could possibly fit into a suitcase, went to Claridge’s and dropped them off in an empty room. I obviously didn’t know whether they would actually be used because they have so many garments. It coincided with the time that my grandmother was really ill and nearing the end of her life and I was spending a lot of time with her in hospital. I was sitting at her bedside and I got sent a photograph of Greta in a t-shirt taken for the magazine. That was a really amazing moment.
What has been your biggest challenge?
There are new challenges every day that pop up because it’s just me – I do everything myself. I’m the one who gets the stock where it needs to be, I’m the one who plans the campaigns, I do all the liaising with people and I pack all the shirts. I would say on a day to day I am just sitting at the office with about a thousand t-shirts folded. I love the freedom that it gives me but it is a lot – and people change how they treat me when they find out. When they realise that Girls on Tops isn’t a huge operation and that I don’t have an assistant/ people in charge of social channels, people can be rude. And when they hear on the phone that I’m a young woman, their tone definitely changes. I’m sure many young women find that. It is literally just me doing my best. I’m learning so much about what it takes to run a business – I think about it from the moment I wake up to the moment I go to sleep. Another thing I (much like many other women) struggle with is crediting myself with my success. When I succeed, I say it’s because of this factor or that factor, when actually it’s because I am here putting in the hours.
Is right now a turning point for women in film?
I would like to think that it is. But then when you think about what happened at the César awards, it’s tricky to see how things have changed. I don’t think it’s a conversation that’s going to go away and we are seeing small changes. I hope that we just continue to trudge forward and build momentum.
Where do you see Girls on Tops going?
I would love for it to expand. I would love to have a team – even if it was just one more person! It is a collaborative brand. I work with a lot of amazing freelance journalists for our Read Me section and have an extended team in terms of picking people’s brains as I’ve realised I can’t be an expert in everything. I would just really love to have someone in the office with me every day – we could become a pack. I would also really love to produce a Girls on Tops short film. I have got plans for working with some up and coming filmmakers. It’s a completely new area for me so I’m just having to see where I can offer my help and services. The integrity and the heart of the brand will always remain its main focus.
How can people get involved with Girls on Tops?
We run a patron page for Read Me. We can’t live on t-shirts alone and I want to keep expanding and be able to pay my writers more too. You can give as little as you want – you get discounts on t-shirts, you get newsletters and you get to be a part of a very loving community where we’re all working towards a very similar goal. I love the community that Girls on Tops has built – it’s very wholesome.