Journalist Linze Rice never thought that after reporting on The TaTa Top – a bikini top with animated “male” nipples – she would end up buying the business, herself. Now, she believes the nipple bikinis will be the silly secret weapon that creates serious change throughout the world.
“We’re a fun, goofy way to begin a serious conversation about gender equality, body positivity and breast health—while also giving back to an important cause,” said Rice, who bought The TaTa Top company in late 2018. The company celebrated its five-year anniversary in July and has raised over $40,000 in donations for its breast cancer and women’s health charity partners since 2014, with $3 from each top going directly to nonprofit organizations. Each October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the company works especially hard to advocate for both women’s health and equality.
“It’s been five years, and inequality isn’t going away,” Rice said. “And there is a new generation of celebrities and young people and old people alike having this renewed interest as the discussion of equality continues to be a main issue.”
Currently, three New Hampshire women are taking the issue of women’s topless equality all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. The women were arrested at a beach for being topless — a violation of a local city ordinance — and later unsuccessfully appealed their convictions to the New Hampshire Supreme Court. After the court’s decision, Rice reached out to the women and ‘Free the Nipple’ advocates in New Hampshire, offering support and a discount code for locals who wanted to protest the ban.
Local police in New Hampshire said The TaTa Top could be worn without fear of being ticketed.
“I’m sure our officers would take notice,” said Laconia, New Hampshire Police Capt. Allan Graton. “But if the nipple were covered, it would not violate the law.”
Rice agrees with the women that the issue isn’t about nudity — it’s about equality.
“To have and uphold a law that says men can do something and women can’t, that is fundamentally discriminatory — it’s applying the law unequally to people solely on the basis of sex,” Rice said. “And what about people who don’t fit into the gender binary of male or female? To spend time arresting and prosecuting women for doing something that is perfectly legal for a man to do is a sad waste of time, money and resources for police, courts and citizens. Not that long ago it was also illegal for men to be topless, but now that’s the norm. It’s not a safety issue, it’s people clinging to old beliefs.”
Celebrities Whitney Cummings, Chelcie Lynn and Lizzo all have shared photos of TaTa Tops this year, and Rice said TaTa Tops are becoming key components of the worldwide Free The Nipple movement. The apparel also has a goal to promote body equality and positivity for LGBT people who don’t necessarily fit into a body type—an issue that’s particularly important to her because she’s a member of the LGBT community, Rice said.
The Classic TaTa Top comes in three shades – light, medium and dark – and sizes range from XS to XXL. The bikini tops retail for $34.99, with $3 from each sale going to several charities, including Chicago Women’s Health Center and Keep A Breast Foundation. Rice also just announced a partnership with Project Consent – noting “consent is always required, even if you’re wearing a bikini top with nipples on it.”
Rice wrote several stories on The TaTa Top while working as a full-time journalist at DNAinfo Chicago, a former news site that existed from 2012-17. Some of the stories detailed how The TaTa Top had been suspended from Instagram because the platform mistakenly believed the photos depicted women’s nipples—an issue she continues to deal with. The TaTa Top is marketed as having “male” nipples to both avoid such problems, and to further highlight what Rice said is a double standard in topless equality.
After writing her first story on The TaTa Top, Rice became friendly with the previous owners – who live near her in Chicago’s Edgewater neighborhood – and when they posted on Instagram in September 2018 they planned to sell the company, Rice and her husband, Connor, reached out to inquire. Rice officially bought the company on Nov. 1, 2018, and she recently received the product’s largest-ever shipment to begin selling.
“I just love the product and what it stands for,” Rice said. “When they posted they were selling the business, Connor and I had been on a long drive home from Panama City [Florida], and we were reflecting on our lives. To me, it felt like a sign. We just thought … let’s go for it.”
This summer, Rice and The TaTa Top have been mainstays at Pride Fest, Midsommarfest and several other Chicago-area events.
Rice said she’s also working on TaTa Tops with pictured nipple rings, as well as one-piece suits, and hopes to keep expanding the business.
Locally, Rice hopes The TaTop Top can help spark discussions about the longtime battle to allow women to go topless in Chicago. Despite numerous challenges, the city’s municipal code bans women from showing their breasts, with fines up to $500 for each infraction.
“With a new mayor and a new era, hopefully we see these changes starting to take place,” Rice said. “For as progressive as Chicago is, this is somehow one issue that hasn’t changed so far.”
The journey into entrepreneurship has been unique. Rice grew up on a pig farm near Kingston, Illinois and graduated from Genoa-Kingston High School, and later Northern Illinois University. Rice said she gets her entrepreneurial hustle from her mother, Debbie, an incredible connector who “can move mountains.”
Rice loves the entrepreneurial lifestyle and never considered herself a traditional journalist.
“Being an entrepreneur, if I sink or swim, it’s basically my choice,” Rice said. “I hate working in an office. I’m allergic to working in an office.”
“I tried to fit into the corporate mold, but I eventually just had to embrace what I knew myself intuitively and in the back of my mind: that I need to have independence and freedom in my career to be making mistakes and having successes and really just trying to pave my own path.”
And Rice said it’s great to be leading TaTa Top’s incredible mission.
“It’s really great to see people rallying around this cause that on its surface is humorous, but we’re really talking about much larger issues,” she said.