Minding our Business

Everyday when we get dressed, we take for granted the huge amount of human ingenuity, craftsmanship, cooperation, and labor that went into a pair of jeans, a t-shirt, or a dress. Cotton had to be grown and harvested, fabric had to be milled and dyed; prints designed, patterns drafted, samples sewn, machinery maintained, workforce trained and paid, product transported and displayed... It might not be as revered as the advent of indoor plumbing, but accessible clothing is such an indispensable part of our lives that it almost should be.

Right now, our company is in a staring contest with all these factors. We're hard at work costing our future products, and that means we have to weigh each potential cost that will factor into our garments - factory labor (grading, cutting, sewing, etc.); fabric; trim (buttons, zippers, elastic, etc.); packaging and shipping, and so forth. Essentially, we are determining how to balance three very important factors:

Quality of goods and ethics, which drives our production costs up: We want our clothing to last you more than a few washes before it starts to pill or fall apart, and we want it made by someone who was treated well and paid a fair wage.

Affordable pricing, which drives our retail pricing down: We want our product to remain as affordable as possible to the trans and non-binary communities.  Standard procedure for clothing companies is to mark garment production cost up by 100% when they sell to a retailer, and then the retailer marks that same garment up another 100%. So, a garment that cost $20 to produce ends up selling for $80 in the store. We want to eliminate that inflated cost by selling our garments online.

Sustainable business: We need to ensure that our business policies, strategies, and management will generate enough income to pay for wages and salaries, warehouse and office space, and for the next shipment of fabric, and the next, and the next. Only by minding our business will we ensure the future of our business, and be able to serve the transgender and non-binary communities on an ongoing basis.

Finding our factory

As we draw closer to our finalized Kickstarter launch date - August 1st! - we are narrowing down which factory to work with once we go into production. [9B Apparel] is our top contender right now, a manufacturer with over 20 years of handmade-in-the-USA experience. They manage five factories in Los Angeles, with each factory specializing in either denim, knitwear, wovens, or outerwear. They offer low minimums for brands just starting out, but also handle large-volume production for many high-end brands, so we would definitely have room to grow in working with them.

Not only does 9B Apparel produce expertly-made, high quality garments; they also "adhere to the most environmentally friendly manufacturing laws anywhere in the world," sustainable manufacturing, as well as Fair Labor practices and California living wages. Working with a manufacturer that values such ethics is very important to us at Leo Roux. Because, to be plain, we like being able to sleep at night, and we figure you do, too.

Changing the architecture of clothing

We interviewed Simone [of Simone and Sylvia] about her fashion and design background and the role she played in helping us create the first casual clothing line designed specifically with transgender people in mind. It has been a huge privilege for us to work with her, and without Simone's dedication to our project and the wealth of experience she brought to the table, we would never have come this far in so little time. So, from all of us at Leo Roux, a huge thank you to you, Simone!

LR: How long have you been drafting patterns and doing what you do?

Simone: I have been doing this since 1974, so for over 40 years. Although I actually started sewing when I was seven; I made my own clothes. I was tall and a lot of things didn't fit me, and back then Seattle wasn't known for having a lot of hip and trendy clothes - so I would just make my own.

LR: Did you go to school for design and pattern making? Or how does that work?

Simone: I got a degree in Fashion Design and Textiles from the University of Washington, and I graduated in 1978. Then I did a pattern making program through Fashion Institute of Technology in New York for two years.

LR: That's awesome! Can you list a few of the major brand names that you've worked for over the years?

Simone: Yeah, so... I've worked for Levi's, and Betsy Johnson; I've worked for all kinds of local companies like Brittania Jeans and Normandie Jeans. I started out in denim, and then worked for some high end lingerie companies, and for some circuses like Barnum and Baley and Cirque du Soleil and some European circuses. I worked for the Pacific Northwest Ballet and the opera here. I've worked for local gay and indie theaters, as well as cabaret and burlesque groups. I've owned three different boutiques, the first of which was called Polka Dot (which opened in 1980) and sold punk-themed clothing. I designed a lot of that and did a lot of silk screening. I've designed a lot of children's clothing as well.

LR: Wow. So it's really more a question of what haven't you done! ... How have you applied your craft to the specific needs we had for our clothing line?

Simone: I've worked with all kinds of bodies throughout my career, so I have a pretty good understanding of anatomy. I was able to use that knowledge anatomy, pattern making and the architecture of clothing to incorporate the measurements and physical attributes of the fit models - and in a sense 'remove' and 'add' some of the physical features that we usually associate with men and women - to create the clothing you wanted.

LR: What was one of the major challenges you ran into, and how did you find a way around it?

Simone: The fit of the jeans was a primary concern of mine. I think the length of the crotch and the ease of the crotch are what needed the most work, because those attributes of jeans are most characteristic of gender. So we had to get the the fit right by building in ease or taking out ease where needed, as well as paying attention to the shape of the buttocks.

LR: Thanks so much for your time, Simone. We are so grateful to you for sharing all your expertise with us! We look forward to continuing our work with you, and seeing what comes next!

A Shirt Show

Leo here. Last week I got to sit down with Simone while she helped me sew up a shirt. How cool is that?

I wanted to showcase a button down shirt that fit my own body a little more closely than our samples to date - my hips are on the narrower side for a trans guy (although still wider than those of the average cis male). Don't think that means menswear is a walk in the park for me - shirts are my biggest problem, and when I can even find a size small or extra small, I'm lucky if it's actually small enough to fit me.

So far, our transmasculine button down samples have been cut to fit individuals with hips on the wider end of the spectrum, while at the same time camouflaging said hips. We wanted to tackle this cut and fit first, because we knew it would be the most challenging, and after seeing our samples on a variety of models, we are very proud of the results! But for people out there with a similar frame to mine, I wanted to demonstrate that we will have an alternative slimmer cut as well - which we will offer in sizing that includes options significantly smaller than the standard men's small.

So, Simone and I adjusted our paper button down pattern (by strategically folding sections of it to overlap, thus decreasing its width in the torso and hips). We pinned the pattern pieces to the selected fabric, cut them out, and lined the sections up to start sewing. The whole process was amazing to watch as it unfolded in its complicatedly simple way. A length of flat fabric transforming into a three-dimensional work of craftsmanship in your very hands - there is something enchanting about that. As Simone told me, paraphrasing a quote by Yves Saint-Laurent: a design is stillborn until it's made.

Leo and Sean, modeling our original button down sample (Sean, right) and the new slim cut sample (Leo, left).

Leo and Sean, modeling our original button down sample (Sean, right) and the new slim cut sample (Leo, left).

Let's Go Crazy

Sean here.

This week, I'm traveling from Maui to Seattle to shoot our Kickstarter Video. We're launching our campaign on June 1st of this year with the hope of raising enough money to produce our first line of clothing!

Prior to this week, I've been behind the scenes, managing our website and social media accounts and posting much of the content on those platforms. We've received many accolades for what we are doing - including kudos from cisgender and binary folks who've told us that they'd wear our garments, too! I take a lot of pride in the fact that we can make something very specific, with a very deliberate aim, and reach a wider audience than we imagined. This opens my eyes to new possibilities and encourages me to keep an open mind about how the cisgender and binary communities struggle with prescribed clothing as well. That our clothing may be a solution for people beyond our initial intended reach fills me with warm fuzzies and reignites the sometimes dim hope that we are all in this together and, as the late artist formerly known as Prince said, "...gathered here today to get through this thing called life." 

We didn't set out to craft a clothing line that is genderless, but we hope that our wearers know that we are not imposing an identity upon them with our clothing. Instead of labeling our garments as 'women's' or 'men's', we choose terms like 'transmasculine' and 'transfeminine' to indicate the intended expression, guided by garment fit and effect. We don't mean to oversimplify or exclude - rather we hope we can communicate the understanding that 'transmasculine' indicates a garment made to emphasize shoulders and camouflage hips. 'Transfeminine' indicates the accentuation of curves at the hips and waist, and a minimizing of the shoulders. By no means are we determining the identity or gender of the wearer. Rather, we are describing the effect of the clothing. The fabric and cuts we choose are our earnest attempt to offer casual, everyday clothing with a fit that flatters the wearer and expresses their gender as they choose.

I could write forever about the limitations and risks of using single words to describe complex ideas. And I could go on and on about our good intentions. Alas, I'll stop here, and trust the process that is unfolding. So much gratitude to all of our readers, wearers, staff, and crew. I'm honored and so excited to see how far we can take this...Let's go crazy!

Modeling Trans Form

We're starting to see pictures from the Spring/Summer Chance Fashion show on April 9th! Our six lovely models are showcasing our first collection - including two dresses, a top, and pair of jeans with a transfeminine fit; and a button down shirt, t-shirt, pair of shorts and a pair of jeans with a transmasculine fit. In less than two weeks we will be filming our Kickstarter campaign video, with some fresh samples added into the mix, so stay tuned! (Photos courtesy of Shawn Pouliot.)

Fashion Show

We showcased our first line of clothing on the night of April 9th at the Chance Fashion Spring and Summer Edition fashion show in Seattle, WA. The night was a total success! Take a look at the show!

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Dress Code

These two vertical lines are the same length, but their different termination shapes would have you believe otherwise. (Incredible Optical Illusions)

These two vertical lines are the same length, but their different termination shapes would have you believe otherwise. (Incredible Optical Illusions)

In my teens I used to draw all the time, and I was fascinated by optical illusions. Escher and Salvador Dali's works were my favorite to study, and I still have a large Escher-inspired poster in my house, a birthday gift from my parents when I was 15. My parents also gave me the book you see above, which explained the science behind the visual effects.

Would you believe that the two center circles are identical in size? (Incredible Optical Illusions)

Would you believe that the two center circles are identical in size? (Incredible Optical Illusions)

What does any of this have to do with designing a clothing line? Pretty much everything. When it comes to clothing, our bodies are a canvas. The lines, shapes, colors, and patterns that clothing paints on them can yield some powerful results. Once you have tipped your hat to function, fashion is basically the visual impact that an outfit has on the observer (who can also be the wearer themselves). And that impact often depends a great deal on a multitude of optical effects coded into the construction of the clothing - no matter what the person's gender or gender expression.

We all make use of these effects when we choose an outfit or when we go shopping for clothes. "This shirt/dress/pair of pants/etc. makes me look fat/skinny/like a girl/like a guy/like a kid/HOT/NOPE/what-have-you." Sound familiar? As trans people, we make use of clothing to help us express our femininity, masculinity, or combination or absence of the two. Where the difficulty comes in for us is finding readily-available clothing that not only functions (fits our size range and our proportions), but also flatters us by incorporating the visual effects that clothing has the potential to offer. If this frustrates you, stay tuned: Leo Roux Clothing will soon be showcasing a line of trans-friendly clothing that will change all of that.

Horizontal stripes on a building can make it appear taller, while on people they usually emphasize breadth. (Incredible Optical Illusions)

Horizontal stripes on a building can make it appear taller, while on people they usually emphasize breadth. (Incredible Optical Illusions)

Off the books: our impromptu fashion show

This past Thursday I had the pleasure of finally meeting all our models in person! We all converged at Simone's house to don various garment prototypes and stage an impromptu three-hour-long fashion show. Simone and I got a lot of useful feedback about fit and look - some of our pieces were 99% there, and a couple of them needed some work but were definitely on the right track. After much deliberation, we have decided on the final direction that each of our garments will take. She is hard at work putting the final touches on our patterns and sewing up our final sample pieces for the next fitting session and our Kickstarter video shoot! We are so excited, and can't wait to see our models strut their stuff on screen at the end of April!

Calling out the fashion industry

As Sean wrote two weeks ago, we're seeing a growing presence of trans models in mainstream fashion. This is awesome, and a sign that transgender awareness and acceptance are spreading. Despite these important gains, however, one issue remains apparent. And not just to us at Leo Roux Clothing - a number of our modeling candidates pointed it out when we asked them their thoughts on the current connection between the fashion industry and the transgender, genderqueer, and nonbinary communities. 

A number of mainstream fashion labels, such as [H&M], [Barneys], [Michael Kors, and Chloé], have featured transgender models in their ad campaigns in recent years. Yet none of these labels is changing their approach to clothing beyond the faces they are selecting for their campaigns. Transgender people frequently have different needs when it comes to clothing, and ironically the clothing these trans models exhibit is not designed to fit or flatter the majority of trans bodies. What we are left with, to a significant degree, is a case of trans inclusion for the sake of cisgender fashion - and what the trans community needs is fashion for transgender people - accessible, affordable fashion.

That is why we are starting our clothing line. Due to the way the industry currently functions and prioritizes its customer base, it would be unrealistic to expect these larger, established labels to change how they go about clothing and fashion.

So what does it take to bring a trans-friendly larger-scale clothing line to life? It takes a dark horse, a startup company that is able to shape its own brand to represent and validate the community, free from the constraints of the status quo. It takes an online store, with no middleman and minimal overhead, to pass savings on to the trans consumer and to approximate cis clothing retail prices. And beyond that, it takes a whole lot of innovation. Cis fashion and clothing have been developing and evolving for a very long time, and it takes quite some craftsmanship to stand certain conventions on their head and simultaneously emulate them perfectly. To quote the TV series, Futurama, "When you do things right, people won't be sure you've done anything at all."