Through fashion and dressing people communicate to the world who they are and how they want to be perceived. In essence, this is the way we present our identity. Additionally, individuals’ clothing choices and style influence the notions of gender and can be used to carve a broader understanding about the diversity of identities that exist. By recognizing its importance and implications, fashion can be used to drive social change and fight social exclusion.
This was what Courtney and Chris did. Courtney and Chris are identical twins from Austin, Texas, and founders of FLAVNT. Chris is a trans currently transitioning from female to male, and Courtney is a lesbian.
They both have a background in design and are proud members of the LGBT+ community. Together they created the streetwear brand called FLAVNT. However, this is not any ordinary clothing line. FLAVNT promotes inclusiveness through its designs and empowers people from all genders. FLAVNT is not solely about fashion. It is above all a brand that fosters self-love and pride for one’s own gender identity.
I had the opportunity to interview Chris and Courtney and learn about their entrepreneurship journey. The following are highlights of our conversation.
Chris: I always identified as a pretty boy even before I identified as trans and I was just a very masculine lesbian. We actually made a bunch of shirts for PRIDE one year and I decided to make a shirt that said pretty boy. At PRIDE I had like a hundred people coming up to me asking where I got it. It was anything from gay men to straight men to lesbian to trans guys. It was kind of a realization for both of us that this wide spectrum of people could identify as a pretty boy and that was very unifying. So we thought “we need to make the shirt and sell it to people.” It seemed like such as cool idea. So then we made a simple, black and white classic shirt that we sell all the time. And we just love that shirt. People constantly email us and say “every time I wear this I feel so confident.” So this is the story behind the quick little PRIDE shirt that I made that everybody seemed to like.
How was the journey from the moment you had the idea to create FLAVNT until its actual implementation? What would you say were your major achievements?
Courtney: From the beginning it kind of started like a hobby. We had that first design and just a general idea about spreading confidence and pride and that was the whole idea behind the name FLAVNT. You know with flaunt you got “flaunt yourself.” We started with that and we had the logo and the pretty boy t-shirt and it was like “the thing” that we did on the side. We just had no real idea of where we wanted to go and our aspirations. It was just like, “let’s do this” and we put more and more into it and we moved to New York for graphic design and we were working in a coffee shop together for a couple of months. But then FLAVNT was going really well and we looked at each other and said “let’s stop wasting our time working on a coffee shop and let’s see what happens when we put all of our time and efforts in this.” So we did it. We quit our jobs and started doing FLAVNT full time. We dropped this design and made three others last winter and we had our first fundraising partnership and at that point everything just took off.
Chris: The fundraising partnership was what made us think that this could be more than a clothing line. The reception to that and then dropping a few designs that did well. So we decided to jump in. Either we were not going to make rent because we quit our jobs or this could be really worth it. I think this time last year was the defining moment.
The partnerships that you mentioned that help financing gender confirming surgeries is one of the most distinctive and inspirational features about FLAVNT. How did the idea come up?
Courtney: We always wanted to give back. We thought “how can we do this”? There are a lot of brands with a cause. It started with TOMS and other brands similar to this knowing it is truly important for our generation. Our generation wants to have a reason to buy things. We were approached by a trans guy on tumblr who followed Chris. He was raising money for his top surgery and he said he needed a little more help so he asked if he could promote our clothing brand and get a percentage of the sales and we said yes. This started our partnership idea. Basically, our partners model for us and promote themselves because the more they promote and the more they spread the word, the more sales they are going to get to finance themselves. They reach out to an audience of people who care about them and that we are not necessarily in touch with. So we started with that guy and we worked with him for three months. It was successful. After that we refined the process and we came up with an application. The application is purely to get to know people. It requires 10 questions about themselves, how much financing they need, how much money they saved and if they have a surgery date, and some fun questions to know their personality. We want to find the best person possible through this process. It’s an application so it’s not as personal as it can be but it’s really fun to go through them and get to know all these people and it’s really hard to choose when it gets down to it. Caden was our second partner and he was amazing. We could not have picked a better partner. We work with Tyler now and he is super awesome as well.
Chris: And his surgery is in a few days.
FLAVNT is a brand for the LGBTQ+ to “call home” – what does that mean to you?
Chris: LGBT people can wear any clothes, it’s not that they need their own specific clothes but why shouldn’t they have their own clothes? There’s men’s wear brands and there’s women’s wear brands. Any specific niche in the world can go flaunt it. We thought there were a few brands out there with this focus but we wanted to provide somewhere where people could seek out for their own clothing and hopefully a storefront where people could say “let’s hit the LGBT clothing shop, a store that really caters to us.” We make sure that we keep people from the community as our models because we think that it is important for youngsters. Trans people, lesbians, gay guys and anyone in our community would look up and think “hey that person is like me in the clothes.” There is queer people in fashion in general but it’s kind of cool to keep it all in the community and increase visibility.
Courtney: The visibility is probably the most important part, together with the designs and all the people involved in representing our brand. We are a clothing line but all our designs promote being proud of being queer. It’s not just any shirt. There are many shirts in the mall. It’s about visibility and being confident and being proud of who you are. Visibility is key because you have people growing up and there wasn’t a lot of visibility about being gay or being trans. There were not many things to look up to or brands that made you think “I want to be part of that brand” or “that brand is me, is for me.” So we want to be that, to do that.
I want to be who I needed when I was younger. That’s my drive for FLAVNT. It’s to stay visible and put good out there. Be a brand for young queer people. – Chris
Chris, you as a transgender, and Courtney, as a lesbian, how do your personal experiences inspire you on a daily basis to continues your work on FLAVNT?
Chris: For me, the partnerships are what I am super passionate about. I haven’t even had top surgery yet but I like to be able to help these people who may not be able to work and provide for themselves as much as I’ve been able to do through my business and design and the several jobs that I worked. For me I just love to be able to give back to people who might not have the resources to provide for themselves or accomplish things they need to feel more confident. Besides that, when I was younger I didn’t have someone to look up to in order to realize that I was trans. I didn’t realize I was trans until I was 20. I’m only 23 now so if I had one of our models, a 15 year old could look up and say “hey that’s me” or see one of our partnerships and think “that’s what I’ll need one day”. I want to be who I needed when I was younger. That’s my drive for FLAVNT. It’s to stay visible and put good out there. Be a brand for young queer people. That is my motivation.
Courtney: I agree with all of that. The partnerships are really important to me too just because Chris is the most important person in my life. We have always been very close. Seeing him transitioning, I’ve seen the struggles that he has and realizing that I don’t have those same struggles, and I don’t have to pay to feel comfortable in my body. I’m not trans but I am very powerful and passionate about it because it is so close to home for me. These partnerships have been really eye opening and educational for me. I don’t know everything about the transition process and the transgender community. I learn a lot through Chris but I really like being involved and showing that being an ally is also important.
Could you talk a little about your most recent project – the Bareskin Swim Top for nonbinary and transmasculine individuals?
Chris: This stems from my own personal experience with not having a lot of options for masculine swim tops. I just know that a lot of trans guys end up by wearing their binders to the beach. Even androgynous and lesbian friends wear their sports bras and it always seemed they were settling to wear them. It wasn’t something they were comfortable to wear. So we thought about making a swim top more comfortable and less obvious that is a binder. Courtney is the one who had the idea to make it in skin color which was really smart because for me what is triggering isn’t how the garment looks like but the fact that I can see it. When I see that I’m wearing a black binder it’s a reminder that I’m not shirtless like any other guy on the beach. So it was a really smart idea to make it not seen out of the corner of your eye. Also from far away if someone sees you and your body is hanging out you look like everything on top is the same color then they are not going to glance at you twice wearing board shorts. It doesn’t matter if people look at you but I know that in Texas when I wear a sports bra people are always like “why is that guy wearing a bra” and I’m like “because I don’t have top surgery.”
Courtney: I think it pushes people to not ask as many questions because it’s obviously not a sports top or a bikini top and it’s meant to blend in. So you see it and you get what’s going on and you get that you’re trying to blend in as opposed to a bikini top or a sports bra which just causes people to get confused and when they are confused they show how ignorant they are or they get hateful. Hopefully, it helps other people to accept that some people don’t have something else to wear.
Chris: We had to do a Kickstarter because it’s expensive to manufacture. Also we decided to make it available in a range of skin tones because there are maybe one or two that make one skin tone variation of the binder but they all come in nude and peach color and nothing comes in a range including darker browns and tans. Trans people come in every color, so why don’t we have binders that come in every color? Even if you don’t wear it on the beach, you can wear it under a white shirt and you’re not going to see a colored garment. Women have nude bras for a reason. So why don’t we have binders that come in different colors?
Courtney: When going to the gym, for example Chris doesn’t wear sleeves, he is wearing cut offs all the time and then you see a color and you tip everybody off. Then he goes to the men’s locker room and it’s not good for him or safe to have something that gives you away. So we are very excited about this project. One of our friends also told us that this bareskin top would be awesome for sex because he hates seeing his binder. It also has a better range of motion than any other binders. It’s shorter and it has a racerback design which is partially for the compression but also for movement. Binders are not comfortable. I tried his binder once for the first time when we were doing a photo shooting for the Kickstarter and I thought it was horrible and I couldn’t imagine wearing this all the time. So we are trying to improve on that and make it a better experience in general.
Do you think in the future the mainstream fashion industry will be more gender inclusive and less binary? Is the market ready for it?
Chris: I think that it’s moving toward that. In the last year you saw trans models NYC just coming out. There is also Andreja Pejić who has been in the industry for a really long time. With Caitlyn Jenner and Laverne Cox it’s becoming something more versed. The world in general is more versed. A lot of people still don’t understand it but it’s about making everything more accessible to trans people and seem as unknown or taboo. I think we are moving towards that and we can see from these modeling agencies opening up and from a lot more gender neutral brands coming out that people are focusing less on the binary.
Visibility is what is going to create the change.
Courtney: People are trying to understand this gray scale. There is not only black and white or male and female or straight or gay. It starts with the younger generation pushing for that and being more open with their identities. And the visibility is what is going to create the change. The biggest problem is that fashion is a money making industry so it sees what people want. It’s about everyone wanting women to buy more things and buy more expensive things and make them think they need these things. This is what is going to keep the industry gendered. I don’t know if it will ever transition fully to being nonbinary or gender neutral but we will at least go towards a men’s section, a women’s section and a middle/gray area section.
Chris: They will create space for others, hopefully. But without othering too much. That is important. It doesn’t need to be segregated but I think that there will be space for nonbinary people.
What do you intend to accomplish in the future?
Courtney: Hopefully, we’ll make a swim top that is number one on the list. Beyond that it’s just expanding. We want to offer a lot of variety for different identities and be more accessible for everybody. That’s really our goal. If we are not appealing to women as much as to men and we want to make sure to fix that. We want to get more of a transfeminine presence because our last three partnerships have all been transmen. We haven’t had any transwoman applying. We are also lucky enough to be able to feature a trans person of color. We were very excited about that because there was some visibility there. But we would like to be able to have more transwomen involved as brand representatives or models to make FLAVNT more inclusive. We hope to expand and keep growing and offer more partnerships.
Chris: This last year we’ve done three partnerships and we hope to be able to make six next year, one every two months. Eventually we would like to do once a month and if we get big enough we can have several partners at once. In the next year we’ll also try to get more involved in San Francisco PRIDE and in the Philadelphia Trans Health Conference. We want to go and connect more with our community by talking and maybe give applications in person for our partnerships. The internet accommodates a brand with networking advertising but we want to be more present in our community.