I think it’s very easy to conceive of the fashion industry as gay friendly; after all, it’s filled with women and gay men. But therein lies the problem, really: that word
gay. Gay cis men move through the world, especially the fashion world, with a lot of privilege—much more than any woman of color, much more than any gender-nonconforming individual or queer woman—to the point that they are often the gatekeepers and tastemakers for bodies that do not look like their own. It’s vital that we recognize this point because it’s too easy for a list of LGBTQ+ designers and brands to be dominated by gay men, who already hold such large platforms in this industry. If you can easily think of open lesbian, bisexual female, and gender-nonconforming designers, that warms my heart. But I’d venture to assume many of you cannot, especially since I’m a queer woman working in the fashion industry and it’s hard for me to think of more than the handful here!
To honestly write this article, it would be hard not to offend some people. But it’s also hard to ignore the fact that it’s really sad there’s a need for such an article. I wish more marginalized identities were running businesses because, more often than not, these are the businesses that have the most emotional impact: They are usually the most size-inclusive, body-positive, genderless, racially diverse, and eco-friendly—brands that take real stands for change and help those with marginalized identities feel represented and celebrated.
I love fashion. I love using clothes, accessories, and makeup to express myself. It’s easy for me to find what I want to wear, even if sometimes I get frustrated that my upper half is much smaller than my lower half. The fact is I’m a femme bisexual woman; sometimes I drift into androgynous dressing, but there is privilege in freely moving in and out of that. I know exactly where I want to shop and where I can shop. I know those stores will always have options in my size. I want all people to have that experience. I want masc nonbinary individuals to easily find a suit or jacket made for their body size. I want the trans community to be able to buy comfortable and high-quality clothes that not only fit but also express their identity. And that’s why I picked the brands listed here. They all serve a purpose and clientele that isn’t always served in the fashion industry. I do want to note that a couple of these brands are led by masc-of-center individuals, but they’re so committed to designing gender-fluid products it felt right to feature them here. Keep reading to learn about these 12 brands I love and my favorite products you can shop from them now.
Nicole Zïzi views her role as a designer as a cyclical effort to reduce environmental pollution and protect communities. Consciously sourcing recycled and natural materials for her streetwear line while also paying her New York-based workers liveable wages are important tentpoles to her mission. A large part of this is not overproducing styles for the sake of it. This means everything from Nicole Zïzi Studio is impeccably designed and looks one of a kind. It also means her extremely cool street style clothing and accessories go fast. Check out a few pieces I think will be perfect for your upcoming fall wardrobe.
I first learned about Chromat through art and fashion writer Kimberly Drew, who has gone from wearing the brand to the Met Ball to walking in its runway shows. It isn’t uncommon to see the brand’s founder, Becca McCharen-Tran, recruit people she admires to model Chromat clothing, making its shows and campaign imagery extra thrilling to see. Chromat swimwear and athleticwear are bright and structural, outlining bodies in new and modern ways—a testament to McCharen-Tran’s successful attempt at designing with her architectural background in mind. Reebok teamed up with Chromat for its AW20 line, some of which you can see below.
Brought to you by a power twin-sister duo, Coco and Breezy is the eyewear company designed for stylish individuals, across the gender spectrum. Eyewear, for Corianna and Brianna Dotson, created a sense of protection and escape while they grew up in very white Minnesota. Designing sunglasses was a way for the artist twins to express their style and create alter egos for themselves, and soon, for people across the country, too. The Dotsons have built a brand of quality and chic glasses without the designer-brand price tag because they want optical health to be accessible to all. In addition to sunglasses, Coco and Breezy makes glasses with lenses that filter out blue light from computer and phone screens, which is something we could probably all use right about now.
Esther Gauntlett and Jenny Cheng are the kind of women who get shit done, and get it done well. Since 2015, these two have been releasing two acclaimed collections a year with their brand Gauntlett Cheng while respectively working as a bookkeeper and knitter for big brands at the same thing. This is a large reason why, this year, the pair reduced Gauntlett Cheng to one annual collection. The brand’s SS20 ready-to-wear collection is full of dreamy bright colors, sexy silhouettes, and textured fabrics, like this jacquard knit that’s become a brand trademark.
We can all agree that most underwear and swimwear basically only fit one body type, right? Well, not if you shop from TomboyX, the gender-inclusive swimwear and underwear brand from Fran Dunaway and Naomi Gonzalez. TomboyX sells swimsuits for individuals who don’t necessarily want to wear a feminine bikini but also don’t want to get stuck on the beach wearing swim trunks and a T-shirt. The same logic applies to the brand’s underwear and athleisure, both of which I love because the cuts suit my body, especially those ultra-comfy bralettes pictured above. The brand recently took its commitment to intersectionality a step further with its announcement of a new pre-production protocol that will ensure all models feel safe and comfortable at any TomboyX photoshoot. A simple form asking models for their pronouns, accessibility needs, styling preferences, and more is a revolutionary commitment to inclusivity and intersectionality, and they’re sharing it for all brands and agencies to use, too.
Automic Gold is actually everything I want in a jewelry brand. Not only are the designs simple chic and/or simple industrial, for all of my outfit needs, but the jewelry itself is also all consciously produced: built from reclaimed gold (in yellow, white, and rose hues), shipped in recycled packaging, and photographed on gender-nonconforming models of color. Al Sandimirova has put together a jewelry company for everyone, and I’m here for it, especially those threaders and huggies I can pile all over my ears. And the other great part? You can buy any of the earrings in pairs or as singles.
James Flemons has taken the fashion world by storm with his gender-fluid fashion brand, Phlemuns. Loud prints almost work as a thematic blueprint for his collections, like the blue cloud and lemon motifs seen in the product selects below. But that’s just a jumping-off point for Flemons, who really prioritizes the customizable element of clothing design. That intentionality means his collections are small; they’re sustainably made; and they exist as much for Flemons as they do for the people who buy his clothes. He is a designer who wears his own clothes, but he wants them to be wearable by all body types and genders, too, so he plays around with shapes and cuts that oftentimes break the mold of what’s typically seen in ready-to-wear clothing. As a designer who is constantly creating and looking to fill the needs of his communities, he did not hesitate to make stylish and comfortable masks to encourage social responsibility during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Phoebe Dahl created Faircloth + Supply with the intention of designing sustainable casualwear. Classic linen pieces that can serve people in all scenarios, from comfortable loungewear to breathable pieces ideal for socially distanced outings and far-off travels. I love the boxy, cropped tops from the brand, especially in gingham prints and crinkled fabrics. In an effort to make sure Faircloth is part of the change Dahl wants to see in the world, all the clothes are ethically made by women with sustainable organic textiles, and with every purchase, a portion of the sales is donated to girls education in Nepal or a charity of your choice.
Everyone needs a reliable basics brand, especially one that actually sets out to be a basics brand for everyone. Emma McIlroy, Julia Parsley, and Taralyn Thuot all co-founded Wildfang with the belief that all people, especially female-identifying individuals, can wear whatever they want whenever they want. That includes classy and colorful suits, workwear, button-downs, and boxy basics, some of which tout “Wild Feminist,” in case anyone you encounter needs a reminder. It’s no surprise that the brand has become a favorite among queer women and non-binary individuals.
Flavnt is a streetwear brand that encourages being out and proud, and really loud about it. From binders in a spectrum shades to T-shirts and sweaters that shout phrases like “Be as Gay as You Want” and “Genders Are Dead” and hats that show off your pronouns, Flavnt exists to help queer people embrace their identities and their allies celebrate the LGBTQ+ community. Another pair of twins on this list, Courtney and Chris Rhodes co-founded the company in Austin after Chris made himself the “Pretty Boy” shirt and realized it would appeal to so many more people. It, of course, became the brand’s first best-selling shirt.
Victor Barragán’s designs are the exact clothes I want to go out in. He’s come up with the perfect level of edgy, cool, sexy femme vibes that really do away with expected feminity, but that’s how I wear them. The amazing thing about his designs is they allow people of all identities to express themselves in different ways. Barragán’s spring ready-to-wear collection pairs ’90s silhouettes with bright colors, prints, and textiles that really place them in a moment of their own: not one of the past while definitely not of the present. That’s the kind of escapism I want in my everyday life.
We’ve written about Stuzo Clothing before, and that’s because the brand has some of the best streetwear out there. Stoney Michelli wanted to build a clothing brand that would get people to think and feel, which is why you’ll see bold statements on a lot of its clothing. Some are perhaps NSFW, but that’s the intention. In the queer community, being loud about sex is a way of owning what has been taken away from us. I’m not saying you should buy a Stuzo shirt that says “Top” and wear it on your next Zoom meeting, but I am saying if you do, you’re living out of the Stuzo mission.
Up next, this new size-inclusive swimwear line is going to be everywhere.