FLAVNT Streetwear: Oral History

Chris and Courtney Rhodes for FLAVNT Streetwear were interviewed on November 8th, 2017 by Kelly Reddy-Best via Zoom. This interview was 1 hour and 5 minutes. The oral history transcript reflects the history of the brand at the time of the interview.

Oral History Transcript

CHRIS: My name is Chris Rhodes and I am the co-founder of FLAVNT Streetwear.

COURTNEY: Hello, I’m Courtney Rhodes and I’m the other co-founder of FLAVNT Streetwear.

REDDY-BEST: Awesome. So, would can you tell me a little bit about your background? Where did you both grow up? Where have you lived?

CHRIS: This always happens. All of our answers are the same because we’re twins, so, we are originally from San Antonio. Born and raised San Antonio, Texas. And then we went to Texas State University, which is kind of between San Antonio and Austin. We both studied graphic design and then, when we graduated, we moved to Brooklyn for a year and a half. Then we moved back to Austin like…

COURTNEY: Two?

CHRIS: … Two years ago. Two and a half years ago? Yeah.

REDDY-BEST: And then, can you tell me about your professional backgrounds?

COURTNEY: Yes, so we both are technically graphic designers, so we both have “nine-to-fives” as graphic designers here in Austin. Throughout the lifespan of FLAVNT we have done FLAVNT on its own and just run the business and everything that that entails. At the current time, however, we both have full time day jobs on top of it.

CHRIS: Courtney works for this big agency here in Austin as the studio designer. She also worked for Here Media in New York which is the media company that runs Pride.com and Out.com and stuff. So, she was like in a super gay design position.

COURTNEY: Mm-hm (affirmative).

CHRIS: I currently work as a designer for a healthcare marketing agency. I make like, really terrible ads for erectile dysfunction. . [Laughs] So FLAVNT is fun and that [job] is terrible.

REDDY-BEST: What terms would you use to describe your gender identity.

COURTNEY: Well, I’m a lesbian and I identify as female. So.

CHRIS: I’m a trans guy. I identify pretty strongly with being a trans person. Like, I’m binary-presenting, but I’m cool with being known as being trans. I’m not like, “stealth” or anything. And I’m queer.

REDDY-BEST: If I were going to use gender pronouns, which gender pronouns would you both prefer?

CHRIS: I use he/him. And she uses she/her.

COURTNEY: Yeah.

REDDY-BEST: And then, can you both just talk about your personal clothing style?

CHRIS: [Laughs] I feel like we should just do each other because…

COURTNEY: Yeah! So, Chris is like pretty preppy and…

CHRIS: …except for this one hat that I wear.

COURTNEY: Yeah, he wears hats all the time because his hair determines how good he thinks he looks, so he wears a hat when he doesn’t think he looks good. Other than that, he dresses really nice and put together. I don’t know. For example, if you saw a guy on the street that was dressed like that you’d be like, “that guy’s metro.” So, maybe you’re, like you’re a little metrosexual. Like, your eyebrows are usually done. He cares about the way he looks and is well-groomed.

CHRIS: My style is pretty basic in terms of colors and patterns.

COURTNEY: Brown boots.

CHRIS: Brown boots every day, but a different pair of brown boots. I have a lot.

COURTNEY: Plain colored shorts.

CHRIS: Sweaters and pocket-tees and button-ups on the weekends. “Shortie-shorts.”

COURTNEY: Preppy.

CHRIS: Preppy, yeah. Whereas, Courtney takes on every single fashion trend I tell her to please not take on. Like, when overalls are cool or any of those things.

COURTNEY: I don’t rock overalls.

CHRIS: You haven’t yet, but you said you would. She has a fanny pack and she wears it unironically. She wears all the patterned shirts.

COURTNEY: Yeah.

CHRIS: She’s like a stylish grandpa.

COURTNEY: Yeah. I definitely.

CHRIS: You’re like more ostentatious than me.

COURTNEY: Yeah, I definitely dress “tomboy-ish.” I only really wear men’s clothing, but I definitely more.

CHRIS: You don’t only wear men’s clothing, you wear sports bras.

COURTNEY: I wear sports bras. I said “only” really, but…

CHRIS: Well, “men’s clothing” in quotes.

COURTNEY: Yeah, yeah.

CHRIS: I was like you don’t own anything that’s men’s clothing.

COURTNEY: Technically men don’t generally wear sports bras but,

CHRIS: They can.

REDDY-BEST: Oh, this wasn’t on the original question list, but can I ask how old you both are?

CHRIS: Yeah. We’re twenty-five. Twenty-five?

COURTNEY: Twenty-five.

REDDY-BEST: And then.

REDDY-BEST: Can I ask how you know each other? From school?

CHRIS: Us?

REDDY-BEST: Yeah.

COURTNEY: Oh, we’re twins.

CHRIS: We’re identical twins.

REDDY-BEST: Oh!

[Laughing]

CHRIS: I thought that was a joke I was like, “since… the womb.”

[Laughing]

REDDY-BEST: I’m so sorry!

CHRIS: No, it’s okay.

REDDY-BEST: Okay. And so then, so before you started FLAVNT Streetwear, what was your style or do you currently wear the style of the clothes that you produce?

COURTNEY: Yeah. I mean, the stuff that we make is pretty basic. We make neutral colored graphic tees are generally pretty subtle, that you could sell anywhere that you sell clothes. So, whereas Chris is more preppy or if I want to layer something else over it, or it’s probably FLAVNT if I’m wearing a basic tee or graphic t-shirt. I don’t really own any other graphic tees.

CHRIS: Yeah, I only really own our stuff or other small brands that we like support. FLAVNT was made off of like a pride design I made for myself. It all came from a design that I made personally, because I wanted it. So, we make things we want to wear. I don’t think we’ve ever made anything that neither of us wanted to wear.

COURTNEY: The bi pride shirt is something I don’t want to wear, but it’s because I’m not bi.

CHRIS: I would still wear it.

COURTNEY: I would wear it because it’s good.

REDDY-BEST: This sort of leading into the next question: How did the idea for FLAVNT came about?

CHRIS: It was 2013 Austin Pride, and we were making shirts for Pride and I made a shirt that said “Pretty Boy” on it and it was a rainbow stencil. Courtney and I went to school for design but we took a lot of studio art classes and we knew how to screen-print and what-not, the shirts we made for Pride were just, shitty, spray-paint tee shirts we made the night before, but, they looked pretty good! So, I had this shirt that said pretty boy and at Pride, at the parade, I probably had like 100 people come up to me and ask me where I got my shirt. It was gay guys, and trans guys, and lesbians, and straight dudes, and it was like every identity across the board pretty much who was interested in the shirt. A few people of each [identity/orientation] wanted to know where I got it. We both were kind of like, “well this is like really accessible.” We never thought about it because it was just how I always identified. This was back before I transitioned and I was always identifying with some term that wasn’t like, “a lesbian.” I identified very much with like, “I’m a pretty boy” or “I’m a stud” and that sort of stuff. I realized, then, that it wasn’t just me who identified that way. We just kind of both were like, “well we should make that shirt,” because our friends are like “people would buy that.” So that’s how it was born. [to COURTNEY] And then you can explain the name “FLAVNT.”

COURTNEY: Yeah, so FLAVNT. Well, you came up with the name. We were just trying to find something that we liked that sort of conveyed something about pride or something about, you know, something in that sphere. I had always joked that if Chris was an animal, he would be a peacock because he’s like so pretty and in-your-face and in the wild the boy peacocks are the pretty ones and the girls are like the brown ones. I have always said that about Chris. So, we came up with the idea of this sort of, like, “peacock mascot” idea, and then the idea of like “flaunting” your pride and being really open and out about that. That’s where the idea for FLAVNT came from and he was the one who just like thought of the word but then.

CHRIS: Yes. Then we kind of both decided that a “V” looked better than a “U” because of the aesthetic of the letters all being really angular. Also, for copywriting purposes, it was going to be easier to copy write. [Laughs]

REDDY-BEST: So, for the timeline, when you started, when did you start thinking about it? Was at the Pride in 2013?

CHRIS: That was August 2013, but FLAVNT was born in April 2014. So, that was when we printed up our first shirts. But between then and when we started FLAVNT, I would still wear that shirt that I made and people would continue to ask me on Instagram where it was from, or if I wore it to the gym. So, it would kind of reinforce this like, “oh yeah, people still like this shirt,” and, “well, why don’t we make it?”

COURTNEY: Pride was during our senior year of college, and so then we graduated in December, and then that’s when we were like, “should we start this side project?” Then, it took a couple of months, and we were able to bring it to life, I guess.

REDDY-BEST: Can you tell me what a typical day might look like for when you’re working on FLAVNT?

COURTNEY: Well, nowadays it’s going to work “9-5” and then come home, and then work until we go to sleep on what needs done during the day. For example, today, I came home and I packaged up some stuff that we had started packaging yesterday, and like put some shipping labels on some stuff, and I’m going to order some blank tee shirts later, after we finish this interview because we ran out of some shirts. We restock just the blanks and then we store them to print-to-order. We found that that was the most sustainable way for us and that we would not have access stock just like sitting. Lately, my girlfriend, she helps during the day because she’s got her days off. She’s been printing for us the past couple days and she printed today, so we have more stuff to package up. During the days when we’re at work and we have spare time, when we’re on our computer, we’ll do social media [mic cuts out]. Right now, we like shut it off for the last two days because we had an influx of orders of Halloween. So, these last two days have not been as busy as they usually are. There is usually some combination of printing and packaging and social media and then, we have to answer a ton of emails. But, between Chris, me and my girlfriend, we do all of the things. Is there anything else?

CHRIS: I mean, we haven’t done this in a long time but, occasionally we’ll have photoshoots and stuff and that will take place on weekends. Those tends to be just locally produced and are with any of our friends that we convince to model for us. Most days is: print, package, schedule, and schedule UPS to come by. They hate us because they have to come by almost every other day, I think. But, yeah, it’s pretty hectic. Lots of emails. [Laughs]

REDDY-BEST: Well, thank you for answering my email. I appreciate that.

CHRIS: I’m glad that we answered it! I think it was probably like, “Hi, I’m sorry that we’re answering this late,” because that’s how I answer most of them.

[Laughs]

REDDY-BEST: Can you just tell me about the model for FLAVNT? Like how does it work? Like, how do, before we talk about what you sell, but like, how does it like, is it like ecommerce only? Do you have spaces where you sell stuff?

CHRIS: Well I would say it’s like 99% ecommerce. [Mumbles] But we do the occasional pop-up event. We go to PTHC every single year which is this big Philly Trans Health Conference. That conference is always on our calendar, but that’s the biggest event we do. Besides that, we’re pretty good friends with a queer DJ here in Austin and so they throw a bunch of events and will usually just throw us a space with a table every once in a while. So, we’ll end up just sporadically doing events at bars that they’re DJing. I’d say that’s maybe like, once every other month-ish. We don’t get a ton of like traffic or sales from doing that, but it’s an excuse to go to a gay bar and network a little bit. But, we are mostly online. We were in Nylon’s shop for a while. It had two of our designs.

COURTNEY: I think we still are, maybe.

CHRIS: We haven’t had a sale from there in a while, so I think we probably aren’t on it. I’d have to check that. They reached out to us. One of their fashion interns or someone follows me on Tumblr and so she was like, “Hey I pitched you and they liked your stuff.” So, we have a tote bag and our gender roles are dead cutoff on that, which was pretty cool because Nylon’s like a real magazine. They were pretty cool, too, because they take a big cut of the sales. You probably can’t put this in the thing, but it was cool because they kind of accommodated us because we give 15% of our sales to our fundraisers, so they cut their take in half of what they take from the sales.

COURTNEY: They took less profit because we told them that we couldn’t give up that much profit.

CHRIS: …which was cool, because they’re like a big fashion magazine so we were like surprised that they cared. We were in a small boutique in like upstate New York. They carried some of our binders for a little bit. We’re not currently in there because they sold out of all of them and we’re out of stock right now. That’s it for like in-store type stuff, yeah.

REDDY-BEST: And then can you tell me what do you sell? Like, tell me, like, just about the different products that you make? Or that you, how that works?

COURTNEY: So, it started out as tee shirts and we mostly have tee shirts. We have tee shirts, sweatshirts, and some accessories. We have hats, and beanies. We have stickers, buttons, koozies, binders, and socks. So, we do print like, 80% of our own stuff but, we also use a drop-shipping partner with whom we do some of like our less popular designs or multicolored designs, or things like phone cases and socks. It’s through this third-party thing, where we just put the designs in and they make them and obviously then the product margin is a lot smaller, but we’re able to do a sort of one-offs of these particular items that we can’t necessarily stock. Those are all the products that we have. It’s like mainly just tee shirts and sweatshirts, but there are like phone cases and random things like that.

REDDY-BEST: For your binders, do you develop those and manufacture them? How does that work?

CHRIS: We have them manufactured by a small team in Plano, which is near Dallas. That team is pretty small, but it’s an all-female team and it’s lead by a woman of color, which is really important to us and it’s nearby. We may not always stick with them because of their production means, though. When we first started making these binders, it was really important that we could visit them regularly to make sure that it functioned correctly. A lot of people don’t know what a binder is or never seen a binder or aren’t in the community, so we wanted to be able to visit.

COURTNEY: We didn’t want to outsource was like our number one thing. So, if we ever do switch manufacturers it would be another domestic manufacturer, just someone with more capability than what this current team can offer. We did do the whole ideation process: my mom created the first prototype and, we went through the prototyping with this team and like, helped design it from the ground up. But we don’t physically sew them ourselves.

REDDY-BEST: I was just wondering if you did the R&D? You know what I mean, like and made the samples and stuff.

COURTNEY: Oh, yeah.

CHRIS: It took like so much longer than we thought.

COURTNEY: Oh, yeah. It took way longer than we expected it to.

REDDY-BEST: Is your mom a seamstress? Or is she like…?

COURTNEY: She’s just like a crafty lady.

CHRIS: [Laughs]

COURTNEY: She just is generally good at like doing stuff. So, she can tile a house and build furniture and sew binders. I don’t know, she just can do all the things.

CHRIS: Yeah, she just made the mistake, one time, of showing us that she was really capable of sewing and so, when we had this idea, we were like “Well, you’re making it!” [Laughs]

COURTNEY: Yep.

CHRIS: She made a good-enough one for us to make our Kickstarter video, so we had something to show.

COURTNEY: Show people, yeah.

REDDY-BEST: What’s your price point?

CHRIS: For our binders, our price point is a little bit higher than most of those in the market, but that’s because of some of the reasons we’ve said: it’s a small team; it’s not outsourced; and some of the fabrics we source are high performance fabrics. Also, we do give 15% of every sale to charity, so from a binder that’s $7.00.

COURTNEY: $7.00.

CHRIS: So with that, we’re about $15 below the most popular binder on the market and it’s about, $8 or something, more than Underworks, I think? So, considering we give 7 bucks to our partnerships it’s not too high up. We hope eventually if we can do more bulk, larger inventories, and with a larger team, we can eventually bring that down a little bit, to make it a little bit more affordable. So, our binders are at like, $50 US dollars and then, our clothes, I think, are a lot more affordable.

COURTNEY: Yeah, our tee shirts are like between $25 and $32, so it’s like depending on, so like a standard tee shirt, a simple print front is $25 and then our most expensive tee shirt is our bleached splattered shirt, which is 32, because it requires us to like literally hand bleach every single one, hand wash it, then print it. So, it takes double the time. I mean, we try to do things pretty sustainably, like what you would pay for a shirt, like at the mall. Even like our binders, like I used to work at Nike, like you could, sports bras run like $50. So, like we try to keep everything within like a generally accessible price point. Like, go to the mall and you can pick up a shirt or something for that amount. Then, you know, obviously, what we could make, a little bit of a profit on and, also continue to make that 15% donation. I think that our prices are really pretty reasonable because generally when we’re included in… The thing that we’re most often included in, for like when people write, is like, “ungendered clothing.” So, we’ll be put in lists with other brands and a lot of times those are like high fashion, or like couture, and it’s not really accessible. We’re definitely always the lowest price point items that are on those lists. I think for the quality of shirts that we use, because we also have upgraded, when we first started we were using like, “Gilden brand tee shirt” and now we’re like, “Next Level Apparel.” which is like American Apparel but we like it. It’s a nice soft tee shirt. And we try to source stuff that’s like a little bit like above what, I mean like…

CHRIS: It’s not like bare minimum it’s not the cheapest shirt you can get. It’s a good fit and then also everything or 80% of stuff is hand printed by like two queer people. It’s all like keeping it in family and I think that it’s a good price point. Usually it’s pretty accessible. I mean, there are some people that wish things were a little bit cheaper but like, that’s what sales are for.

REDDY-BEST: There’s always those people, you know. Like, they’re like. [Laughing]

COURTNEY: Well, I mean, because there’s like people, I mean there’s always a group of people who are like, “Well you’re catering to the people of the LGBT community or the Trans community and they don’t have money so like how can you charge that much?” In response, I’m like, “but we are the LGBT community and Trans community. So then we can’t make money.” It’s a double edge sword of like, you’re telling trans people, they shouldn’t make money because…I don’t know. I think, LGBT people deserve to be able to make money from the stuff that they do just as much as you know, Nike. I think we charge what we have to charge to pay our rent and pay our apartments.

REDDY-BEST: Yeah, I don’t think anyone really quite understands how much it costs to produce garments, and the labor involved. The time you spend, that’s labor, and it’s like what is your time worth? I think it’s worth a lot, you know? People are always asking, especially teaching in a fashion department, “why is this so expensive?” I’m like, “It should be way more! You should be paying way more for what you’re getting!” The people who are making the garments are probably not making a lot of money.

COURTNEY: Yeah, when you get a $3 tee shirt, you have to really seriously question like, “how could anyone have made this?”

REDDY-BEST: Right! How long would it take you to make a tee shirt, that’s what I want to know!

COURTNEY: I would only have like one tee shirt for like the rest of my life that’s…

REDDY-BEST: [Laughs] Do you have any products that you can show and sort of talk through?

COURTNEY: Yes.

REDDY-BEST: For this part you could just show, and just say what some of the inspiration was, some of the technical details, or describe how you went from initial idea to the final stage.

CHRIS: [holds up binder] This is two of our binders. This is our sand and then the copper color. I’m just going to hold up one of them, but just to show you the colors. We have four, but we’re out of stock right now, and this is just what we have on hand. So, this is the second color that we have. It’s sand. When we were naming these it was really important than we didn’t use food names for colors, because there’s a whole dialogue about how colors used for people of color and it’s just completely wrong. We really wanted to avoid using food terms, so we chose terms like, rose, sand, copper, and umber.

COURTNEY: It’s based on minerals.

CHRIS: Yeah, we were trying to stay away from food-based names, because everybody’s always like “mocha,” “caramel.” It was a conscious effort to not make… people aren’t consumables, I guess? I don’t know if that’s the right word. [holds up binder] This is one of our binders. We talked a little bit about my mom made the first one but this was made, to change the things that I didn’t like about binders that were on the market. I like to wear tank tops. I’m in Texas it’s hot as hell. I like my shoulders, I have lots of tattoos so I wanted skinnier straps, that was the biggest thing I wanted. And I wanted a racer back. for comfort and also because I’m a terrible person and I used to bind when I exercised. You’re not supposed to, but I did.

COURTNEY: So, we wanted more range of motion. We also wanted that if you were going to wear it, to like be shirtless and like out in the sun, it’s like less of your skin covered by the garment, so you would have a better tan line. Obviously, a tank top tan line is really horrible. A lot of binders leave you with the really blocky tank top tan line that’s really high. The initial idea for this binder came from just me.

CHRIS: It was actually her idea.

COURTNEY: Yeah. It was me seeing Chris, in the summer, struggling to find something to wear. What can you wear? Because, generally, binders are really constricting, really hot, and they have high neck lines. They’re just like not very comfortable and there’s obviously something that you’re wearing that people aren’t really familiar with. I was, I just had the thought, why don’t they exist in skin colors? Like, why is this not a thing?

CHRIS: Which, at the time that we launched this idea, didn’t exist.

COURTNEY: Yeah. We were the first people to put that idea out there in multiple skin colors. We thought it was a good idea and I still think it is. Then, we did our Kickstarter and, obviously, once that idea was on the market, another binder company took it. That’s the nature of commercialism, I guess. So, we created this, with the improvements on what was in the market, to try to make a better product because that’s the only way we’re going to thrive as a small business. Obviously, we can’t compete price-wise and we can’t compete inventory-wise, so we wanted to make a better product. And we did. And we’re still improving. The binders have only been on the market for a year.

CHRIS: They turned one-year-old on Halloween.

COURTNEY: Yeah. So, we’re having conversations with our manufacturer about sourcing a different inside liner, and about getting a fifth color. We want a fifth color between our two darks, and a color eventually between our two middle shades. Also we want to do size 2X, because we are only up through XL right now, because we weren’t able to afford the prototyping for plus sizes. We’re hoping for our next launch of binders in 2018 to have a 2X. So, those are all the things that went into the binder. It’s a ton of stuff. When we had the idea for it and then, when we did the Kickstarter we were like… I don’t know, you just think that you can Google like, “manufacturers” or something and there will be an answer, but there isn’t. [Laughs] It took us forever to find the manufacturer, it took us forever to figure out like, what is going to go into it, and then, we seriously, underbid what it was going to cost us to finance that. Our Kickstarter goal was $25,000 and we spent so much more, just above and beyond that, just for the initial run with prototyping everything.

CHRIS: Well, we raised 26 [thousand], so we went over our goal slightly. We had 700 backers, which was really good. It was kind of like, data testing, is that the word I’m thinking of? Like, when you survey people? It was a good to see, like, “Oh! 700 people think this is a good idea.” So, that was cool, because it kind of got us to like test the market before making it.

COURTNEY: Yeah, see what the demand, if there was a demand.

CHRIS: Yeah. And, like to this day, well, as of when that happened, I haven’t double-checked back on Kickstarter, but we were the second most funded trans-related Kickstarter at the time of our Kickstarter. Don’t quote me on if that’s still true, because that was a year ago, but, the only one that was more than that was like, that My Trans Health App, I think?

COURTNEY: Mm-hm [affirmative].

CHRIS: It was really cool. We got a lot of support behind it, and got good media exposure and stuff. We’ve gotten pretty good, I mean I would say like 85% positive, reactions to the binder? A lot of people like a lot of things about it. Most of the things that people don’t like are that we don’t have as many sizes as some of the other companies on the market. Which, 1) we couldn’t afford right off the bat; and 2) we wanted to make sure that our extra small to extra-large were good before we expanded to people that need things to bind a little bit better.

COURTNEY: Also, technically, our binder runs larger than other companies on the market, so our extra-large is more like a 2X, when compared to everybody else’s. But, that just happened.

CHRIS: So, we have plans to do that and then, like, our inner liner is like a performance fabric. People don’t like the noise that it makes. It’s pretty similar fabric as like, a board short fabric, because it’s water friendly. That’s one of the things that we’re looking to switch out because it functions really well, it’s cost efficient, and it’s water friendly, flat and cost efficient, but sometimes people don’t necessarily like the feel of it.

COURTNEY: Well, it was created, initially, as a swim product. You’re supposed to wear it in the summer as a performance product, but then, people want it as a day-to-day binder and it wasn’t initially created with that in mind. So now, we have to evolve it and adapt it and still try to find something that is also water friendly and semi-safe. I mean, binding while swimming is not necessarily safe.

CHRIS: Because that fabric doesn’t really like…

COURTNEY: It doesn’t constrict. It’s not like cotton where it will seize up on you, you know? So, that’s our problem, we could switch to a cotton fabric, but then you compromise on something…

CHRIS: You get some shrinkage, yeah.

COURTNEY: It’s going to shrink on you.

CHRIS: So that’s where that’s at right now. We’re waiting on a current restock on that. It’s like, the supply and demand for that is really great. There are worse problems to have than product constantly flying off the shelves, because, then we kind of end up inadvertently creating like a demand we can’t keep up with.

COURTNEY: Because, we can’t produce that much.

CHRIS: So, it’s kind of good, because we always like, sell out within like 24 hours every time we relaunch them, but every time we stock a little bit more. We turn around all the funds and stock like, 1.5 times of what we stocked last time. Hopefully, eventually, we’ll be able to keep them on the shelf for maybe like, a week. I mean, we have assorted sizes like, extra-extra smalls left, but the mediums of the lightest color go like so [emphasis added] fast and we stock three times as many of those as anything else.

COURTNEY: Yeah. In regards to figuring out sizing, I guess there’s probably a formula for that, [laughing] but as much as you think that there would be a formula for it…

CHRIS: I don’t know. [to Dr. Reddy-Best] You study fashion, is there a way to know that trend, when we’re like, “Oh, last time we sold out of mediums so this time we’ll stock” you know?

COURTNEY: Yeah, we try to like keep an eye on our own trends and what happens when we sell, but it seems like, one time there’s a ton of mediums and the next time, it’s like everybody’s an extra small and…

REDDY-BEST: People ask that question a lot, “how do you know how much to make of each?” Especially when you’re doing small production runs. I wish I had the data analytics. If I had the data, I could maybe look at it and analyze it in some kind of like way. It’s definitely hard to know. Sorry, I wish I knew, but if I find out, I’m calling you both!

CHRIS: [holds up shirt] This is a “Pretty Boy.” This is probably the most popular shirt.

COURTNEY: Yeah.

CHRIS: It is based off of the one that I originally made, but we had a Pride “Pretty Boy” design that was based off of my original one. Anyway, this is like our bread and butter. This will always be in stock. This will always be available. There probably will never be anything but this variation, just because everybody wants that one. I mean we put it on a black sweatshirt because I feel like, we don’t even want to put it on a different color. It’s just not broken, so we’re not fixing it. Courtney made this font. It’s actually our own font.

REDDY-BEST: Is that the font similar to your logo too?

CHRIS: Mm-hmm [affirmative]. [Holds up shirt] This is one of our latest designs. This is our splatter hoodie. On the front, it’s a different logo variant, but on the back is our latest “trans equality” design. It says, “trans people deserve acceptance, love, safety, equality, rights, everything.” It’s just like, “all-around trans people deserve things.” We originally made this design the day of the trans military-ban because, at the time, we were partnered with our friend Spencer, who is an Air Force veteran, and we wanted to make a shirt that was a direct response to all of that. We had been toying around with a “trans people deserve,” sort of design for a while, and that was just the day that we finally were like, “that’s what we want to make!”

COURTNEY: Yeah.

CHRIS: That’s what spurred that one, the splattered tee, the gender roles one, does really well, and so we were like, “Let’s splatter a sweatshirt!” People like it. Also then, Courtney went to H&M the other day and there’s so many splattered things and she was like, “We are so on trend right now!”

REDDY-BEST: Is the one that you do the bleaching on? Is that the one that’s a lot of work?

COURTNEY: Yeah, and then we have like a tee shirt that says, “gender roles are dead,” that’s also like that. Sometimes people are like, “Well, where’s my order?” Those shirts are the ones that end up getting back logged, sometimes, because it can’t be raining, because you have to do it outside and it has to be nice weather, because the sun being out influences like how much the bleach activates? So, they look different all the time, but, we need them to look bleached, you know? And then it’s like, “well, do we do this? Is it a laundry day? Is the washer even open?” There are all these things that factor in! But, yeah, that’s the one.

CHRIS: That was actually the original splatter one. The “gender roles” one was a happy accident. When we lived in New York we didn’t print our own shirts, because we were in an apartment and our printer actually put the wrong “gender roles” design on a black tee, and it was supposed to be our tombstone one, and he put our skull one that was only a sweatshirt and we didn’t two black shirts to compete, so I was like let’s just splatter this one to make it different. That’s probably our second most popular design. It was a happy accident.

REDDY-BEST: So, it seems like trends are important, and you consider them when you’re designing stuff. How does that come into play?

COURTNEY: I mean, we kind of try to pay a little bit of attention to what colors are trending? Like, right now, rust is like really trendy, this like rust orange color. I was talking to Chris the other day, and I was like, “If we bring another shirt color, that would be interesting.” We try to keep our stuff pretty neutral. Every once in a while, during the summer around Pride, we’ll do some brighter tanks and stuff, but in general we try not to be like, “overtly rainbow,” because that is what happens with a lot of LGBT brands. Also, people just like neutrals; for example, our black shirts sell the best. So we want to sort of have a cohesive look and feel. If you look at our look-book, it doesn’t feel all over the place. I would say that’s the most attention that we pay to trends.

CHRIS: We pay attention to popular culture, that was the birth of Gal Pals, because of the media calling Kristen Stewart’s girlfriend, her “gal pal.”

COURTNEY: I was like, “I want a gal pal shirt.” We had the first gal pal shirt. Autostraddle will tell you hat they had the first gal pal shirt, they actually walked up to me and told me that to my face, but they’re liars! We had ours about four months before they did.

CHRIS: It was a really awkward premiere-thing that we were at in New York City, and this girl came up, and she [Courtney] was like, “I’m sorry, who are you?” and the girl was like, “I’m from Autostraddle, and you stole our shirt.” Then Courtney went back on our Instagram and screenshot the different dates and was like, “Should I email her boss?” I was like “Let’s just let it go.”

COURTNEY: Yeah. So, we try to look at popular culture a little bit for stuff like that. Generally, most of our style of our stuff, if anything’s like illustrative like this shirt, is just something that I drew, and it tends to be a tattoo-like design, just because that’s what we are interested in. We are interested in tattoos and tattoo culture and we both draw like that. So, it lends itself well to like the streetwear aesthetic, if that is what we are. Besides that I don’t know that we really think about…

CHRIS: In terms of trends, this year hoodies were more popular than crew necks, so we went to a hoodie, because crew necks weren’t as popular this year. We think of trends a little bit when we source things.

COURTNEY: Also just because I want to mix it up, because I’m like, “For two years we’ve done ‘gender roles are dead’ crew neck sweatshirts and I already have that, so I kind of want some hoodies this year.” [Laughs]

REDDY-BEST: Do you have any artists or icons or folks that you look to that might have some kind of influence over yourselves, or what the brand might look like?

CHRIS: They’re probably inadvertent influences, but there’s not really anything or anyone that I feel like we emulate.

COURTNEY: I follow like a billion tattoo artists on Instagram and I can’t even tell you who they all are, but that is definitely the number one design influence in my life, but, besides that, I wouldn’t say that there’s anyone we look to, especially not fashion wise. I mean, we are making basics, and we are making graphic tees, so we’re not even like “fashion” in my head, you know?

REDDY-BEST: If you were going to describe like who your customer is, who buys your stuff?

COURTNEY: People like us. Millennial, LGBTQ people, who care about giving back.

CHRIS: Usually.

COURTNEY: Usually.

CHRIS: “Pretty young” is our biggest thing.

COURTNEY: On our site it says the demographic are like, 75% women between 18-25 years old, but that’s skewed, because we have a lot of trans men that the analytics don’t see. I would say it’s primarily trans men and then, lesbians. Those would would be our two biggest demographic groups, because he’s [Chris] a trans dude, and I’m a lesbian and we run it and our personal following definitely influence who follows the brand. Yeah. I would say that it’s a lot of millennials, and it’s a lot of queer people. I mean there’s a shocking amount of non-queer people I feel like are just sort of like, “with it,” you know? They’re like, “Can I wear that shirt?” and I’m like, “Yeah, you can wear that shirt! Like that’s definitely cool.”

CHRIS: Yeah. Mostly young people though. We rarely get like older customers. Sometimes kids buy for their parents, which is cute, but it’s not common.

REDDY-BEST: So who is interacting with customers, is it the two of you?

CHRIS and COURTNEY: Yeah.

CHRIS: We should make up a fake…

COURTNEY: I saw that the other day! There was an article that was circulating on how these two women in this like tech industry made a third person named like, “Keith Mann,” who did all of their outreach because whenever they would ask for help on stuff, or they would try to get quotes or talk to venders, people would give them a lot of push back. So, they made a dude who would just handle all of it, and nobody gave them any pushback. I told Chris that we should make a fake customer service person who’s just not me or him, so we could just blame that person if something goes wrong. When it comes to customer interaction, it’s always me or Chris. [Laughing]

REDDY-BEST: What are you most proud of so far?

CHRIS: I have two different ones. I’m most proud of our Kickstarter because that was the most stressful 30 days of my whole life. That was an idea that we had that wasn’t out there and going from sketches, to finally making it, to then, getting hundreds of people to like it, and get it funded, and getting it in like Refinery29, and Buzzfeed, was really validating and really cool. Unfortunately, we finally produced it was three months before I had top surgery, but when I finally got to wear that binder, I was like, “This is all the things that I wanted it to be.” It was better than the other binders I’ve ever worn and I was really, really proud of that. I’m proud of what we get to give in that binder to other people. They’re like, “this gives me confidence,” and that sort of stuff. That kind of ties into my other answer, which is maybe not what I’m most proud of, but it’s why I do this, is the kids that reach out to us and say like, “Your Pretty Boy shirt gave me the confidence to come out to my parents.” We get like really cute messages like that. So, that’s really, really validating.

COURTNEY: Yeah. I would agree with that. I think just the fact that we’re still here and we’re still growing and it is really cool. Every time we see an order from new country, I think that’s really cool. It’s cool just to think that people somewhere are wearing like a drawing that I did one day. I was like, “Let’s make a shirt that says gender roles are dead, Chris,” or something like that. I was just trying to come up with something really clever and just really out there, and just sketching stuff up, and he was like, “No, that’s good, that right there! Put that on a shirt and then people like it and then they’re wearing it.” Like, that’s cool. I’m like proud that we were able to pay our bills creatively and do our own thing and call like ourselves our bosses. I think that’s cool at 25 years old.

REDDY-BEST: Is the goal to be fully self-sufficient off of FLAVNT ?

COURTNEY: We were, but this past summer we had two cats that got really sick and we had to put them down, but we spent like, $8000 between the two of them. We just realized, as small business owners, that we just didn’t have a safety net. We just didn’t have a savings account, because whenever we did have savings, we just put it all back in to the company, because we always need something else, and we could always grow and do something. There’s just certain things for example, Chris is proposing to his girlfriend this weekend, and he wouldn’t be able to that without us having a “9-5.” FLAVNT wouldn’t be able to…

CHRIS: FLAVNT can pay the bills, but FLAVNT doesn’t pay the bills and pay for trips or jewelry or pet bills. It could but it’s like.

COURTNEY: We didn’t ever want to have to compromise like that, to compromise on being able to fund our partnerships. When our cats did get sick this summer we were partnered with our friend Spencer, and there was a point when they refused to take our money because they knew that we just didn’t have it. Luckily we were partnered with a lot of our friends and unfortunately they were having some financial, or some health problems, so they weren’t able to get top surgery when it was scheduled anyway, so it got postponed. It sort of all worked out, but it just kind of put us in this bad boat where we were like, “We don’t want someone to be counting on us and then not be able to hold up that end of the bargain.” I mean, it sucks. I definitely would prefer to get up and do my own thing, and not have to put FLAVNT on a backburner, and only work on it at night, but, right now, we have bills to pay and health insurance and things like that.

REDDY-BEST: What were the things that most surprised you, in the beginning or now, or still continue to surprise you, about starting a brand?

CHRIS: How hard the queer community is on itself, but I think that most everybody, people want to see you fail.

COURTNEY: That’s just the Internet, but yeah.

CHRIS: I think people wanting to see you fail was the most surprising, but for every one person who wants to see us fail, there’s nine people who want to see us succeed.

COURTNEY: The amount of people that will just be like, “That’s a shitty design.” Or would be like, “You ripped that off,” and for no reason. I’m like, “Everybody just has an opinion or a comment and it’s just…” I think, as someone who has just worked hard and created, and has put everything into something like this, I would never do that. I would never try to tear down anybody who’s trying to do their own thing, or make something cool or give back, but there are people who thrive on that and that’s just the age that we live in. So, I guess, that to me is the most surprising part, because you would think that people would just be like,

CHRIS: “Oh, finally queer people selling these shirts instead of Target!” You know? But people will comment on our Instagram, “Why don’t you just go to Target?” I’m like, “Cool. Just cool.”

REDDY-BEST: These next questions are about feedback, and I think that you kind of just answered it, but is there anything else you can think of, about the type of feedback you get from folks? I feel like you may have answered it, but is there anything else that’s come up about the positive responses to the different products that you offer?

COURTNEY: No. I just think it’s people reinforcing that our products either allowed them to be visible, or to be more proud or, to own whatever identity that they have, because we try to have products that cater to as many different identities as there are. I mean, you’ll never be able to have a shirt for every single person, but something that a bunch of different types of people could wear and feel proud and feel confident in is what we want. So, hearing people saying that that did happen or that did work is what is positive.

CHRIS: Or, just the dialogue that they spark. We will get a lot of interaction on social media, like, people posting and saying like, “I was wearing my ‘gender roles are dead’ shirt, and this old woman came up to me and asked me what it meant, and we had this whole conversation about gender!” Just the fact that something on a shirt that one of us drew or wrote or whatever.

COURTNEY: Just creating awareness, yeah.

CHRIS: So, I guess that wasn’t really like, feedback, but I guess, it is, kind of? It creates a dialogue, so I guess that that is good.

REDDY-BEST: The next question was about negative feedback from folks inside or outside the LGBTQ community, so is there anything else that you’d want to add about that?

COURTNEY: Yeah. I would just say what I said earlier about people saying that our community just doesn’t have the means and that us trying to make a profit are taking away from that, but then also, that we are queer people and we have the right to make a profit. I think that is important. Also, just the general like shitty-ness of social media, which allows people to just say whatever they want to say without any repercussions or responsibility. But, in general, I don’t think that we get a lot of negative feedback.

CHRIS: No, I’ve worked in a dozen retail places and it is less than I would get on the floor at American Eagle. So every once in awhile you get people who are not happy, but you’ll get that at any outlet mall, too. Mostly, as I said, for every twenty people who are like super thrilled with something we’ll have like one who is not, and usually that can be fixed with 15% off their next order, because they just really want attention or want to feel cared about or want to feel that we’re real people.

REDDY-BEST: So, in regards to funding, you started with a Kickstarter and is anything else about that, such as how you funded or other avenues of funding, that would be important to know?

COURTNEY: The Kickstarter was just for the binders so like everything else for our company was like we started with like $500 from me and Chris’s savings account, you know? So everything besides that has been funded either through the business itself or through, you know, side jobs. Working full time, you know? The Kickstarter did fund the initial production of the binders but, I said that, in the future, if we ever have an idea for another product, I would want us to either source a small business loan, or some sort of investor because Kickstarter is not the best way, in my opinion, to fundraise, just because, people don’t understand timelines for things, and it creates a lot of negativity based on backers and when things should be finished and like a lot of stuff like that. Also, all the money that goes into what you owe Kickstarter, and the money that you owe for all of the incentives for people to donate are challenges. There’s just all these things, so it’s like, money, but with a lot of strings attached, whereas, I feel like, with a loan, or with an investor you know the strings that are attached from the very beginning. Since that Kickstarter, we haven’t looked into any other funding, or found funding, because we haven’t needed to, but, in the future, maybe we’ll go for some other avenue, but not a crowd source funding avenue, again.

REDDY-BEST: So you talked about that you donate 15% of your funds or revenue, can you talk about that? I’m interested in community outreach.

CHRIS: Yeah, so it’s 15% of our profits for our first two partners. We did 15% of everything, but then we realized after the fact that,

COURTNEY: Like, 15% just of revenue.

CHRIS: Yeah, then we were like, “Oh yeah, the cost of shirts goes into that. We’re creative and, I mean, I’m not dumb, but I’m not a businessperson. So then, we were like, “Oh, it should be from profit.” So, it’s 15% of profits, and originally, for our first two partnerships, it was that, for every person that used a code, like “support Caden” to encourage our partners to be active. Now, we still want them to be active, but eventually we were just like, “Eh, well, we’ll just do 15% of every sale.”

COURTNEY: Just because it was too hard to keep track.

CHRIS: Yeah. Also, it was good to give just all of it, and that’s our thing. We both are just socially conscious people. We try to buy from brands that are aware and try to donate when we have extra money to the animal shelter or an organization that we care about, or whatever. We wanted to find a way to give back, and then we made FLAVNT and we were like, “Oh, FLAVNT could give back. Then, we liked the idea of doing like an individual partnership, and we actually were one of the first, or maybe the first, that did an individual partner. In contrast, some brands that are queer will do like, “Oh, at the end of the year we have like…”

COURTNEY: “…A scholarship!”

CHRIS: “…A scholarship that has come from all these things.” But we liked this concept of the whole community getting behind one person, because like a lot of individual trans people don’t have support.

COURTNEY: It came just from seeing people ‘s fundraisers circulating, and just being like, “That’s a huge number, but maybe not a huge number if a bunch of people could help and then they’ll get taken care of a lot faster.”

CHRIS: When we fundraise, our fundraiser is open to anybody over the age of 18, just because we don’t want to deal with liability of parents or parental consent, and it’s open to anyone in the world, but so far we’ve only done partnerships with people in the states. We’ve have had a few people apply outside of the states.

COURTNEY: From Canada.

CHRIS: Yeah, because we have a pretty big customer base in the UK and Australia and Canada. We’ve sold all over, but those are pretty big compared to here, too. Our partnership is open to anybody, however they identify, as long as they are seeking a gender-confirming surgery. We’re willing to raise up to half of what they need in total. So, for example, my surgery was $6,000, so we would raise up to $3,000, because that kind of keeps it fair, even though surgeries are all different prices and amounts and whatnot.

COURTNEY: They’re about three months long.

CHRIS: About three to six months depending. We’ve done two crash fundraisers that were both a month long, but about three to six months is what we need for people get to be behind somebody. We’re on our ninth partnership, and we’re finally with a trans-feminine person, which was really cool because we have a really big trans-guy following, just because of who follows me. It has been kind of hard to reach a different demographic.

COURTNEY: Yeah, for the first eight partnerships we didn’t have any.

CHRIS: Not a single trans feminine applicant, period.

COURTNEY: Not a single transwoman applied.

CHRIS: Yeah.

COURTNEY: And that’s out of hundreds of applicants. Every single time it’s like, 30-50 applicants.

CHRIS: Yeah, and we do have women that buy from us, and probably trans women that buy from us, but not necessarily. It might be partially they didn’t feel like comfortable reaching out, because all of our fundraisers have been with trans men. Of those eight trans men, seven were for top surgery and one was for bottom surgery, which was really cool because it kind of like shed light on something that like not a lot of people talk about. That was for Blair, who I’ve known online for a while but I’ve only met like twice in real life. We happened to run into her in Philly, at Trans Health this year, and we had just wrapped up with Spencer and I mentioned that we were going to be fundraising and she mentioned that she wanted to apply and like, the stars aligned. Finally we were able to like make it apparent that this is not a “boy’s club.” So, that’s going really well so far. We’ll see we just are willing to do something to set ourselves apart.

COURTNEY: It’s also knowing that our generation just tends to be pretty socially conscious and aware. People like to know where their money’s going and that it does go towards something. I mean that’s why Toms was so successful. I mean, it’s not that they have really good-looking shoes, it’s because people love that idea, you know? Since then there have been so many philanthropic companies that have done well. We like the idea of that and yeah we were probably the first to do it. One of the coolest things that’s come out of us being around is that now there’s probably like, I could name off the top of my head like 10-15 other small business that partner.

CHRIS: That have a similar model to ours.

COURTNEY: That just copied our model. Which is really cool because we can only partner with one person at a time, so that means all the more people that are getting help.

CHRIS: Yeah, we definitely don’t view that as copying. We’re like, “Please, do it, because there are a million kids out there that need help.”

COURTNEY: If other people want to give up profit, that is a good thing, too.

REDDY-BEST: Okay, cool. I always kind of run through everything at the end. So, I asked about your backgrounds; your own style; why you started FLAVNT; how you started it; what you do; what you offer; how you go from concept to final products; if trends matter; your customers; your proudest moments; feedback stuff; funding; community stuff. So is there anything, if you’re going to think about the history of what you’re doing, is there anything that has been left out or that wasn’t emphasized enough?

COURTNEY: I just want it to be known that we started out because we wanted to be representative of the community and encourage pride and confidence. Then we created a binder, because we saw a need for something. We started these fundraisers because we saw a need for something. We’re just going to continue to try to give back and improve our community because we’re a part of it, and that’s important to us. That’s really what the goal at the end of the day is with FLAVNT: to continue to grow and to be able to sustain ourselves but I would like to be able to make an impact by helping as many people as possible.

CHRIS: I want to eventually have a big, old, gay store in Austin, Texas. [Laughs] It really wouldn’t be that out of place in Austin, but in Texas it would be cool just because, you know, Republicans. That would be cool. You’re right. I mean, we just made things because I didn’t see a lot of queer people or queer clothing when I was growing up. There wasn’t a lot of trans visibility, period. I didn’t know I was trans until I was like 22. The world is a very different place now, with media representation, and we love that people can see people that look like them on our site and our look-book and that we have models that are all from the community. For every project we do, we have queer photographers or our manufacturing team is all female. So, I just think that being a business that is made up of people that are similar to the customer base is really important. I hope that we continue to grow so that we can be more of a household name, for queer people to know like, “That’s my brand.” Not mine, but your brand, you know what I mean? Does that make sense? You’re going to like transcribe that and be like, “MY brand.”

REDDY-BEST: That was one thing I had written down: models and imagery. I’m glad you just said that, because that was one question that I had added in later on and I didn’t send it in your set. I’m glad you mentioned that. Is there anything else that I didn’t ask? Not necessarily about history stuff, but anything else that didn’t come up?

COURTNEY: Not that I can think of.

 

 

 

 

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21st Century Queer Fashion Brands by Kelly L. Reddy-Best & Dana Goodin is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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