Oral History with Sonny Oram

Sonny Oram for Qwear was interviewed on January 17, 2024 by Kelly Reddy-Best over video chat. The interview lasted 55 minutes. The oral history reflects the history of Qwear at the time of the interview.

Oral History Video: Sonny Oram

Oral History Transcript: Sonny Oram

Reddy-Best:   First, Sonny, can you tell me just about your background? Where’d you grow up, and where have you lived?

Sonny Oram:   Yeah, I grew up in Boston and with the exception of college, which was in Ohio, I have lived in Boston my whole life. Great city. Yeah, that answers the first question.

Reddy-Best:   Can you tell me about your educational background? It could be either formal and also informal. Sometimes those are important to folks, those informal opportunities.

Sonny Oram:   Yeah, I went to Oberlin Conservatory for music. Yeah, got into fashion after that.

Reddy-Best:   What type of music?

Sonny Oram:   Viola performance.

Reddy-Best:   Can you talk a little bit about your professional background?

Sonny Oram:   Yeah. When I was a musician in college, I took a class on, what was it called? It was like marketing for musicians, that’s what it was. I loved the class. I just thought marketing was so fun. I got really into it, so I decided that that’s what I wanted to do, so I started doing music management. I brought on some of my friends and professors to manage them and set up their shows, set up their websites. I was just getting into web design and I was thinking about things like branding and how to present them to the world. It was a lot of fun.

I worked with, some of the big clients were Kathie Stewart, who’s a Baroque flutist and was a professor at Oberlin at the time. She took a chance on me, and that was awesome. Then the Lydian String Quartet at Brandeis hired me, so that was really great. Then I switched directions. I then got into fashion, and that’s when I founded Qwear, Qwear Fashion. Then through that, I knew I wanted to keep doing things in marketing and communications, so I built up my skills with that and with freelance and then eventually got hired at MIT, and that’s where I work now. I’m a communications officer at one of the centers at MIT.

Reddy-Best:   What term do you use to describe your gender identity?

Sonny Oram:   I use trans non-binary. I sometimes use male, depending on the context, though I don’t really feel like a guy per se, but I sort of am. It depends. Yeah, those are the main words I use.

Reddy-Best:   Which gender pronouns do you use?

Sonny Oram:   I use he, they, or none, meaning just repeating my name, which is what I always prefer in written context, but in speaking and shorthand, he or they is fine.

Reddy-Best:   Which term do you use to describe your sexual identity?

Sonny Oram:   Queer, pansexual. I think those are the two main terms I use.

Reddy-Best:   How would you describe your personal clothing style?

Sonny Oram:   I would say it’s mostly very clean cut and preppy. It can also be urban street style, and then it can also just be full-out faggy, gay. I have this jacket that’s made of sequins, and I like putting on lipstick and nail polish. Sometimes in the summer, I’ll wear mesh tops. Yeah, a combination of those things.

Reddy-Best:   Can you tell me about your experience shopping for clothes or maybe just obtaining clothes? Sometimes, we don’t obtain clothing through actual purchasing. It could be other informal type systems.

Sonny Oram:   One of my early memories shopping for clothes was going with my mom and my grandma to get, they specifically wanted to get me a dress, and I hated all the dresses that we tried on. They ended up just giving up and leaving and not getting me anything. It was super sad, but then things turned around when I grew up and the story might come later on. I don’t know if I should tell it now.

Yeah, my whole life, people told me that I could only wear women’s clothing, that men’s clothing wouldn’t fit me, that I would look ridiculous in it, that my hips were too big, all these things. That was really upsetting to me, because I hated women’s clothes, every single item in the women’s department. I couldn’t find a single thing that I felt would make me feel good. That was really hard for me and just left me feeling not really in my body, like I was floating outside of myself. Then this one day, I was really struggling with depression, and I was just wandering around aimlessly. I don’t even know what I was doing. I was just home from college. I was like, “I’m just going to go into Boston and just go on a walk or something.” I was in the downtown crossing T-station, and I was wandering around, and there was this door that led from the T-station into a department store, Macy’s.

I was like, huh. It was like this secret, magic door. You wouldn’t think it would be there. I ended up going in, and it was the boys’ department. It was the guy’s department, 12 to 19 or whatever, and I was really small at the time, and I did not fit into men’s clothes, and it had never occurred to me to go into the boys department. I was like, “Huh,” and there was no one there, so it was just me, so I felt safe trying things on and going into the dressing rooms, even though the stall came up to here. I tried on some shirts. It was just basic T-shirts, some basic preppy things, and I just loved the way I looked. It made my chest look flat. I was standing up taller. I was like, “This is me. I’m never wearing women’s clothes again. This is me. Now I know who I am.” That’s when I started Qwear. That’s my story.

Reddy-Best:   Is there anything else that would be important to know about your personal background or your style in this context? We’ll get into a lot of different questions, but anything else that’s sticking out to you right now?

Sonny Oram:   I can’t think of anything. I will add that when I was a kid, my friend and I used to make fashion magazines called Radical Fashion. I can send you screenshots if you want. I have a lot of them. We would cut up fashion magazines and then I would write my own articles, so that was pretty cool. A lot of them were parodies, and a lot of them were playing with gender. I would cut off a man’s head and put it on a woman’s body, and it was a way of exploring gender and also consumerism.

Reddy-Best:   I would love to see those.

Sonny Oram:   Yeah, I have them right here. I can even just drop them in the chat. They’re pretty fascinating, actually, now that you know I’m trans, it’s like, oh, okay.

Reddy-Best:   Okay. What is the mission of Qwear?

Sonny Oram:   Qwear’s mission is to improve quality of life through gender expression.

Reddy-Best:   You told me about this moment shopping in the T-station, and there was a door, almost like a magic door to this?

Sonny Oram:   Yeah, it was like a magic door.

Reddy-Best:   That led to it to Qwear’s development, but were you thinking about it beforehand, or when did you begin thinking about it?

Sonny Oram:   Not at all. It was so on a whim. The seed was planted when I was in college because at Oberlin, everyone assigned female at birth had this ritual of shaving their heads when they came out as queer. It was a big thing, and you weren’t seen as truly queer if you didn’t do it, and I just didn’t want to do it, so I never felt connected to the queer community there.

I was like, okay, all these people must be, not all of them want to do this. Some of them must be unhappy about this, so that got me thinking, are there other ways to signal to one another that we’re queer, that we’re part of a group, through fashion that maybe gives you some more variety or some choice?

Then I got to Boston and the community there was much more diverse in the way they dressed. I was like, okay, it is possible. This is just a weird Oberlin thing. That planted the seed, and then when my friend was starting a fashion blog, I was like, “What’s that?” She was like, “Oh, a fashion blog. You take pictures of yourself wearing clothes, and then companies start sending you free clothes and it’s awesome.” I was like, “Do they have queer ones?” She was like, “I don’t know.” I was looking through. It was all these thin, cis straight women, and I couldn’t find, I’m sure there were gay guys, but I didn’t really see any assigned female at birth queer fashion resources at all. I was like, “All right, I’m going to start one.” Then just the next day, I started one, and that’s how it happened.

Reddy-Best:   What year was that, do you remember?

Sonny Oram:   2011. Yeah. I was 22.

Reddy-Best:   Can you tell me about the significance of the name, or how you developed the name?

Sonny Oram:   Yeah. It started off, actually, when I first got the domain, I was like, LesboFashion.com. Then I was like, “Okay, this isn’t for real. This is just for now, and then I’ll figure something out.” Then I was talking to some people and we came up with the idea of Dyke Duds, so that was the name for a few years. Then I started to transition and I was like, “Oh, I don’t really identify with that word anymore. I want to expand to include more identities,” so then I was just brainstorming some ideas and came up with Qwear.

Reddy-Best:   Can you tell me about your role in Qwear? What does a typical day or month look like when you’re working on the platform?

Sonny Oram:   Yeah, it’s changed a lot over the years. In 2014, I met my partner, Ru, who is now a co-owner. We own it together, make decisions together. It’s great to not be the only one making decisions anymore. Yeah, it’s changed a lot, but when I first started, it was just a lot of work because I was on Tumblr and people were asking me questions, and I wanted to do my best to answer all of them, so it was just a lot of computer time. I also had insomnia, so I worked on it a lot at night when I couldn’t sleep, which ended up being a blessing because it might not be where it is now if I had been able to sleep all those nights, but I always loved it.

At times, I got really frustrated, especially when I felt like no one’s reading it. You put in all this work into an article and it gets three likes, and you’re like, “Ugh,” but just something within me just knew I had to keep going despite all that. Yeah, at first, it was eight hours a day grinding away at it. Now I have other responsibilities, so I’m not spending as much time, but yeah, I’m still prioritizing it.

Reddy-Best:   Who else contributes or participates?

Sonny Oram:   Yeah. We’ve had a lot of contributors over the years. The main contributors right now are me, Ru, my photographer, Jaypix Belmer, and this activist named Yasmin Benoit, who founded the This is What Asexual Looks Like movement, and I will talk more about that, I’m sure.

Reddy-Best:   Can you tell me about the model for Qwear? How does it work?

Sonny Oram:   Yeah, yeah. We have volunteers who produce content. We produce a lot of the content ourselves, and we’ll pull people in. Say, “We’re looking for phat androgynous looks. Send us your thing. Send us a paragraph,” and that works really well because it gives people a structure, but we have a lot of contributors that will write articles and send us photos and things.

Reddy-Best:   Can you just tell me about Qwear? From your own perspective, what is it?

Sonny Oram:   Yeah, we describe Qwear as a queer fashion incubator because it’s a space where people can come to explore their style. It’s a safe space. I think a lot of styles have become popularized on the platform. Yeah, it’s an incubator. It’s a space to explore and to be yourself, and it’s open to everyone. You don’t have to identify as queer to see yourself in that space.

Reddy-Best:   What are some examples of how folks might explore? When they go to Qwear, what are they going to see or experience when they click on it?

Sonny Oram:   They’ll see the most recent articles, and they can search, and there are keywords at the bottom that they can click on and see more things in those areas, like the most popular search terms like weddings and different types of identities and swimwear. Then there’s an outfits page that has just a display of outfits from all these different articles where you can go through and click on them and see more photos. It’s really meant to be a source of hopefully endless inspiration so that people can find a style that resonates with them.

Reddy-Best:   Can the folks who are engaging, can they participate in any way? Do they have abilities to comment or ask questions? How does that interaction work?

Sonny Oram:   Yeah, you can comment. You can submit a question, which we call Qwearies. You can submit an article. You can submit photos. Yeah, we try to make it as open as possible so that it’s a community space and there’s not really a barrier to seeing yourself in that space.

Reddy-Best:   What’s one of your favorite Qwearies that came through?

Sonny Oram:   Oh, I love the Qwearies that come from kids, middle schoolers who are trying to figure themselves out. It’s just really meaningful to me because I know that for a lot of these people, we’re the only source they have. They could be in the middle of nowhere. They could know no queer people at all, and they just Googled something and found us. Yeah, we had a recent question from a middle schooler who was bi, who came out as bi and wanted to figure out how to dress. I actually brought on this, I don’t know if you know Desmond is Amazing.

Yeah. They’re a drag performer kid. I’m not sure how old they are now, but I think around the middle school age, so they answered the question, and that was a really beautiful thing to facilitate. I can send you a link to that one, too, if you’re interested.

Reddy-Best:   Yeah, I would love to see that one. Yeah, Desmond is often on my Reels or whenever I’m scrolling.

Sonny Oram:   They’re quite active on the internet.

Reddy-Best:   Can you tell me about how Qwear has evolved over time?

Sonny Oram:   Yeah. Let’s see. The way it evolved the most is that it’s become more inclusive over time. For one thing, it’s a lot easier to find people now on Instagram. We didn’t really have Instagram when it started, so I was just on Tumblr, and there was a big community of people in fashion there, but it was like if you wanted to have more plus size or more people of color, that was more of a challenge. I think over time, it’s become much, much more inclusive. That’s also something that my partner Ru helped with greatly when he came on. Yeah, that’s mostly.

Also, at first, it wasn’t really a space. Cis men were excluded. It was anyone who’s queer, but not a cis guy. Then I realized that there was no need for that, that it should be for everyone. I had my reasons for doing it at the beginning because I felt like cis gay men were monopolizing the fashion space, and I wanted space for everyone else, but then at the same time, there are so many cis gay men who don’t fit into that mold, too, and who need that space. Yeah, around 2013, I’d say I dropped that and just made it open to everyone.

Reddy-Best:   How did you indicate that it was closed to them?

Sonny Oram:   Just in the description of who we were, I would say, “We are a space for X, Y, and Z.”

Reddy-Best:   How do you see it evolving in the future? How would you want it to evolve in the future?

Sonny Oram:   I would love to get funding so that we can create more content and just put more content out there and document more of the queer fashion in the world because it’s so beautiful and there’s so much to photograph, and we just don’t have the resources to do a lot of that. Yeah, if we got funding someday, it could be amazing. There’s so much we could do.

Reddy-Best:   Do you advertise? You probably know more about this than me, but do you have any source of funding right now, like advertising or anything that generates income?

Sonny Oram:   Yeah. A little bit. Sometimes people will sponsor content. A while ago, we had a sponsorship with, actually, they’re a bad company now, so maybe I won’t talk about them.

Yeah, we have had companies sponsor us in the past, but we’re mostly just self-sustaining. We do have a Patreon, though, if anyone wants to contribute. That’s a big one.

Reddy-Best:   You talked a little bit about this, the outputs for Qwear, but anything else to add beyond what you already described, things that you all produce and put out into the world?

Sonny Oram:   Yeah. We have one T-shirt in our store right now with the Qwear logo on it, and we would love to-

Reddy-Best:   Is there anything else, any other kinds of outputs or content or products that you would like to put out that you’re just not quite there yet?

Sonny Oram:   If we had the funding, I would love to make more videos. I would love to travel more places and take more photos. Yeah, we’re doing what we can.

Reddy-Best:   Who are your readers or your engagers? Who engages with you?

Sonny Oram:   Oh, that’s a really good question. I would say really, queer people across all ages and around the world engage with us, so that’s been really awesome just to see the diversity of our readers.

Reddy-Best:   How do you think folks find out about Qwear?

Sonny Oram:   I think they Google us. I did a lot of SEO activism, which I don’t know if that’s actually a term, but if it’s not, I’m making it one, because what I would do was Google ‘androgynous style’, and every single picture that came up was the thin, white female assigned at birth person wearing guy’s clothes. It was like everyone thought that if you didn’t look like that, there was no way you could be androgynous, which is just so sad, so I started creating content with androgynous people who look different and using those terms. Now when you Google ‘androgynous style’, you get a much wider variety of results. I totally forgot what the question was.

Oh, yeah. Yeah. I think people Google, ‘what do I wear to a gay wedding’ or something? They Google things like that and find us, and they also find us on social media, just I’m sure the algorithm bringing up our photos as things they might like.

Reddy-Best:   What types of feedback do you get related to Qwear?

Sonny Oram:   When I first started, I got a lot of feedback because I was new and there were a lot of things about the LGBTQ community that fell outside of my own experience that I didn’t know, so I got a lot of feedback. Some of it was quite negative, and I took it seriously and made some changes. I realized that unless you explicitly make it clear that you want to represent a group, if they’ve been historically excluded, they’re going to assume that you’re excluding them, so you have to make an extra effort to include them. That was something I learned, that you need to have these marginalized groups represented in every article and on every page of the website. Yeah. Once I realized that, it made it a lot easier to run. Frankly, I haven’t really gotten any negative feedback in a really long time, years and years, because I figured out what people wanted from that early feedback. Yeah.

Reddy-Best:   What’s an example of really great positive feedback you’ve received?

Sonny Oram:   I’ve had people tell me that the website saved the life of someone they knew. Oh, my boyfriend was suicidal and you saved his life, or my friend. Yeah. That’s just so amazing, and that just makes all the work worth it. I don’t care if only one person read that article, but it saved their life, then I did my job.

Reddy-Best:   What are you most proud of so far?

Sonny Oram:   Oh, wow. I’m proud that we’ve kept it up this long because it’s been almost 12 years now, 11 and a half years, which is amazing. I just, excuse me. I never thought that something I started when I was 22, started it on a whim, had no idea where it was going to go. I had no real plans for it. I was just messing around. Just the fact that we’ve been able to keep it going, I’m really proud of that.

Reddy-Best:   What do you think has been most successful so far?

Sonny Oram:   There’s this movement that we helped launch, which is the This is What Asexual Looks Like movement. That’s one of our biggest successes because Yasmin Benoit, the activist who founded it and first published the first use of it on Qwear has, her career has just, she was already successful, but her career just took off even more after that movement. She’s doing so much amazing work for the asexual movement. I just see her picture everywhere in magazines, and it’s just so cool. Yeah, that movement that we helped launch, that’s exactly what we’re about, an incubator to launch movements. Yasmin was just someone who came to me saying, “I want to promote asexual visibility.” I was like, “Great, what do we want to do?” I helped her figure out. I was like, “You need to come up with a hashtag. You need to go viral.” It was just really cool to be able to see that happen.

Yeah, that was huge. I think another huge success for me is that when you Google ‘androgynous style’ now, there are plus size people in the results. I just think that is changing so many lives because so many kids every day are Googling, ‘how do I dress androgynous?’ If they don’t see their body type represented, they’re just going to give up and think they can’t do it. That’s so sad. I think everyone should be able to dress however they want. Yeah, that’s been really meaningful to me that I could actually change those search results.

Reddy-Best:   Were there any initial aspects when you started the platform that surprised you?

Sonny Oram:   Yeah, definitely I didn’t realize how vast the LGBTQIA community is, how varying the experiences are. Of course, I think everyone has this where we have our own life and our own experience, and we assume that everyone else is similar to that, because we just don’t know. You can’t know what you don’t know. A lot of it has been a learning experience for me. I was like, “Oh, wow.” I didn’t know that there were trans people who didn’t experience dysphoria. Just so many things I didn’t know. Some of the issues that trans women have to deal with, particularly trans women of color with the murder epidemic. Those were things that weren’t really on my radar when I started it, because as a white person, I’m pretty safe.

Yeah, I just learned so much from the community, and it’s just an honor to be able to run a platform where people are relying on us. For some people, we’re really all they have. At first, I was angry that people were expecting so much of me, because they had no idea I was just a 22-year-old kid just blogging in my room. They thought we were a company or something because we were doing, I was killing it. They thought I was multiple people at first who were older, but yeah, I was like, “I’m just a kid. Why are you yelling at me?” I realized that this is all people have, and now that I’ve stepped up to the plate, I have to deliver and I have this responsibility now. I think I’ve wandered off from the question, but yeah, there have been a lot of surprises, a lot of lessons learned, and it’s an honor to still be in the position of running the platform.

Reddy-Best:   Are there any struggles that you’ve experienced? If yes, can you describe some of those with running the platform or anything related to it?

Sonny Oram:   I think one of the biggest struggles probably is being white because our platform has become a safe space for people of color in particular, I think because other fashion platforms out there maybe don’t put in the effort to be that inclusive. That really happened when I brought Ru on, and Ru’s POC and taught me a lot about how to create a safe space. There are certain things I just wouldn’t know because I just wouldn’t experience as a white person, and I just don’t know what people are going through. I don’t know what’s going to make them feel safe or not safe. I don’t necessarily know about the subtleties of the things going on within different communities and different cultural things, so Ru really just made the platform a so much more amazing space by teaching me all these things, and we were able to make it an even more safe space for people.

Yeah, I think the biggest barrier for me is that when you are privileged, it can be great because it can allow you to do things. It gave me the opportunity to start this platform instead of working three jobs to support myself, because I started it when I was living in my parents’ house after college, so I had some wiggle room to find myself, figure out what I wanted to do, prepare for my career. That was a huge privilege, and I’m glad that I could use that for good to give back, but it also blocks you from seeing a lot of what’s going on in the world.

Reddy-Best:   Is there anything else to add about funding or sponsorship related to Qwear?

Sonny Oram:   I don’t think I have anything to add, really.

Reddy-Best:   Okay. You’ve already talked, too, about intersectionality. Is there anything else to add about how you think through? I feel really saturated on that, but is there anything else to add about intersectionality and the platform and how you think about it?

Sonny Oram:   My advice to people doing similar things is, you have to really go out and find people, because at first, I was just expecting people to submit to us, and then whoever submitted got featured, and I couldn’t control who submitted and who didn’t, so when people started complaining that there were three white people in a row or whatever, I’d be like, “It’s not my fault. If you want to see yourself on here, submit.” No, actually it is my responsibility, so that’s something I grew into where I was like, “No, I actually am in a position of power right now leading this platform.” I didn’t realize it at the time.

Again, because I was only 22, and I didn’t feel very powerful, but I was, so I had to go out there and find people. I had to, if someone submitted and there were already a million people who looked like them, I had to tell them no. Yeah, go out there and find people, and they are out there. You just have to put in a little extra effort sometimes because they’re not always going to come to you, because they might assume that they’re not going to be welcome.

Reddy-Best:   Then do you think about, of course, there’s social justice issues. Do you think about environmental justice, sustainability? Of course, you’re a digital platform.

Sonny Oram:   Yeah. Yeah. We try to discuss as many social issues as we can through the lens of fashion and environmentally, fashion is the second most polluting industry in the world, I’m sure you know. We really try to be aware of that and not encourage people to buy new things. Like most fashion resources is like, “Buy this, buy that.” We’re showcasing outfits that were made through a variety of ways. Some things were bought. Some things were taken out of their brother’s closet. Some things were a hand-me-down from an ex. There are just so many ways to obtain clothing, so we really try to stay away from telling people to buy things and try to encourage people to have a good capsule wardrobe that they can accessorize all these different ways.

Reddy-Best:   I love that, because it is a really terrible industry.

Sonny Oram:   It’s just terrible. It’s so wasteful.

Reddy-Best:   It’s so bad. It’s so bad.

Sonny Oram:   The waste used to create the clothes and then the fact that the clothes get thrown out two weeks later, it’s just disgusting.

Reddy-Best:   It’s horrifying.

Sonny Oram:   It is horrifying for sure. At the same time, I should add to this, a lot of our readers are low-income, so they can’t afford to spend a little extra on clothing that was made in an eco-friendly way, and we do not want to alienate anyone, so we will never shame anyone for where they shop. Someone can come in with an outfit from Walmart and Old Navy and H&M, and we will share that outfit, because for some people, that’s the only clothes they can access, so you’ve got to work with what you have.

Reddy-Best:   You are so thoughtful.

Sonny Oram:   Thank you. I try to be. There’s so many things you have to consider when doing things like this, so many intersecting issues.

Reddy-Best:   Oh my gosh, yes. It’s like, yes, Walmart’s terrible, but also, it’s an option and sometimes the only option. Sometimes in places where there’s not places to shop and they don’t have time to return things online, it’s just even getting to the return place. I’m like, some people, the bus fare.

Reddy-Best:   Then you’ve talked a lot about community and involvement in communities. Anything else to talk about in relation to community outreach or engagement or things related to building communities?

Sonny Oram:   Yeah. We have done a lot of outreach. We’ve gone to schools and talked about queerness and fashion and all that. I see the whole platform as a community outreach project. Yeah, I can’t necessarily point to one thing, but I think that the people that we work with, we’ve really, I think, built a community with them as well, and it’s rewarding to see people forming friendships through Qwear.

Reddy-Best:   There’s one question that I wanted to ask that just came into my head. Oh, can you talk about some of the in-person things that you’ve done?

Sonny Oram:   When Ru came on, we started doing fashion shows. Ru is a graduate of RISD and has worked in the fashion industry before and knows how it works where basically you have all of your clothes, there are a size four or whatever, and then you pick models to suit that clothing. Ru wanted to do it the opposite way. He wanted to have the models come in, and then we designed the outfits around the models and their gender expression. Yeah, the first fashion show we did was in Oakland. It was Queer Fashion Week. We flew out there with a suitcase of random clothes, and Ru was like, “We’re not going to have any white models. No white models. It’s going to be all models of color,” but then we let our friend Alexis in because she’s cool, so we had one. Yeah, it was just meant to subvert the norm, so we had everyone trying on, oh my God.

Hilarious side note. One of the people we became friends with there didn’t know I was trans and thought that we were just a straight couple and was like, “Why are they doing Queer Fashion Week?” We cleared that up later. Yeah, we just had models try on clothing, talk about what they wanted to wear, and then Ru spent three days in our hotel room adapting the clothes and sewing things and creating new outfits out of them and then went back the morning of the fashion show, put it on people. They were trying them on, making last minute adjustments. Yeah. That’s how Ru does it. It’s pretty brilliant. I’ve seen the process now five times. We did a couple shows at the Institute of Contemporary Art in Boston.


Sonny Oram:   Let’s see, we did Rainbow Fashion Week in New York, and we did the Boston University Art Galleries. We did a show there that was really cool. Then over COVID, we made a virtual fashion show where people sent us videos of them walking down the runway either in their house or outside or something, and then I just strung it all together, so that was really cool, a really cool way to bring the community together.

Reddy-Best:   What did Ru study at RISD?

Sonny Oram:   Printmaking. Yeah, but at RISD, you have to learn everything. They came away with good knowledge on how to do everything.

Reddy-Best:   Then is there anything else that would be important to know about Qwear, your background or your story or the story of Qwear?

Sonny Oram:   One thing I wanted to make sure I touch upon was that we are the first space to talk about queer fashion as a health issue. I think this is really important because for me, I was really depressed before I started dressing the way I wanted to. It was just a big life changer. I know that that’s the case for a lot of people. I think that fashion, especially for queer people, is a component of health. I think that every doctor should have a rack of donated clothes in their office for people to try on.

This is true for people who are considering transitioning, but it’s also true for people who just aren’t really sure who they are yet. You can be not trans, but still need fashion to express yourself, but if you are looking at it from a trans lens, now it’s written. Now we call it socially transitioning as a part of the medical process of changing your clothes. I think before a lot of trans surgeries were approved by insurance, fashion was all people had, so it was really vital. We were the only people talking about that and naming that. Yeah, I really wanted to bring attention to that, that fashion is health. It is not just some frivolous, fun thing. It is for queer people. It is our health, and it’s our ability to move about the world safely, our ability to get jobs, our ability to basically do anything. Yeah.

Reddy-Best:   All right. Anything else you want to share?

Sonny Oram:   I’ll tell you one more quick story. It’s a shout-out to my dad. When I was in middle school, there was one day before Christmas break when they showed us movies all day long in school. I got really mad because I was really bored. First of all, I’m Jewish, so I didn’t really understand what was going on. I didn’t know what the Grinch was. It didn’t resonate with me, so I just couldn’t really relate to the movies. I got home and complained, and my dad was like, “You should write a letter to the local newspaper,” so I did. It unfortunately backfired because I didn’t think that any of the kids were reading the newspaper, but their parents were and they told my classmates about it.

Then they got super anti-Semitic. They were like, “Just because you hate Christmas doesn’t mean you have to take away the fun for the rest of us.” Even though it backfired, it taught me a very important lesson that when there’s something that you think should change, no one’s going to do it for you. You have to use your voice to make that change happen. My dad is an activist. He goes to protests all the time. His mom, my grandma was an activist, too. I think it was really passed down to me, that message of, make the change that you want to happen. I think it was with that attitude that I thought that I could do Qwear and actually make a difference. Also, to my credit, they did not show movies all day next year.


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21st Century Queer Fashion Brands Copyright © 2020 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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