Scout Rose for TransGuy Supply was interviewed on March 14, 2023 by Kelly Reddy-Best via Zoom. This interview was 114 minutes. The oral history transcript reflects the history of the company at the time of the interview.
Oral History Video
Oral History Transcript
Scout: My name is Scout Rose and the name of my company is TransGuy Supply.
Kelly: What’s your role in the company?
Scout: I am the president and the founder, but it’s a small business that … I mean, it basically means I wear a lot of different hats. I’m responsible for the vast majority of the daily operations, so customer support emails, coordinating with the warehouse that we work with, that ships, our orders, inventory. I built the website, I blog. I wear a lot of different hats. Yeah.
Kelly: Cool, and can you tell me about your background? Where did you grow up or where have you lived?
Scout: Yeah. I was born in Texas in a small town outside of Houston and lived there until college. I went to college in Atlanta, Georgia, stuck around for a little bit afterwards, and from Atlanta, moved to New York. I was in New York, in Brooklyn mostly for 18 years and just moved to Philadelphia last November.
Kelly: Cool. Yeah, I’m from right outside of Philly. Yeah. I spent 18 years there.
Kelly: Exit three, Washington Town.
Scout: Okay. All right.
Scout: Cool. Actually, I’m trying to get my sister to move to Haddonfield.
Kelly: Yeah. Yeah,
Scout: It’s super cute. It’s really accessible to Philly, good schools. She has young children and-
Scout: It seems like, somewhat affordable housing.
Kelly: Cool, and then, tell me about your educational background.
Scout: So I have a bachelor’s degree in philosophy. Other than that, I’ve taken a handful of classes, continuing education type classes. I mean, it’s been a long time. So I’ve taken some Photoshop classes in Design, Illustrator. Also, during the pandemic, took a graduate course on gender studies at the Graduate Center of CUNY, but the bulk of my education was a long time ago-
Kelly: Yeah, and what was your favorite philosophy course? Do you remember or have one or it’s a long time ago?
Scout: It was a very long time ago, but I remember … I mean in particular, I loved Kierkegaard. I was also very interested in Martin Buber. I think both of those could technically be called Philosophy of Religion, but I mean, I really enjoyed the whole endeavor. I actually also took quite a bit of brain behavior, classes in neuroscience and brain behavior and loved it. It was just absolutely fascinating to learn about all the different parts of the brain and what they’re responsible for.
Kelly: Yeah, yeah. It’s really kind of amazing how it all works.
Scout: It really is.
Kelly: Can you tell me about your professional background?
Scout: Yes. So I’ve spent the bulk of my professional career working for a single company. I worked for a coffee company for a decade. Also, I have done quite a bit of time in nonprofits, mostly around poverty rights. So I worked for an organization that did support services for shelters that housed single mothers. I worked as an overnight counselor at a homeless shelter for LGBT youth, but for 10 years, I worked for a coffee company in New York City, started as a barista and worked my way up to a director position. I was their director of retail, and that’s really where I got the bulk of my related experience for Transguy Supply. I built their first E-commerce platform. I was also responsible for product development, product design and also, oversaw the managers of the 17 locations. So got an education and had a look at a profit and loss statement, yeah, gross profit, meetings.
Kelly: How would you describe your gender identity?
Scout: I would probably say just I identify as trans, and that’s it. Definitely tried on a number of different hats in my lifetime, and I think I like the fact that just the simple term trans feels like an open and spacious identity and allows me room to … or some movement and for some freedom in terms of how I would like to express myself.
Kelly: Then, which gender pronouns do you use?
Scout: I use they, them pronouns.
Kelly: And then, how would you describe your sexual identity?
Scout: For similar reasons, I identify as queer.
Kelly: Then, how would you describe your personal clothing style?
Scout: I saw that question and I didn’t prepare an answer. I mean, I’ve definitely gone through a number of different phases in my life, and most recently, during the pandemic, I think my gender presentation did some shifting, as related to how I dress, the things that I wear, how I adorn myself, et cetera. I don’t know, I honestly … I do spend time and energy thinking about my presentation, but it’s not something … I mean, also, we all just spent several years indoors where people weren’t really looking at us. So, I wear a lot of sweatpants now, and I may not ever go back because I’ve learned how comfortable life can be. Yeah, I wish I had a better answer to that question, but it’s … yeah.
Kelly: Then, what was your experience like shopping or using the products that you all offer before starting Transguy Supply?
Scout: I mean, in general, I think that shopping for everyone can be an incredibly alienating experience, that there are very few people out there who feel attractive and seen, and these products are made for them when they go to any store, but I think trans people have a really specific relationship to that experience, in part because many of us were forced to wear clothing that we don’t see ourselves in, that we don’t feel comfortable in. Then, even when we are able to make those choices for ourselves, the clothing isn’t necessarily made to fit our bodies. I definitely experienced those things. I also think that there’s a learning gap, where I decide, for me personally, where I decided that I wanted to present myself differently.
I didn’t necessarily have the tools to figure out how to wear the clothes in a way that I want, where the end result was something that was pleasing to me and that had a lot to do with fit, and not just because of my body, but also, just because I was … I grew up reading magazines for women, and 17 Magazine was telling me how things needed to fit. Then, even when I started to try and tap into more masculine clothing, the advice that is given for men in say, GQ or Details Magazine at the time when I was transitioning was … all of it was about tailoring and tight-fitting clothes. As someone who was socialized as a woman or as female, I was already wearing tight clothes, but I didn’t understand that information … I actually probably, in order to have a fit that I felt good about, I needed to size up, but I didn’t know that.
It took me a long time to figure out, there was a really big learning curve. I think that it made shopping really difficult and complicated. I definitely had moments where I would see myself and be like, “Oh, this looks good. I really like this.” Actually, I needed a lot of help. I ended up … I dated someone who was a fashion designer. She and her brother had a clothing line and she would just tell me. She would buy that and buy it in a size large. I was like, okay and it ended up being actually a really good experience for me. I mean, I’m not suggesting that people need to be told what to wear, but I needed to be pushed to try new things because I wasn’t achieving the results that I wanted to. Then, when it comes to outside of fashion, the products that we specifically … that Transguy Supply specifically sells, that I’ve been a part of in terms of the development and creation, when I started my transition almost 20 years ago, they didn’t exist.
The products just simply didn’t exist. I think at the time, Fleshlight had created a one … it wasn’t a packer actually. It was intended as a gag gift that Mr. Limpy was supposed to be something funny that people gave to each other at bachelor parties. Transmasculine folks saw that product and thought, “Oh wait, we can use this for our own purposes.” So there was that, I mean, but that shopping experience, it’s not a dignified one, where you’re buying something that is a gag gift. That’s how 100% of the products were when I first started my transition. All of the products that were available to us were things that were designed for other people and other bodies that trans folks realized that we could use for our own purposes as well.
Yeah. So I can’t say that I had … in my experience, I think of these products, when I was beginning, my transition is so vastly different, I think, than a lot of people today who … I mean, there’s still a desperate need for more, but there are many now, right? There’s not just one packer gag gift. There are many packers, there are packers that are made by trans people for trans people. They come in a wide variety of colors and shapes and prices and quality. So there’s an element of choice in that experience for folks these days.
Kelly: How did the idea for Transguy Supply come about?
Scout: I mean, the idea for Transguy Supply really came out of that specific need. So I launched Transguy Supply in 2018, but the idea for it started marinating in 2017. So even though in the timeline from when I started transitioning 20 years ago to 2018, there were a few more options. I mean, the curve has just … it’s really exploded in the last couple of years. I think Transguy Supply has been a part of that explosion. When I was doing some research in terms of what was available for the community, I was just completely shocked how little progress had been made and how few options there were. It just seemed like that for a lot of the things that folks wanted or wanted access to, they were a part of another … usually, part of a larger, I mean, often sex toy company.
They were a sort of a side project that it was an annexed sort of retail corridor, kind of the health food section at a major grocery store where there’s like this tiny little aisle where you can get gluten-free items. A lot of times these products are available on sites that are specifically catering towards queer women, which can be a really invalidating experience for transmasculine folks or for people who identify as men. So, it was very clear to me that there was the need, and then, I think, I had been … so in addition to my work in coffee I had … through my lifetime, since coming out, I have been engaged in trans community in various ways, shapes and forms, including the launch of the very first magazine launch of this magazine called Original Plumbing, which I don’t know if you are familiar, but was a Transmasculine Quarterly, specifically a magazine for trans guys by trans guys.
I found out that this magazine was in production or was about to launch, essentially, and I reached out to the two people who were behind it and asked … At the time, I was managing a bar, and I asked if they wanted to have a launch party at the bar. I think it was on a Thursday night. It wasn’t even on a Friday or Saturday. We put the word out on Facebook and invited lots of people. I think it got picked up in a Time Out Magazine, and the response was just mind-blowing. I think over 400 people showed up and well beyond the capacity of the bar, there were tons of people outside. I’d never seen so many trans people in a single space. I think that was the … so that seed was planted a long time ago, but that was the particular seed where I realized just how big the community is.
So putting those pieces together, seeing the need and seeing how big the community is, I think I had a hunch that the community was large enough to be able to have a business that specifically catered to the community and for the community to be able to support that, so for it to be a sustainable business model, and having worked at this coffee company, having developed an E-commerce website before, I had some of the skillset necessary in order to make it happen. So, started plugging away and Transguy Supply was born.
Kelly: Can you tell me about the significance of the name of the company or why?
Scout: Sure. I mean, really, I liked the ring of it. I mean, I like the way that it subtly rhymes. I think I like the fact that guy feels more expansive than man. At the same time, I came up with the name … before I launched the business, and before I really was tapped into sort of identities and I was tapped into the community. I mean, I’m so much more tapped in now. I’ve learned it so much by being connected to so many trans people. I don’t know if I would’ve named it Transguy Supply had I had this knowledge in advance. I mean, it’s complicated because almost … I mean, people do identify as F2M, but it’s not a huge percentage of the transmasculine population, I would say. However, that is by far the term that people are using the most to find what they need.
So for example, if you were searching for a binder and you type in binder, you’re going to get … you go onto Google and you type in binder, because you want to buy a binder, you’re going to get office supplies. So the next step people generally pick would say … the next phrase that people would type in is F2M binder, not trans binder. The difference is … I mean, we’re talking like 10, 20, 30 times more people are using those terms to find what they need, but it’s a little bit complicated. So you’re using an identity, that actually people … I don’t think I would’ve chosen F2M anything. However, it’s like we have to use that in a number of our product descriptions, et cetera, because otherwise, people won’t be able to find us.
They won’t be able to find the things that they’re looking for. I don’t know, I don’t know what I would name it today if I had the choice, but that’s how Transguy Supply came about. It sounded cute, and it was instructive. We sell things for transmasculine people, so that’s what it is.
Kelly: Yeah, so you began … the idea you said, began around 2017 and then, you became a business in 2018, is that right? Did I pick that right?
Scout: Officially launched March of 2018.
Kelly: Right. Okay. Can you tell me about the business model?
Scout: Sure. E-commerce business model, pretty straightforward, online retail experience.
Kelly: Yeah, and then, what types of products do you offer and what’s your price point?
Scout: We offer almost anything that a transmasculine person might, and most of it is functional items, but it’s almost anything that a transmasculine person might want to feel more comfortable in their bodies. So it ranges from binders, packers, stand-to-pee devices, apparel, packing swimwear. The goal is to essentially be a one stop shopping experience, that if it is related to your gender expression/transition, we want to be able to provide you with those items. Our price point, we … I mean, that’s been a huge part of the business. I think it was a big part of my research in terms of product development, specifically looking for stand-to-pee devices that were high quality, that were less than $100.
I mean, knowing that the trans population is incredibly under-resourced. I mean, in the very beginning, I used to get messages from people saying that they were saving up for their first Mr. Limpy, which is a $17 product and knowing that that’s not something that people … that’s not discretionary income, that people can just spend. In order to serve the community, I knew that I had to price my items within a specific range. Honestly, I discovered that with, I would say even a fairly traditional retail pricing model, I was able to do that and realizing that so many of the businesses that came before have been pricing them out of reach of a lot of people because it’s a captive audience, and because there was very little choice, I think, I’m really proud to be able to offer incredibly high quality products at a much lower cost than the majority of our competitors.
Kelly: So do you ever envision expanding your offer … you kind of mentioned this.
Scout: Yeah, absolutely.
Kelly: Be a one stop shop, and you have a lot of products.
Scout: I do. We have a lot of products now, but I have very lofty expansion goals, aggressive expansion goals. I think there are so many things out there that still don’t even exist. I mean, Transguy Supply has been … is part of a handful of companies that are not just selling these things, and not just selling a slight different iteration of a thing that already exists, but that is actively creating new products. So for example, we, as far as I know, have created the first stand-to-pee compatible Long Johns. We’ve also launched a packing swimwear, which as far as I know also is the first of its kind, if not, one of the first of its kind. And there are so many things that still … I mean, we’ve been developing packing underwear for people who menstruate for a while now and hoping to launch those sometime in 2023.
Even beyond that, I have so many ideas in my head for products that don’t exist that are completely new that trans people need and don’t have access to. So the goal is to be incredibly community responsive, to be listening to the needs of the community, to be hearing what the pain points are, what the problems are and then, developing solutions for those problems.
Kelly: I think you all might be … yeah, the packing swimwear, I think that might be you all. I don’t think there’s anyone else who does that.
Scout: I don’t know. I mean, I don’t want to say that nobody else does it because I don’t know who all is out there, but as far as I know, we were at least the first, but only as far as I know. It’s possible that there is … I mean, because trans people are incredibly resourceful. So even if we are the first people who are creating it on this level, there maybe someone who has an Etsy store who is taking orders directly and hand making these products, and I definitely don’t want to discount these makers.
Kelly: Yeah, yeah. No, of course. Yeah, I would definitely qualifying that as … Yeah, on that scale, but certainly individual makers, DIYers, definitely, I’m sure.
Scout: I’m sure. Yeah.
Kelly: Yeah, 100%. Yeah, and of course, a very valid form of informal economy.
Scout: Of course, yeah, absolutely.
Kelly: So, I wanted to ask one follow up on the last thing you said. Can you talk a little bit about where you might hear some … where you might listen the most to the community to understand what some of those needs are?
Scout: Absolutely. I mean, people reach out to us directly on a really regular basis. I mean, I think this week alone, it’s Tuesday, and I have received two emails this week already regarding ideas for products that we don’t sell, and that, as far as I know, don’t exist. Some of them are … we get repeat requests on a regular basis, so we know what people are looking for, but also, this last year we put out a survey, I believe we had 7,000 … I think we sent out 7,000 surveys, and I believe we got something like two to 3000 back. I mean, people are really very interested in telling you the things that they would like to see made. It feels like, yeah, we have direct ear to the community. We’ve also, on occasion, done Instagram questionnaires like where do you want to see us grow?
What should we make next? And are getting constant feedback from folks in the community. I mean, we’re an incredibly connected community, so it’s not difficult to … if you’re listening to hear those things.
Kelly: Yeah, and it sounds like you’re trusted in many ways. Having that authentic connection can be really meaningful and allowing them to want to talk to you or tell you their needs, which can be really intimate at times.
Scout: Totally, 100%, yeah. It can be a vulnerable process.
Kelly: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. So I think it sounds really amazing. So can you tell me what a … so you said you’re the president and founder, that would be your official title. So, what would a typical day look like for you, or week, or if it’s not typical, maybe just what it looks like for you?
Scout: Sure. I mean, there are certain things that I typically do on a daily basis, because I am the person who responds to customer service queries, that always comes first. You always want to be responsive to customer concerns, customer questions, customer issues and that … so when I wake up in the morning, it’s the first thing I do. It probably takes between two to three hours a day. After that, then it’s wearing a lot of different hats. So on any given day, I may be doing some inventory management, seeing what purchases need to be made. I try and carve out a considerable amount of time every week to blog. One of my goals for Transguy Supply is for it to become a central hub, an information hub that there are quite a few resources, informational resources for trans people these days, but there, as far as I know, very few are almost no centralized spaces.
If there are, I’ve found they’re either hard to navigate or not in layperson’s terms. So inaccessible to, I would say, a significant portion of the population. So I blog, which is a time-consuming process, but it’s one of the things that I … it fulfills me most. I really enjoy the research process. I enjoy the writing process, and I love being able to create those resources for the community. Then, another hat that I will wear, usually I’m spending time on … usually once a week if not more, is communicating with our manufacturers who are working on new product development.
Kelly: Awesome, thanks. So you all both … so you do your own product development and then you also buy wholesale, is that-
Kelly: Okay. Yeah, and you said that you … are you involved in both of those processes or more on one side or the other?
Scout: With a wholesale, I am off … I believe that I am 90%, let’s say 90% of the person who is making buying choices, doing inventory, making orders, maintaining those relationships. With product creation, I’m absolutely a part of it. With prosthetics, I have a much larger hand in that, I did a lot of the initial original R and D for our prosthetics launch and continue to do so. The garment manufacturing and garment product design, I have participated in, but that’s not my area of expertise, although, it’s been incredibly valuable to have more than one person who can try things on because our bodies are different and give feedback and what one person likes maybe another person doesn’t, and I think having a second opinion is … I mean, we still wish we had more, but it offers more information and we’re able to create products that are more likely to fit multiple bodies.
Kelly: Then, can you talk a little bit about … so you said that you’re not necessarily in the garment side, but in the prosthetic or the product side. So can you talk about what that process looks like from start to finish for any-
Kelly: For any given-
Scout: Sure. Yeah.
Kelly: Like a general overview.
Scout: I can use our first stand-to-pee device as an example. Our first stand-to-pee launch was the STP Freely. For this one, I literally purchased every stand-to-pee device that I possibly could find. Some of them … because they were very expensive, I bought secondhand and essentially, just started to try and use these products and take notes in terms of what works, what doesn’t work, and started saying, “Okay, well the cup on this is a great size, this would be … I like the angle of this.” I mean, it was essentially just pulling the best pieces of all of the stand-to-pee devices that I had tested. Then, it was also talking with our manufacturer, so sourcing and manufacturer and then, speaking to our manufacturer specifically about silicone texture. There are so many silicone products out there and my experience with the vast majority of the stand-to-pee devices that I was testing was that they were very sticky.
They’re tacky, as in they’ll pick up on thick hair and will stick to your skin in a way that’s potentially uncomfortable and require powder, but I also know that there’s lots of silicone products that have a matte finish and that are very soft to touch, such as ice cube trays or other kitchen items. So talk to our manufacturer about experimenting with food grade silicone in order to create a softer product. Then, we went through a couple iterations of mold, so how the stand-to-pee device works specifically or how any prosthetics works, is that you … our manufacturer had a digital designer to create a digital product. Once that was approved, they created a sample mold. Then, they created samples, shipped them to us.
There were issues, so we needed to create another … so feedback, change some things in the design, new digital drawings, new sample mold, new samples. Then finally, creating production molds. Then, creating … after the product was finalized and creating a packaging for those products, yeah, I think that’s start to finish, and shipping them to the warehouse and putting them to the website.
Kelly: Yeah, filling the orders. Yeah. So yeah, sometimes there might be a lot of samples back and forth. So now, as you’ve grown, have you been able to reduce some of those samples back and forth or it’s still … like the golden question?
Scout: No, I mean, I think if you were just going to make a carbon copy of somebody else’s product, then that is a really relatively straightforward and simple process. It’s, I would say, ethically questionable, but because we are creating products that are original designs, especially every time we create a new product or a new category, it’s almost always going to take at least two to three iterations. It can be an incredibly expensive process. I mean, a sample mold is not inexpensive, and a production mold is even less expensive. Then, minimum order quantities are not small. I mean, I would say each time we create a new product, the cost can be akin to purchasing a vehicle and purchasing a car. When we have priced our products, we don’t generally include our R and D costs in that pricing model.
Just with the expectation that eventually, that will be paid off because we have always wanted to keep our prices within a certain range and affordable and accessible to the vast majority of the people in our community. No, I mean, it’s … we learn, we don’t tend to make the same mistake twice, but we make new mistakes all the time.
Kelly: So now, just shifting a little bit to some of the stuff that you might buy wholesale. So how do you decide which vendors to work with or what you might want to purchase on that side that you might not want to manufacture yourself?
Scout: I think that … I mean we started the business doing only wholesale. That process was more akin to curation than anything else. Testing products, seeing what we liked, making sure that we had a range of products that were … in terms of price point and also quality, creating a budget option always for … or always having a budget option, and then, potentially also having a higher end option. I mean, the companies that we’ve worked with, we have really tried to focus on trans and queer owned companies that it hasn’t always been possible, but our longest relationships and our happiest relationships are with other trans and queer makers. So New York Toy Collective, for example, that’s been a great partner for us. Number One Laboratories, phenomenal partner.
Jockmail actually was queer owned as well, and it has been one of our longest relationships. I think we also … I mean, had business considerations such as our … does it make sense for us to do this? In the very beginning, we sold Underworks binders, but we ended up not … we went removing them from the site or not restocking because the margin on them is very small and ethically, you have to accept returns. You can’t expect someone to keep a binder that doesn’t fit them because it’s potentially unsafe. So if someone … and people don’t always measure. Someone can say, “Oh, I’m a medium normally, so I’m going to buy this medium binder.” They purchase the binder, they’re like, “Hey, I got the wrong size.”
You can say, I’d love to help you find a size that fits you, can you give me your measurements and then, you guide them to the correct one? You can’t do that for every customer beforehand unless they reach out personally. Every time there was a return there, you lose money that. The profit margin is so small on that product that we were losing money anytime there was a return. In the end of the day, it wasn’t worth it for us, and we had other binder partners and then also started manufacturing our own binders. So there’s ethical considerations and then, also, there are financial ones for the health of the business, for the health and longevity of the business.
Kelly: Then, do you have any example products with you that you could share or-
Scout: Yeah, I need to turn on my view because I turned it off. Okay, so this actually is … this is the STP Freely. This model actually isn’t out yet. It’s our new painted model. So the originals are a single color, but we’ve now found a manufacturing partner who can do color. There’s much more detail in this. I don’t know if it’s showing well on camera, but they’re beautiful. They feel fantastic. They’re very soft, like our original ones, and I think that they’ll offer a little bit more of affirming experience for customers who are looking specifically for … when they want to look down, they want to feel like that’s theirs. Also, it’s potentially a safety issue. Folks want it to be like urinal passable, for example. This was our first packer. This is called the number one trans packer.
So both of these products are very soft for silicone and not sticky. They’re just … the texture is fantastic. I remember when I first got the samples, I was so excited. I remember saying, these feel so expensive and knowing that I didn’t have to charge an expensive price for them.
Kelly: Cool. Thanks. Yeah, and then do you all ever look at … and this might not be specific to your end, but look at trends or thinking about what’s popular, maybe in aesthetic.
Scout: I mean, yes of course. I mean definitely in the garment design side, which I’m also a part of, but not the main driver. Even with prosthetics and packing, I think that there are trends. Even if it’s just … I mean, for example, though I’m not in the specific design process, we’ve talked quite a bit about creating products for … post-operative products for folks who have had bottom surgery, which is … I wouldn’t necessarily say it’s a trend, but it’s the percentage of the population or the size of the population at least of transmasculine folks who are pursuing bottom surgery is much, much larger. So in a sense, yes, but to a lesser degree than … I mean, a lot of the items that we sell are functional items. Even the underwear is … the underwear and the binders, et cetera, they’re intended to be functional.
That said, we always want things to feel good, and to look good, and to look fashionable. The colors that we choose, just the general aesthetics. We want someone to feel like … I think that for a long time, the things that were available, aesthetically were very limited or they looked like functional items. I don’t want to say they looked like adult diapers, but it looked like someone was just designing something that was specifically for a function with no regard to aesthetic, and we really wanted to change that or offer something different. There are other people out there who are offering similar products with a different aesthetic that appeals to a different style. For example, there are other packing underwear companies that create beautiful packing underwear, that look very different from the ones that Transguys Supply manufactures, but also, offering choice for people.
You don’t have … Being trans doesn’t look one way, and there should be options for folks who want to wear something that looks fabulous or someone who wants the person that looks athletic, et cetera.
Kelly: Do you have any celebrities or style icons or artists that you all are inspired by at Transguys Supply or …
Scout: That’s not a question for me.
Kelly: Then, how do your customers find out about your company, and they mostly purchase online, but how did they find out about you all?
Scout: I mean, the vast majority is through Google search. I would say something like … I mean, originally, we found customers through Instagram. When we first launched, we started finding our audience using influencer marketing. Since then, the website has far eclipsed in terms of traffic, like 80% of our traffic, 80% minimum of our traffic is coming through Google search. I mean, some people are searching specifically for the brand, so that may be someone who has found our website through social media or a word of mouth, for example or they’ve found our site through an informational blog post and have returned specifically to purchase something later. It’s impossible the track at that point, but yeah, the majority of it is through Google searches.
Kelly: Then, how would you describe your customer base?
Scout: I mean, when we put out our survey this last year, it’s a … I mean, we’re a very wide age range. I think when we first launched, our audience … well, Instagram was telling us that our primary audience was 18 to 24 year olds. I think it has expanded quite a bit since then, and I think actually they’re … a little bit of an older population is more interested in our products these days. I mean, both populations have grown. We also still get quite a bit of business from 18 to 24 year olds, but it’s fairly diverse, I would say trans people. So they’re also … I mean, one of the really startling things on the survey … it wasn’t that startling, but it was still eye-opening. We ask folks what their income was, to see the percentage of folks who are clearly living under the poverty line or are low to no income. The percentage was a considerable portion of our audience.
Kelly: Then, how much interaction do you have with your customers or who’s interacting? I think you said it was you or a lot of the-
Scout: So the only spaces that I don’t really interact with customers would be Instagram DMs. Let’s see, it’s a huge part of how I spend my time is talking to customers daily. Of all of the things that I do, it takes up the majority of my time.
Kelly: And how do you all interact with social media, is that important to your business?
Scout: So as I said before, it is in a very small percentage in terms of, I would say traffic to the website and sales. However, I think it is incredibly important from a community perspective. I think that creating a space where transmasculine folks of all bodies and races, and I even under this larger sort of trans-umbrella, can see themselves, can see themselves represented, and to see themselves looking like fucking great. We love being able to … one of our favorite parts of the businesses are the photo shoots that we’ve done, and being able to create beautiful images of trans people, which I think is fantastic for people to have of themselves, but also, I think it feels great for people to see … for the world, to see, for the world to see just how gorgeous we are as a community, yeah.
Yeah, so I would say it’s not incredibly important in terms of sales, but I think it’s a big piece in terms of … I think it’s very important for the community.
Kelly: Then, what type of shopping experience do you want your customers to have?
Scout: That was one of the driving motivations for creating Transguy Supplies, that I really wanted to create a shopping experience that felt … where people feel safe, where they feel seen, and that feels beautiful that … I mean, for a long time I used to say, I know I’m not saving any lives by creating a better shopping experience, but I actually think that creating something that is beautiful, and that is … where people can see themselves. They see themselves represented, they know it’s by us for us, and it doesn’t look like it’s some annex, it doesn’t look it’s a side project. The images are clear. The product descriptions are like, you feel confident when you’re reading these things. It actually does impact how people, I think, feel about themselves. So it was incredibly important to me to create a shopping experience that looked beautiful and that was easy for people to navigate.
Kelly: What are you most proud of so far in the company?
Scout: I actually didn’t see that question. Let me think about it. I think, honestly, I’m most proud of the blog. I think that it’s been a labor of love for me. I mean, I love the fact that I hear from people on a regular basis, like thank you for writing this article, or thank you for creating these resources. A lot of the things that we write about aren’t necessarily related to products we sell. It’s just, someone has taken the time to do the research, to compile information, and to put it out in a way that is easy to understand and organized, and I’m really proud of what it is now and also, really excited about what it could be in the future.
Kelly: What has been most successful so far.
Scout: In terms of products?
Kelly: Whatever you want to define as successful.
Scout: The business has been wildly successful.
Scout: I had a hunch that it would be a successful business. I mean, I wouldn’t have quit my 10-year very well paying job in order to do this. If I didn’t think that I could just pay my bills or sustain myself. However, it’s been beyond anything that I imagined in terms of the response from the community. It feels like almost any time we create something new that the response is immediate, and we are always shocked by how quickly things can sell out. I mean, we’re continually making larger and larger orders and still selling out before our manufacturers can create more. Yeah, specifically the prosthetics and the underwear have been … there’s just been an incredible response to almost any item that we’ve put out. The wild part is that it just keeps happening. It just keeps growing.
Yeah, I feel like … we’ve had conversations in the past, just throwing a sales goal out there for our target for the end of the year and not really believing it and then, it happens and it just happens over and over and over again. Sometimes we don’t even really understand why that we’ve had … Annually, we have these huge sort of spikes around the holidays and every year thus far, they’ve had the spike and the spike doesn’t go back down after the holidays are over. We don’t know why that’s happening. I mean, we can guess, but the business has just been wildly successful. I don’t know if I could pinpoint the single part of it that’s been the most successful.
Kelly: Then, were there any initial aspects when you started the company that surprised you?
Scout: Initial aspects?
Kelly: Yeah, or just things in the beginning that were surprising that you didn’t think would happen?
Scout: I mean, just I think the pace of the success has probably been the most surprising. I mean, I’ve worked in customer service for a very long time. I think I had a really good idea of what to expect. I’ve done E-commerce. I worked in coffee, not prosthetics and underwear, but they’re not wildly different in terms of just the day to day, the things that you handle. Yeah, I mean, the pandemic was obviously a surprise.
Kelly: Yeah. Yeah.
Scout: I was not expecting that.
Kelly: Now, we’re all in our sweatpants. It’s great. I mean, it wasn’t great, so I didn’t mean that, but now, we’re all comfortable with sweatpants.
Scout: Yeah, the pandemic, I mean definitely … We spent almost half of our lifespan as a company during the pandemic, and there were tons of challenges that I had not anticipated. Everything from shipping costs where all of a sudden astronomical … there are product shortages, just logistical issues that I didn’t anticipate, that I had been packaging up orders in the basement of my old apartment and then, taking them to the post office and suddenly going to the post office didn’t feel safe. There are definitely a ton of hurdles in that process, but I think that managing those have made us a more flexible business and we’re certainly able to problem solve and we’re not out of the woods, and I think that the possibility that something similar could come along in the future is obviously there. That was probably the biggest surprise.
Kelly: And you just mentioned a couple of struggles, like the pandemic, obviously is a large one. Anything else that you’d share about struggles with the business thus far? Anything else that’s like might be noteworthy?
Scout: Sure. I mean, I think that for anyone who wants to launch their own business, that having fortitude is really important. I mean, I think in addition to … I mean, you’re going to be challenged as a person every day, and I think that for me at least, knowing my why has been … my why that I do, with the work that I do and what the purpose of this business is, has been the thing that has gotten me through so many of the daily struggles and challenges, keeping to the forefront that this is a service to the community and that I obviously need to take care of myself and my mental health and also, be cognizant that the things that we are providing for people, people will … it can be stressful, you order a binder, you feel like you need that binder yesterday.
So having compassion and knowing that people are coming from this space and having experienced those things also firsthand in my past, have also enabled me to have a deeper understanding, but I think that yeah, any business, you’re going to have a lot of challenges and I think that the … apart from logistical challenges and cashflow challenges, communication challenges, our manufacturing partner, one of our manufacturing partners is in China, for example. We often have difficulties just articulating the things that each of us need and are asking for. Those things feel very manageable. It’s the emotional stresses of launching your own business, wearing so many different hats, having to be flexible. It’s really stretched me as a person, but I think has been instrumental in my personal growth. Was that a good answer?
Kelly: That was beautiful. I was like, “Gosh, great.” Then, what types of feedback do … and you kind of mentioned this a little bit already, but what kinds of feedback do you get about the products from folks both inside within … not to draw hard boundaries between within and outside the trans community, but just from all different kinds of folks, what kinds of feedback do you get?
Scout: I mean, think blessedly, we have escaped notice of folks who don’t think that trans people deserve to exist. I don’t know if that will … Actually, that’s not true. We did get a Breitbart mention like two holiday seasons ago. For the most part, we haven’t received a lot of negative feedback from folks outside of the trans community. I mean, either I have lots of friends who are cis and who are not trans, and I think people are interested and supportive on the whole. Then, from trans people, from the folks within the community, I mean, we obviously get feedback in terms of, this could be improved upon and this need … I would love for this thing to be offered in this way. We love that kind of feedback because like I said, we want to be … we want our goals and our direction to be informed by the community that we serve and that we are part of.
Also, by and large, we get so much feedback from people … I used to say that we’re not saving lives. I mean, I get emails from folks on a regular basis saying, this product saved my life or this product changed my life, or this product makes me feel so safe where I’ve … Now, I know what gender euphoria feels like or this product changed the way that I have sex. I mean things that are deeply personal and impactful in someone’s experience and how they relate to themselves and their bodies and their health. The feedback, for the most part, has been incredibly appreciative, which is also … that’s fodder to keep going and no matter what the challenges are to … it makes facing the challenges a lot easier.
Kelly: And can you tell me about the imagery you use to promote your products and the type of people you feature? Again, you kind of mentioned this before, but anything else to add on that, about the imagery that you all intentionally choose?
Scout: Totally. Yeah. I mean, we’ve made a really concerted effort to show a wide range of bodies, gender expressions, races. We know that a lot of … the most famous transmasculine people are white, maybe fitness stars, and we really wanted to make sure that we were creating something where the full spectrum of our community felt seen. Yeah, I mean, I think that there’s always work to be done and ways in which we can continue to improve that. I mean, there was absolutely a pandemic challenge where we had the imagery we had, or we had imagery that was submitted by customers only. We weren’t in a space where it felt safe to do in-person photo shoots. So, it was really whoever was reaching out to us or had the capacity to create images to send to us, which is not necessarily representative of the sort of full community.
I mean, that’s been really important for us and also, I mean, we’ve talked … for example, one of our agreements is that we are not a fitness company. We have really refrained from anything related to workout programs before your chest surgery or even talking about anything related to dieting or gym. That’s not the space that we want to occupy. We believe in health in all sizes. We are sex worker, we are anti-racist, we are trans-feminist. We’ve really tried to use those values in the way in which we represent the company through the images and the people that we feature.
Kelly: This wasn’t on … I have this question, do you all ever do pop-up shops or anything like that? I didn’t put that on the list, but I was just kind of … as I’m in advertising and imagery, I was just kind of wondering that.
Scout: Totally. We’ve done a couple in-person events for the most part, and we haven’t done … that’s not true. We showed at New York Fashion Week last … not for the one that just happened in March or February, but fall, winter, September. We had a small pop-up shop at the event, so it was this runway show put on by DapperQ. If folks are familiar, it’s the largest queer runway show in the world, and we were really honored to be a part of that and had a tiny little pop-up shop. Before that, we had done the trans wellness conference a couple of times when it was happening in person. We had a booth there. We’ve talked about doing markets and other pop-up shops. We’ve also done a couple of pride events. We’ve talked about doing more of those, going to Atlanta for Atlanta Pride. Doing San Francisco Pride.
We’re also just a very small company, and travel is a lot of resources and plus shipping tons of product, not knowing what we’ll actually sell. I think that we’ve also discussed potentially opening a brick and mortar someday, but I don’t think that’s actually in the cards for us. We will potentially launch a wholesale program in 2023, in which case our products may be available at brick and mortars across the US, but I think we would probably continue to do small little pop-up shops as they appeal to us and as they make sense for us in terms of travel and finances.
Kelly: Yeah. That’s really exciting to the potential wholesale and having your stuff. That’s huge. That’s a really, really big deal.
Scout: I mean, we’ve been getting wholesale requests almost since the beginning of the launch of our own products, since we started manufacturing our own products, but we just really haven’t had the capacity. As I said before, we purchase something and we purchase what we think is a lot, and then, they sell out very quickly. So, we are almost catching up to ourselves, and it always costs capital. We have a lot of money that … cash, that’s not available to us because it’s in an order … say, for our underwear, for example, we make two orders per year. We make a spring summer order and a fall winter order, but we pay for that almost six months before it’s available to the consumer, which means that’s a lot of cash that’s tied up. So we make as big orders as we can afford, and then, it’s still not enough.
So, I think we decided early on that it made more sense to try and catch up with our own customer base first before we sold to other brick and mortars, to other companies. At the same time, I think that it’s going to be phenomenal for the community to be … for folks to be able to touch and to feel and to try on things before purchasing. Yeah, I mean, I think even the prosthetics that we sell, while they are significantly less expensive than I would say, similar quality products, they’re still not cheap, 35 to $50 is not an insignificant sum of money for quite a few people, and they’re not returnable, right? This thing is meant to touch your most intimate parts. When we ship them back to the warehouse, everything has to be inspected to make sure that it hasn’t been worn.
We won’t ask the warehouse employees to inspect things that are meant to touch. It doesn’t feel humane to ask someone to do that. So they’re not returnable, and that can be … if you purchase something, you spend $50 on something that ends up not being the right skin tone color for you, or because your screen … it was showing a different color or you made an assumption and … I mean, there are all sorts of reasons why I think having the ability for someone to see and to touch and to feel the product in advance is going to be an incredible offering for the community.
Kelly: Yeah, and then, the next questions are about funding. So, how did you initially fund the business?
Scout: My pocket.
Kelly: Did you seek investors or do-
Scout: No, I didn’t. No, it was self-funded for a very long time. Since then, we have received several rounds of funding from Shopify loans and PayPal loans, so all private funding. We’ve never done anything like … what’s it called? Crowdsourced.
Kelly: Yeah, crowdsourced. Yeah.
Scout: It’s in there. Yeah, but it has been an integral part of our business model that we essentially are always borrowing money so that we can grow.
Scout: I say it took about two years to get there.
Kelly: Yeah. Yeah. Then, how do you think about and consider sustainability and ethical business practices? Again, you mentioned a lot throughout the interview so far, but anything else to add on that topic?
Scout: Yeah, I mean, I think that moving forward, I would really like to explore using more sustainable materials for underwear creation, and for binders as well. I’ve seen a couple of other companies experimenting, and I think that’s absolutely the way to go. Yeah, I mean, we absolutely … So we’re also working with essentially, our shipping insurance company to basically become carbon-neutral. What else? I mean, I think also just in terms of sustainability, it depends on exactly what you mean by sustainability, but I think-
Kelly: Yeah, yeah, of course. A lot of definitions and things.
Scout: Yeah, yeah. A lot of definitions. I mean, we’ve also tried to build sustainability within our own business, in our own work life. So while we have grown very quickly, we’ve grown at a pace that we feel we can manage and still live good lives so that we can do this work for the long haul. We’ve also talked with our shipping partner, I believe they recently switched to compostable … what are they called?
Kelly: Packaging, boxes?
Scout: Yes. Well, the plastic ones.
Kelly: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
Scout: I know what they’re called, just as I’ve said, it’s slipping. Yeah, I mean, I think as a company, ethically, we are very interested and continually looking at new ways in which our products can be sustainable for the environment. Yeah.
Kelly: How do you all learn about new ways of doing that? What are some resources that you all try to look for, to think about? Because it’s a lot, it’s shipping. It’s like materials. Gosh, there’s so much to think about, and I’m just wondering, yeah, how do you … what’s one way or some of the ways that you all think about that or learn about it? Because there’s so much to learn.
Scout: I mean, we’re taking our cues often from other people in the industry. Essentially, if we see someone who is providing something that seems like it’s interesting in terms of sustainability, we definitely want to take a look at that, think that … and in this sort of arena, we are not industry leaders. I don’t think that that is necessarily always going to be the case, but at this point, a lot of the ideas have come from other companies. Our shipping partner actually reached out to us and asked if we were interested and we said, of course. I was notified from our fulfillment warehouse that there was a possibility that they would be moving in this direction. I mean, we always want to say yes to those things when they’re presented to us. I do think that moving forward, in our future, we would very much like to be industry leaders, but at this point we’re not.
Kelly: Then, what types of community outreach are you all involved in or want to be involved in?
Scout: What do you mean by community outreach?
Kelly: I guess, I feel like you guys kind of just do it. You all just kind of do it in general because you’re focused on the community, but I don’t know, sometimes folks intentionally partner with different spaces or those kinds of … I guess partnering with community resources or things like that. I feel like you all are … you mentioned earlier that, I wrote it down, you wanted to be the hub, like a central information hub. So I think in some ways you’re already embodying that idea or moving towards that idea. I mean, the written blog in many ways is outreach. You’re like taking time to do that.
Scout: Yeah. Totally.
Scout: We get very, I mean, I would say upwards of 10 requests per week from organizations that are serving population that we also serve, nonprofits primarily or mutual aid organizations, universities, hospitals. We get so many requests for donations, and we always try to say yes. If we can say yes, we say yes. There obviously, have been situations where folks are asking for a much larger quantity than we’re able to provide, but I probably should sometime make a list of all of the folks that we work with, but we don’t currently. Except for, we work with the Transhealth branch of the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital for binder donation. Anytime someone wants to donate a used binder, we will send it to the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital.
We also partner with a production company, a film production company called Mala Forever to fund … we co-fund micro grants for trans, non-binary women and people of color, and there’s one I’m forgetting. Yeah, it has escaped me, but I mean, we would love to be able to continue to expand that sort of … those ways in which we are connecting with and impacting the community. I think as we grow, we will continue to say yes to any opportunity that we feel we are able to.
Kelly: Then, at the end we always ask, is there anything else that we didn’t cover that would be helpful to know about your company and how and why it started and it’s interrelationship to the queer and trans community? Your background or your story or just anything else that you’d want to add.
Scout: Sure. I mean, I think maybe just reiterate that Transguys Supply is intended to be responsive to the community and we really want … we want to hear from the community. We want to know how we can improve. We know we are not perfect. We know that the products … that there are products to be made, there are improvements to happen. There are ways in which we can be more sustainable, that we are really interested in, and hearing from folks, and that’s so … it’s invaluable for us.