We are Mortals: Oral History

Anji Becker for We Are Mortals interviewed on March 7th, 2018 by Kelly Reddy-Best via Zoom. The interview was 59 minutes. The oral history transcript reflects the history of the brand at the time of the interview.

Oral History Transcript

BECKER: I’m Anji Becker and I’m the owner and designer of We Are Mortals.

REDDY-BEST: And then can you just tell me about your background, like where did you grow up and like where have you lived?

BECKER: I grew up in Kenosha, Wisconsin, which is right in between Milwaukee and Chicago. I guess, just to say a little bit about my upbringing, my family was a “modest upbringing,” working class family. My grandma was an artist, so she passed down that love of art to my aunts and my mom and then to me. Let’s see, what else? We weren’t religious at all, so that’s something that I appreciated because I think it let me to be free of that influence and to become a little more open minded as a grown up.  At the age of 21 is when I left, which was as soon as I could. As soon as I was able to leave before getting settled, I left and I moved all the way across the country to San Diego, where I lived there for about 10 years. So, it was like my adult life started in San Diego, and then I eventually moved to Los Angeles, where I live now.

REDDY-BEST: Can you tell me about your educational background, what did that entail?

BECKER: I actually went to school to become a teacher, so I studied education because I think, at the time, just due where I grew up and what I saw around me, I think– although I loved art and I was a dancer and everything– I just didn’t see those at as viable paths, or as realistic to me at the time. My mom was a teacher and also so were some of my grandparents, so it was just, again, kind of like a tradition that I just thought like “Oh, I’ll become a teacher!” So,  that’s what I did, and I taught for a few years and, as you know, there’s a lot of pros and cons to it, which I guess we can discuss a little bit later. What else did I do? When I was in college I also studied Spanish, so I have a second major in Spanish, and I’m fluent in Spanish. I think that it’s good for me to look back and reflect on how a lot of my electives were gender studies and women’s studies courses, and looking back now, I think that probably just increased my awareness and probably led to me taking the direction that I finally did now with my brand.

REDDY-BEST:  How old are you?

BECKER: 37.

REDDY-BEST: So, you have told me a little bit about your work history, but anything else that you want to add to that?

BECKER: I can talk just a little bit about my years being a teacher. I think, although it’s a completely different path than where I’m going now, I think it did influence me a little bit. The schools that I worked in were always in communities where we were serving student body with a demographic of minorities, and English as a second language. So, the goal was always closing the achievement gap and I think equality is the biggest theme that was always a part of my career. I think that that’s one thing that probably has just carried on with me and has just been a natural thing that I’m always fighting for and thinking  about.

REDDY-BEST: Which term do you use to describe your gender identity?

BECKER:  I would just say I’m cisgender female. I pretty much express myself as a female but since I’m very aware of stereotypes and inequalities and everything I think, I definitely lean towards a more like androgynous manner whenever I can, especially with my wardrobe.

REDDY-BEST: Which pronouns do you use?  she/her/hers?

BECKER: Yeah, She and her.

REDDY-BEST: Which term would you use to describe your sexual identity or your sexuality?

BECKER:  that one’s interesting because I just never really was fond of any labels at all, so, I think I would label myself pansexual, just because now that I’ve learned about that term it kind of takes the pressure off of the labels, because, it’s pretty much saying that you don’t have to choose, and you are pretty much are going to be attracted to the person, the personality, and it really doesn’t matter what their gender is. So, from my experience I have been in long term relationships with both females and males, so I guess I could say that I’m bisexual, or even lesbian, and I could be proud of that, but I think it just is almost limiting. Even either of those terms is a little bit limiting for me because I have no idea. I could be open to everything, so yeah, I think “pansexual” is a really good way to express that.

REDDY-BEST: How would you describe your personal clothing style?

BECKER: So, for me, I definitely dress for comfort and I think I’m gravitating a lot towards streetwear, but I kind of mix in feminine details like jewelry and things like that. I wear androgynous things, like, I gravitate towards Doc Martins, and things like that. I just try to kind of balance between the masculine and the feminine. I definitely have shopped in the Men’s section before and just that alone opened my eyes to the realization of how ridiculous it is that the industry is still so segregated with men’s and women’s clothing. I can just imagine that if I am frustrated with it, as a cisgender person, I can only imagine how frustrating it must be for someone who’s trans or queer, to have to deal with that.

REDDY-BEST: Would you say that some of your past shopping experiences you

related to your personal style influenced you to start the brand?

BECKER: Yeah, I definitely think so. When I was trying to develop the brand and come up with what I wanted to do, I always just placed myself as a customer because I shop for clothes, and like I placed myself in their shoes and thought about what’s missing. Like I thought about what’s not out there and also just questioning the industry. Especially because I didn’t go to school for fashion, I think I just naturally had that outside perspective of questioning everything and not understanding why it would even be necessary for every single brand to have to choose between male or female. You know, it just didn’t really make sense to me, especially since, a shirt is a shirt, and anyone can wear it. So, that played a huge part in that.  I think at the time, too, I was looking around and seeing that in the streetwear genre it was just barely starting to have streetwear for women. Now there’s streetwear for women, but that was kind of the new thing coming out. So, I was thinking, “well, what’s after that?” Because, I have to push it further than that.

REDDY-BEST: How did the idea for your brand come about?

BECKER:  I think that I was teaching and really unfulfilled, because I’m a creative person and I didn’t feel like I could really express my artistic side in the classroom as a teacher. So, I just started sewing my own projects, and sewing my own clothes, first of all. Just alterations and fixing things that I would find and altering them. I think learning to sew in itself ended up being a lot easier than I thought. I was intimidated but I realized it was very easy just to kind of take apart clothes and figure out how they’re constructed, and it was fun! So, with my partner at the time, we created a fanny pack design. It was like the new version of the fanny pack and we just started selling them on Etsy and that’s where I just kind of realized it’s really fun and I’m good at it. I kind of also felt like I had a knack for predicting trends and kind of already knowing what was going to be popular. So, that’s when I decided to move to LA and just create a brand. But at that time, I didn’t know exactly like what direction I was going to go in, but I had  just came to LA. [Laughs] That was my number one, my first step. Then I just started kind of like finding mentors, but as far as the business that I started creating, We Are Mortals came about, the name started because at that time I lost my mom to cancer, like literally a week after I moved to LA. That, to me, was just like a huge eye opener because she was like a really, really, healthy person, like a health nut, so it was just like a shock, and so, to me, like it was an impact of realizing how short life is, and how it’s very precious, so we have to live it to the fullest. So that was the original message of what the brand meant. So, I took that but I kind of knew that it was like a very broad name that could lend itself to just the idea of unity because it’s “We Are Mortals,” which is like saying that we all have something in common and then, like I said, I started to really dissect the industry and think about like what need was out there and just kind of research, and just think about what I would like to see available, in the fashion world. Right away I was just confronted with am I going to do women’s wear and men’s wear? I just didn’t want to pick, and I didn’t think I should have to pick, so, that was an easy answer for me, it’s like, “oh it’s genderless!” At the time I was just brainstorming with my girlfriend at the time, and we just came up with the slogan, “The future has no gender,” just thinking that it was going to be a conversation coming up and it turns out we were definitely right! Although it took me a few years to actually get the brand out there and develop it, over that time it’s become definitely a big conversation. It started with fashion, but just in general, I think, in culture and our society. I think immediately, once I figured out that, that’s when the name We Are Mortals took on a whole different connotation, a whole different meaning because it just basically means we’re all equal, and we’re all humans. I just found kind of a role in being an activist and an advocate for anyone who doesn’t fit the normal stereotypes of a man and woman, and anything in between, the whole grey area, especially for anyone in general to be experimental and to not have to like fit into the stereotypes of either gender, or when they’re expressing themselves.

REDDY-BEST: So, when did you begin? What was the year that you began thinking about it?

BECKER: Yeah, so I think, I would say 2014 is when I actually came up with the name and registered it as a trademark, that name.

REDDY-BEST: So, it was 2014. So, you began thinking about it and it officially became a brand in 2014.

BECKER: Yeah, yeah.

REDDY-BEST: Has it always been just you or were there other people involved?

BECKER: I mean it’s really just been me. I’ve done everything myself so far, aside from the actual sewing and the pattern making, which is definitely not ideal or sustainable. So, now that I’ve built an attractive brand, and I think that I’ve grown a lot and proven myself, my goal is to pitch to investors and try to really hire some people and get it to that level where I’m not doing everything myself and I can progress at a faster rate. But right now, I basically do pretty much everything myself, from designing to the graphic designing. I do the look books, design the marketing materials, do the emails, social media, and I even designed the website myself. I had to teach myself Illustrator, and I had to just basically sit at the computer most of the time emailing, reaching out to different people like stylists, influencers, models, and press. And that is a never ending, that whole task of just emailing and reaching out to people and trying to get publicity and all of that stuff. Then sourcing materials is another big part of my everyday life. [Laughs] Another aspect is just research and always keeping a lot of spreadsheets for everything that I find, not only inspiration but also people that I want to work with and potential photographers or stylists and things like that.

REDDY-BEST: At this point, if you could talk about like the business model? Like, if I wanted to buy something is it in stores or is it online only, or how does that work?

BECKER: Yeah, it’s mainly through my website. So, people mostly just find it through the website and purchase through there, but over the past couple of years I’ve gotten a few wholesale orders from a handful of stores. Like online stores, probably about two or three different stores that have placed wholesale orders, and then recently I just got one from a store in Tokyo, which is super exciting for me, because that was one of my goals, so! [Laughs] So now I have some stuff over there in Tokyo. I think, ideally I would like a balance of direct to customers through the website and also wholesale orders, because I think that it’s really important. To get those orders helps fund the production so that I can stock my store online. It’s really hard because they’re really sporadic and it’s unpredictable when or who will ever buy wholesale, so you can’t really rely on it as much.

REDDY-BEST: Do you ever do like pop-ups or anything like that?

BECKER: Yeah, I have. I’ve done a few and I think just from what I’ve seen it’s usually not, like, that successful when it comes to sales. But I see it more as like events that are promotional events because I can get a lot of email addresses, get people to sign up for my mailing list and those can be like potential future customers. So. But, generally, I see at pop-ups people aren’t necessarily planning on spending money. Or at least not like at the price points that I have. So, it’s tough but it’s definitely good networking just to get out there and just meet people.

REDDY-BEST: What are the different products that you offer and what the price points?

BECKER: Mm-hm. So far, I have two collections. The first one was actually for sale at the beginning of 2016. So, as I said earlier, I created the concept in 2014, but it took me two whole years to figure out the industry in LA and get mentors to kind of guide me through learning about patternmaking. I was there the entire time, learning from people, so I picked up a lot as I went. I would sketch the ideas and come up with the ideas and have different references for them and then they would make the patterns, but then, sometimes, I would just kind of take the patterns and change them myself. Even though I didn’t really know what I was doing, but it kind of ended up being a pretty self-explanatory process, and I just built upon what I learned. Sourcing materials was also really a big challenge, too. I think that takes a long time to figure out, such as where you’re going to get the materials, and considering that especially when you’re starting out and you’re not going to do huge quantities, because there’s a lot of companies for fabrics and trends and everything that have really high minimums, even for the sewing. Those companies not interested in sewing just a few items, so you have to find the right companies that are willing to do realistic quantities and give you the prices. All of that took a really long time. That, and just figuring out how I was going to grow my following. I started doing interviews with different people here in LA, like different creative people that had different gender expressions, just as a way to start promoting the idea of the company before I actually had the clothes for sale. That kind of helped to start building the voice, little by little. The beginning of 2016 is when I actually had my first look book and my first collection for sale on my website. Since then, I just came out with a second collection just this month. [Laughs] So it took a whileut basically, both collections are pretty much geared more towards spring and summer. I don’t really do seasons, but I think that because I live in Los Angeles they tend to be more like shorts and t-shirts, but usually in extra-long cuts. Right now, I have a lot of tunics and let’s see. The one really unique item that I came up with is called the cover piece, so it’s like a unisex skirt that’s open on the sides, kind of like an apron type of design. So, you can wear it on top of pants or whatever. Another thing to mention is that a lot of the clothing design really center around the artwork that I printed, so I reached out over the last few years to different artists, three different artists now, to tell them that I really like their art and then they came up with ideas for me to print on the clothing. So, that’s been a huge part of it, as well, just integrating the voices of those artists and shining a light on them too.

REDDY-BEST: What is the price point?

BECKER: Let’s see, I’m trying to figure out where I wrote this, just so I can make sure I’m covering everything. Yeah, so the first collection was between, about $50-$120; and then the second collection is a little higher, so it’s between $98 and $218. The average price would pretty much be around $150, just because I went from more simple fabrics, like cottons, to try to integrate more unique fabrics that were more expensive and trying to elaborate on my designs and add more details.

REDDY-BEST: And then, is there anything that you changed? It’s not like you necessarily stopped, you just have new products, is that accurate?

BECKER: Yeah, I was thinking about that. I guess I was just going to say that my approach with the second collection was to take what I already had and just add more, and to try to get a little more daring with the fabric choice and the cut of the pieces and also to add more details. Now I have a lot more hardware details like D rings and hooks and stuff like that, that just add a little bit of extra details. My goal is just to try to continue to be more experimental, as I gain more confidence with design.

REDDY-BEST: Do you envision expanding your products in any way, such as a different category or product types?

BECKER: I think I’m going to continue what I’m doing, but I think the goal is just to try to figure out a good balance with the price points and because I think it’s a pretty drastic shift between the first collection and the second. The first collection was never super basic, it was never just t-shirts and sweatshirts. It was not that kind of streetwear, but, it was much simpler than this next collection that has embroidery and had the prices go up a lot. I would like to find a more of a middle ground between having something that is really easily worn by anybody, like t-shirts and things like that, and then more detailed, more experimental pieces that are at higher price point. I would like to have more of a range, I think.

REDDY-BEST: Are you doing all of the manufacturing? You’re not a wholesaler, right? You design and you’re not buying from other people and then selling?

BECKER: Yeah, no. Totally! I do everything, even if it’s a t-shirt, I still get a pattern made. I realized that it’s really not as hard as I thought, I mean, because pattern makers can just do it super easily. You just give them your ideas and they can pretty much do anything you want. In the beginning I thought it was hard. I thought I really had to limit myself to being very simple because I didn’t have that design knowledge, but now I realize that all I have to do is give some examples and give a lot of clear direction, and I can pretty much create anything that I envision. So, it’s just all about finding those key people that can help you, especially when you’re not a designer.

REDDY-BEST: If you could just walk us through the design process, such as how you might go from your initial concept all the way to like the final product, that would be great. Also, I would love to hear where you find your inspiration?

BECKER: Okay. Let’s see,  let’s see. So, I just basically just thought about a lot of things that I wear every day, like, “what are the things that are most comfortable for me?” And then I just thought about like how I can make that, how can I make that fit into the brand’s look and fit into the brand’s message. That’s probably the most challenging part, but I think it’s the best part. I do have a message behind the brand and it’s not just randomly coming up with cute things. It always has to fit into this ultimate vision and message. A big part of that is the artwork, such as what is it going to say, what is the picture going to be that’s printed? That’s really the way to tie it in I think in the way that is the best for me. For example, this time I worked with an illustrator who drew some dancers that are like voguing. I guess, that’s pretty much what it’s depicting. So, I think dancers, in general, are really in tune to unity. I guess I may think that, just because I was a dancer that background, for me, is powerful. I think it’s because when you dance in unison with people you just feel that unity and you feel like those differences that you have as humans really just don’t exist anymore. Yeah, I’m always gravitating towards anything related to dance, especially since voguing is so intertwined with LGBT culture, and queer culture. I mean, it just really was a cool idea. I also had just looked up the definition of fluid and it sounded really cool to me, so it’s just like capable of flowing freely like water. I thought that would be really cool and I had an artist that I love, called Brian Vu, in New York and he makes really cool art, that is all different graphic design and photography. So, I just said, “Hey can you make something that says that definition?” So, that’s what he did, and it just fit really well. Basically, I have to simultaneously think about those two things, such as, what is the cut, what is the fit that I want, and then, what kind of artwork am I going to have on it to tie it into the brand?  I think I’ve just tried to have—and my collections are really small– but I’ve just tried to have a little bit of everything. I try to have at least one pant, at least one skirt, and I make sure that I have both female and male models wearing both of those items so that it just shows that it’s meant to be genderless. Then I’ll have sweatshirts,  like jackets, [Laughs] but was more on the spring, summery side, with short sleeves, things like that.  Let’s see, was there anything else that you were saying? Basically, as I mentioned, sourcing is probably the hardest part and just finding out where I’m going to find what I envision. Figuring out how do I find those materials because, that is just really not easily available. I’ve been to the LA Textile Show and it’s like a big trade show where you can go around and look at fabrics. Then I just have driven around in my car to every single textile manufacturer and I just see the same thing over and over again. There’s a lot of, like, stretchy cotton, and similar materials that just aren’t what I would use, ever. So,  yeah, it’s just been a challenge to try to find something that’s different, unique, that has a balance of like a sportswear material, but it can be used in different ways. So, I’ve had to not only physically look everywhere, also but search online, which is a huge challenge at first, until you find those sources on which you know you can rely.

REDDY-BEST: Do you produce locally, in LA?

BECKER: Mm-hm [affirmative]. Yeah, so I have stores downtown in LA and also printing companies, like, a sublimation company and a screen-printing company that I’ve used before, and then an embroidery company that are all in the same vicinity.

REDDY-BEST: Do you have any garments that you could show? Maybe just so I can sort of see, and maybe see some of the different things.

BECKER: Yeah. Alright. I think this one’s good to show. It’s like a tunic. It’s just an extra-long t-shirt that, you know, you could wear with pants or not. [Laughs] It has a zipper in the back. I was very specific about the zipper that I want, so that’s another thing with sourcing. I think just the fact that I’m very picky with every detail makes it very difficult, because I wanted this specific zipper, and not just any zipper. [Laughs] I like the metal details and I wanted that to be the theme through this collection, to have those details. Then I added another metal detail in the front, just for decoration. This is the artwork that I was talking about with the definition of fluid, but, the challenge for me was to figure out how I was going to put it on the garment because this fabric that I picked is, is like ripstop, like a nylon fabric, and the printing has to be done on polyester, instead of just putting on a patch, like I do on some of my garments, I decided to make this extra flap in front, which is pretty unique. Usually that’s something that’s in the back of a jacket or something, but I thought it just looked really cool, so I just added that. This is another example of something that I added myself. So, even though I got the pattern made from someone for the tunic, I actually like went in, and had to figure out this one myself and just add this extra piece in the pattern because I didn’t really feel like it was necessary to go and ask somebody to help me with that. I just did it myself! So. [Laughs] I’m just learning as I go! Then, this one is the cover piece that I was talking about, which is a skirt and it’s like about knee length or a little bit below knee length. I had a version of this one in my first collection and I thought it was just like the most unique item that is like not something that other brands really have, for the most part. So, I wanted to continue it, but I wasn’t 100% with the way that the first one fit because it was made out of fleece, so it was a little stiff. So, this one I made out of a more flowy fabric is a little more interesting, I think, and it lays much more nicely. Then also the straps on the side? I made them adjustable this time, so that they can just kind of hang a little more naturally, because before they kind of stuck out a little bit, [Laughs] but it’s cool because it’s adjustable so it has snaps on the side, on the waist. Then, for this one, I just added the metal details on front, just as decoration, but it’s nice because when it’s adjustable it makes it a lot easier for me to have sizes that will fit most bodies, especially since I am designing for males and females, and different body types.

REDDY-BEST: Are trends important to consider? Do you look for those or is that not something that you really think about?

BECKER: Yeah! I mean, I’m not really sure if I would say that I consider trends. I think that  it’s unavoidable to a certain extent, but, I guess I would say that I try not to follow trends. But I try to predict trends. So, that would be my goal is to predict something before it’s a trend.  and I think, yeah, because I wouldn’t want to be replicating what someone else is doing. But, naturally, people are going to end up doing the same thing. I think I’ve definitely learned that whole collective consciousness, that artists have. If I have an idea, tons of other people have the same idea. So, that’s pretty cool. Usually, you just hope that the timing’s good, you know?  But I definitely look at the runway for inspiration, and just kind of think about like how that would translate to a more accessible brand for people because my price points are a little more attainable. You know, it’s not a luxury brand or anything. I think also the fact that I lived through the ‘90s is pretty cool that I like have that knowledge about what was actually trendy back then that helps me predict maybe what new trends are going to come up because everything keeps getting recycled, and so I just try to predict things that will come back and try to figure out a way that I could do it that’s unique and not exactly the same as they used to be, or whatever. [Laughs]

REDDY-BEST: You’ve mentioned that looking at the runway can be kind of important, and hard to ignore because you’re situated in the system, but are there any other celebrities or style icons to whom you look?

BECKER: I think, in the genre of fashion that I’m striving to be a part of, that Rihanna is definitely seen as the style icon, for that genre. So, I definitely look to her and her brand, and then aside from that, it’s pretty much all in the music realm. I think just visually I get inspiration by, maybe not the person themselves but what they do like with music videos and things like that. So, I thought about Solange. She just came out with her album recently and her aesthetic in her videos really blew my mind because it was really something,  unique where she’s putting together a mix of something that’s youthful and appeals to the youth, but it’s also very sophisticated.  So, she has like a lot of modern dance and her fashion was really extravagant but like in a very classy way, more artistic, and like it’s almost like walking into like a modern art museum or something, so. I was really impressed by that. I thought it was something really unique and refreshing for the music world, but it also influenced me probably as a designer. Also, because I’m not always just thinking about the clothing itself, I’m thinking about like, “how am I going to present the brand? What is the concept for the photoshoots that I want to do?” And that’s the really fun part for me. That’s what I love to do but, you know, it just takes so long to like to plan these things, but it’s definitely what I look forward to the most. Oh, sorry, and then, like you mentioned, the people that I already have worked with also are really inspirational. Which again, are a lot of dancers. So, I did a photoshoot with a dancer named Kaner Flex who is from London and he goes on tour with FKA Twigs and he does all kinds of crazy dances. [Laughs] I guess it’s called flexing, but almost like contortionist moves and stuff. I’ve also had my designs worn by a lot of queer artists that are coming out. There’s been a lot of queer rappers, especially from New York, such as Zebra Katz,  and Kicks the Killer. There’s been several and I think that they just fit with my brand so well. So, I think that’s really awesome.

REDDY-BEST: And then, how would you describe your customers? Like, who is buying it and has that shifted over time?

BECKER: I think it’s pretty much been the same because I knew right away if I was going for this genderless idea that it would be a young customer because that’s just the demographic that’s really conscious about that. That’s what they’re looking for, so I think my customer is definitely in their 20s, and  they’re coming from all different backgrounds. It’s not necessarily just queer — LGBT— people, but they would definitely be the type of person who has friends that are probably queer and has a diverse group of friends. So, they’re people that are aware of gender and probably are just really inspired when they see something that goes against the grain. I actually did a lot of research just to try to define what my demographic is, and when I did a lot of research about Millennials and Generation Z it was really cool to see that I’m going in the right direction, and that their open-mindedness is a huge part of who they are, just as a generation, as compared to older generations. Some things that I’ve learned, is that, in particular, Generation Z, the really young generation, is aware of political stances with companies, like, they’re aware of what different companies stand for and they want to know what their beliefs are and stuff. So, they’re looking for authentic brands, which are brands that are not just trying to sell to them, but that actually have a meaning and a purpose. That really just validated what I was doing, and I really think that it’s a good thing to continue to have a broader message and continue to be not just clothing, but almost like an activist in some way or another. I think another thing that my customers would have in common is just that, for the most part, I see that they’re creative people. They’re definitely people that love fashion and they tend to be aspiring DJs or singers or bloggers. Also, they probably are gravitated towards brands that are coming out now that are really cool, like Vetement. There’s a lot of other ones like them, like Misbehave. There’s a bunch of them that are just really cool, but super expensive and I think most people cannot afford that, to pay like $400 for a sweatshirt. I think that my goal is just to always keep my prices affordable and target that same demographic, that’s in the know of fashion and they know what’s going on but they’re kind of like do-it-yourself, [Laughs] so they want something that speaks to them that’s actually affordable.

REDDY-BEST: How do your customers find out about you, do you think?  What are the press avenues? I found out you through AutoStraddle.

BECKER: I always want to ask more, about how people find me, and then I always forget to ask, but it is good to know. I mean, I definitely know Instagram is huge for me, but beyond that, it’s like, “yeah, I mean I definitely have different press that I’ve gotten out there so it could be a lot of different ways.” [Laughs] But I think Instagram is the main focus that I’ve had as far as building my audience and just trying to constantly be hitting that audience, because I know that that’s the younger generation and that’s my audience. I think that also growing my email list has been the biggest challenge, but also it’s the most powerful tool as a brand, because I think people are more likely to make purchases if you’re actually emailing them specific discounts, and things like that. I think that since it’s a creative thing, I think Instagram is the best route for that. So, I try to focus on that.

REDDY-BEST: So, when people interact with the brand, is it you? I’m assuming it’s you.

BECKER: Yeah, definitely. [Laughs] Yeah, and recently I’ve been getting a lot of automatic messages from other brands, because if you follow somebody they’ll send you an automatic message and you can tell that it’s automatic. I don’t really like that. It just makes me realize that things that I don’t like, I’m not going to do to other people. [Laughs] Yeah, so it definitely is me. I definitely respond to everything or I try to, and, yeah it’s been really cool. There’s been a lot of comments and I’ve had a lot of good feedback. I think that’s one of your other questions though. [Laughs] I think that the powerful thing about Instagram is that people actually feel comfortable sending you a private message and you seem more approachable, I think, on Instagram. So, as a brand, that’s really great tool for people to feel connected to you as a customer. That you’re not just like some big corporation, you’re an actual person that they can just chat with. [Laughs] And are someone they can ask questions.

REDDY-BEST: So social media sounds pretty important.

BECKER: Yeah, I think Instagram is very important. I mean in order to really work through Instagram, you pretty much have to have a Facebook page, especially if you want to try advertising and things like that, you have to have Facebook. It’s pretty much the same thing, but I think my demographic that would be my customer spends way more time on Instagram. They’re pretty much on it 24/7. So yeah, it’s hard to keep up with, but that’s definitely a huge thing.

REDDY-BEST: Could you talk about the models that you chose like for your promotions that might be on your website or on Instagram? Such as why you chose them or how do you think about branding them?

BECKER: Well, first of all there’s a lot of content that I have that’s created by other people because a lot of stylists pull from my collection and they use it for their own editorials, so that’s just fun to see what they came up with. But, for me, whenever I do a loo book or a photoshoot that I produce, it’s huge thing for me to make sure that I look for diversity and try to represent as much of diversity as I possibly can. So far I’ve always tried to pair like a darker-skinned ethnicity with lighter-skin, pair male and female, and a lot of times different people who do fit in like, “the other box,” because they’re androgynous or queer, whatever it may be, or a whole mix of different ethnicities, which I think is really awesome. I think the last model that I worked with said that she was El Salvadoran, Turkish, and Afro-Ecuadorian, so I’m like, “that’s so cool! So many different things all blended in,” and that’s pretty much what I want to represent which is that this is a brand for everyone and it’s all about empowering people to be aware of diversity and to promote it and to embrace it and so I try to just reflect that. So, it’s hard, though, because I can’t reflect everyone all at once so I have to kind of pick and choose ultimately, but yeah, what is always a huge deal for me, is trying to find a really good balance of different people to be my models.

REDDY-BEST: Have you participated in any of the queer fashion weeks or other fashion weeks or events like that?

BECKER: Yeah, the only one that I’ve done is New York Fashion Week with Dapper Q. So that might’ve been where you found me, I don’t know. But they, they’re an organization that puts on a queer fashion week during New York Fashion Week and it’s pretty big. It takes place in the Brooklyn Museum. So, I just thought that that was a really epic location when they contacted me. It’s just so different from anything else as far as fashion weeks go because it’s just, like, it has a purpose. Again, it’s not just the fashion it’s also a very celebratory night, very joyful and empowering.  because they’re doing this, the organizer is very, like, just a super activist in that realm and so it’s just important to her to have that voice heard. So, she puts so much time and effort into creating this fashion show once a year and giving a voice to all those designers that really cross, it’s a big range because a lot really fits into that broad category of like queer fashion. So, there were designers like myself that just did genderless clothing, but then there was also designers that were specifically making like suits for queer women, trans individuals, things like that. That are more specific products for, like, the LGBT community. So, it was a big mix, but all together the message was definitely like different and unique than any other fashion show. So it was really cool to be a part of that.

REDDY-BEST: What year did you participate?

BECKER:  so that was not this past fall, but before that so 2016 fall.

REDDY-BEST: And then what types of positive feedback do you get?

BECKER:  I think, just mostly through Instagram. It’s just the best feeling to get really great feedback and I think I’ve been really lucky that I have gotten mostly all positive feedback. So I wrote down some of the things. Actually I’ve been collecting some of the really good feedback.

REDDY-BEST: Oh, if you wanted to read them I would love that! Somebody else did that, it was so sweet!

BECKER: It’s cool, I mean, just to like keep track of it. I take like screenshots and I think it also will help, like, if I am pitching to an investor, like that’s part of my pitch is just to show how it actually really is a message that people are connecting with. And I’m getting tons of good feedback and really nothing negative so far, so.  somethings they said were that  “Finally a brand that speaks to me! I’m tired of shopping in the boy’s section.” And then somebody else said, “Wow, this brand is exactly what I’ve wanted for a long time! A genderless fashion-forward company!” [Laughs] And then one more: “Gender neutrality is everything! Your line is very important and inspirational, keep up the work!” So, it’s like pretty much exactly what I would hope for, you know? The best feedback that I could hope for. [Laughs]

REDDY-BEST: Is there ever negative feedback from folks inside or outside the queer community?

BECKER: Not at all, I really haven’t had any. I think that people inside the queer community really understand the importance of banding together for a cause, even though I wouldn’t consider my brand to be an LGBTQ company. It’s for everyone. I don’t really label it like that, but I know it still definitely fits into that category because I’m challenging the norms of the fashion industry when it comes to gender. I think that there’s room for everyone who has different messages, but it all ties into ultimately the same message of equality in the end. I think when there still is oppression out there and there is still a lot of misinformation and stereotypes, I think everybody in the community knows that you just have to stick together and really fight together. Then, as far as just regular people having negative comments, there really hasn’t been anything, just maybe a couple of instances when my slogan was “The future has no gender,”  of people just asking like, “what do you mean, ‘the future has no gender?’” Then I would explain to them and what my thinking was behind it and then often they would just say, “okay, I get it.”

REDDY-BEST: Can you talk a little bit about funding and how that works?

BECKER: Yeah! Actually, I probably should’ve said that before. So, 2014 is when I started the company and then it took about a year of me planning and trying to design the clothes and get it all settled. My first step was to start a Kickstarter. That was basically just to get the money only for the production of the first collection. So that was a success! So far, since then, I’ve just been pushing forward using my own resources, and that’s not easy at all. Like I said, I’m just now hoping to take the next step forward and start hopefully finding investors. I have a pitch ready, I just need to find them, but I think that I’ve done so much on my own without adequate funding, and I think it’s something that I can definitely prove: there’s not only an audience, but that it will be a successful company.

REDDY-BEST: How do you think about or consider sustainability and ethics in your business model?

BECKER: Well the first step was just making sure that I did the manufacturing here in the United States. For me it’s just important that I actually am there. I visit the stores and I see what they’re doing everyday so I can be 100% sure that they’re working in good conditions, and that it’s fair pay and all of that stuff. I think that I would feel really weird not doing that. Having production overseas would make me feel really uneasy because you really never know ultimately what’s happening. So, for me that was just the first thing that I thought about. I think, for the first collection, I found one fabric that I used in most of my garments that was recycled polyester so that was really cool to find that. It’s difficult, though, so I haven’t really been able to keep that going, because there’s really not a lot out there. It’s hard to find. One of my goals is to try to keep looking for more recycled fabrics and things like that, that are coming from good sources. Then, I think, ultimately, the fact that it’s a smaller company and I’m always trying to keep production low is important. I’m not making huge quantities and that’s really the main thing I can do, because it’s about trying to stop the cycle of fast fashion, the cycle of people buying a whole bunch of stuff at H&M or Forever21 that they’re just going to get rid of, that ends up in a landfill. I think the smaller brands that we have who try to stay on the smaller production level and not turn into massive corporations, that’s really the best thing that you can do, because then you’re not really contributing to that excessive waste.

REDDY-BEST: Can you talk about any types of community outreach stuff that you might be involved in? Or maybe want to in the future?

BECKER: Well so far, I’ve just donated some things to the LGBTQ center here in Los Angeles for a homeless youth day that they had that was like a beauty day where they did makeovers. That was really cool. And then I’ve also done campaigns before where I’ve had like special sale and I’ve given a percentage of the revenue to a charity for transgender equality. So, so far that’s just like the two little steps I’ve done and I’m just trying to continually think of ways that I can do more of that in the future.

REDDY-BEST: And then,  I guess I asked this question, too, like you know how when you think about overall sustainability and ethics and community outreach, like how are these, how did these weigh into the importance for the vision of your brand?

BECKER: I think it’s really important because if my brand stands for a cause then I need to find out ways to support those causes whenever possible. So, I’m just trying to figure out different ways that I can be involved, but I definitely know that as I become more and more profitable it’s going to be, hopefully, a lot easier for me to have more power and ability to be able to give back more. As I mentioned, people are starting to be more aware of companies and brands and their stances, so they’re definitely looking for authentic brands. So, it’s important to stay authentic in that way. So, if I have a cause I need to make sure that I’m doing something about it and being active.

REDDY-BEST: Yeah.  I’m always like, “wow,” even these small brands, it’s at such the heart of their mission, and some of them are so small.

BECKER: [Laughs] Yeah, it’s really like, “how it is even possible?” But there’s always some way or another. I mean it’s not going to be a huge contribution, but if it’s something, something is better than nothing.

REDDY-BEST: Yeah. So, then what has been most successful for you?

BECKER: I mean, I think looking back the one thing that I feel that I’ve been really successful with is getting press, primarily getting my pieces featured in editorials and different magazines, for me, has been really cool.  In my mind, some of them have been, bigger, like High Snobiety. Also, as I mentioned, having different musicians wear my clothing, even for their music videos. I had a couple different rappers use them in their music videos. I think that that’s just been really cool, and it’s been just good luck that I’ve had stylists find me, and reach out to me, and pull from the brand. Then, from there, it’s great because I haven’t needed to have a PR person when I have that happening. So that’s great. I just also have to do the legwork of also reaching out to other people that I want to work with.

REDDY-BEST: And then what are you most proud of?

BECKER: I mean since I do everything, I’m just proud of everything, but I think the moment that was most proud was the runway show in New York, because I think that I had never really imagined that I would be doing that, especially in New York, in the Brooklyn Museum. It was just something that I didn’t really imagine I would be doing, especially so soon. So, it was really cool.

REDDY-BEST: And then, were there any initial aspects of starting like a gender neutral or queer focused brand that surprised you?

BECKER:  Not really. I think, mainly, the surprising thing was that there really weren’t those brands. That was the most surprising thing. It was just shocking to see that the industry seemed really far behind, and, you know, I’ve just been noticing that there are brands that have genderless apparel and a genderless vibe, but they don’t really make it part of their message, and they’re not vocal about it. Or, there’s a lot of brands that very clearly are androgynous or genderless on the runway, like designers that are very androgynous having different models wear all kinds of things on the runway but then as a customer if you actually go to their website to buy something, it’s still separated by men’s and women’s. So that, to me, doesn’t make any sense. It’s just like.  I think that whole part of the industry there’s like not really a connection with what you see on the runway and what is actually available.  and I think that is something that I have just been thinking about a lot is just how the industry doesn’t really work the way you think it does because the bigger designers, the actual designers, the luxury, high end designers that have always been the main focus of fashion weeks and runways, they’re actually not even making money selling clothes. They make their money selling like other products like perfumes or things like that. Um and then their runway shows are just show. You know, that’s something that’s like not, it’s a model that doesn’t work at all. So, I mean I wouldn’t want to put all of this time and effort into designing a cool collection that’s going to be on the runway just for a show and then having to sell like some other product to make money. [Laughs] So,  so it’s just interesting to learn that and to feel like I’m sure I’m not the only one who feels very frustrated with that and I think that a lot of people are on the same page in wanting the industry to change. You know, big and small brands are in that same realm. So hopefully that the question with gender is part of that, too. That it’s just the industry needs to think about allowing more freedom. That somebody shouldn’t have to say if they’re a women’s or men’s designer. Especially when the whole goal is to be creative. [Laughs] So.  yeah I think that I’m just trying to make sure that my voice isn’t like a vague thing, it’s very bold, saying that we are genderless from the very beginning and making sure that that’s a focal point of the brand when I’m not seeing that anywhere else really.

REDDY-BEST: What were or are some of the struggles that stick out to you?

BECKER: I think, specifically with doing genderless clothing, I think it’s just a struggle because the audience is so broad. I mean, even though that’s a really good thing, I can understand why some designers also feel like they need to pick a specific category and stick to it just because it’s easier to market to a specific audience. When you are doing advertising and marketing, you want a more specific audience, so I’m still trying to figure that out. Like, how I can simultaneously have a very broad audience with all genders, but be specific about who I’m targeting? It’s just more about defining the customers’ preferences, and like, what do they listen to as music or different other things that they have in common with their taste.

REDDY-BEST: Is there anything else that I didn’t think of as we were talking, that may be important to know about the history, or about the brand? Anything at all?

BECKER: I think, I think that’s pretty much it.

 

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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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