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7 Queer Fashion Designers on LGBTQ+ Industry Representation

7 Queer Brands Doing the Work to Make Fashion Visibly More Inclusive

Like many industries, fashion has a long way to go when it comes to inclusivity and representation. But if you're here, then it's our job to have a conversation about the LGBTQ+ brands that are moving us forward — to celebrate them, follow them, and support them by wearing them. Luckily, our sea of labels to choose from is growing. From small, independent start-ups to luxury houses, the market for gender-neutral clothing or quality clothing in extended sizes is expanding and becoming increasingly accessible.

These designers are creating a world where fashion isn't for men or for women, but for feeling seen.

We're also seeing celebrities use their platforms to shine the light on many of these companies. Even if we're not talking major red carpet moments or magazine covers that make a statement (i.e. Harry Styles challenging the gender binary on Vogue in a skirt), style icons bringing attention to queer-owned and operated businesses with a simple Instagram post goes a long way.

All of the designers that we talked to here treasure the moments that make them feel seen — these are the signs of allyship that motivate them to continue in their work, which, for Christian Cowan, August Getty, Nicole Zïzi, Stuzo, Mirror Palais, Baja East, and Flavnt, also includes giving back to organizations that help aid the queer community. Not only are these seven brands focused on ethics, many of them incorporate sustainable methods into the production process. These designers are creating a world where fashion isn't for men or for women, but for feeling seen — and that's what it should be first and foremost. Scroll to read our important conversations with them and learn why they are all crucial to the progress of the industry and its future.

1. Christian Cowan

"Suddenly I saw a woman celebrating the queer community in mainstream media. It made me feel seen and appreciated."

Christian Cowan's brand, which got hype when Lady Gaga debuted his pink glitter suit in 2014, has become synonymous with creative personality dressing. Cowan recently partnered with Motorola Razr and Matthew Frost to showcase his fall 2021 collection in a video that celebrates queer culture called A Fashion Thing, famously featuring Paris Hilton, Justine Skye, SNL stars Chloe Fineman and Bowen Yang, and renowned activist and author Rachel Cargle. "I knew for this campaign I really wanted to capture what NYC is about, from Upper East side's Dorinda [Medley] to Mermaid with her ballroom talents," Christian said.

Image Source: Ramey Photos / BACKGRID

Lady Gaga wearing Christian Cowan was . . . "a really big moment. I was in the middle of the English countryside and suddenly I saw a woman celebrating the queer community in mainstream media. It made me feel seen and appreciated."

Being queer in the fashion industry is . . . "so accepting. It's an industry that is built on queer talent. Be your most real self, don't water yourself down. It's what makes you you that will make you shine."

People in fashion can support the LGBTQ+ community by . . . "keeping the conversation going and standing up for others. Remember that gender and sexuality are a spectrum, not just one or the other. The more people accept this, the more free we all will be!"

Image Source: Courtesy of Christian Cowan

2. August Getty

"Try on as many creative hats (or wigs) that you physically or metaphorically can."

LA-based designer August Getty, who is known for dressing the likes of Kim Kardashian, Paris Hilton, Katy Perry, and Miley Cyrus, focused on the launch of his TINITUS collection while in lockdown, and it depicts a world that is a safe place where emotions are projected as different colors and sounds. The digital space uses technology like CGI software to hone in on the details of Getty's couture pieces and will be fully revealed in July 2021 during Paris Haute Couture Week. The user is meant to imagine themself here and seek unity, inclusivity, prosperity, hope, peace, and acceptance.

Image Source: August Getty Atelier

The pandemic made me realize . . . "the state of the world has been severely affecting the mental health of so many of us. I am angered that so many communities don't feel safe in this world. I've been doing a lot of self-reflecting and going back to my roots. The bravery grew inside of me to dig deeper into who I authentically am as a person, and I came out as nonbinary."

An inclusive designer knows that . . . "fashion helps people express who they are, and inclusive designs should have endless, genderless freedom and should be created for people of all different races, ethnicities, ages, and identities. Many of Jean Paul Gaultier's collections are good examples of this, as his clothing skewers gender binaries, incorporates a wide variety of cultures, and is made for different body types, among other things."

Some of my proudest dressings include . . . "Angelica Ross and Dominique Jackson from Pose, two phenomenal actresses from such a powerful show. I'm also proud of dressing my siblings and dearest friends, Nats Getty and Gigi Gorgeous, Markus Molinari, Hayley Hasselhoff, and Gottmik, who has worn several of my designs on season 13 of RuPaul's Drag Race, showcasing his drag aesthetic as well as his chest. Gottmik has become a huge role model for trans men and the queer community across the globe."

A young queer person interested in the fashion industry should . . . "Love yourself as a human being and as a creative and believe in yourself. Try on as many creative hats (or wigs) that you physically or metaphorically can. You can never anticipate which direction your path will take so stand firm in your dream, work hard, and take things as they come. Create every day because your art and your voice are valid."

As an LGBTQ+ designer, it's my responsibility to . . . "be as loud as I possibly can be about representation and inclusivity for all and support organizations that do incredible work for our community, such as GLAAD, amfAR, and the Los Angeles LGBT Center. I will continue to be an outspoken designer, using my platform to protect our community and to create clothing that is inclusive."

Image Source: Yudo Kurita

3. Zizi, NICOLE ZÏZI STUDIO

"I think queer fashion will become everyday fashion."

Zizi has taken a fully responsible approach to street wear, reimagining it with sustainable fabrics through her gender-neutral brand that includes outerwear, sweats, and accessories. When designing, she thinks about how each product directly affects the environment, mastering the art of casual sophistication along the way. Zizi also runs her own podcast, Nicole Zizi On Air, where she talks to creatives about their businesses, plus human rights and sustainability.

Image Source: Ashley S. McLean

My garments are for . . . "an array of genders and non-binary people, plus size and petite people with different beautiful shapes and sizes of bodies. Moving away from skewed media and societal based perspectives of what we 'should' or are 'supposed to' look like from a traditional way of thinking, I look at garments as a means of expression and functionality."

The thing I love about the industry is . . . "we support each other and we are loyal to each other. I used to Intern for Coco and Breezy and as soon as I shared that I started my own business, Breezy was quick to support. This is special to me because as a supervisor, they had no reason to support [and wear] my brand, but they believed in it and gave me an energy boost to keep on my path. I'm so proud of Coco and Breezy and how they are consistently advocating for progression and change within the community, especially through their work. They are huge advocates for diversity and inclusion."

I felt honored to be part of the LGBTQ+ community when . . . "I experienced the Pride festival in New York in 2018. It showed me how we can be strong, resilient, and love each other regardless of differences. I also believe that social media has played a huge part in allowing LGBTQ+ people to be seen, where we share images of ourselves or our partners in threads and show visibility of each other. It is beautiful to be able to share our experiences with each other and to be seen by each other."

As I continue to design . . . "I have to remember that there is no certain 'gender neutral' fabric. Fabric is fabric, and you can wear it any way. It's more so a matter of what's most flattering for the body wearing it. I'm working on collections that honor that thought. I think queer fashion will become everyday fashion. It won't even be 'women's fashion' and 'men's fashion,' it's just going to be 'fashion.'"

Image Source: Ashley S. McLean

4. Stoney Michelli Love, Stuzo Clothing

"Our pieces are gender free . . . because clothes don't have any organs last time we checked."

Stoney Michelli Love is the CEO and founder of Stuzo Clothing, but the African-Panamanian self described "renaissance woman" does way more than that. She is also an actor and photographer, who grew up in the Bronx, NY, but moved to LA before starting Stuzo, which includes graphics and awesome basics at an affordable price point. "Our pieces are gender free as we prefer to call them because clothes don't have any organs last time we checked," reads the brand's mission statement. Is that not the best thing you've ever heard?

Image Source: Courtesy of Stuzo

Every collection we create . . . "comes from our beliefs within. My inspiration for our last collection, Free By Nature, was the very idea that we are all born free. We made it all neutral colors, as we ourselves give the clothes vibrancy with individual, inner style."

Jada Pinkett-Smith [above] and Lena Waithe wearing Stuzo . . . "brought tears to my eyes. Seeing them wear our brand on different occasions has been very affirming. They both have walked their own way in their industry and that resonates with me in every way. Jada was the reason I got into my first love — acting! This love took me down a road of numerous crafts in the arts which would lead me to fashion. It's a real full circle moment for me to dress someone that not only impacted me, but continues to live their truth in the process."

Coming into fashion as an LGBTQ+ designer . . . "has served me well. Deciding to be who I truly am has proven that people take to authenticity more than a mask. Working with other brands that have welcomed us on their runways and platforms has been the best induction we could ask for. Many thanks to DapperQ and bklyn boihood to name a few. Being an LGBTQ+ fashion designer in this day and time is being a fearless leader. We set the tone for those to come after us and spark flames in those who currently want to inspire the same type of change that we want to see and create. It's an important title that we cherish and we ensure that we're playing our parts with integrity."

Image Source: Courtesy of Stuzo

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5. Marcelo Gaia, Mirror Palais

"I would love to see more LGBTQ+ POC designers take the spotlight."

Whether or not you realize it, you've seen Mirror Palais on a whole slew of supermodels and stars, including Bella Hadid, Dua Lipa, J Lo (she wore a halter from the brand in the "Pa Ti" + "Lonely" video), Elsa Hosk, and Imani Randolph. Marcelo is a first-generation American who grew up in New York raised by Brazilian immigrant parents. His skin-baring basics are sexy, feminine, and sophisticated, all made-to-order in NYC, so as to abide by an ethical production system that focuses solely on clothing that has already been purchased.

Image Source: The Image Direct

I don't separate my personal self from the brand because . . . "Mirror Palais is me. I don't create an aesthetic for the sake of creating one. I am just sharing what I personally like and there's no differentiation from Mirror Palais to Marcelo Gaia — the two are the same."

I'm most inspired by . . . "Azzedine Alaïa and the way he knew the curves of a woman so well, Gianni Versace and all the fun and humorous design choices he made, and Karl Lagerfeld in the '90s, creating the ultimate mix of luxury and playfulness. I think you can see these influences pretty clearly in Mirror Palais collections."

Working in NYC's garment district . . . "I have seen a lot of misogyny and some inappropriate conduct from cis white men towards women. It's definitely an issue that we, as an all female team aside from myself, are really passionate about. We overcome these moments by standing up for ourselves and speaking out in the moment when any sort of inappropriate behavior is experienced. We have even gone as far as ending business relationships over boundaries crossed in communication."

White cis gay men in the fashion industry . . . "have always been celebrated. I would love to see more LGBTQ+ POC designers take the spotlight. I think it is our job to uplift the voices of marginalized people with our platforms and spread awareness on LGBTQ+ issues by working with organizations that provide active aid to our communities who need it the most. The goal for me is to add beauty to the world and make conscious decisions that go against the traditional route of business by empowering our workers with fair prices and educating our customers and followers about the very real climate crisis and unethical labor practices that exist in mass manufacturing."

Image Source: Courtesy of Hedi Stanton

6. Scott Studenberg, Baja East

"I loved dressing Lizzo because she stands for inclusivity and f*cking the social norm."

As the Creative Director of LA-based Baja East, Scott Studenberg continues to channel what the brand refers to as "surf-to-street edge" for everyone. Baja East was built on the concept of ambisexual dressing and attracted the likes of Lizzo, Saweetie, Madonna, Chloe and Halle Bailey, Demi Lovato, J Lo, and Lady Gaga. Trust, the list goes on. Studenberg spent years as Sales Director at Lanvin and in spring 2014, showed Baja's idea for gender-less dressing on the runway. "Every piece looked as good on a guy as it did on a girl. Our runway shows followed suit, showing men in women's seasons, and then I started to see it become a norm in luxury. I hope to continue pushing boundaries," he says. Studenberg tries to make sure there's at least one portion of his site fully dedicated to giving back to the LGBTQ+ community at all times.

Image Source: Getty/Raymond Hall/GC Images

When I moved from Michigan to NY to model in 2002 . . . "I definitely felt the pressure to stay closeted, watched my hand movements at castings, and butched up my voice. 2002 was SOOOO different. We had Will & Grace, Ellen [DeGeneres], that kiss on Roseanne, and Queer as Folk — not much representation in the media like we have today. It wasn't a great feeling at all, but doing that was my entryway into fashion and I'm so thankful for the experience. I've always felt 100 percent comfortable as a designer, in event production, or as a sales director on this side of the fashion industry."

When I think of inclusivity . . . "I think of giving everyone the opportunity to feel their fantasy. This takes price and size into consideration, and a few of the things I've been doing to broaden Baja East's reach is to carry higher stock on my larger sized items (those are my top selling items of recent), and continue to work with retailers like 11 Honoré, which help broaden the Baja fantasy even further."

Dressing Madonna and Lizzo was . . . "an insanely cool experience. Madonna is a pioneer for the gay community and has stood up to the general public for us through years and years of discrimination. I loved dressing Lizzo because she stands for inclusivity and f*cking the social norm. I did some custom pieces for her — one was away from the body; sexy, and the other more tightly draped around the body — and loved seeing both designs be brought to life by her awesome spirit."

When I guest edited Out Magazine . . . "they gave me full creative control and after brainstorming around the k.d. lang and Cindy Crawford Vanity Fair cover from 1993, I gathered my inner circle of drag race super fan best friends. Freddie Aspiras, Kat Typaldos, legendary drag royalty Shea Couleé, and photographer Christine Hahn helped me bring the concept to life. I also got to write the editor's letter, which felt pretty powerful. I used the platform to hopefully help people in the dark find their way to the light through being honest about my experiences with depression and suicide."

Image Source: Courtesy of Baja East

7. Chris and Courtney Rhodes, FLAVNT Streetwear

"We saw a binder market that was exclusionary of BIPOC and sought to change that."

FLAVNT (pronounced "flaunt") is an Austin, TX-based independent clothing brand for the LGBTQ+ community and allies. Founders and twins Chris and Courtney have always made it a priority to give back to queer people from the get go. They're known for their "Pretty Boy" tee — gender nonconforming model Elliott Sailors famously wore it for a photo shoot in 2015 (below) — and Bareskin Binders, which are manufactured by a woman of color-led, all-women team in Texas. The collection of casual wear, which includes fun socks and hats, isn't traditionally pride themed, but rather subtle in keeping with the streetwear scene. Size inclusivity has always been a priority, and knowing that "unisex" cuts of clothing can often mean more "masculine," Chris and Courtney have a goal of one day developing their own basics that feel more inclusive. FLAVNT has always been offered up to size 3X, but has expanded up to 5X and will also accommodate any custom requests received.

Image Source: FLAVNT Streetwear

Our most inclusive collection is . . . "the Bareskin Binder. We saw a binder market that was exclusionary of BIPOC and sought to change that. When we launched our Kickstarter in 2015, there were only light-nude options in a couple of the binders on the market with no range of shades to include anyone who fell outside of a generic tan color. Our binders hit the market with four color shades and five size options (XS-XL) and we have since expanded to seven colors and seven sizes (XXS-XXL) with 3XL on the way. After we introduced our Bareskin Binder to the market in 2015, along with the idea of a range of skin tone binders, the rest of the binder industry followed suit and became more inclusive as a whole.

As a small business, we always prioritize . . ."being able to pay our queer employees a competitive wage, supporting domestic manufacturing that uses ethical practices, and creating products that will last over the bottom line. We've dealt with a fair amount of push back from people who don't want to pay small business prices for queer made products. It's very challenging to compete with the larger conglomerates who exploit workers and the environment to create cheap products and offer two-day shipping and have convinced consumers that that's the standard for everything. As a small business, we don't have the means, nor do we want to sacrifice our principles, to make cheap products.

Recently, visibility in media for queer folks has been . . ."incredible. Think: the gender non-conforming outfits on the red carpet (so many women in suits, Billy Porter in everything he wears). Fashion spaces have always had a fair amount of cis gay male designers, but seeing female, trans, and gender nonconforming designers shaking up the suiting industry (Kirrin Finch and SharpeHaus) and the swimsuit game (Beefcake, OUTPLAY, and HUMANKIND) really made it known to us that this was a space for all of us. New York Fashion Week has done a good handful of shows recently with all trans masculine models on the runway in underwear, and we have seen trans women signed to modeling agencies."

The most vital role we play as queer creators is . . ."through our visibility. 2021 feels like a year where queer topics are going to be front-and-center. We've seen a rise of horrible legislature being aimed at transgender and gender nonconforming folks, and with that will come even more visibility around transgender and queer identities. Being able to be privileged enough to be visible and have a voice in a time like this means having the ability to create real change and make an impact, and we fully intend to keep putting ourselves out there."

Image Source: FLAVNT Streetwear

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