Welcome to Changing the Game, a Modern Rebel blog series where we talk with professionals in the who are using their platform to diversify the industry’s image, give back to their community, and challenge the idea of what something “should” be.
This week for the first time we spoke with a company outside of the wedding industry. We talked with Chris + Courtney, the twin Co-Founders of FLAVNT Streetwear, an Austin based independent clothing brand for everyone within and anyone who support the LGBTQ+ community. For more of their work, you can find them on Instagram @FLAVNT_streetwear.
Where did the idea of FLAVNT come from? How did you make that idea into reality?
FLAVNT was born at Austin Pride in 2013 though it wouldn't come to be a reality until Spring of 2014. We had been making t-shirts for ourselves since High School, at Harry Potter Premieres, in support of the 2012 Obama campaign, and for Pride, just as examples. For Pride in 2013 Chris made a shirt that said "Pretty Boy" on it, because he had always self-identified that way even before coming out as trans, and throughout the parade and festivities probably had dozens of people come up and ask him where he'd gotten his shirt. People all across the LGBTQ spectrum were curious about the shirt, trans men, lesbians, nonbinary people, cis gay men -- it seemed to us that Pretty Boy was a term that a lot of people, not just Chris, really identified with, and this made us think maybe we could make this shirt (and other shirts) for the LGBTQ community to help promote pride and confidence, and maybe that could be a fun way to apply our graphic design degrees to create things and eventually make a difference.
So we pooled $500 of our own money, ordered and initial run of Pretty Boy tees, and started selling them to our friends, and posting them on our personal social medias before realizing, "we should brand this!" So our designer brains went to work, we workshopped it, Chris came up with the initial idea of basing the brand name off of "If you've got it 'flaunt' it" because this brand was born at Pride of all places, and Courtney decided that FLAVNT with a 'v' looked way cooler aesthetically in a logo, plus was a little less mainstream, and it stuck.
What challenges do you face as a queer focused + operated startup?
Our biggest challenge is probably that many individuals within the LGBTQ community face financial challenges that their cis-het counterparts may not, so there's often pushback for pricing on products that can also support the LGBTQ makers behind them. We feel both sides, but stand by that LGBTQ people should be able to own businesses and make a living at it. We price our items competitively with comparable brands on the market, within our niche, and also just mainstream brands you'd find in a mall for example. The pricing we use also allows us to use merchandise that is produced ethically and sustainably -- we print 99% of our shirts ourselves, so you're also supporting a really small operation here, printing every item with love and care, at the time of order... and most importantly we have to be able to sustain our fundraising partnerships that have helped change the lives of 9 trans individuals so far, and probably even more if you count the people these "movements" have helped reach. In 4 years we have raised over $20k for gender-confirming surgeries, pricing has to allow for that.
Besides that challenge (which many businesses, especially creative ones face, not just ones in the LGBTQ community) there is the issue of being very niche, even though the LGBTQ community is very much alive and vibrant and way larger than many of us may even realize... we still mostly market to a smaller demographic than consumers on a whole. Not all of our designs are so specific just to our community, but that is our target demographic so sometimes it seems we are pigeon holed, but then again, who wants just another streetwear brand out there anyway? Better to be within our community, for our community, helping our community, if we can.
Lastly, competition is a huge problem within all business, but the LGBTQ community can at times feel even more competitive and not always in a healthy way. There's a lot of people who want to see you fail, who want to do what you're doing (maybe even to the point of copying your designs, ideas, or business models), and people who will do/say anything because they don't agree with you or like you on a personal level. This is never going to change, but we have since day one had a "Support" page on our site that features brands we love, organizations we support, and projects we think our customers would want to check out! We think with as much competition as there is in the world, collaboration is key, so we just make a point to support our fellow makers where we can, lift up other brands (big or small) by doing giveaways together, promoting their stuff, and by recently forming some collabs with likeminded people that we are super excited about. We are all one big community at the end of the day, we are proud of the success of any of us in a world that already wants to see us fail, so we think we should all do our best to support one another when we can. We're all family here!
FLAVNT has an incredible model of giving back to the queer community built into the company. How + why did you come up with this process? How do you find your fundraiser participants?There's a few things that went into our fundraising model idea -- first we talked at the very beginning about how we could be different. There were a handful of LGBTQ clothing lines on the scene when we first came out (pun intended) but we wanted to do something MORE, so even though we weren't sure how yet we knew early on we wanted our brand to make a difference. Cue brands like TOMS coming to mind, a model where you feel good about what you're buying because it helps someone else, millennials love that. We don't have tons of money, but when we use it we want it to count, so if we could use that idea to bolster our business and in turn also (and more importantly) benefit someone else or something else that was what we needed to do.
Then we were approached by our first partner, who asked to model in exchange for us promoting his fundraiser campaign, and we asked if he'd want to form a partnerships where a portion of our sales for a period of time would go straight to his fundraiser, he was overjoyed. The idea of selling shirts to help raise money for surgeries (or any other campaign) is not something we can claim, but usually it was for an individual themselves, or for an organization, what we had in mind was a bit different. We have had people ask us why we can't fundraise for multiple people at once, or why we don't just do scholarships that are awarded at a later date, etc. but we feel that the community getting behind one individual for several months during a campaign creates a sense of support that many LGBTQ people might not have, and also makes the customers invested in the outcome of the campaign more, they feel like they're a part of it (and they are)!
Since that initial fundraiser we have done 8 more, all for different individuals within the LGBTQ community, though all seeking gender-confirming surgeries, with different backgrounds and stories and needs. These were trans men, nonbinary individuals, a trans woman, and even our co-owner Chris. We have fundraised for 1 breast augmentation, 1 phalloplasty, and 7 top surgeries so far.
We seek our fundraising partners via an online application we put out on social media -- we have very few strict requirements, only that you are over 18 and you need help raising money for a gender-confirming surgery. Besides that we ask to get to know them, how they identify, where they're from, what they're raising money for, how they plan to promote their campaign, what they're goal amount is, and usually some fun questions to see what their personality is like as well.
How do you see FLAVNT’s motto “promoting self love + pride” manifest with your fundraising partners? Customers? Community? In your own lives?
A lot of our designs themselves are positive, affirmative, and LGBTQ focused -- so we get messages all the time about how someone bought their partner a tee for an anniversary or for their first shot, or messages about how someone wore one of our tees to come out, or how one of our tees makes someone feel so confident that they wear it all the time. These messages mean the world to us, it means these designs that we love and we would wear and we are proud of, are also things our customers love and wear and are proud of. Our fundraising partners have all been active in their respective communities as well as the LGBTQ community as a whole, and this was a quality we sought out in partners when looking through applications.
Within ourselves I think FLAVNT has gotten us more involved in the LGBTQ community than we ever could have on our own. We have made friends all over the globe because of our brand, it allows us to collaborate with amazing organizations (like Modern Rebel for example ;) ), to go to events and conferences and really touch the lives of others that changes us personally. We have found our calling as designers, and as queer people, making clothes that we feel make a difference. I think we would both agree that FLAVNT is thing we are both most proud of in our lives, and we couldn't have done it without one another, and of course everyone who has supported our brand along the way.
What do you feel you bring to the table in creating FLAVNT that wasn't there when you started? We think that since starting FLAVNT we have sparked more interest in the idea that LGBTQ people can make themselves for themselves and people like them and sustain a living, while also doing something bigger. We have seen a dozen brands pop up since 2014 with business models like ours and we are thrilled about it, we can't help everyone on our own so we support this 100%. We also think that FLAVNT (and brands like us) are helping carve out a space for LGBTQ makers, LGBTQ focused designs, and LGBTQ models/promoters. We think it's important for kids to see people like them in magazines, and on social media platforms, we are hoping to keep making that happen. Adding to visibility within the LGBTQ community, especially for trans folks, is definitely something we feel like we have helped bring to the table in the last 4 years.
Would you ever consider creating a line of clothes for engaged folks? As feminist planners, we dream of creating something that ISN’T the overly-bedazzled “bride” centric stuff that has flooded the market? (Don’t get us wrong, we love some sparkle, but not all brides are down for the glitz. Besides, where does this leave grooms? And what about the folks who don’t identify with either of those words?)
We think we might just know the right people to collaborate with on an idea like this... *wink*
But really, we have made some one-off engaged shirts for friends here and there that we designed and would love to maybe make more LGBTQ/feminist/alternative engaged celebratory designs, and maybe even formal wear one day. We do have plans to eventually manufacture our own line of clothing, from tees to button ups, tailored more to less binary bodies.
So yes, we'd consider it. We have actually been cooking up some more gender-neutral partner designs recently, and are always here to create something if there's a want and a need for it.
Chris - congratulations on your engagement! Love is such a precious + beautiful thing, and we’re so stoked you found a super rad person you want to spend forever sleepovers with :) As an engaged trans guy, what do you want your love party to look like? What traditions are you keeping, throwing out, reinventing?
Thank you!! I'm very lucky to have Anna, she's kind of the greatest thing ever and has changed my world a million times over for the better.
I want so many friends and family members there, Anna and I are both super family oriented, and we have an amazing group of friends, so we are excited to share this day with them. I have a vision in my head about things, but it's still pretty hazy, I'm very aesthetic-oriented as a visual person so I know how I want some things to look, but we have faced a lot of obstacles in terms of getting certain family members on board so we have hesitated in planning much. I already have things like my songs picked out for my dance with my mom (originally we were gonna dance to "Friends in Low Places" as an f-you to societal norms and weird family tension, and because we just love to two step and show off), the song for me and Anna, and my vows have been written for about a year now. We both want a wedding in Central Texas because this is our home and we think the hill country is beautiful but we don't want anything too rustic because that's not our style. If Texas Mid-Century Modern were a style somehow that would probably be what I'd want things to look like, if I even know what that looks like, ha!
We are planning to uphold a few traditions, Anna doesn't want to see each other the night before the wedding, we will be writing our own vows, doing the traditional mother/son father/daughter (hopefully) dances. If we do a bouquet and garter toss it for sure won't be gendered because of our crowd of LGBTQ friends. Also there will be no cake smashing in either of our faces, nobody wants that.
Do you see yourself having a bachelor party? If so, what does that look like?
I am definitely having a bachelor party, and if I said "it would look like a shit show" would you have to cut that out? Haha! Just kidding, mostly. My friends and I love to have a good time, and any excuse to get together on some sort of misadventure, get a little wild, and celebrate each other sounds amazing to me. It's not going to be about my "last night as a free man" or seeing what I can get away with, but it will definitely be about bonding with some of my closest friends who I count as brothers and siblings (two of my groomsmen are literally my siblings). I've been to a few bachelor parties myself and we still talk about them to this day, not because of the things we got up to, but because of the quality time we got to spend with one another. My group of groomsmen is pretty big, and it's a good amount of queer and trans people a few of which live elsewhere in the country, so I'm excited to get us all in one place -- probably somewhere like Vegas, as cliche as that is, but also Vegas is where I first came out as trans to my mom so that would be kind of symbolic. Really, my twin is going to be planning all of this as my "Best Man" so you should ask her what it's going to look like, she knows me better than most seeing as we came out of the womb together.
What marriage tradition are you sick of that you for sure don’t want at your love party? Why?
I don't know if it's a particular marriage tradition but I'm not into religion, I don't want anything biblical about it, and we sure as hell aren't getting married in a church (unless it was like some badass cathedral for architectural reasons, the design nerd in me would die for those epic wedding photos). That's a pretty normal thing to reject though, so let me think on it .I don't want Anna's dad saying the whole "who gives this woman..." "I do" spiel when he hands her off to me, I absolutely want him to walk her down the aisle (if he's on board by then) because that's something she's dreamed of her whole life, but she isn't his property or mine, and I think we can do without that bit.
If you could describe the heart of the love party of your dreams in 3 words, what would they be?
Queer, memorable, and boozy.
Courtney - you + your partner are SO CUTE. Not trying to push you two at all, but you know we’re love party planners + a little curious… if you WERE to get engaged, how do you think that decision would come about? A surprise proposal? A series of conversations?
First of all, thank you! This is funny because ever since we started dating Kristen has had a date in mind for our proposal/wedding. She's adamant about a 2019 proposal (19 is her favorite number) and a 2020 wedding -- all centered around the day we met (October 12). I think when we get engaged it will be a little less conventional than a "typical" proposal, even more so than what would be expected just because we're a lesbian couple. Neither of us is really traditional in a need for an expensive ring (Kristen can't be trusted with any type of jewelry) and Kristen really wants to be the one to pop the question since I've been there before in a previous relationship and she wants her "shot" to be the one down on one knee.
Would you have bachelorette parties? Together? Separate? And we have to ask… would they be penis themed?
I definitely am most interested in getting married for the celebrations -- the reception and the parties that precede the event. I want to travel somewhere with my friends, but I've always been open to having Kristen along for the bachelor/ette party and making it a joint thing since I'm sure the memories I'll be making are ones I want to share with her and our friends. Also, absolutely not with the penis themed. Maybe some vaginas will make an appearance just for representations sake, but I would like to veer as far from the penis and lap-dance bachelor party stereotype as possible.
What wedding traditions would you keep, throw out, reinvent?
I want to keep Kristen walking down the aisle, the reception, and the cake. Everything else I'm down to shake up -- I like the idea of reinventing the bouquet toss and some of the more antiquated traditions. And I'm definitely throwing the church/religious aspect out the window.
If you could describe the heart of the love party of your dreams in 3 words, what would they be?
Warm, casual, and sapphic.
FLAVNT Streetwear is a small brand doing big things in Austin, TX to help the LGBTQ+ community all while making you look great. If you'd like to get in touch with them, click here.