Over the last few years, more and more attention has been turning toward trans and masculine folks getting pregnant. Starting with Thomas Beatie, who became known as the "pregnant man" after sharing his story with Oprah in 2007, we've seen increased visibility for the community of masculine-presenting folks having babies. Now two young, queer entrepreneurs of color are launching Butchbaby & Co., an "alternity" line for pregnant masculine, transgender and queer individuals. I interviewed the founders, Vanessa Newman and Michelle Janayea, about their clothes which they plan to release in fall 2015.
What inspired two 20-somethings to start an androgynous maternity line?
Newman: I was initially inspired by my desire to one day carry a child. Two years ago, during my freshman year of college, I was just getting into discovering my personal style and I had also befriended another student who is a QWOC and identified as butch/boi. We talked a lot about our futures and being pregnant at the same time so our kids could be friends. But because of how we dress and present ourselves, we always joked about what we would wear as pregnant bois. It was a personal need that inspired the line, but seeing other people's need for it motivated me to actually make it happen.
Janayea: I first got the idea in high school. In my senior year my mother got pregnant. Over those long months, I thought about the clothes she wore, if she was comfortable, and why they all had floral prints and ruffles. I remember her wearing a lot of sweatpants and nursing tops, and I realized that making maternity clothes isn't that hard if you know how to keep the person wearing them as comfortable as possible. That's when I started thinking about what my future partner and I would wear when the time comes for us to start a family.
Has being people of color influenced your approach to this business?
Newman: As a [masculine-identified] consumer it's hard to find clothing and then, on top of that, it's hard to find clothing that fits my body. It's also hard to find style role models and fashion icons who aren't white. So, we're definitely a lot more deliberate about having our clothes appeal to all identities, races, sizes ... and classes. And being black, I'd say I have a much deeper understanding of how cycles of oppression play into our everyday lives than my competitors.
Can you give me an example?
Newman: For instance, did you know that same-sex POC couples are more likely than [their white counterparts] to have kids? Well, take a female same-sex couple of color. Because they're women, they both probably face a pay gap compared to men. So the family that is statistically more likely to [have] a kid may not be able to afford the medical procedures some LGBTQ couples need to have kids, let alone high-priced maternity wear.
Michelle, how has being a woman of color impacted your approach?
Janayea:I would say that [being a person of color] has influenced [me] in the best way. ...History has shown us how people of color have created our own niche in the fashion world, and it has lead to the creation of many beautiful things. And for me, being a queer person of color is a big part of how I act, dress and work, so designing for Butchbaby & Co. is what I was meant to do.
Seems like there is a major trend in boutique fashion labels--whether bespoke tailors or small production shops--catering to masculine queer and trans folks. How do you see Butchbaby & Co. relating to these existing businesses? Are you following any of their models?
Newman: I think we relate to these businesses in the sense that we're contributing to the movement that is more gender-inclusive, consciously made clothing. Whether we all know it or not, with so many queer-oriented clothing lines, tailors, and shops coming out within this same time span, we're creating a much larger presence, than if there was only one of us in town. I definitely see us wanting to support these other businesses as we expand. Like, for instance, getting married? Buy your suit from Saint Harridan or Bindle & Keep. Having a baby? Shop Butchbaby & Co. You know? Stringing together all of our different lines into clothing for a lifetime. On the more business end of things, we haven't so much found a business model we fully want to follow or duplicate. We are really into what a couple of the bespoke tailors I mentioned earlier are doing, which is going to the customer. I'd love to do a pop-up shop tour after we launch and bring our clothes to major cities. To create that experience of being able to go with your partner and try on clothes and know they fit, know they make you feel comfortable and like yourself and not be judged but embraced by salespeople that look like you... it almost feels like a necessary thing we one day have to do.
Are you connected to gender non-conforming, butch or trans pregnant and parenting people?
Newman: I've been able to connect with some members of the community on an individual level, usually by being introduced by a mutual [acquaintance]. I also follow some great blogs and Twitter accounts that are specifically for lesbian moms or pregnant butch women. One thing we really hope to incorporate into our company, outside of the clothes, is a strong online community of butch/trans/gender non-binary/queer pregnant individuals that is easy to find and that shows that we're here, we're queer, and we're having babies our way and wearing what we want while we do it. Pregnant butches aren't unicorns, you know? The community deserves much more representation.