10K80 by Chorouk Akik December 20, 2019
If there’s one thing we’ve noticed in the fashion industry, larger companies have become more queer-friendly. But adding rainbows to your store décor one month a year doesn’t make you an ally to the queer community.
That’s why it’s important to support businesses like Play Out that operate based on a deep understanding of what the queer community wants, needs and, frankly, should have been getting: gender-equal apparel.
“We always like to point out that this is who we are and this is what we do – it is not a trend to us. We are members of the queer community, lesbian, gay, queer and gender nonbinary identified…
“We started Play Out because we were uncomfortable and unsatisfied with the underwear options available, and saw a need for underwear and athleisure fashion that affirms our style and gender expression.”
“Come touch our underwear” was the quote of the night at a recent pop-up event for Play Out. The atmosphere that felt more like an intimate party then a business gathering took place at the historic Stonewall Inn.
Entertainment for the night included poets, stand-up comedians, and singers. Headlining that night was “Cake” an up and coming singer and performer, who also modeled for Play Out.
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Join US! To Celebrate Community, Chosen Family, Shop and see our lineup of artists on Thursday, December 12th @thestonewallinn 6-9 PM Music by @djchaunceyd – Our curated lineup of AMAZING talent features comedians @mmmindela, @shfell, @highdosecomedy, spoken word poet @angell.szn, sneak peek at @sirknight_ new EP, and an EPIC performance by @cakemusix (📷 @25toleifer) – – #playoutmode #popupshop #shoplocal #music #popup #holidayshopping #holidays #lgbtq #lgbtpride #photooftheday #pictureoftheday #instagram #instagood #picoftheday #poetry #comedy #lgbt #gay #queer #nonbinary #stonewall #gendernonconforming #trans #transgender #lesbian #bisexual #shopping #lgbtqia #queercomedy
I got a chance to speak to the co-founders of Play Out, Abby Sugar and Liz Leifer about how they are changing the landscape of intimate apparel one pair of underwear at a time.
The story of the apparel company begins with Abby’s frustration with the limiting fabrics and designs of underwear on the market.
“I was frustrated with the extremely feminine styles, fabrics, and designs; from pastel colors and revealing cuts only for ‘women’, and bold colors and graphics only for ‘men’.”
In 2014 she founded Play Out because she saw a need in the hyper-gendered intimates market for more gender equality and options for people of all sexualities and gender expressions.
Abby had a background in fitness and writing, not the fashion industry, so she did what a good entrepreneur with a vision does, she set out to educate herself.
While learning how to learn how to source, manufacture, market and sell clothing, she turned to her friend Liz for advice in 2017.
With over 20 years of experience in the fashion industry, Liz became a partner on Play Out which relaunched that same year. Liz and Abby aligned on their style, vision, and goals for the brand.
Liz and Abby told me “this partnership was meant to be.”
While the partnership between Abby and Liz is successful, the challenges Play Out faces as a small business are numerous. The business partners told me the rising cost of online advertising in the eCommerce space is among the most difficult obstacles.
“There is so much noise and constant engagement online, all mediated by the larger companies controlling the flow of information, that it’s very expensive and sometimes challenging to reach our customers.”
But customers are not the only point of importance for Play Out. The company seeks to create a safe space from discrimination within the queer community as a whole, including in their work environment.
“We strive to have the broadest representation, diversity, and inclusion, as possible, of all members of the queer community. This includes representation of individuals of different colors, abilities, sizes, and gender expressions.”
This is obvious when you take a look at Play Out’s models and their social media. Play Out has been working on amassing video interviews. The Profiles in Pride gallery and the video interviews on the company’s Instagram showcases “the beauty in the diversity of the queer community” and allows the interview subjects to talk about issues they face within the queer community.
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The subjects in the video interviews discuss the theme of intersectionality within the queer community several times. Models express the importance of recognizing race within the queer community as having its own set of obstacles and needs for support and representation.
Play Out seeks to provide this representation, intentionally subverting stereotypes of gay Asian men, Black trans women and queer people of color in general.
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Play Out also received a lot of press around their use of models that are breast cancer survivors. I asked the partners about choosing to highlight this representation at a time where ‘going flat’ was not in the mainstream discussion, even though over 58 percent of survivors opted not to have reconstruction after double-mastectomies.
“Play Out wanted to create a conversation and highlight these powerful images at the intersection of gender expression and breast cancer.”
Abby asked “Where were positive images of women and gender nonbinary breast cancer survivors post-surgery without reconstruction?”
She continued to question, “if popular culture so strongly pushes the narrative that breasts are a symbol of femininity and of ‘being a woman,’ what impact do cancer and breast removal have on one’s gender identity and comfort moving through the world?”
Before Liz joined Play Out as Abby’s business partner it just so happens that Liz had a preventative double mastectomy without reconstruction at about the same time as the campaign.
The issue of intersectional representation remains personal for Play Out.
Intersectional thinking and representation is the first step towards fighting against discrimination outside and within the queer community. I asked Play Out what the queer community at large can do to be more inclusive and less discriminatory.
“If we, as a community, are angry, hostile or even simply dismissive, we cannot make any positive changes without first becoming aware of and addressing the issues.
“There are so many terrible and hateful things going on politically and in the world at large, that we cannot afford to be divisive and fighting amongst ourselves.”
The partners also had advice for young queer entrepreneurs looking to start their own company,
“It’s not easy; if it were, everyone would be doing it.”
Liz and Abby emphasized dedication, perseverance, and belief in the vision of your brand and products. Abby also recommended finding a co-founder, stressing the significance of having a business partner who is “supportive, shares in the vision and burden, and also has strengths that complement her weaknesses.
Having another person to bounce ideas off of or to provide feedback, even when you are usually completely aligned and thinking the same thing before you say it out loud, is incredibly inspiring and helpful.”
So if you’re tired of the limited options on the market for intimate apparel, and want to support a socially ethical business check out Play Out and shop your style, not your gender.