How Friends Founded Urbody, Underwear For Trans, Non-Binary People
Sometimes fashion is more than just fashion.
“The clothes we put on our bodies actually play a big role in our self-esteem, our body image, our self-expression and our sense of identity and assertion,” says Mere Abrams, registered clinical social worker and co-founder of the gender-affirming underwear brand Urbody, which uses them / their / their pronouns.
This may be especially true for people whose identity extends beyond binary notions of gender. This is something Abrams went through.
Growing up, Abrams would sneak into their brother’s bedroom to try on his Batman briefs. “For some reason, it made me feel so much more comfortable in myself and in my body,” they say.
The fashion industry and retailers have taken steps in recent years to be more inclusive of all gender identities – removing gender binary categories, offering universal sizes, and marketing ‘gender fluid’ clothing. . But when it comes to creating clothes that help people facilitate a more positive relationship with their bodies, little has been done, according to Abrams.
By founding Urbody, Abrams and their co-founder Anna Graham want to change that.
The line, launched in March, sells functional, gender-affirming underwear for trans, non-binary, and gender-non-conforming people, ranging from $ 40 underpants to $ 88 leggings. Abrams and Graham hope this will help change the future of the fashion industry.
Long-time friends of entrepreneurs
Abrams and Graham, both 33, met at Pitzer College, a small liberal arts school in Claremont, California. The couple remained close friends after graduation and in their adulthood. When Abrams came out as non-binary, Graham remained an important part of their emotional support system.
Urbody’s idea came around 2019. At the time, Abrams was self-employed and saw patients out of their private practice, while Graham worked as director of operations for DDA Holdings, a clothing manufacturing company, helping fashion start-ups to manage the backend. logistics, such as customer service and shipping.
“We both felt this calling to do something bigger than what we did in our current jobs,” said Abrams. They started having weekly discussions and brainstorming meetings on how they could combine their work experiences and build a brand.
Building a new kind of brand
Abrams and Graham spent two years doing market research and developing their line. First, the co-founders conducted surveys with members of the LGBTQ + community and organized fittings in their homes where people could share their experiences of shopping for underwear and underwear.
For example, survey respondents who identify on the trans-male spectrum said they wanted boxers that could smooth their waist and hips to give them a more traditionally masculine figure and subsequently treat gender and body dysphoria. . (“Gender dysphoria” refers to psychological distress that results from an incongruity between sex assigned at birth and gender identity, according to the American Psychological Association.)
The collective knowledge that Abrams and Graham gleaned from the investigations allowed them to choose seven items of clothing: a boxer brief with an internal pocket that could contain a prosthesis; a thong that has enough space to accommodate all types of external genitalia; leggings with a layer of “power mesh” fabric to smooth the body; bikini briefs with a thick waistband and a double layer of fabric for extra safety for people with external genitalia; a compression top; a boxer brief without an open fly pocket; and a bra specially designed for people with small breasts.
Given the dearth of underwear options for trans and gender nonconforming people, the trans community has taken a “DIY approach to fashion” for decades, according to Abrams, like MacGyvering chest belts in bandages. elastic or medical tape. This often means settling for quality, style or workmanship.
When it came to finding a manufacturing partner, “the understanding of what we were doing and what we were trying to achieve was very limited,” says Abrams. Sometimes “this educational process of trying to get someone to understand what we were doing seemed overwhelming,” but most were eager to learn.
Building clothes that fit a wide range of gender-specific bodies was also a business, as designers generally look to a one-size-fits-all model for both “male” and “female” bodies. Urbody had to create their own grading models, the process of adjusting a sample size to create smaller and larger sizes.
To grow the business, Abrams and Graham, who still have full-time jobs, say they have received financial support from family members, but decline to say how much. They also received in-kind support from people working in the fashion industry and queer and trans communities, they say.
“We have very big dreams”
Although the co-founders declined to comment on sales or the size of their customer base, Graham says she receives unsolicited emails from customers who say it appears the clothes were designed for their bodies and their unique needs. .
“It really speaks to the emotional aspect of our products and how they can really change the way someone goes about their day,” she says.
At one point in the development process, Abrams himself tried on Urbody’s boxers and turned to Graham and said: “In my 33 years of life, I’ve never felt like wearing underwear. I never felt like it was made for me. “
Before trying on the Urbody boxers, Abrams said they have a hard time buying clothes that match their aesthetic preferences and their body. The feeling that an article is made for you is “something that is difficult to place a value on in any way,” says Abrams.
One Urbody customer said in an Instagram review: “I’m still non-binary no matter what I’m wearing, but this kind of presentation helps me show you who I am.”
“This is what trans and homosexuality should be centered on, these positive feelings,” says Abrams.
Since the line launched in March, Graham estimates that she and Abrams spend 30 hours a week working on Urbody, often on weekends. They say they also employ freelancers who work for the brand. And as Urbody grows, they think about the future of the brand. For example, they hope to eventually expand into other product categories and hope to work with traditional retailers to create a more inclusive and secure shopping experience for everyone.
“It makes you want to work harder,” says Graham.
“We have really big dreams for the fashion industry to be very different from what it is now,” said Abrams.
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