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Both& Takes on a Calvin Klein Inspired Campaign Centering Trans Empowerment

We got the chance to speak with transmasc fashion brand founder, Finn Shepard, to discuss trans fashion and trans joy.

Transmasc clothing company, Both&, launched their newest campaign celebrating Trans Day of Visibility, transmasc fashion, and trans joy. We got the chance to speak with the founder, Finn Shepard to discuss the beginnings of Both& Apparel, the new campaign, and what visibility means to Finn.

What was your initial inspiration and hope for Both& Apparel?

The initial hope and ambition was very humble. I always categorized myself as an accidental entrepreneur…I didn’t study fashion, I didn’t study business. I never would have imagined myself building this company, but as a trans man, who had been waiting around my whole life for somebody else to build this brand, eventually I just got tired of waiting.

I had this hypothesis that if I needed it and had been waiting for it, other people would have [been] too. The more people I talked to, the more it was like, yes, absolutely this is a shared problem. 

It’s not rocket science, it’s an issue of proportions. It’s an issue of pretty simple design fixes that would make a really profound impact on what it feels like to wake up and put on clothing that fits and that feels like an accurate representation of self. It was initially, “what can I create that will make my life and the lives of people I’ve spoken to better?”

It wasn’t until about a year in that I really began to realize just how big the opportunity is, just how big the market is, and how much people want and need [this]. We live in a world where all consumer goods are made with a solely cisgender consumer in mind. 

What’s been your favorite piece or set that’s been produced?

I like pretty much everything. I wear everything that we produce. My favorite would probably be our denim pants that we released about a month ago. I wear them pretty much every day. 

There’s a story that I often tell that I think was pretty formative for me. When I was 14, I had this breakdancing teacher. He wore these baggy Levi’s, and he looked so cool in them. He was also ripped…he was this archetypal male figure for me. I got it in my head that if I just got those jeans I would be transfigured into him, like some kind of Disney tale. 

So, I went to the Levi’s store, I got these jeans, I tried to put them on in the dressing room, and there was that experience that’s so common amongst trans people. There was this enormous cognitive dissonance and dysphoria of trying to put on these pants and them not fitting and not looking remotely the way that they looked on my breakdancing teacher. Having to process that shame, sadness, and anger. 

I never had a pair of jeans that actually fit me. That’s just not something that I’ve ever experienced and it was a particularly sensitive point for me. The day we first got our samples and I got to put on a pair of nice denim pants that actually fit me, I looked in the mirror and was like “yeah, that’s me. That’s the way I’ve wanted to look since I was 14.”

This whole campaign, all the models wearing the denim pants, was a big moment.

What was the inspiration for the photoshoot?

Grace and Jamie, who are the folks at WongDoody who put this together, I’ve been in contact with them for a really long time now. I was introduced to them around the spring or summer of last year. They’ve been huge advocates and fans. We’ve always been very bootstrap-y and have had very little budget, and they were willing to pull all the strings and do this as cost-effective as possible for us.

Early on, I had this line that kept sticking with me. It was partially from watching politics and the media frenzy around trans issues and trans rights. I said to Grace that we need to lean into what the nation is terrified of and the line that I had in mind was, “trans masculinity is the new masculinity.” 

To me, on the one hand, it’s this facetious tongue and cheek truth of we live in an age where some baseline assumptions around masculinity or what it means to be male, are being questioned, interrogated, and deconstructed.

Trans masculinity is almost an archetypal zeitgeist of what it means to intentionally curate and construct masculinity in a modern context. On the other hand, it’s what people are most afraid of. It’s a reason why there’s all this backlash, there’s a reason that it’s a threat. 

That was the philosophical, central idea that I was playing with. Grace came back to me with the idea of this Calvin Klein reshoot, this moment where masculinity in the 90s in its very different, cisgender form is centered. The male is able to be this object of desire and empowerment. Let’s move the conversation forward 30 years with trans men as the new form of masculinity.

We were able to bring in such an amazing trans and queer crew to do it. I have become friends with Daniel Sea from The L Word, in the meantime, and he agreed to come on as the creative executive producer, which is really cool. Just a total dream come true.

It’s been a long journey. It’s been almost a year of us talking and trying to pull it together. 

That’s amazing. What has that felt like for you, your vision coming to life?

Very surreal. Yeah, I’m in New York now, mostly for it. And when I was driving back downtown in a taxi on Monday, I just, by accident, saw them on the side of the road, and just kind of let out a screech. 

I mean, it’s huge. I think it’s so easy as an entrepreneur, to get stuck in the day to day fires, and constantly climbing up the mountain and never feeling like you’ve come far enough or you’ve accomplished enough, or you haven’t raised enough money or sales. You’re always gonna have something that you’re pushing on.

And to have these moments when you can step back, you and the community, this moment of celebration and going like, look, just pause for a moment and look at this extraordinary accomplishment. 

It’s really amazing. And especially, it’s in New York, London, and Paris. That’s so cool that it’s gotten such a far reach. So it definitely is something to really be proud of, and for everyone involved to be super proud of.

So, you said the photoshoot was about a year in the making, what was the process of the actual shoot like?

It was in London. And you know, I wasn’t the talent running the actual shoot. Lydia did an incredible job and [so did] the amazing crew there. I  zoomed in at 6 AM. I was asked to say a few words at the start. 

People had sort of encouraged me to talk about what an enormous accomplishment this was, for Both&. I actually ended up saying, and I wrote about this briefly in a post, was I asked the crew and the models to close their eyes and to think about a moment when they were young, you know, when they were 12. And they saw one of these images.

You know, for me, it was a breakdancing teacher, but maybe it was an ad, maybe it was someone on TV, maybe it was a male best friend, but to close their eyes and remember that feeling of cognitive dissonance. On the one hand, recognizing yourself in the world, seeing, yes, this is maleness, this is me, this is what I want to look like. And then seeing your reflection or seeing yourself in a picture and feeling that dissonance. 

I asked them to try and embody who they are now as something that they could hand back to that child. They could go back to that 12 year old and be like, look at where you’ll be. Look at you in this photoshoot, you know 12-15 years later, being completely empowered and beautiful and celebrated just the way you are. Give that back to your prior self. That was really the kind of joy that I was trying to imbue into the photoshoot and they did such an incredible job of capturing so much power.

I think that’s something that’s so lacking in the narrative in America around transness and trans rights. It’s all the pain and the suffering. What we’re not talking about is trans power, trans beauty, and trans joy and. That’s really what this campaign is all about.

That’s amazing. How does it feel also having this international reach  in New York, London, and Paris? Did you picture it going global and reaching that scale?

No, I thought I was gonna make a few swim trunks for me and my five friends.

I guess you can never know how successful something’s going to be. But I think, you know, you really hit this need in the community. And people can also see the care that you put into it. You put your full heart into it.

This photoshoot came out to celebrate Both& Apparel and Trans Day of Visibility. What does trans visibility mean to you? 

I think the thing about visibility is that it implies a holistic view. The opposite of visibility is invisibility. 

But I think the problem with transness is that we have such lopsided and singular narratives about it right now. I really feel like visibility is to present the human in the multiplicity of identity in our fears, our hopes, our desires, and our insecurities.

Right now, we’re really only presenting the negative side of the spectrum, the pain and the suffering and the challenges that are facing trans people. I want this campaign to be like the counter argument, of yes, that is all true. Our rights are being infringed on every day in so many states. And also, there is joy and resilience and strength in this community. And we have to see that. We have to have a moment.

This shoot is a great way to show that both of those can exist at the same time.

It’s a Both& Situation!

Exactly! I really appreciate you taking the time to chat with me. Thank you for talking about Both&’s new campaign with us at EveryQueer.

Creative Director: Daniel Sea

Entrepreneur and founder of transmasc fashion brand, Both&: Finn Shepard

The Models: Tai Hattingh, Arthur Macnair, and Ethan De Nadai

Acclaimed London Photographer: Lydia Garnett

To find more information about Both& and other transmasc and androgynous clothing brands, check out this article.

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