A big Christmas retail story was the seeming implosion of Victoria's Secret, with dozens of stores closing and the cancellation of its racy, celebrity-heavy fashion show. For many customers and casual observers, the lingerie chain was starting to feel like a throwback, with its insistence on stick-thin models and an executive (now fired) who publicly bashed plus-sized and transgender women, saying he would never put them on his runways.
If Victoria's Secret is suffering because it too long insisted on a rigid interpretation of what a woman is and what she should wear under her clothes, and in bed, TomboyX has found success by going in the opposite direction. The queer, female-owned, gender-neutral underwear company tripled its income after introducing a boxer brief for women.
Founders Fran Dunaway and Naomi Gonzalez began their Seattle-based company in 2013 knowing little about the fashion industry, but wanted to make clothes that suited them as, well, tomboys. That's why we're honored to include them in The Advocate's "Women of the Year" issue.
"I just wanted to find a cool button up shirt that would fit me," Dunaway says. "Store after store, rack after rack, there just wasn’t anything for me. At first, it was frustrating. Then it occurred to me. We had to make clothes for us, and, by extension, everyone that the fashion industry wasn’t serving."
A Kickstarter campaign brought in $76,000, allowing the women to start producing fitted polos and button up shirts. But it wasn't until the women’s boxer briefs blew up the following year that Dunaway and Gonzalez knew they found an untapped market. They soon shifted exclusively to underwear, loungewear, and sleepwear, producing super-comfy bras, bikinis, thongs, boy briefs, boxer briefs, hoodies, and pajamas. The clothing is for women, men, and those who identify as neither.
"Our customers are the reason we are here," Dunaway says. "Everything we do is with them in mind. From them, we hear how we’ve changed people’s lives, how they feel more confident and comfortable in their own skin than they ever have. We hear from teens who are trans and we hear from 70-year-old women."
With its growing success, which includes nearly three-dozen employees and $25 million in funding, Dunaway and Gonzalez hope to expand on TomboyX's inclusive credo. TomboyX is currently available in a huge variety of sizes, from XS to 4X. Dunaway and Gonzalez are working to expand that, and make their products available in 5X to 6X. The boxers and briefs work for both those with penises and those without. The company is also planning “packer” underwear specifically for trans guys.
The most important thing about the company, says Dunaway, is that its items are for everybody, or to be exact, every body: big, small, those with breasts, those without, boy, girl, or somewhere in between. This belief system is ingrained in the founders.
“To be honest, we’ve never thought of ourselves as so-called 'women entrepreneurs,’” Dunaway adds. “We just happen to be entrepreneurs who are women, and it’s up to us to show the world that there is so much more to gender than say, pink and black, or belonging in this box or that.”