When the founders of Urbody — a brand making affirming active- and underwear for trans, nonbinary, and gender non-conforming people — set out to create their Active collection in time for a Pride Month launch, they knew one thing it wouldn’t include: rainbows.
“Rainbows can be really wonderful,” says Mere Abrams, Urbody co-founder and licensed social worker, “but there’s a time and a place for that.”
As more and more corporations are using the mainstream acceptance of LGBTQ identities as a marketing opportunity — peddling all manner of spangled paraphernalia during the month of June, while failing to use their power to meaningfully address the community’s needs, and even actively supporting anti-LGBTQ legislative efforts — what has once been a bright symbol of the diversity and unity of the community has turned into rainbow capitalism. “It can [come off as] outwardly presenting: ‘We love the queer community,’ but not necessarily doing that work,” says Abrams. “Particularly in June, it can be a triggering symbol.”
Urbody launched in 2021 after Abrams was unable to find affirming underwear as a transmasculine nonbinary person. Feeling unseen by the fashion industry’s often-restrictive body norms, they launched the initial seven-piece line with co-founder, Anna Graham Thorpe, which included a pair of briefs designed to securely hold a packer and leggings featuring a compressive built-in thong to make tucking easier.
“Since the inception of Urbody, Mere and I never wanted to slap rainbows on things,” confirms Graham Thorpe. “We wanted to give people in our community essentials and staples.”
The Active collection is a continuation of Urbody’s efforts to create change in an industry rooted in binary gender and body norms. The launch includes two different styles of compression tops, as well as bike shorts, that come with and without the same built-in thong included in their leggings, and a breathable skort. The compression sports top and skort come in two colors that are also new to the Urbody palette: cherry, and jade.
Considering the violence trans, nonbinary, and gender non-conforming people continue to face from our culture and legislature, something as simple as underwear may not be at the forefront of the conversation. But in the face of rampant discrimination against trans people, especially transfeminine people, in sports, Abrams says Urbody “really wanted to create a collection that affirmed folks’ identity, gender, and place in the world and in athletics.”
All of the garments went through a hands-on, community-based production process with Abrams, Graham Thorpe, and the designers soliciting input from queer people of all sizes and gender identities — as opposed to the traditional process of using fit models.
This was important because garment factories often operate using gendered templates. When Urbody first sent designs for leggings with a built-in thong, intended for people with penises, the samples they received in return made it clear that the factory had designed the garment with its “women’s clothing” template in mind. “They’re thinking ‘thong,’ and making assumptions,” Abrams recalls. “We have to slow down, [think] about size, body, and gender diversity, [and] break down assumptions.”
Graham Thorpe confirms that “most factories aren’t dealing with brands like ours”: “A lot of inclusivity comes down to [...] transparency [and] educating our factories and design teams about the goal and functionality of the product.”
For trans people, many of whom struggle to find undergarments and activewear that are affirming, affordable, and safe, these seemingly basic resources can be crucial, down to the key details like discreet packaging and health- and inclusivity-informed design.
One example? Some types of compression tops, designed for the purpose of binding breasts to make the chest appear flatter, can be dangerous to wear for too long. “For some people,” Abrams says, “a chest binder that flattens you as much as possible is necessary for dysphoria. But you can only do that for so long.” Urbody’s compression tops are designed to be worn all day long, providing affirmation without presenting a health risk. One customer, Abrams says, was relieved to find they could sleep in their compression top.
Abrams knows the importance of these considerations firsthand. They had always gravitated toward underwear designed for men, but had found the fit to be disappointing — the garments simply weren’t made to fit a body with more prominent hips or without a penis. The first time they put on Urbody’s compression shorts, they say, they had “this full-body feeling I’d never experienced before, of putting on underwear and having it feel good. Looking in a mirror and having it look the way I want and need it to.” The feeling was similar to how they felt after gender-affirming top surgery: “That thing that used to trigger dysphoria, it’s just not there anymore.”
While receiving affirming medical treatment can be a challenge for many trans people, buying a new pair of underwear may be a more accessible step.
“Particularly this month,” says Abrams, “we put extra intention into the actionable things that can make people feel good, versus performative things that look flashy and cool. At the end of the day, what’s important to us is whether our community is being served appropriately.”
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