How TomboyX cofounder built an inclusive gender neutral clothing brand

  • Naomi Gonzalez, the cofounder of clothing startup TomboyX, was 12 years previous when she donned her first pair of pants, bucking her strict spiritual upbringing that taught ladies are subordinate and should abstain from carrying garments “made for men.” 
  • Gonzalez’s sartorial alternative would change her life’s trajectory, ultimately main her to launch the inclusive brand TomboyX along with her spouse Fran Dunaway. 
  • At a time when many retailers are completely closed or watching gross sales dip because of the pandemic, TomboyX’s income is steadily rising not less than 50% year-over-year. 
  • Gonzalez took her childhood experiences of feeling totally different, uncomfortable, and ostracized to create a brand that goals to alleviate those self same feelings for purchasers.
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Naomi Gonzalez was 12 years previous when she donned her first pair of pants.

Growing up within the ’80s and attending the Local Christian Assembly in Queens, New York — a gaggle she now describes as a “cult” — she’d been taught that girls had been subordinate to males and should abstain from carrying garments “made for men.” 

“I felt something inside of me that could never be reconciled with the beliefs of the church because I was inherently different,” mentioned Gonzalez, now 46, including that her solely choice for activewear on the time was culottes, a sort of flowy trouser that is reduce to resemble a skirt. 

What Gonzalez did not know then was that her first pair of pants would change her life’s trajectory, ultimately main her to launch the inclusive, gender-neutral clothing brand TomboyX. 

Today, the Seattle-based startup is flourishing as many retailers completely shut or watch gross sales dip because of the pandemic. Revenue on the eight-year-old firm has been steadily rising not less than 50% year-over-year since 2017, in line with historic income paperwork reviewed by Business Insider, and the corporate expects that sample to proceed by the remainder of 2020, mentioned Fran Dunaway, cofounder of TomboyX and Gonzalez’s spouse. 

Dunaway would not disclose TomboyX’s income however mentioned the 25-person firm expects to change into worthwhile in 2021 and has raised a complete of $18 million in funding.

What separates TomboyX from much less profitable manufacturers could also be its authenticity. Gonzalez took her childhood experiences of feeling totally different, uncomfortable, and ostracized and channeled them into making a brand that goals to alleviate those self same feelings for purchasers. TomboyX’s gender-neutral garments embody underwear, swimwear, and loungewear, and vary in measurement from XS to 6XL. 

“If something doesn’t make sense, there’s no reason why I can’t do it my own way,” mentioned Gonzalez. “As an entrepreneur, if you see something that doesn’t make sense, there’s a drive to make it better and do it your own way.” 

Tomboy turned entrepreneur 

Gonzalez and Dunaway met in 2009, when a mutual good friend launched the pair. Their first outing was at a WNBA sport, and after a yr of friendship, they began relationship. 

In 2012, Dunaway complained to Gonzalez that she could not discover a flattering button-down shirt. The pair scoured retailers to seek out one thing appropriate however left empty-handed, thus spurring the preliminary concept for a clothing line geared towards ladies who recognized as tomboys. 

The idea appeared becoming since Gonzalez was a life-long tomboy. Her mother and father emigrated from Cuba in 1957 and settled in Manhattan’s Washington Heights neighborhood, the place they raised Gonzalez and her two older brothers. Gonzalez relished taking part in baseball along with her siblings and their pals however her mother and father did not approve of such conduct: Their church believed, amongst different issues, that girls had been meant to marry males, produce kids, and that males had been the heads of the households, Gonzalez mentioned. Nowhere on that checklist was taking part in baseball with boys.

“I remember thinking, ‘This doesn’t make sense because my mom is actually much better with money than my dad,'” Gonzalez mentioned.

Despite this, her mother and father remained with the church for years. The Local Christian Assembly resembles a Branhamite splinter group, the time period for followers of christian minister William Branham, mentioned Rick Alan Ross, the manager director of the Cult Education Institute. These teams match the profile of personality-driven cults, that are run by leaders who exert management over members utilizing varied strategies, Ross added.

However, whilst a younger youngster, Gonzalez had large plans for her life that did not align with her mother and father’ needs. She began dreaming as a 5-year-old about turning into a sports activities therapeutic massage therapist for the US Olympic swim group, imagining that their competitors would happen in Athens, Greece. 

Gonzalez give up the church when she was 12 and described the next 4 and a half years as “extremely contentious.” She steadily fought along with her mother and father as her teenage rebel butted towards their strict guidelines. In one occasion, she reduce her lengthy hair — an motion that went towards the church’s teachings for girls — and her mom referred to as the police hoping they might put her in jail for the night time. 

“I had a daily sense of dread since I never knew what I was coming home to,” mentioned Gonzalez, who would conceal her contraband pants on the hearth escape outdoors of her window, since they weren’t technically “in the house.”

“I figured out how to make life work in the middle of the sadness, anger, and fighting,” she mentioned. 

Everything modified the yr Gonzalez turned 17. Months earlier than she left for Pine Manor College in Newton, Massachusetts, the place she would research biopsychology, her brother outed her as a lesbian. Her mother and father kicked her out of the home and she or he spent the summer time dwelling on a good friend’s sofa. 

“The fact that Naomi had to overcome obstacles and come to like herself, despite the rejection she faced, comes through in the brand,” Dunaway mentioned. “It shaped the way we want our customers to feel, which is good about themselves and included.” 

Naomi Gonzalez and Fran Dunaway

Naomi Gonzalez, proper, and Fran Dunaway are the cofounders of inclusive clothing brand TomboyX.

(Courtesy of Scott Thompson)

A lifetime of resilience built for entrepreneurship

Gonzalez and Dunaway perfected the design of their button down shirt and raised $75,000 on Kickstarter in 2013 to gas manufacturing. Two years later, the brand discovered its hero product in boxer briefs for girls and had been accepted into then-accelerator MergeLane to scale the enterprise. They obtained married that yr — throughout halftime of a pickup soccer sport between pals — earlier than heading to Boulder, Colorado, for the three-month program. 

When the pair started working with MergeLane, they argued with traders who advised they broaden the goal clientel past lesbian ladies, mentioned Sue Heilbronner, cofounder of MergeLane. The cofounders refused to alter their focus.

“It took a ton of strength to continue down the path of narrow targeted messaging for an audience,” mentioned Heilbronner, who continues to run MergeLane, now an funding fund targeted on women-led companies. “If they hadn’t stuck to their guns as they found their way to product-market-fit, I don’t think they’d still exist today.” 

Gonzalez already had a resilient work ethic earlier than launching into entrepreneurship. As a school pupil, she created internships for sports activities therapeutic massage remedy that did not exist, giving her the chance to work with school athletes. 

And then, 25 years after Gonzalez first dreamt of Athens, her want got here true: She was employed in 2004 to work with the US ladies’s nationwide soccer group as they competed within the Summer Olympics. The location: Greece. 

During the semifinals, Gonzalez purchased a Cuban cigar to have a good time her 30th birthday. One night time, after darkish, she discovered a chair on the grass, lit her cigar, and thought, “Oh my god, I f—ing did it.” The group went on to win the gold medal.  

“I learned from the best athletes in the world what it takes to have a goal, see yourself through the ups and downs, and make it to the bitter end,” Gonzalez mentioned. “That was a massive factor in building [TomboyX], because there was no quitting.” 

When consolation and group come collectively

Today, TomboyX’s boy shorts are its hottest product and have 2,053 opinions, together with feedback like, “Never had more comfortable underwear. Makes me feel a bit better about my body.”

TomboyX’s clothing is well-positioned within the $223 billion US grownup attire market as customers gravitate towards useful and cozy choices through the pandemic, mentioned Alexis DeSalva Kahler, a senior analyst of retail and e-commerce at market analysis agency Mintel. 

What’s extra, prospects are hyper-aware of their buy energy and patronizing companies that match their self-expression, Kahler added. “People want to align with a brand that reflects them and makes them feel seen,” she mentioned. “TomboyX’s approach is inclusive and unlikely to isolate a potential shopper, but rather make them feel like there’s something there for them.” 

Inclusivity stretches past TomboyX’s attire: The firm has donated $278,000 to this point to philanthropic organizations that help ladies, the LGBTQ group, homeless youth, and the Black Lives Matter motion, Gonzalez mentioned. 

Compassion and culottes

As TomboyX scaled from an concept to a thriving enterprise, Gonzalez mirrored on her upbringing and reconnected with members of her household, together with her mom, who she says now “loves” Dunaway.

“They didn’t intentionally set out to hurt me, they were learning alongside me,” Gonzalez mentioned. “Once I came to terms that they were genuinely doing the best they could with who they were, I was able to set things aside.” 

However, particular features of Gonzalez’s adolescence will proceed to tell how she runs her enterprise. For occasion, Gonzalez mentioned, she is definite her firm won’t ever promote culottes. 

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