Origami Customs: Inclusive, Ethical and Gender-Affirming Lingerie & Clothing

  |   By Wen CGNB

Inclusive fashion is a trending topic at the moment. It’s also a touchy subject. While the fashion industry is offering more and more options to plus-size people, featuring more people of colors in their campaigns, there is still much to do. Inclusivity means different things to different people.

Origami Customs, a small lingerie brand based in Montreal, is working on broadening the clothing and lingerie offerings for everybody---but especially the transgender community. It is the creation of Rae, a non-binary queer femme, who aspires to meet the community needs in the most ethical way possible. This brand has been growing very fast through the years, proving that there is an actual need to fulfill.

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"Honestly, the biggest challenge that I've faced in the last few years was how to grow to match the demand. I've consistently been over my limit for production in the last four years, and finding an ethical way to grow without outsourcing was a major challenge," says Rae.


Photo credit: Sean Alexander Scott

Meeting the Needs of a Gender Diverse Community

Now, creating lingerie suitable and comfortable for transgender people isn't a skill everyone has. Rae acquired it through many years of work and research with their gender diverse community. They also had the help of their partner who is transmasculine and came up with many great ideas.

"Many of the gender-affirming things that I make happened is because someone came to me saying, 'I can't find a brand that makes a gaff in my size,' or 'I want a way to swim with a packer' or 'I want a swimsuit that shows off my scars.' "

Origami Customs is creating made-to-measure and custom clothing for people of any size, shape, age, ability and gender expression. With this inclusivity in mind, they also regularly examine their work ethics. Whether it is fabric sourcing, photo shoot planning, or helping with community programs, this brand is cultivating a non-capitalist mindset.


Photo credit: Rae Hill

Inclusivity Through Custom Pattern Making

On Origami Customs' website, you won't always find size options. On some products, only colors and patterns are the available choices. You'll have to provide measurements later, which means they make every piece just for you. This practice can be a challenge considering that pattern making and grading are quite time-consuming. Everything is handmade on-site in  Tio’tià:ke/ Montreal by Rae and two other dressmakers.


Photo credit: Rae Hill

"The fact that each piece is made individually makes it very hard to teach and replicate designs. That being said, bringing in new helpers this year was a fantastic experience, and we are finally able to accommodate wholesale orders and reduce the wait time," adds Rae.

A common complaint when it comes to size-inclusive brands is the lack of representation in their campaigns. Whether it is in core-size or plus-size fashion, it is still pervasive to only hire a particular body type. This practice isn't satisfying for many customers. Origami Customs' designer recruits models within their community, people who inspire and share their values.

"A lot of the photography you see is on myself, and that's because I wait until I can fairly pay all the folks involved in a photo shoot before I arrange one. When I create a photo shoot (either my photographing them myself or hiring photographers),  I always want the models to represent the diverse people who are the customer and fan base behind this company. I want to have people see themselves reflected in photography."

Ethical Manufacturing

"One thing that's very challenging as a small brand is trying to source ethical materials. I like to have lots of options for fabrics and colors. But as a small brand, I can't work with large fabric supplier because I often can't meet the minimum quantities. I'm starting to bring in all new recycled polyester swimwear materials, but it took me years to find [a supplier] where I don't need to buy a thousand meters. "

We sometimes forget that ethical fashion has many layers to it. Who sews our clothes or makes the fabric? How decent is the pay for those people? What is their impact on the environment? Most of the time, labor exploitation goes into the process of creating clothing. It's impressive that some independent companies are trying to make a difference in that matter.


Photo credit: Rae Hill

Origami customs is a value-based business and tries to stick to these values in every aspect of their work. The fashion industry is broad, and we imagine that everything has been done, but there is always room for improvement. The transgender community is one that doesn't see yet find its needs fulfilled. We all need lingerie that fits our body type. Gender-affirming, inclusive clothing is another step toward body-acceptance and a positive one.

Are you familiar with Origami Customs? How important is it for brands to be inclusive, ethical, and gender-affirming?


Featured image: Origami Customs Instagram.


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