femme

Kentucky’s Gender inclusive apparel brand gives back

What is BLoFISH?

We are a clothing company based in Louisville, KY. Known for our amazingly soft fabrics, All 4 All message, being gender neutral, and our 10% giveback program. We were founded in 2014 and opened our first store in Louisville in 2016. We are still small, but have a solid online presence and have sold to 20 cites, all 50 states, and 7 countries.

What is your mission?

Our mission is to ensure everyone has the same opportunities in life. Whether that be in traditional economic opportunities, education, racial equality, gender equality, or anything else. We believe in our “All 4 All” mission. No matter one’s sex, race, religion, sexual orientation or abilities everyone should have the same opportunities centered around equality. The message is deeply ingrained into our company’s culture and customers, with 10% of every sale going directly to social justice issues.

How do you financially give back to communities? How do you give back differently than larger corporations?

We believe in the power of grassroots organizations, particularly those who are on the ground doing the non-profit work that has a direct visible impact on the communities they are located in. We do give to national organizations, but we prefer to give to causes that support the communities we know our money will make the most impact.

Our business model is revolutionary and much different than what corporations are doing now, particularly in our industry. To put it simply for every $100 in sales we donate $10 to organizations we believe have an impact on the world. While 10% may not sound like a lot, it is exponentially higher than most corporations. Effectively, we created the ultimate Public Benefit Corporation before it was even a thing. How can we do this? We treat our accounting as if the 10% never existed, we work 10% harder, keep lower inventory counts, don’t take (and never will take) crazy bonuses or salaries, and don’t (and never will) have multi-million dollar campuses costing even more millions to maintain.

Here are some numbers:

  • At $100k in sales, we donated $10k to organizations.
  • At $1 million in sales, we will donate $100k to organizations.
  • At $100 million in sales, we will donate $10 million to organizations.
  • As a $1 billion dollar company (knock on wood) we will donate $100 million to organizations.

To put that into comparison, a company in the same industry (and pays their top 6 positions $21 million dollars a year) did $3.8 billion last year. They haven’t released a charitable report online since 2016, but on it they show their foundation has only given on average $400K a year. With our model, alone in 2018 we would have give $380 million to charity. https://www.aeo-inc.com/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/AEO_CSR.pdf (page 9)

Another question we get often with this model and the look of our stores is “how expensive is it?” Our prices are in-line with all the major players, including Nike, American Eagle, Abercrombie, and less expensive than the likes of Lululemon and Bonobos while still using fabrics that are fantastic. I can’t tell you the amount of people who walk by and are surprised when they find out our prices despite the clean, expensive look of our stores.

Going a little off topic. I think one thing average Americans struggle with in terms to the wealthy in this country is just how big those numbers are. While it may seem like a company donating $400k a year, it’s all relative. Here’s what that looks like next to their 2018 profit.

$1,370,000,000

$400,000        

Try and type that top number in your phone calculator. Unless you turn it sideways it’s not even possible. That is 1,370 MILLIONS. No wonder we have a hard time comprehending just how rich the uber wealthy are.

How are your employees paid and how are you paid?

We are still a small company, but we’ve tried to build a culture here where we pay everyone a decent wage, but still work hard. Everyone we’ve brought on full-time has been paid the same, which makes for a cool work-place. Hopefully we can keep it up as we grow. One thing I really believe in is people taking responsibility for themselves, which includes taking as much time off as long as they can find someone to pick up on their responsibilities. It makes it tough being small, but so far we’ve been able to pull it off and should only get easier as we have more resources.

As for myself, I still haven’t taken a dime out of BLoFISH. Luckily I’ve been able to support myself enough in other ways. I don’t plan on taking anything out of BLoFISH so long as I see new products and expansion that needs to be done, which won’t be for a while. There are tons of designs and tons of people who haven’t been touched by BLoFISH, and until that’s done or we have enough resources I can’t see myself taking money out of the company.

What other communities would you like to reach out to?

We’ve hit on a lot of different communities, so there’s not one specific we feel like we need to reach out to. We obviously want to expand, and with that we will be able to copy some of the grassroots giving we’ve been able to do here in Louisville and extend our reach to other communities.

The LGBTQ+ community, the sexual assault awareness community, the trans community, the animal rescue community, human trafficking community, the veteran community, and many others have all been great to work with. It’s nice to be able to connect different types of people who may not otherwise meet. Many of these communities have goals that overlap, and it’s our job to not only give these communities the resources they need, but to connect them so there is an even bigger coalition to go forward and make changes the world needs, many of which aren’t that far out of reach or don’t require extreme resources.

Do you plan to bring your business to areas such as Appalachia, western Ky, etc.?

Yes. We want BLoFISH in as many places as possible, particularly in places that may not have the access to resources or support like many people here in Louisville have, and we know the power that one of our locations can have on a community. With that being said, we are limited in resources, and that’s where social media is amazing. We are able to reach people all over the country.

We recently did a podcast with a transgender veteran from Eastern Tennessee. He talked a lot about how he was surprised how many people were actually supportive of him when they found out about the transition, and while everyone was not supportive, many more than he thought were. So getting our message out in these places is so important to us, and until we can get the resources for physical locations we will do our best to reach out through social media.

What have some of the positive reactions been to your company? What have some of the negative reactions been?

The positive reactions have far overwhelmed the negative for sure. We’ve had people talk about how they wanted a place to feel welcomed, a place that is actually genuine, and some of the most emotional moments have taken place at our community events. The reaction to our products and fabrics have also been positive, which is important, because ultimately that’s the core and the reason we are able to give back so much. I would encourage people to check out our BLoFISH Speakeasy Podcast to hear some stories and see how we interact with the community.

https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/the-blofish-speakeasy/id1272938560?mt=2

As a company centered around social justice we’ve had our fair share of negative comments you might expect, but surprisingly we have had a little bit of push back from some people in the LBGTQ+ community saying our stuff isn’t gender neutral enough. Most of those people haven’t been in the store, but some are right we need to keep pushing boundaries. The key I have to balance is still making things accessible to everyone, while still being profitable on those products.  Being small is tough, and all the new designs are capital intensive, meaning we have to charge more for the products. Some of the same people complaining haven’t been in to test our more “fashion-oriented” designs so it makes it tough in this market to keep producing them. It’s still just my money so far, so we don’t have a multi-million dollar (or anywhere close) resource to tap in to. We’ve had a few people complain about price, but we try and stay in-line with the bigger brands like Nike, AE, and Gap. We will never be as cheap as somewhere like Aeropostale because of the quality of fabrics and products we have, but $46 for our joggers and $25 for hats is right in-line with the brands I mentioned. We have also had some people talk about our sizing system and how we display it, and it’s something we are looking into along with everything else, trying to be as accessible and inclusive as possible.

Why is gender neutral so important, and why does a white cis male care?

When I first started the company the idea of having a place where everyone could come in and buy what they wanted regardless of who they were seemed like a crazy idea (and to many still is today). I think gender neutral is the best way to describe what we are doing, but I’m not sure the adjective fits the way it should. I see what we are doing as label-less, we don’t care how you identify, we just think everyone should have the same opportunity to shop and wear awesome things without worrying about people looking down on them because they are in the wrong section or in the wrong class to buy things. In the past few years gender neutral has almost taken on a moniker of its own and people think it should look one way or another. I push against that, and think people should be able to buy and wear whatever they want, whether they identify as “gender neutral” or male or female or gender fluid, and that’s the perspective I design from.

As a white cis male I believe, and have since I can remember, a responsibility to step up and speak up for those who don’t have the same privileges as me. And that goes beyond being just a cis white male, into a cis white male who grew up with everything I needed. I didn’t have to struggle for a ride to baseball practice or worry about how I was going to get to school. I think we have a tendency to use labels as a way to build walls, and if everyone would look at each other in a sense of their privileges and access as opposed to their race and gender the world would be better for it. I will continue to stand up for all those who didn’t and don’t have the same opportunities I had, and am extremely lucky to have a platform and a business like BLoFISH to help spread that message.  

Who are YOU? What is Logan about?

I’m a crazy 31 year old person who is crazy enough to think it’s possible to create a new business model and flip the entire retail industry on its head while spreading a great message and making a REAL difference in the communities we are in.

What makes BLoFISH stand out among other retail companies in the nation?

You mean besides having better products, people, community, and business model? Not too much.

From Brazil to the Bluegrass

Matheus Rezende-McCubbins

What does the word queer mean to you? How do you identify?

Queer to me means to embrace all parts of who you are, and being proud to be a part of a community that fights everyday for nothing but acceptance and recognition of our rights.

To be queer is also a part of a political, cultural and economic disruption of what is by some defined as “standard”… englobing the entire LGBTQI+ community as a family, and to know that you can be loved and accepted regardless of how you dress, how you look, or how you identify. With that being said, I identify as a cisgender gay man, who wants to contribute what I can to ensure inclusivity and to spread love to all my Queer community out there.

Why? Or why don’t you identify as anything at all?

I am finally comfortable with the fact I am a cisgender gay men. It took me a while to figure out who I was, and where I would fit while growing up. I didn’t have any queer people around me…not even on T.V. (we had four channels back then), so you can imagine how lost I was when I started to feel attracted to boys…while being a boy! I had a to go through a lot before understanding the differences between sexual orientation, and gender identity.

Where are you originally from and explain how was it growing up/living in Kentucky?

I was born and raised in Brazil, land of soccer, Carnaval, and happy people. Also a country that kills the most LGBTQI+ people on the globe.

Unfortunately that had it’s role in one of the reasons I decided to move away. I was a little concerned about moving to the conservative state of Kentucky. Thankfully, I found Louisville to be a progressively Queer-friendly city, and I’ve met amazing people that helped me to finally fully accept myself for who I am.

What would you say to any person struggling to come into their own identity?

You can be going through a rocky road right now, and you might feel lost with understanding the feelings you have about yourself. Be patient, try to find others that are going/have been through the same,  surround yourself with people that love and accept you for being your colourful self even if it’s not your “birth family,” and you will find nothing but joy when you learn to love YOURSELF.

How does your own identity run how you carry yourself? Or does it?

I try not to let the way I identify myself to be the only way I live my life. Some days I like to just feel my oats and embrace more of the colors on the board, and that’s why I love the amplitude of being Queer, you don’t have to put yourself inside a four walled room… I definitely need more windows than that!

What issues do you see in the queer community?

It’s crazy to think we would have issues inside our own community that already suffers so much with everything else on the outside just for existing. But unfortunately, this is a very harsh reality. Growing up I remember always being bullied for being too girly, or for having a high pitch voice. Ironically, one of the bullies would come out as gay just a few years later.

There’s still a lot of internal homophobia within our community, specially when sub-categories are created to label people based on their own individualities. I can’t count how many times I heard someone was “too fem” or “didn’t have the Instagram body” therefore they were automatically not a “match.”

What do you think would solve those issues?

Acceptance is the key. The Queer community needs to grow together to be able to face obstacles daily, as well as to create more support systems to protect our own, while educating other people.

Where do you feel “at your best” (safe, happy, fabulous, comfortable, etc)

Being away from my home country and family has taught me that the “where” I feel at my best is not a place, but anywhere I can be surrounded by the people that make me complete.

Who influenced the life you live now?

My mom, my husband, Britney Spears and some of the most amazing people I met when I came to the U.S. back in 2014 for my study abroad program.

My mom for raising me to be a good freaking human being. My husband, that joined me on this life adventure, and that is the reason why I can call Kentucky home.

Britney for getting me through some tough times when I was just a baby gay boy, amen Blackout era.

As well as my Ohana, all the amazing people I met in 2014 that were my support system when I finally opened myself to who I really am.

wallflower or a firework

Anya Lee

Q: What does the word queer mean to you? How do you identify?

 A: Queer means on the fringe to me. Anything that isn’t white and straight. I identify as a queer woman and trans femme. 

Q:Why? Or why don’t you identify as anything at all?

A: I’ve done the whole “wow being a boy fucking sucks i don’t like this at all” thing my entire life, since I was maybe 3. Why not is the better question at this point. It was really a do or die kind of thing, although I still want to die. 

Q: Where are you originally from and explain how was it growing up/living in Kentucky?

A: My mom is from Louisville but was raised in Los Angeles. We lived around there, San Fransisco, Pasadena, and Fresno until she needed to jump ship from the state after some bad relationships, and decided to run back home to Louisville to her mom. It was a big ole mistake and i’m eternally bitter. Growing up in Kentucky was honestly kind of miserable, kind of not. I’ve always socially acclimated well — either as a wallflower or a firework. As a kid, I hid my trans identity and hid amongst all the mean girls, and then when I came out people became more interesting. The hardest thing has been dating. Everybody wants to fuck me, but nobody is interested in being identified as queer with me. 

Q: What would you say to any person struggling to come into their own identity?

A: Just do it. Honestly, you aren’t living till you’re living as yourself. I lived a half ass, half dead live for so long. I’m so happy my depression and dread comes from other people instead of myself. 

Q: How does your own identity run how you carry yourself? Or does it?

A: It made me more defensive and confident. I try not to give people room to tear me down, because people who are insecure with themselves love doing that. At least, outwardly, I try not to, but once someone gets close enough, all bets are off. I’ve been living my life in pieces for a while, but I try to make sure people don’t know at a glance. Being fake confident lead me to get a lot of compliments since so many people aren’t living as themselves, it seems impressive. So, I guess I became impressive? I’m really not.

Q: What issues do you see in the queer community?

A: Lack of intersectionality. So many people don’t realize we’re only as strong as our weakest links, and there are so many factors that come into that. We need to broaden ourselves as a community because people who aren’t queer aren’t going to accept us. It’s just tragic to see scape goats scape goat someone else. like, get real? you aren’t one of them no matter how hard you try. Enrich yourself and your people. 

Q: Do you feel excluded from the “mainstream” queer community? Why or why not?

A: Since i’m a fairly passing transwoman, I guess I am the mainsteam. People find me acceptable because they like how i look. I’m the token more often than not. I’ve heard a lot of people who compliment me scoff at other transwomen or gender-variant people and it’s kind of annoying what people say in confidence. 

Q: Where do you feel “at your best” (safe, happy, fabulous, comfortable, etc)

A: At home with my boyfriend used to make me feel safe and best sometimes, but since I had a really messy break up, I feel best in the office. I’ve really been focusing on working and making money. Everything else is kind of painful for me, especially at home. I rearranged my entire apartment but it still feels like shit. Don’t let other people into your safe spaces if you aren’t sure about their permanence. 

Q: Who influenced the life you live now?

A: My anti depressants and anti anxiety meds, for sure. I’m able to work well and pretend i’m neurotypical for my 9-5, so when I get home I have my little melt downs and start over. Occasionally I do music. I actually had my first show. I promote as “Tsumi” and I’m available on Spotify, but my music is kind of halted right now. More things are coming, though. Probably.

‘Ban conversion therapy Kentucky’ Executive Director’s call to action

For me the word queer is liberating. Growing up in Southern Indiana, where there was minimal support for LGBTQ people, I didn’t know what supportive LGBTQ spaces looked like.

Moving to Louisville, Kentucky, I started coming into my queer identity and learning how my other identities influence the way I exist in various spaces. For myself, the queer community has given me purpose.

Being involved in activism and fighting for the queer community is a passion of mine.

I am heading a project to make conversion therapy illegal for minors in Kentucky. Hearing the horror stories from survivors of conversion therapy, we wanted to take action to show queer kids that someone is fighting for them. No one should have to experience this torture and should be able to be happy and celebrate who they are.

Though we have made significant strides as a community in the United States– our fight is far from over. In addition to the work we have ahead of us as a country, we as community have so much work to do.

I believe that Queer people and all people will never truly experience liberation until we as a community actively address the oppression that still exists in queer spaces.

We will not truly be a community until we fully support queer folks who are black and brown, undocumented queer folks, our queer folks with disabilities, queer folks of all body types, as well as many other identities that intersect with queerness.

I am excited for the progress that will come with future generations — it seems that today’s youth are more caring and unapologetic in their queer identities than ever before.

Gender, color, sexuality

Jerika Jones, Kentucky

What does the word Queer mean to you?

I think Queer means living a life that is otherwise considered different from mainstream and also heteronormative lifestyle. I choose words carefully because gay lifestyles are becoming more “mainstream,” but often tend to fall into heteronormative ideas and I’m reluctant to call all gay life Queer. But that’s an argument for another day. I don’t really identify as Queer per say. But I don’t think it would be wrong for someone to call me Queer. I definitely identify with being at least sexually fluid. But I identify more with a cis gendered feminine life style more than anything else.

Where are you originally from?

I did not grow up in Kentucky, but I do think that I spent important years here. I was mostly a teenager in Kentucky. When I moved to Kentucky, I became aware of what my skin tone really means. I never knew the gravity of being a black girl until I came to Kentucky and had people call me a nigger and threaten me because of my race.

How do you understand Ideas of gender

I have an interesting stance on Gender. I really never knew how much of a fluid idea i had of cis femininity until I went to college. I remember having the hardest time understanding what cis gender meant in relation to what I was reading because I never understood femininity to mean docile, submissive, emotional attentive etc.

I have only been around black women who provided for my family when the men couldn’t, being the pillar of strength when no one else would, speaking up when others were silent, and being the voice of authority. All of these things I have come to learn are associated with masculinity. This is the narrative for black women. In a lot of ways, I have learned that being a cis gendered black woman meant being somewhat masculine. But given my experience growing up in a Black family it is a no brainier that I would be confused.

But with that said, I have made some POC, GNC and Trans friends, and I have come to learn more of the nuances of gender that way.

And I have learned that even though I have a fluid sense of gender because of my race, my identity as a black cisgendered woman is still the normal of abnormal femininity. Gender is far more intricate of a thing than I can even understand because I don’t have the first-hand experience to know. So, I have come to understand the tricky bits of gender by being friends with people who are more oppressed than I am, who rely on my voice as a cis aligned black female to elevate theirs.

This doesn’t give a clear-cut answer to “how do you understand gender and what does it mean to you” nor does it give a sufficient answer to “how do you see your identity ” because to give a clear cut answer does a disservice to experiences that I can imagine that by siblings in race experience.

I have also come to understand gender by watching people react to my own gender performance. I kinda present tomboy but very feminine at the end of the day. I think people readily ascribe Queer to me because I don’t really perform high femme. But I’m definitely femme. And usually, it’s Queer folks that incorrectly gender me. They tend to either make me into more Queer than I actually am or not recognize being just sexually Queer as legitimately queer. It’s like people want to see a particular type of Queer performance. For me my Queerness come in a form that’s largely unseen, which is my sexuality.

Now that I think about this question more – I actually think this is the best way to demonstrate my cis privilege. Because at any time I can perform more high femme it wouldn’t make me feel a type of way at all but I want to be more tomboy-ish because I’m lazy — not because I truly identify as androgynous.

Do you feel excluded from the queer community

No, I do not feel excluded from mainstream Queer community because it is people like me who are creating the caricature of it. The actual Queer community looks different from what mainstream media would say it does. And while I don’t feel excluded from it, I am very aware of my role in relation to other people who can only find community within the queer community. At any time, I can go into non-queer communities and be OK.  And I have to be mindful of that.

A Western Kentucky Queer

Austin Norrid, Hopkinsville

The word queer to me is about chosen family. For many queer folks, relationships with our given families can be strained at times, but we have the opportunity to create families of our own within the queer community. What the word queer offers that LGBTQ* doesn’t, is one word for our entire family to embrace and call our own.

I identify as queer.

I’m originally from Hopkinsville, KY. Growing up I had no examples of out queer people who were my age, and very limited examples of older people who were out.  I went to a small school with only 33 people in my graduating class. I was the only one to come out before graduating, which at times was isolating.

To people who are struggling to come into their own identity, I’d say that living your authentic self doesn’t require a specific label first. Experiment. Experience. Try new things and meet knew people. Ask questions. Finding yourself is an act of liberation and rebellion against heteropatriarchy. The tendency to compare yourself to others is neither queer nor liberating.

My identity influences my teaching praxis as I strive to be a positive example of a queer adult, which I didn’t always have when I was in school.

In the queer (and especially gay male) community I often see folks being shamed for being “femme.” This is just an aspect of heteropatriarchy. Queer bodies that are masculine are valued over those that are femme, much as our culture values male bodies over female bodies. Until we as a community can learn to value queer femme bodies, we will continue to be enacting the violence of heteropatriarchy on ourselves.

I don’t feel a need to search for a “mainstream” queer community because I feel I have made my own queer community.

I feel my happiest when I am making music with my students in South Louisville and when I am relaxing with my partner, Sanjay.

All of the queer pioneers like Marsha P. Johnson, Sylvia Rivera, and Harvey Milk have definitely influenced me the most. As a teacher, I feel that it is my duty to advocate for the needs of my students, especially the needs of my queer and POC students. When they are in my classroom I want to make sure they know they are safe, respected, loved, and valued, and that I will fight to make the world a better place for them.

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