An ABQ trans entrepreneur launched a clothing line to meet the need | Popgen Tech
The “sweet spot” for starting a business is when you see a trend just on the horizon, but it’s not yet mainstream and “still sounds a little crazy.”
Finnegan Shepard believes he found that perfect balance when he launched Both&, an online marketplace that sells clothing to transgender and non-binary shoppers.
The original idea came from his own difficulties as a trans man finding clothes that fit, especially after body reassignment surgery. After a lengthy interview, Shepard realized that the potential market was about to explode.
“When I was in my early 20s, I knew two trans people,” he says. “By the time I was 26 and teaching at UNM, half of my class identified as non-binary. I gave many interviews. I think 99.4% have determined that they have never been able to find clothes that fit.’
With only $5,000 in savings and no experience in business or fashion, Shepard jumped headfirst into the opportunities.
He founded Both& in the summer of 2020 and runs it from his home in Albuquerque. Its London-based co-founder helps with clothing design, while a team in New York “takes care of technical equipment, sourcing and production.” In addition, Shepard relies on an avid customer base and social media audience that has helped him understand what trans people need and what they want it to look like.
Shepard, who has a master’s degree in philosophy, has taught English and writes a monthly etymology blog exploring words and their history. Entrepreneurship was never on his radar.
But, Shepard says, he’s driven by the impact his company is having and the knowledge that he’s producing a rare commodity in the trans world.
“When I look at my life, what I do seems very meaningful and I feel blessed to be me,” he says.
Please tell us about the market of your products.
“I originally wanted to find out two things. First, it’s other people’s problem, and it was, yes. And two, from a solution standpoint, we’re struggling with enough similar things that it can be solved from a design standpoint. It was also very clear because when I talked to people, it was the same questions. For pants that sit tight on my hips, they’re always too long. Shirts will fit my hips but then be too wide in the shoulders. We knew that if you are assigned female at birth, even if you have surgery or take hormones, your bone structure will never change. It’s the same as other groups in the fashion world – the same as the plus size clothing market, the same as maternity clothing, the same as children’s clothing. You just need different patterns and proportions for different body sizes.”
What’s a surprising thing you learned about starting a company?
“I think it was amazing at the same time how much bigger it was than I originally thought and how much work it was. The first idea seemed very simple: just create t-shirts and give them to people you talked to who might benefit from it. Just an interesting thing to explore. And then it took on a life of its own. It was amazing how much it gave me and also how much it took from me. People aren’t lying when they say starting a company is an extraordinary act of sheer willpower, and you just wake up every day and keep pushing yourself uphill.”
What is the current status of the company?
“We are now in the final sprint to raise the seed round. We have customers in Saudi Arabia and customers in South Africa, in Japan. It is very expensive to deliver products to them now. In the US, we have customers in every state, but most orders are shipped to California. When I’m in Los Angeles, I see people wearing Both& everywhere.’
What is your vision for Both&?
“From the beginning, there are other verticals that are areas that need to be innovative. Shoes are one thing, jewelry is one thing, skin care is one thing. These are all physical goodies, but I would like to say that I think we need to innovate the product and the platform for this community. The entire shopping infrastructure was built with cisgender consumers in mind. So, whether it’s a retail outlet that has men’s and women’s dressing rooms, or an online store, and how you navigate product and size charts, what styles and how the clothes fit. For me, a lot of the work was not just about the product, but how … you create an end-to-end user experience where consumers who don’t fit into the infrastructure of the way the world is built now really feel seen and reflected in the brand “.
What were you like as a child?
“Very positive. I’m almost like a thought experiment of being a trans person and what your life would look like in a post-transphobic world. I have always accepting and loving parents. I have never experienced discrimination. I have traveled a lot around the world. I think I’ve been to 60 countries or so. I developed type 1 diabetes when I was 15, so I’m acutely aware of my mortality and my body. It was also a great teacher in its own way. The best compliment I’ve ever received, and I’ve received it several times, is when people who have witnessed my life say, “Finn, you know how to live.” What else can you strive for?”
What’s the hardest thing you’ve ever done?
“I studied Greek, but then I thought, ‘If I want to get a Ph.D. in classics, I need to know Latin.’ And I found this place called the Latino-Greek Institute that has a summer program. It was the equivalent of a college Latin degree, like a four-year course, but in six weeks. No one made it in the program. There were 20 hours a day. We did not wash. It was just Latin, Latin, Latin. It was crazy. It worked, and by the end of the summer I knew Latin.’
Do you have any advice for someone thinking of starting a business?
“I would say you definitely have to work with imposter syndrome. You deserve to be there as much as anyone else. And there are more and more organizations and resources that are trying to… get minority entrepreneurs access to incubators and funding and other co-founders and things like that. Realize that it’s a lot of work, but that you deserve to do it just as much as anyone else. I think as part of that it’s important to know that we’re making things up. I think I really thought that other people knew what they were doing … but literally no one knew what they were doing.”
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