When Vanessa Newman was a sophomore in college, she would attend career networking events where she didn’t like saying she was a student. Instead, she’d pretend she was actively working on various business ideas that existed only in her head to see what the reaction was.
“At one event, I said, ‘Oh, I’m working on an androgynous maternity line,’ and people loved it. They were giving me their cards and stuff, and I was like, ‘Hm, this is a really good idea.'” Last July, Newman was invited to an LGBT summit at the White House with a call for 30-second pitches, where she decided to test the idea on a more prominent, targeted crowd. “It was the only pitch after about 30 pitches that got an applause,” she says.
Now, at age 20, the Washington, D.C.-area native is getting ready to launch Butchbaby & Co., the first line of what she calls “alternity” wear for pregnant masculine, transgender, and queer individuals. The company’s motto is “Don’t change just because your body does,” and its philosophy is that pregnancy and motherhood should and do have a wide variety of definitions and identities.
The idea for Butchbaby grew out of a need that Newman knew she one day would have. “One of my best friends in my freshman year of college and I had very similar styles, and clothing was a very big thing that bonded both of us,” she says. “We would always joke about, ‘Oh, I can’t wait until we’re old and we’re going to have babies at the same time so they can be friends, too,’ and the thing was always like, ‘Oh, but what are we going to wear?’ We joked about it, but in the back of my head, I’m like, ‘What am I really going to wear?'”
Newman’s design partner is Michelle Janayea, currently a senior at Columbia College in Chicago in fashion design and fashion business, whom she met through a mutual friend. “I asked if she knew any black queer fashion designers who would be interested in this,” says Newman. “We really just hit it off from the beginning, and so we’ve been working together pretty much since day one of that introduction.” The pair started by hosting surveys and interviewing moms and moms-to-be to find out their pain points in maternity shopping, along with what they wore most often when not pregnant. The focus has been on “designing the perfect fit for women between maternity wear and menswear and women’s wear,” says Newman, noting that there’s a sector of the fashion industry growing around tailoring masculine clothes for all gender identities and body types, but not yet in the maternity space. Other companies that have inspired Newman include Saint Harridan, Tomboy Tailors, and Androgyny.
Butchbaby’s designs aren’t public just yet, but the first line includes “work,” “play,” and “rest” categories with everyday pieces like jeans, a button-down, a pullover, a nursing tee, a sports bra, and boxer briefs.
“Jeans were important because I know a lot of women or people who identify on a more masculine scale usually have issues with women’s jeans already,” says Newman. “They like very deep pocket space because we don’t really carry purses. Stuff like that, or having a straighter leg, they don’t have to worry about taking away from their aesthetics. With the sports bra, and then the boxer briefs, it’s something that a number of people in our community are more comfortable in, but also things that aren’t necessarily out there [for pregnant people].”
Butchbaby will be raising money for a sample line next month, and expects to go into production over the summer, with a crowdfunding campaign launching in August. Clothes will hopefully be available on the company’s website by October. The price point is to be determined after some decisions are made about material, but Newman knows she doesn’t want the line to be too high-priced or exclusive.
“Being a person of color, I know that people of color disproportionately make less money, and they get pregnant, too,” says Newman. “I want people to know that we can make quality clothes at an affordable price.”
As for the branding, Newman says it’s important to her that the name Butchbaby so perfectly reflects the mission of the business. But not everyone has been comfortable with it. “Where I’m at, or where I was raised and how I was raised, I consider myself butch,” she says. “I feel like this term is being reclaimed by younger queer people, but I know that it has very negative associations for older queer people. When we first started getting attention on our website, I would get a number of letters that are like, ‘Uh, you should think about changing the name because my perception of the word is negative and I remember so-and-so.’ But I think there are a lot more of us now that are saying, like, ‘No, it doesn’t have to be a bad word.’ Hopefully something like this will contribute to changing those connotations.”