The fashion industry has fallen short in creating clothes that fit all bodies and genders. Two years ago, longtime friends Mere Abrams and Anna Graham set out to change that.
Last March, Abrams and Graham launched Urbody, a clothing line with seven staple undergarments for any wardrobe. Lots of clothing brands talk about fit. But Urbody thinks about fit specifically with the trans and nonbinary community in mind. According to Abrams and Graham, making inclusive styles required them to educate manufacturing partners on everything from inclusive terminology to fit, and ultimately to change the design process as they knew it.
Abrams had the idea to start Urbody for both personal and professional reasons. Abrams, who identifies as nonbinary, had a hard time “finding underwear and those core basics that we use to layer clothes on top of that’s self-affirming.” Abrams, who also worked as a clinical social worker for queer, transgender, and gender-exploring youth and adults, heard the same thing from clients. Abrams says there has been a lot of progress in the mental health and medical space over the past 10 years, but no one “paid attention to the role fashion and clothing plays in mental health and our relationship to our body and identity.” That realization prompted the collaboration with Graham, who has experience in the fashion industry, to fill the gap.
The extensive R&D phase took place over two years. Abrams and Graham interviewed people from the trans and nonbinary community, did market research, and conducted surveys that “informed every piece of our collection,” Graham says. The specifics of the design and production process, however, would be their biggest challenge.
Even developing relationships with manufacturers required them to define core understandings. Abrams recalls walking into fittings and defining key concepts like gender identity, what it means to be transgender, and the importance of pronouns. “What didn’t we have to address?” Abrams says. They wanted to make sure that community members felt respected, seen, and understood—whether in the manufacturing process, during fittings, or while shooting product images. “We believe that this push towards inclusivity, awareness, and understanding has to happen at every level of the industry,” Abrams says.
When designing collections, fashion brands typically rely on existing templates that determine how garments are sized and made. But when designing for the trans and nonbinary community, these had to go. “Templates are very gendered in men’s and women’s fashion,” Graham says, noting that there’s often an hourglass shape for women’s clothing and a boxy one for more masculine clothing. Those templates “didn’t fit our brand,” she says. “We had to re-create our grading and sizing of the template using fit models across the gender spectrum.” They measured the body in different places, shifted the proportions, and redesigned the template to meet the needs of the community they were targeting.
Abrams calls fit one of the brands core values, even above style, which they kept simple and classic. And fit plays out in a few ways. Take the compression top. According to Graham, traditional binders, which some transgender men or gender nonconforming individuals use to give the appearance of a flatter chest, are meant to be worn only for about eight hours a day. The Urbody compression top is a bit more giving, so it can be worn for longer periods and during more strenuous activity, like exercising. It also has subtle design details to make it versatile: a low-cut neckline, so it can be worn with a button-down shirt, and a thin, racer-back strap.
These kinds of details were critical to other garments, too. Both of Urbody’s boxer styles have a wider, reinforced waistband that creates a straighter silhouette through the hips and waist. Since boxers are often worn by cis men, they’re designed with those assumed proportions in mind. Adjusting the design helps improve the fit for people with different body types. Graham and Abrams also talked with a technical designer about creating a bikini for those with external genitalia, so it doesn’t gap, and leggings with a built-in thong that’s smoothing and less revealing.
Prices for the line range between $40 and $88. There’s also a plan to launch two T-shirts, each with a unique fit, for Pride.
Urbody’s launch collection shows how design details like a simple seam matter, and how fit is about more than just aesthetics—it’s also important for mental health and identity. “It was about helping people who don’t typically feel seen and have something for them,” Abrams says. “The wrong fit can help facilitate negative feelings about one’s body [and] identity. We wanted to create something that didn’t just feel good, but facilitated health and well-being and a positive relationship with one’s body.”