When one SUIT­ING com­pany piv­oted to fo­cus on the NEEDS of the TRANS com­mu­nity, they quickly DIS­COV­ERED that com­pas­sion is good for business.


There are two threads to the Bin­dle & Keep ori­gin story, and they both start with $1500. Daniel Fried­man used US$1500 to start a business. He’d been study­ing to be an ar­chi­tect when one morn­ing he woke up com­pletely un­able to read or write. Doc­tors had no idea how to di­ag­nose his strange con­di­tion – they thought it might be Lyme dis­ease; even­tu­ally they fig­ured out it was lead poi­son­ing. A few years later he found him­self strug­gling just to get by, couch surf­ing and with­out a ca­reer. He de­cided the best way to get out of this rut was to start a com­pany so, in 2011, with a small loan from a friend, he opened a tai­lor­ing business, Bin­dle & Keep, do­ing fit­tings in clients’ homes and his liv­ing room.

Mean­while, in 2010, Ray Tutera paid US$1500 for a cus­tom suit. Ray, who iden­ti­fies as trans­mas­cu­line, strug­gled to find clothes that matched his gen­der iden­tity, so he made an ap­point­ment with a be­spoke tai­lor. It was quite an in­tim­i­dat­ing ex­pe­ri­ence, sur­rounded by non-trans men, and Ray had to keep ex­plain­ing his rea­sons for want­ing a more masculine cut, with cus­tomers wan­der­ing in and out all the while. But putting on the suit was trans­for­ma­tive – Ray sud­denly felt more like Ray.

These two sto­ries be­came stitched to­gether in 2012 when Ray con­tacted Daniel look­ing for both a brand-new suit and an ap­pren­tice­ship with Bin­dle & Keep – Ray had learnt that Daniel was mak­ing suits for Mur­ray Hill, who is a prom­i­nent drag king, and wanted to join in on the work.

Going out to do fit­tings in peo­ple’s homes was borne of ne­ces­sity – Daniel didn’t have the money for a shopfront or stu­dio in Brook­lyn. But he found that clients, espe­cially women seek­ing an an­drog­y­nous suit cut, would talk more openly about their body strug­gles and dif­fi­cul­ties in find­ing cloth­ing that fit well and made them feel good when they were in their own homes.

“It al­lowed them the pri­vacy to talk about their bod­ies in a safe space,” says Daniel. “It was for­tu­itous. I was there for a dif­fer­ent rea­son, but it of­fered a sense of safety and trust.”

He also did fit­tings in his own home. “I was fit­ting peo­ple in my liv­ing room

WOMEN seek­ing an AN­DROG­Y­NOUS suit cut would talk more OPENLY about their body STRUG­GLES and dif­fi­cul­ties in find­ing cloth­ing that fit WELL and made them feel GOOD.

– and trust me, my liv­ing room was not so­phis­ti­cated – and peo­ple would fly in from all over the country to get a cus­tom suit,” he says. “That’s when I re­alised, this is more than a business, we’ve hit a vein. We’ve tapped into some­thing very rich here; a mar­ket that’s un­served. And it’s not un­served in the sense that they can’t get the suit any­where, it’s about the dis­cus­sion and the con­ver­sa­tion.”

While the ini­tial Bin­dle & Keep client base was made up largely of typ­i­cal Wall Street types, they were able to reach out to po­ten­tial trans and queer cus­tomers through talk­ing about it on Ray’s blog, The Hand­some Butch.

“I was at the be­gin­ning of fig­ur­ing out how to sit­u­ate my­self in my mas­culin­ity,” says Ray. “I felt a lit­tle iso­lated, both pro­fes­sion­ally and per­son­ally, so I started the Tum­blr to keep my­self com­pany and to work out my process in public. I felt like I wanted to shoot up a flare, hop­ing that some­one would find me.”

The le­gal­i­sa­tion of same-sex marriage in the US, and in­creas­ing vis­i­bil­ity of the trans­gen­der com­mu­nity, gave the business mo­men­tum. Now trans, queer and gen­der-non­con­form­ing cus­tomers make up the vast ma­jor­ity of Bin­dle & Keep’s client base. Many of the 1500 suits they make each year are for wed­dings, but peo­ple buy them for all kinds of important oc­ca­sions. Clients fill out a form on­line be­fore vis­it­ing the stu­dio’s se­cret ad­dress for a com­pletely pri­vate two-hour con­sul­ta­tion in which they can talk freely about how they see them­selves and how they wish to be seen, as well as to get mea­sured and make fab­ric choices.

The suits are then pro­duced at an eth­i­cal work­shop in Thai­land, and eight or nine weeks later clients re­turn for a final fit­ting to en­sure that the final prod­uct not only looks good, but also makes them feel good. >

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