BY DAVID RYALS
In January 2016 Liam Vella founded Support the T – his own clothing company that specifically caters to transgender people. Its inception was inspired by a culmination of different things and after a short period of fundraising it came to life. Vella says, “I was seeing an influx of GoFundMe-type pages popping up on my social media feeds. There were so many trans people who needed help raising the funds for their transitions who didn’t feel like they had any other options. I wanted to give them an option that could raise money while also being able to give something back because I know many people are against asking for help without being able to offer something in return. I had the means to create something of value that they could give back while also pursuing my passion of creating LGBTQ-centered shirts and eventually other merchandise.”
It is a way for Vella to give back to the community and help other people achieve their transition goals. Since its inception it has grown exponentially.
“I am incredibly happy and in total awe of how much we’ve grown since our start less than two years ago. We are well over 3,000 followers on Facebook and we are starting to see our shirts and buttons pop up in LGBTQ spaces, which never gets old,” said Vella.
Vella attributes their online growth to binder giveaways. Binding is a technique used to minimize the appearance of a person’s breasts. Some transgender men or gender-nonconforming individuals use binders (compression undergarments) to bind the breasts to the body, creating a flatter chest.
“I’ve lost count of how many brand new binders we’ve been able to giveaway and each time we host a giveaway our audience online grows as well, which opens more opportunities for growth each time,” he said. “Seeing how a binder can impact someone who needs one is another feeling that never gets old.”
Vendor events have also contributed to their growth. This summer, Support the T did six different events across southeast Michigan.
“Being out at vendor events is one of my favorite parts of running Support the T,” said Vella. “We get to go out and display all our products, connect with people attending the events as well as other vendors and the outreach we have is amazing at events. I also think events are one of the best ways for people to support us, as we have a wider reach to people who may not be trans themselves but want to support the cause for family and friends. The person-to-person interaction is truly something special that we can’t get by selling online.”
Support the T stands apart from other clothing lines, even other LGBTQ clothing lines in that almost 100 percent of shirt sales go to fundraising partners. They are run much more like a non-profit than a business.
“This allows us to also take on more than one fundraising partner at a time which was also important to me,” said Vella. “Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love what some of those other companies are doing. I just wanted to be sure we were doing something to set ourselves apart. Something that sets us apart from most clothing brands in general is that we are completely handmade. Support the T is completely trans-owned and run. All of our volunteers identify as LGBTQ in some way or another. We don’t sell anything we can’t make ourselves.”
Support the T has impacted lives in the LGBTQ community in real, life changing ways.
“So far, we have helped 12 people fundraise for their transitions,” said Vella. “The amount we’ve raised has varied from person to person, but there has definitely been steady growth and I’m able to see what works best to help guide our future fundraising partners in the right direction as well. With each of our products I hope to make a small impact, helping someone show their identity and pride through a shirt, or helping them express which pronouns they use with a button. Those are things that matter to people, especially when queer representation isn’t a priority in our society.”
When asked what he has planned for Support the T in the future Vella said, “I want our merchandise to empower people, to make them feel pride in what they’re wearing and how they’re presenting themselves. On a larger scale I want to keep growing so we can continue raising money. I want to widen the horizon of who we help, how we help, and how much we are able to help.”
Looking ahead, Vella and his team have a wide array of goals set out to achieve.
“Our most immediate goal is to move into a bigger and better production space. Support the T was started and is still run out of a one bedroom apartment with two people living in it. We are looking to move into a bigger space which will help immensely with production and future growth. I am constantly brainstorming what I can do to make Support the T better and where we can go next, so saying exactly what we are up to is hard,” he said.
“I could go on for days. Really I’m just optimistic and open to whatever the future holds. I’m always open to new ideas, collaborations with other queer brands, and whatever else comes my way. I take pride in the fact that everything we sell is 100 percent handmade here in our studio by queer people so I’m constantly trying to find new things that we are able to produce that our supporters might like to buy.”
Vella has stayed true to his original aim. Currently he is enjoying the perks of being a small and intimate company and plans on continuing down the path he has paved saying, “From the beginning I’ve been excited to see where Support the T would go. While I have plenty of ideas and plans, I’m also open to seeing where it goes organically. That’s the great thing about being such a small organization is I can take it in the direction I feel is best at the time in whatever situation arises. I’m excited to see what opportunities arise and where they will lead.”