Last October, Courtney and Chris Rhodes – both 23 – quit their coffee shop jobs, packed their bags and moved to Brooklyn, New York. There, they’re pursuing their dreams of creating a clothing brand by and for the queer community.
Chris and Courtney run the company, FLAVNT, which is pronounced like ‘flaunt.’ As in, “flaunt what you got,” as Chris says. In Courtney’s words, the company stands for being “unapologetically confident.”
FLAVNT was born after Chris wore a homemade t-shirt to Austin, Texas’s Pride Parade. The shirt was spray painted in rainbow colours and read ‘Pretty Boy.’ Chris says he was approached by all sorts of people – gay, straight, transgender, non-binary, male, female and so on – and they all wanted to know where they could buy a ‘Pretty Boy’ t-shirt.
“This whole wide group of people liked this pretty boy idea, and so we were like, pretty boy is this really broad thing that people could identify as and I always identified as,” Chris says.
So, Chris and Courtney, who both graduated from Texas State with degrees in graphic design, invested $500 each into producing their first batch of ‘Pretty Boy’ tees, along with company logo tees. They asked their queer friends to model the shirts.
Queer models are a crucial component of Chris and Courtney’s vision for FLAVNT. They both recognize the importance of queer and trans visibility in the media.
“If I had a brand I could’ve worn when I was 14 and confused about my gender and felt more comfortable, I think it would’ve made coming out a little bit easier,” Chris says. “And [it would have helped me] if I had seen a business with queer models – people of all types and people supporting each other.”
FLAVNT is so dedicated to supporting the queer community that they partner with one person at a time who needs help paying for a gender related surgery. They support this person by donating 15% of designated sales to their surgery fund. The idea for their partnerships began last year when Chris and Courtney were approached online by a young transman who asked if he could model and promote FLAVNT in exchange for help paying for his top surgery. In January, after completing one successful partnership, FLAVNT opened up an application for their next partner.
FLAVNT’s second and current partner, Caden, was selected from a pool of nearly 40 applicants. Caden was chosen for several reasons, including his incredibly strong work ethic and because he runs a YouTube channel dedicated to helping trans viewers. On May 19, 2015, the day that I spoke to Chris and Courtney, they were excited to share that they had officially raised over $1000 for Caden’s top surgery fund.
“Working with FLAVNT has been an honor and such a life-changing experience for me. I wouldn’t be getting top surgery without their help and hard work. Chris and Courtney are such genuine and hard-working people and always make sure I am doing well,” Caden says. “Partnering with FLAVNT has made me more confident and stronger as a person. I feel like I’ve really grown since we started our partnership in January. I’m feeling very strong mentally and physical for surgery coming up this August.”
Caden values a positive mindset in his life, just like FLAVNT. “FLAVNT is always cultivating positivity and kindness and this is very important to their company,” Caden says. In the spirit of positivity, he offers some advice based on his experiences: “A year ago I didn’t think this was possible. I didn’t think this would become a reality. Don’t stop until you achieve what you want. Keep your head high and keep pushing through even when it seems impossible and one day you will get where you need to be when the time is right.”
Money is still being raised toward Caden’s top surgery fund. When you checkout on FLAVNT’s website, put ‘Caden’ in the comments section to be sure that 15% of your purchase goes to him.
In addition to being dedicated to giving back to the queer community, Chris and Courtney are also passionate about supporting other small queer businesses. Recently, FLAVNT participated in a clothing swap with other small queer brands.
“There’s stuff that each of us is offering, and it’s great to see other queer people succeeding,” Courtney says. “The community needs to support itself.”
FLAVNT is also dedicated to supporting small businesses in general. They have their designs printed by a local small business, and by using a smaller printer their products are higher quality and the shirts even get dropped off right at their apartment.
Chris and Courtney pack and ship orders themselves, sometimes enlisting help from friends. They make sure all shipments have a thank you note and care instructions, and they often throw in free FLAVNT stickers. They also personalize thank you notes being sent to Texas, their home state, with a heart.
“We want to make sure everything looks good and feels good, like a small business because we are. It’s just the two of us,” Courtney says.
So what’s next for FLAVNT? In the future, Chris and Courtney hope that their brand will reach more of the queer community. So far, only trans masculine people have applied to be partners, but Chris and Courtney hope for more male-to-female or non-binary applicants in the future.
Chris and Courtney also hope to open a FLAVNT store one day, either in Brooklyn or back home in Austin. They hope that when people are able to physically see the products in a store, they’ll be able to mentally connect their purchase with a donation going toward a life-changing surgery. Chris and Courtney estimate that right now they’ll be able to help out 3 or 4 partners per year. They hope one day to help 1 or 2 people per month.
Keep an eye on FLAVNT this summer as they expand their brand. You can follow FLAVNT on instagram @flavnt_streetwear and tumblr, where Chris and Courtney repost customers wearing their clothes. Shop at flavnt.com, and remember to add a note in the comments to help out FLAVNT’s partners!