Meet the Founders of Lesbian-Owned Clothing Brand Kirrin Finch

lesbian clothing brand
Cassie Sheets

Kirrin Finch is named after tomboy characters George Kirrin of Enid Blyton’s The Famous Five series, and Scout Finch of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird. Fittingly, the new clothing brand, founded by the married team of Laura Moffat and Kelly Sanders Moffat, makes perfectly cut androgynous button-up shirts that either character might gravitate toward in adulthood.

With just a day left on their Kickstarter campaign at the time of publication, Kirrin Finch has exceeded their $30,000 goal. The brand will launch a full e-commerce site in June for those who didn’t make the crowdfunding cutoff or who just can’t get enough menswear shirts in their lives. To find out more about Kirrin Finch’s sustainable, community-focused clothing, check out the interview with Laura and Kelly below.

PRIDE: Kelly, you have a background as a public school teacher, and Laura, you have a neuroscience PhD. So, how did you decide you were going to start your own clothing company?

Kelly Sanders Moffat: It really came out of our own frustration of wanting better options out there and not being able to find them. We left our jobs to go on an adventure and travel, and see if this idea was feasible. We talked about it and talked about it, and while we were traveling we started to write our business plan, and really flesh out some of the details. When we came back, we brought it to life. Luckily we met a bunch of people along the way that have been great mentors, and really helped us from a fashion perspective. We just surrounded ourselves with folks that are really knowledgeable in this area.

Laura Moffat: For me, it was very similar. I think Kelly and I both dress similarly. We both really like menswear. We love androgynous clothes. So, I think in the very beginning when we went through the process of looking for clothes for our wedding, neither of us wanted to wear a dress. That sort of forced us into this existential crisis of, “Well what are we going to do?” In that process we found a variety of different companies that catered towards women who wanted to wear suits for their wedding. But then we started to realize that there was such a big unmet need in general for more masculine, or menswear style, or androgynous clothing. And we thought, “Okay, this is something that we need. It’s something that a lot of our friends need. Let’s try to do it ourselves.”

PRIDE: You’ve exceeded your crowdfunding goal. What do you think that says about the demand in the community?

Kelly: One of the things that’s surprised us is where the reach is, and the demand throughout the world for this. It’s kind of this growing industry, but there isn’t that much out there for women who want to dress this way. We’ve had backers from Chile, from Australia, from New Zealand, from Norway, from the United Arab Emirates, literally from all over the world. It shows how much people really want this.

PRIDE: What stories have you heard from the people who have donated about their need for more menswear and androgynous clothing?

Laura: We essentially hear the same thing from many many people, which is: “Where have you guys been? I can’t believe this doesn’t exist. This is so amazing. I’ve been looking for this for so long. I’ve not been able to find it. Thank you.”

People have been very appreciative of the fact that we’re taking on this challenge, and that they’ll be able to feel comfortable in their own skin. I think that’s the struggle that all of these people have. They’re kind of piecing together outfits from different places, but they don’t really feel that there are a multitude of options available that let them feel comfortable with who they are.

Just in Brooklyn, we obviously know a variety of people who have a desire for more clothing like this, but in starting this company we’ve been able to bring together lots of different women or people who are genderqueer, and they have built this community. People who have struggled on their own are now coming together and finding other people with the same struggles. They’re able to connect and feel that they’re not alone.

Kelly: The other thing that we wanted to do is that a lot of brands aren’t hitting the sizes above 12 or 14, and the average American right now is in a size 12. So, it doesn’t really make sense and we’re trying to expand that. In our first run we’re able to go up to a size 16, and it’s something that we’re really looking forward to being able to expand. We want to be able to cater to people in a larger size range, because we recognize that that’s something that people really do want.

PRIDE: There seems to be a lot of thought behind the brand not only about the queer community, but also about sustainability. How do you see Kirrin Finch fitting into that alternative movement of sustainable design?

Kelly: We were kind of just the average consumer going in. We were sustainable in lots of aspects of our lives, but fashion wasn’t something that we were really so much aware of. As we started to go down the path of starting this business, and we learned more and more about the fashion industry, it was really disturbing. It’s the second most polluting industry in the world right now. So, how could we, knowing all that, go into this industry and not really focus on that?

We were really lucky. We joined the Brooklyn Fashion + Design Accelerator. It’s a program through Pratt, and it’s allowed us to have the mentorship that we need to do it right the first time. We incorporated more organic fabric into our collection, used alternative buttons made out of corozo nuts, and made sure we knew that the people who manufacture our clothes are being treated fairly and being paid fairly. There is a movement within the fashion community that is growing, and hopefully it continues to take off and not just be lip service.

PRIDE: What were some of the unexpected challenges you faced when you were trying to get to the sustainability and quality that you wanted?

Laura: It’s not that easy to get sustainable materials in the quantities that we can purchase. We can’t purchase 3,000 yards of fabric like a J. Crew could. We have to buy stock fabrics in smaller quantities. Not every fabric is available in organic or a low chemical dye. It is available, but probably 10 percent of the fabrics are sustainable while 90 percent are not.

The most obvious challenge is cost. If you want to have organic materials, and manufacture locally, and have low chemical dye, and use recycled packaging, the price is going to be driven up. You have to think about who your customer is going to be, because you can’t compete with a big manufacturer who is doing mass market.

PRIDE: What will the price range be?

Laura: The price is $125 for the short sleeve button-up, and $145 for the long sleeve button-up. Those prices are the same on Kickstarter as they will be on the site, but there will be sales tax on the website. If you buy two or four shirts on Kickstarter there are significant discounts, and you’ll get tote bags and additional swag. We’ll have some additional sales available when we launch our e-commerce site.

PRIDE: Do you have any personal fashion icons?

Laura: I love Ellen [DeGeneres]. It’s so cliché, but I just think she has really great personal style.

Kelly: Yeah! I totally agree.

Laura: And she has a nice personality. That’s why I like her.

Kelly: The thing that’s wonderful about Ellen is that she was really at the forefront. She incurred all that flack that she got, and really rose above it and was like, “No, society can catch up with me.” I also think that there are some folks on the professional women’s soccer team that have some really cool style.

Laura: Yeah, like Abby Wambach. She’s got good style. And Megan Rapinoe.

Kelly: I also admire their athletic careers. So, it’s not just that these people are presenting themselves in an alternative way, but they’re also really great role models. It’s similar, in a way, to why we’re using regular people as our models.

PRIDE: Your company name comes from two tomboy literary figures, and all of your shirts are named after literary tomboys. It seems like there’s so much more freedom in childhood—well, for girls, anyway—to play with gender expression through clothing. Did your childhood experiences with clothing inform your designs at all?

Laura: I don’t know if we consciously thought about that, but the observation that when you’re young… you can play, you’re carefree, and obviously you think about your gender but society hasn’t really gotten to you yet. You do things with a free mind. I think that was part of the inspiration for the brand—trying to get back to that place of feeling completely accepted, being completely comfortable in your own skin. When you’re a kid, you’re fearless, and bold, and daring. That spirited aspect, we thought about.

Kelly: We had talked a little bit about wanting to embrace some of that. Who were you when you were eight or nine, and how does that person look today? You’ve grown up, sure. And you’re going to a rehearsal dinner, or you’re going to a business meeting. But you can still have that playfulness of your younger self.

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