In a case of necessity being the mother of invention, a Canadian father recently started a company to address the unique fashion requirements of his transgender daughter.
Twelve-year-old Ruby Alexander is the inspiration for RUBIES, form-fitting clothing for trans girls and nonbinary children and teens. Officially launched in fall 2020, the business has already gained an international following from families grateful for garments that provide their kids comfort and confidence.
Ruby’s father Jamie Alexander, 46, was concerned that trans girls and nonbinary kids often stop doing activities they love, such as swimming, dancing, gymnastics, and going to the beach for fear of rude stares and bullying. While Toronto, where the Alexanders live, is largely liberal-minded, parents in other locations legitimately fear for their kids’ safety.
“This isn’t just theory. These kids are not comfortable and stop going places and doing things. It’s not fair. It’s important for all kids to keep active and healthy,” Alexander told The Times of Israel in a recent video interview.
In response, Alexander set out to manufacture specialized bikini bottoms and one-piece bathing suits that “magically turn a pointy poker into a dainty dune,” according to the company’s marketing materials. The garments do so through a specialized combination of compression spandex and mesh that eliminates any need for tucking or padding.
“We’ve heard from so many parents who appreciate that someone cares and is doing something for these kids,” Alexander said.
According to Alexander, his spunky only child was not particularly worried about being in public in tight-fitting bottoms (she asked her parents to buy her a bikini). However, Alexander and his wife Angela felt more at ease with her wearing sweatpants for gymnastics and board shorts for swimming.
It was Ruby’s insistence on wanting to dress just like her friends that prompted serial entrepreneur and tech advisor Alexander to start RUBIES. Bikini bottoms and one-piece bathing suits are already on sale through the company’s website. Underwear (made with more cotton and slightly less compressing) is available for pre-order. Alexander hopes to expand the line — manufactured exclusively in Toronto — to include leggings, as well.
For Ruby, the launching of a company inspired by and named for her has been very exciting. The 7th grader has enjoyed helping her dad with the business’s operation.
“I like working with my Dad. I’m learning real-world skills like expenses, costs and customer service. And I model the products,” Ruby said proudly.
Ruby was also helpful during the research and development phase for RUBIES, in which she and many other Toronto trans girls and nonbinary kids tried on prototypes and provided feedback on fit and comfort.
Ruby and her friends have also taken on the important role of writing personalized, encouraging messages on the “Every Girl Deserves to Shine” postcards that go out with each purchase.
“These personalized messages are so important to the kids who receive them. Many of them are still stealth and it means so much to them to know they are not alone. Some of the kids even write back to us, and some have told us they have framed the postcards,” Alexander said.
According to her father, Ruby has generally been at ease with her transgender identity.
“It certainly wasn’t a shock to us when she decided to transition, because it was really a gradual process over six years and we had time to acclimate,” he said.
Ruby came out fully at school — with the support of teachers and administrators — in 5th grade. (She auditioned for her arts school as a boy and later enrolled as a girl.) However, her gender identity was evident at home long before that.
“I’ve always been my inner girl at home. When I was little I would wear my mom’s high heels. I played with Bratz dolls and was obsessed with princesses. I also loved to sing and dance for hours to Beyonce and Britney Spears,” Ruby said.
She has friends at school, but there are still some “homophobic” kids there.
“But that’s their problem,” she asserted.
Her closest friends now are ones she met through the “RUBIES Guinea Pig” group her dad formed via social media to find families with trans girls or nonbinary kids to volunteer for the company’s research and development efforts.
Ruby also has a supportive social network from Mahane Lev, Canada’s first Jewish LGBTQ+ overnight camp, which she has attended each summer (save the past one) since its inception in 2017.
With coronavirus pandemic lockdowns and online schooling this year, it has been hard to meet up with friends. But Ruby and her family have enjoyed socially-distanced outdoor Sabbath candle-lighting get-togethers with neighbors.
Going public with her transgender identity — especially with RUBIES and related promotional media appearances — has been both exciting and anxiety-provoking.
“But mostly it’s been a weight off my shoulders,” Ruby said about being out.
In many communities and countries, it is not safe for trans children to reveal their gender identities. And in many cases, families cannot afford RUBIES garments. For this reason, Alexander deliberately created a philanthropic aspect to his company.
All proceeds from sales of RUBIES t-shirts go to the goal of sending 1,000 pairs of bikini bottoms to trans girls from families in need. Individuals and corporations can also make donations toward this goal. In addition, families can return swimsuits their children have outgrown for RUBIES to pass along to kids who can’t afford them and receive a credit toward their next purchase.
“This is a commercial venture, but it has a huge social element. We want to address inequality and make sure that everyone who wants one can get one,” Alexander said.
“Most importantly, I’d like to inspire others to do something for these kids,” he added.
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