Shop Talk: Local Apparel Brand Offers Gender Equal Clothing
Passionate about filling a perceived hole in the market, clothing company Olly Awake offers gender equal clothing. Founder Kevin Terry Smith and designer Celeste Malvar-Stewart teamed up to create the brand, and together they are making and selling articles of clothing that redefine fashion gender types, while also asking consumers to rethink their own preconceived notions about fashion as a whole.
In April 2017, Smith and Malvar-Stewart debuted a line of gender equal clothing at the Fashion Meets Music Festival. Their line, which was initially met with skepticism, was one of the first to openly promote “gender neutral” clothing in the Columbus area. Smith believes “that society is asleep to the realities of all we can be as a culture when we get out of these structures that are limiting,” which was a main inspiration in starting their company.
Prior to 2017, Smith had hopes of opening a gender equal boutique in the Short North. Their original plan was to operate as a traditional boutique and source their clothing from wholesalers, but they ran into a lack of suppliers offering the type of clothing for which they were looking. Thinking back to that time, Smith acknowledged that gender neutrality was not as common as it is today.
When they realized they would need to design and supply their own clothing for the boutique, Smith reached out to Columbus fashion designer Celeste Malvar-Stewart. They initially approached her looking for contacts who would want to design clothing for the boutique, but after hearing their vision for the clothing line, Malvar-Stewart jumped at the chance to be involved.
Olly Awake officially launched in spring 2018. Operating as partners in the brand, the pair describes their coming together as a “marrying of shared collective visions,” and both are passionate about their work.
Today, Olly Awake offers products online and in community spaces. The brand partners with other businesses and community events to offer their products in a collaborative setting. Recently, the duo worked with Pursuit on an event and created looks that combined both brands’ apparel.
All of Olly Awake’s apparel is gender equal. Rather than adapting a women’s piece of clothing to a man and vice versa, the brand’s products are gender equal in their conception. Together they create pieces that have no gender identifiers, such as side zippers or front closures, and that will fit any body type or shape. Malvar-Stewart and Smith want their “intentional design” to be “a pathway for people to find themselves.”
Olly Awake has also done away with traditional sizing labels. The creators want to get rid of the stigma that is attached to numbers and the idea that a “medium” sized piece fits a “medium” sized person and should look a certain way. Instead, Olly Awake offer pieces in sizes circle, square, triangle, hexagon and crescent moon, intending for people to choose a size based on how they want to look in the piece. For example, someone might be a “size circle” but want a piece to have a flowy appearance so they would purchase a size or two over (not up), such as a square or hexagon. The website offers general suggestions and sizing equivalents, but the best way for customers to find their true size is to try on pieces at a collaborative space or community event.
Olly Awake’s current line, listed on their website, has three staple pieces. Cue, Totem and Epiphany. The apparel makers will soon be adding a few new pieces and more colors in that line. The brand also has older pieces still available at events. Most of Olly Awake’s pieces come in a variety of sizing, but they also can make a special request if a customer wants a specific piece in a different size. The company aims to be as environmentally sustainable as possible and therefore does not want a backlog of inventory taking up space. Rather, they have a few items ready to go with the ability to make special requests when needed.
Olly Awake, while not a brick-and-mortar store, has continued to grow and develop since its debut. The company is focusing on growing the base of people who know and appreciate their concept. Smith and Malvar-Stewart want people to feel connected to their clothing, and love community events where they get to create connections with new people and share their vision and passion for gender equal clothing.
For more information, visit their website OllyAwake.com.
All photos provided by Olly Awake