Well that’s Origami Customs for you.

I am very fussy about who I work with on this blog and on social media hence why you won’t see many ads, but with Origami customs  I was like heck yes please! Not only could I not wait to try out some of their pieces but I was also excited to share them because they’re a rarity in the sea of fast fashion, which they shouldn’t be!

So enjoy the interview I did with Rae, the owner of Origami Customs, the photos I had a lot of fun taking and at the end I’ll give you my thoughts on the pieces I have tried.

Izzy: Could you tell me a bit about the brand?

Rae: Origami Customs is a customized and handmade line of swimwear, lingerie, and more for folks of all bodies and genders. It’s all handmade in Montreal by a small team of queer and trans people. 

Each item is individually patterned for a perfect fit (or we'll alter it for free!). Custom sizing is always included in your order, and there’s never any size cap or fat tax. We are the only gender-affirming company to do this! 

Although the line is for all bodies, we specialize in making gender-affirming products, including binders, gaffs, and packing harnesses, as well as swimwear that incorporates these compression technologies

Izzy: Did your own journey with clothes lead you to making a brand that is trans focused/gender inclusive?

Rae: Absolutely! Although I liked wearing "feminine" styled clothing growing up, my queerness and (later) my transness lent themselves to thinking about fashion as a way of transcending binaries. As my presentation and sense of self shifted over the years, so did my creations and, therefore, what I brought to my shop. I started strongly identifying as non-binary in my late 20s and that influenced a range of "masculine" styled undies (like jock straps) which fit people who are assigned female at birth (AFAB) like me. I hadn't seen anything like this on the market, so in developing something I knew would affirm my gender, I assumed that there would be many other people out there like me, who hadn't been able to find what they were looking for. 

Having a strong gender-diverse community in my 20's allowed me to see what was missing in the market, and what solutions people were after. Many of my friends and partners helped me to identify and develop some of the early gender-affirming styles. 

Inside the Origami Customs studio

Izzy : I’m really curious how you decide what designs/styles to offer? How has your range of offerings grown over the years?

Rae: It's actually changed quite considerably over the years. When I started I was offering a fully custom experience, which allowed people to mix and match styles that they saw across the 200 or so example pieces on my Etsy site.

So instead of growing, we pared down to a core collection of gender-affirming pieces and now rotate through seasonal collections of more detailed lingerie pieces. These collections are often made with exquisite deadstock material that we find and save from landfills, like the vintage embroidered bridal lace (which was actually excess from when I sewed my sister's wedding dress!) in the Monarch range in 2020. This process allows for more specific research and testing to ensure that each garment works for every body shape and size, which has always been very important for me. 

I also work to gather information and feedback from my community and staff to see what gaps there are in the market. 

Izzy: Who makes your clothes? Where are they made?

Rae: We are a team of nine people making your clothes and running the brand out of a studio in Montreal, Canada. Every item is individually made by us. No sweatshops here!

We have created and trained a highly skilled team of sewing professionals who work out of our studio in Montreal to custom-make each garment. The diverse identities within our team are not just supported, but seen as a source of knowledge.

 We make a point to hire and train people with access limitations and support them in all aspects of their careers. Here are just some of the ways we support our team at every step of the way:

  • Employees are paid a competitive wage, keeping employees above just the bottom line of meeting their basic needs. 
  • We train each person to make custom-sized products.  They are taught skill sets that offer upward mobility to further their careers with this highly specialized skill set. 
  • Our contracts include more than average paid sick days and added menstruation days for all genders.
  • We prioritise access e.g differently formatted task lists for dyslexic staff, custom-building cutting tables at different heights for those staff who were too tall to comfortably work at a standard-height table, keeping heating pads, stretching equipment, and other aids on hand to help with stiffness and pain associated with the manual task of sewing.
  • Comprehensive healthcare benefits, specific to the gender-diverse community. 
  • Flexible working and support, recognising people will not always be part of an ever-turning productivity machine.
  • A workplace that lends itself to camaraderie and playfulness- we even plan ongoing dress-up days

We have even offered feedback to our insurance company as to how to better their communication and facilitate the offering of the package to other employers, through our unique insights as a trans-owned, trans-led, and trans-integral workspace. 

Some of Origami Customs Underthings

Izzy: Damn yeah, I wanna work there! This is exceptional, though it shouldn’t be.

How is the fabric and manufacturing process you use different to say, a fast fashion brand?

Rae: In every way, we represent the antithesis of a fast fashion brand! Instead of a sweatshop with many people who are taught a single skill (not allowing them to transfer into a high-paid position), in often unsafe working conditions, we train skilled sewers to conceptualize a product and work with the fine custom tailoring that allows for our customization. And as queer and trans people, we are helping folks gain access to high-level positions in a historically male-dominated industry. 

The fabrics themselves are brought in with the intention to reduce environmental impact, but in many ways, as there is no one-size-fits-all solution to sustainability in fashion. Some of the things we pay attention to when sourcing our fabrics are:

Where it is made, the distance it had to travel to get to us, and by which mode of transportation

Resources used in the growing of the plants themselves (in the case of cotton or bamboo)

Waste produced in the manufacturing process

Transparency of the factory where it is produced

If there is a locally milled or deadstock option available

Compostability/ amount of time it takes to break down

If it can be reused/recycled at the end of life

Average wages being earned by the employees manufacturing it

How much scrap material a pattern will produce and whether or not we can rehome, reuse, or recycle it

How we can use fabrics for more than one design, minimizing waste between collections

We make decisions as to which materials to use based on the cumulative picture we have of their environmental and social impact. 

Izzy: Woah that is a lot of things to consider! Does this business model come with challenges?

Rae: Of course. We have a lot of balls in the air at once, because we have to track hundreds of open orders at any one time. It's hard to stock materials if we don't know what's going to sell, so we end up not making a lot of cutoffs for buying in bulk. It alters our cost of goods drastically. The silver lining is that we aren't locked in to a certain colorway, fit or pattern. We have the flexibility to adapt a pattern if we finding it's not fitting the way we want it to, and we can release up to 20 new colors at a time because we can buy them in small amounts, as opposed to the usual 3-5 colors per season of a larger brand. 

Izzy: How does customer experience differ from Buying fast fashion?

Rae: If a customer is used to buying fast fashion, for sure they may have a different experience with us.  What surprises them most is usually the wait time. We generally have a wait time of 4-6 weeks (and sometimes longer in busy seasons). It's quite  a shift for someone who is used to buying off Amazon and getting their order in two days.

 I think it's hard for people to imagine the actual humans in the studio who are making these garments. We individually customize a pattern for each order, and this takes a lot of time!

Of course, the positive side to this is that you can actually communicate with the person who is making your piece of clothing! We can work with you to create the piece that you're envisioning. And because we mostly work with queer and trans clientele, there's something  special about knowing that your clothes are being made by members of your community. I hope it allows people to start picturing the production loop of not just their Origami pieces, but the rest of their clothes as well. 

Izzy: Tell me a bit about your giving-back schemes:

Rae: Years ago we started a free gaff program with Point of Pride, since our products are made ethically by our Montreal team of makers, the price point was out of reach for many folks.  and it just kept growing from there. Currently, we work with over 40 Non-Governmental Organizations (NGO’s) to get gender-affirming products to people with access barriers, and we give away over 500 products a month! 

Our Community program works with organisations across the globe who often work at the intersection of homelessness, immigration statutes, race, age, HIV/AIDS status, and more. These layered intersections represent the overlapping ways in which TGD people often face multiple barriers to life-changing gender affirmation products. 

We believe that gender-affirming products are a human right. They support mental health, quality of life, and in some cases, safety. We've created products to help our trans and gender-diverse community, and we don't want financial limitations to be a factor if someone needs them.

Izzy: And now my thoughts on my pieces. How do they feel?

I got the Lycra binder in black and the flat front jock strap and you can probably tell from the photos I’m living my gender euphoria moment in these. This is actually my first binder and though I am so happy to have it, and it’s surprisingly comfy, I knew it wasn’t going to be perfect. I have quite big tits so I’m not super flat in it and I am still not hugely comfortable in it on it’s own. I also love the feeling of taking it off after a long day (like any bra/binder). 

But there are shirts of mine (like the green one in these photos) where I put it on and whew! Here I am, I feel great. So it’s given me a sense of freedom for sure. And it confirms to me that yes I do want top surgery, that will give me something no binder could. 

With the jock strap it’s a similar, euphoria but a little discomfort too which often comes with changes in presentation as a trans person I think. I’m getting used to seeing myself in this kind of underwear, more masculine presenting without clothes on and I am loving it, but it’s also a little uncomfortable sometimes. But it’s a slow ease. If I was going to get another one I’d go for a packing one because I also got myself a packer recently and I love it. So these pieces are allowing me to play with masculinity and femininity and see where I sit and how that changes in a new way, which I really appreciate and something everyone should be able to enjoy.

The fact they’re custom made is amazing too, I always worry buying things online (it’s part of why I’d never bought a binder) but knowing that I’ve given over my measurements to people who are specialists at making custom sizing, amazing! 

So if you’re looking for your first or next piece of gender affirming underwear or swimwear, and you want to support a brand that not only has some amazing styles but is also ethically and sustainably made, and gives back to the community, you don’t have to look any further than Origami Customs.

Thanks so much to Rae for the interview.