Peregrine Honig, working with pattern designer Laura Treas, is forming a new line and store All is Fair in Love and Wear, a brand comprising binders, packers, tuckers and cinchers that allow the wearer to transform their body’s original shape. The new shop All is Fair is located in the Bauer building in Kansas City’s Crossroads Arts District. The brand’s intentions on whom it serves and why has been brought into question recently. In the interest of all fairness, Informality is presenting Honig’s perspective on the project. I stopped by Birdies on Tuesday afternoon to ask Honig about the venture.
What is your concept behind All is Fair?
All is Fair in Love and Wear is a brand of middlewear binders, tuckers and cinchers patterned by Laura Treas. Treas has thirty years of experience in the post plastic surgery garment industry.
All is Fair is partnered with The KC Care Health Clinic. Bill Haw of Haw Contemporary, Sarah Baum, and Kirk Isenhour. Myself and these great collaborators are working on an annual series called Care Package with artists that provide limited edition necessities focused specifically on transgender teenagers emerging from the foster care system. Boxes will have basics: new pillowcases, a toothbrush, fresh socks, condoms, coupons implementing positive self-care, and information about local health facilities and regional transportation.The first boxes will be available in Spring at Bloom. an event that raises money for the hospice and the Kansas City Care Clinic.
Since acquiring the lease in June, I have used All is Fair as a classroom for patterning workshops offered to the public taught by Miranda Treas and as a studio for a visiting artist collaborating on All is Fair garments. I’m working on getting a 501c3 to eventually provide a micro residency, something Kansas City would benefit from.
I want All is Fair to be a space people can rent for a lecture, used for a show of someone’s work that is having a conversation about gender identity. I want it to be a shop for people who can pick up a garment that makes them feel better going about their day.
Are you collaborating with other artists on this project? If so are any of them part of the LGBTQIA community?
Yes. It is wonderfully unavoidable, Jennifer Neihouse, Teddy Tinnel, and Theodis William among many. I have met many times with Neihouse and both Tinnel and William are models of the garments for the Kickstarter. Luckily Teddy agreed to be a part of the project. He is in the film for the kickstarter- I can’t use him as a model for binders anymore since he has had top surgery with the assistance of an indiegogo campaign- you know- false advertising. Teddy has taught me a lot about contemporary masculinity.
Im curious to how these shops – Birdies and All is Fair – relate to your studio practice. Birdies especially as your work is always very feminine.
My work is about public and private behavior. I am really interested in how people tell a story with their body. I am a watcher, I watch people and their bodies and I am really comfortable being with all different kinds of women. I opened Birdies as an installation and it has become a successful business. Our first day was Valentine’s Day, people were grabbing their coffee at YJ’s Snack Bar and I was printing birds on cotton panties and hanging them from a clothes line. That was thirteen years ago.
I used to really try and separate my studio practice from my store. I would get really self conscious and annoyed if someone would bring up my business when talking about my work because it is a pink collar job. I was self conscious that I had to work really hard and I had taught at the Kansas City Art Institute but that was not necessarily my calling. In terms of a super regulated schedule, it took the same amount of energy to teach as it did to be in studio. I don’t think that is true for everyone, but it was for me. When I opened Birdies I had already been familiar with how to sell things because of the Fahrenheit art space. I took the highbrow alternative gallery language and brought it to a tiny retail space that was 150 square feet.
I don’t really like to think about money when I am in my studio. I really want to be able to fail and experiment and try different things. In retail it’s much more regulated.
You said you prefer critique of your artwork and have a hard time with a critique of your business, why is that?
I rely on my business to pay for my studio and my rent. I want to have a personal experience with my customers. I want this relationship with my collectors too but I think when somebody says they don’t like a direction of my artwork, I am more familiar and comfortable with this situation. I am newer to business than I am to art. No one can make my artwork but me, I am responsible for that. If someone isn’t into my ideas I am cool with that. On the business end, I want to provide a service for people that feels comfortable for me and my customers.
What made you chose to take on this venture of All is Fair?
My friend was transitioning and I saw what was available to him, and it was gross- not built for his frame and poorly constructed. It wasn’t like I woke up in a sweat knowing what the space was going to be. I got the space first, my amazing intern and employee of many years Chelsea Huff was going to open up a makeup store and then decided to travel. I was able to take over that lease, everyone in the building agreed that it was a good fit.
Do you feel that is what you are doing with All is Fair, applying that studio mentality to the new space?
I think that working with Laura Trease and knowing what potential can come out of the West 18th Street Fashion Show. When you have a business, and you realize something is missing from your industry, you have to use the Keep It Simple Stupid mentality with it. When you make art, you want people to believe it happened flawlessly. Same in business. For sure, All Is Fair has been a challenge. There is no Rosetta Stone for how to speak the language of the transgender community. Everyone is learning, hopefully now, at a faster piece. This is inspiring to me, we are living in a time where science and social structures are allowing people to become what they want to become and we are living in a time where people are demanding that they be addressed in the way they prefer to be addressed. This is great, because the more comfortable someone is in their skin, the better life someone is going to have. That’s what I really would like, through my artwork and through Birdies and All Is Fair, my intention and umbrella for all of these projects is to make things a little more beautiful and interesting.
How will the garments for trans men differ for those for trans women?
So far, All is Fair has four binders in two colors for trans men. Laura and Miranda Treas are developing tuckers and cinchers for trans women. We have plans for packers as well. Compression fabric is pretty limited so I hope we can get some custom colors in our inventory.
You said that you are seeking out online forums to discuss with transgender people what their needs are?
Yes for years. So, Jody Rose, a very socially established transgender man that advocates for the health and spirituality aspects of it, he and I have had long ongoing conversations. There are established female to male men who are early advocates of being spiritual and being sexual, getting to know that history has been really important.
I hope the kickstarter is successful, so that I can make a lot of these binders, send them out to transgender boys and say “Take a Selfie, keep the binder” because who is better to document the transgender community than the community itself. If I’ve learned anything from my last exhibition, if you document yourself and you send it to someone else you’re being directive and telling the other person, “This is how I want you to see me.” It would be really nice to have at least 15 of these binders to send to have self documentation by those who would wear them.
Say there is a transgender person who cannot afford to buy a $75 binder. Your promos that are planned would allow them to get one of these binders and use it rather than the current methods – like compression tape – that are less comfortable?
I think what’s important is that giving things away isn’t the answer. Give a man a fish, he eats for a day, teach him how to fish and he will eat forever. It’s a much bigger conversation than giving away binders for free. The idea is that I’m trying to make something that feels good, looks good, is middle luxury, and accessible. If I have a successful kickstarter I can make enough that people can have them for less, because the yardage is expensive for compression fabric and patterning. I’m sure there is a luxury focused population of transgender people. A campaign of trans boys in selfies in trade for binders would be fun and create immediate diversity.
Do you hope to employ members of the transgender community at the store?
Yes. It is a moment where it is just another step in the right direction. I am interested in meeting transgender people who are really good at retail. Undermining the project in an attempt to try and make everybody happy is not smart. It has been really interesting learning the etiquette and the language of transgender culture. You don’t want to walk up to someone and say “Hey you’re transgender, do you want to work at this store?” Life is a lot more sensitive and complicated than that.
A question I have asked myself with this is “How would you do a campaign of transgender boys and girls” A lot of them have invited me into their forums. When I enter that space I always post “Hi I am a cis-woman feel free to take this down if I am stepping on your toes.”
Have the recent rise in transphobic attacks in Kansas City influenced you to reach your customers in a new light?
Declining an interview with The Kansas City Star to avoid having All is Fair be the counter article to the misgendering of Tamara Dominguez was stressful but it made a statement. Jenee Osterhelt, a columnist from the Star, is now writing a cover article that will include interviews and perspectives from the transgender community set to be published in November. There is horrible violence in Kansas City, and we could focus on that but we could also shift our focus and make people feel cared for.
Owning a small business and being an artist both involve a lot of work and labor. Using Kickstarter to launch the idea of All is Fair and raise money for material has been a part time job. The transgender community was rightfully upset with the published misinformation about Tamara and it was a real forest for the trees moment for me. I knew it might cost me losing the battle to win the war, even if my battle was building the funds for better weapons. I knew my fear of not meeting my kickstarter goal was far less important than not advocating for the community I was advocating for, but failing publicly scares most people.
One core argument that has been posed toward the shop is the financial situations of the trans community – with the income disparity and discriminatory laws in both Missouri and Kansas. Do you worry that the core community that would love to purchase your undergarments will not be able to afford them?
Just like everything, the higher the demand, the larger the production run, the cheaper and more inhumane the labor, the less cost to the consumer. Our landfills are full because we demand bulk items and create massive overstock. I am not sure what the supply and demand will be for All is Fair. It’s 2015 and Laura Treas expects ready-to-wear garments to fall between $45 and $100 with custom pieces taking longer and costing more.
I am exploring filling a niche because I saw what was available to the transgender community and the garments I encountered were not built for trans bodies. I saw sportswear and compression fabric masquerading as binders.
To assume there isn’t a wealthy or luxury-focused transgender population is small-minded, assumptive and incredibly disrespectful. I am curious to find out who my customers are, what they need, and how they spend.
Will there be ways for these garments to be made available for those who cannot afford the price point?
Providing a discounted or free compression garment to someone is not going to change employment laws or help with issues of discrimination. Working to educate people and navigate helping transgender youth emerging from the foster care system with the help of The Kansas City Care Clinic will. The KC Care Clinic is the second oldest free health clinic in America. It’s on 35th and Broadway and if you come in with health care, your insurance essentially pays for someone who doesn’t have any.
Is the fundraiser you did with the panty auction for Planned Parenthood something you hope to do with All is Fair?
Yes, not a panty auction but the boxes I mentioned earlier, they will help transgender teens in foster care in Kansas City. I thought how nice it would be to make something that both art patrons and people emerging from the foster care system could use. We can partner with different artists and make limited edition objects, so that essentially it will work like Tom’s Shoes, you buy one and give one. Toothbrushes, clean socks, etc. I want to be associated with this box that makes people have a great day.
Can you elaborate on your difference in decor from this space here at Birdies to that of All is Fair? You say Birdies is meant to feel like a romantic turkish bedroom, but All is Fair- in its current state, has a very stark art gallery style feel to it. What is your intended mood for that space?
Sterile, healing, cold and there is no such thing as neutral but minimal. When I look at how long it has taken birdies to get closer to my dream state of how it could be, when I think of All is Fair, I think about a swimming pool that hasn’t been built. I want to treat the floor that way, blue and bright. But everything else pale green and white and crisp. I need the space to remain open and sparse.
At All is Fair the furniture is very crisp, asian-inspired, mint colored, and linear. The curtains we are going to make are all going to be pale nylon. I like this idea of it feeling clean. The light in there is so different and the space is so tucked away and underexposed.
Do you worry about the fact that is in an alley?
I don’t worry about that at all. There are weddings most weekends at the Bauer. It’s not a conventional alley. Its beautiful, and lined with flowers. Maybe in a space of the city that was less developed or if it had a different feel, it may be burdened. It’s not suburban but it is quaint.
Do you think that is important for your audience? To have it tucked away?
The space itself inspired me to open All Is Fair. It told me what it needed to be. You don’t get to walk into a space and tell it what it is. I did not come to All is Fair from a business standpoint thinking hmm… how much money can I make off the transgender community, get a commercial lease and navigate like an imperialist. Instead I found a space that was really clean, tucked away and safe. Everyone at the Bauer is on board. From the hairdressers and aestheticians to the wedding venue. There is a feeling in that building that I know is a safe and welcoming space. I wouldn’t open All is Fair if I didn’t think that it was open, friendly, and considered.