Founder Spotlight With FAMM

I sat down with Cat & Marianna of Famm- a company on a mission to showcase LGBTQ+ owned brands and their products all in one place.  Cat & Marianna wanted to know more about who we are, and the processes behind Origami Customs. You can find the full article here

Rae Hill is the Founder of Origami Customs, a gender-affirming clothing line that offers handmade, customized lingerie and swimwear for people of all genders. Rae started the company to create products that support trans and gender-diverse communities and anyone who wants to feel good in their body. Origami Customs also partners with organizations worldwide to provide free affirming products to people with limited access, sending out over 500 items per month at no cost. 

Our interview with Rae resonated deeply with us. Rae is incredibly values-driven which is reflected not only in their brand but how they operate their business. Every decision Rae makes is intentional, from choosing inclusive benefits packages for their team, providing training that can be leveraged beyond Origami Customs, and making sure every product can be customized for each person's unique body and needs. We’re excited to share the interview with you.

Let’s jump right in!

Tell us about Origami Customs. What was the inspiration and how did you get started?

Rae: I've been doing this for twelve years, so it was quite different when I started. At that time, I was living in Honduras, a scuba diving instructor, and my ex-wife and I owned a surfwear store. 

I have always designed my own clothing. I come from a long line of seamstresses in my family, so I learned from a very young age how to do that. And I recognized a big need in Honduras for quality swimwear that fits. People always needed help finding things that fit their bodies which was more difficult with mainstream surf brands. So I started developing stuff for my friends and sold it in the store. Then I created an Etsy account, and it all snowballed from there.

A few years later, I moved the company to San Jose, Costa Rica, where I lived for a few years. While there, I realized I could develop lingerie as easily from my swimwear patterns, so I started developing those products.

Then I moved back to Canada, where I’m from, around 2014 and reconnected with the gender-diverse community. I realized my friends weren't finding what they needed, which turned into an opportunity to step up and look at what was missing.

As soon as we started offering gaffs and binders, based on recommendations on what was missing in the market, it was a total game changer. Those products quickly became the bread and butter of Origami Customs. 

We started offering customized sizing on gaffs and binders, which most other brands weren’t doing. Having that option available helped Origami Customs take off.

Today we are settled in Montreal, where a wonderful team of queer and trans people produces all of our products. 

Cat & Marianna: Thank you so much for sharing. Can you tell us more about growing your team while scaling?

Rae: Of course. So when we got into trans and gender-diverse markets, we realized people weren’t finding the things they needed or that fit properly. So we were creating things for people who never had access to gender-affirming products before, given we customize the products to fit their bodies. However, it has also been challenging to scale because of that. Training people to do this work at a high-level skill set takes time vs. manufacturing overseas in bulk. 

We do have an amazing ethical employment standard here. We train each person to make custom-sized products, which is key to our brand. They have skill sets that will take them to other places after Origami Customs.  

For every piece, we conceptualize what that body looks like, how it moves, and what that person needs regarding support or access. We get a lot of special requests. For example, people with sensitivity issues, shoulder issues, and therefore difficulty putting on a binder, and other body needs, so we make sure to consider those individual needs before making each piece.

Rae: Yes. Especially for trans and queer people who have generally not had access to jobs like that. High-end tailoring has been a man's world forever. Queer and trans people haven't had access to learning those skill sets. 

Cat & Marianna: Those skill sets could even inspire more brands in the future! 

Rae: Some of my employees run small lingerie brands on the side!  

What does your creative process look like when working on a new product or design?

Rae: That has shifted a lot now that we're focused on technical garments. It comes down to function and the gap in the market that needs filling. So we start by assessing and talking to folks in my communities about who's being left out of the conversation and who can't access products. 

My guiding principle has always been that I will make something only if it works on every size and for everybody. For example, it's important for me that we don’t create something that will only be supportive until a D cup. Otherwise, we’re leaving out so much of the population. 

I’m also very inspired by the fabrics and how they will move, how they will fit, and the mechanics behind them.


What is one challenge you have faced as the Founder of Origami Customs, and how did you navigate it? 

Rae: One challenge I can think of is the best and worst problem: scaling. When you start as a single person on Etsy, and then you get popular, there's a lot of ethical decision-making that has to go into growth in a way that's still sustainable.

During the pandemic, we had more sales than ever before. We doubled every single year, which no one expected. That meant we had to incorporate and hire a huge staff of full-time employees and get a new studio space.

This team growth led to negotiating for a good benefits package, getting up to speed on how to do excellent HR, and learning how to support the team while ensuring we get it right from the get-go. 

It's like the Oxygen Mask theory. If we're saying that we're helping trans and gender-diverse people, it has to start with our employees first. We have to create a good and supportive place to work. Plus, our benefits package has to support people in generalized and specific ways that trans and queer people need extra health care. 

My job is always balancing the business and ensuring that our people are treated well so that this company can keep doing what it's doing. 

Cat: There's so much that you said that resonates with me. Especially as I've navigated my career as an entrepreneur and founder. Making sure that the people within the company or organization are taken care of and valued first and foremost. 

It's great to hear you say that while sharing the business's operational challenges. 

What is the long-term vision for Origami Customs? 

Rae: I would like to continue to fill different market gaps for the trans and gender-diverse community. Gaffs and binders, particularly gaffs, have been the bread and butter for quite a while. I'm excited to do more development around them because it seems practical and utilitarian. Also, given the technical nature of the product, we can’t wait to get into more fun styles. It's really exciting for me- It's like a puzzle!

The other thing I want to keep doing is building our network of NGOs. So many people have limited access to gender-affirming garments, and we can do a lot of good work with other community programs already in existence. 

I also want to scale and go into different global retail locations. That has already been ramping up in the States and overseas, which is exciting.

What advice do you have for future entrepreneurs from the LGBTQ+ community?

Rae: Two things are important. 

The first is leading by example. Not just as a CEO or a leader but as a creator and boss. I want to instill ethics and values in every step of the process so the people I'm working with and leading have a good experience and our community's experience.

That builds outwards and onwards, which often takes place online—so trying to put heart into our interactions, even in these ephemeral spaces. 

The second is to avoid trying to make everything for everybody. When I started, I sold over 300 products on my website, and it was stressful. I realized some people need products more than others. Our products are inherently for the gender-diverse community, so that’s what we’re focused on now.

What LGBTQ-owned brands are your go-to’s and why?  

Rae: I thought of three brands that I love, look up to, and are similar to Origami Customs.

The first one is Chromat, a wonderful gender-affirming brand that has been around for a while. Chromat is founded by Becca McCharen-Tran, who is an amazing designer and a role model of mine.

I’m also a fan of Rebirth Garments which does similar work and is focused on disability justice and activism. Sky Cubacub, the creator, is a wonderful online friend, and I always recommend their products.

The last one doing similar stuff to us, specifically with binders, is Shapeshifters. They also offer customized work and seem like really rad folks. 

I always let my customers know that there are many great options out there. 

How have you celebrated Pride this year?

Rae: A few months ago, I went to Sydney for World Pride, a huge, amazing Pride celebration. My spouse is from Sydney, and this was the first time we went back and visited. During our trip, we were part of Dykes on Bikes in the parade and attended the Sydney World Pride Human Rights Conference. 

Even though a lot of political stuff is going on, especially in North America, it's important to get out there and still engage with our community. While in Sydney, I had the opportunity to be a part of a type of Pride I hadn't experienced before that we wouldn't get in Montreal. I was able to be a part of that community which is very welcoming and political. 

A record number of anti-LGBTQ+ bills are being introduced and passed in the United States, and violence against our community is increasing. Given everything going on, how are you taking care of yourself?

Rae: In Canada, we get many of the same political sentiments from the States. Luckily, it's not at the same level, but something about it now makes it scarier and more vulnerable to be around and resist. 

So I tend to root into the practices that keep me sane and grounded. That's being outside with my dogs, in my garden, and doing body-based care practices. I recently started a queer and trans Muay Thai class which I love. I'm also a weightlifter, and my partner is a personal trainer, so we do a lot of bodywork that makes me feel awesome and grounded. Also, I could fight a transphobe if I had to! 

Who is your favorite LGBTQ+ icon and why?  

Rae: When thinking of famous queer people, I remember when I was young and first started listening to KD Lang. My mom was a big fan, and this was before I came out. 

Then learning about her and her version of how she was redefining butchness. That was such an inspiration as a young, queer person. I remember thinking, “Oh, women can look like this. That’s amazing!”

KD Lang will always be my longtime crush, and my favorite actress will always be Clea Duvall! She starred in “But I'm a Cheerleader,” one of the best movies that holds up over time!

What is one fun fact about yourself?

Rae: My mom wanted me to say that when I was a kid, I wanted to be a turtle when I grew up. But my friends think the coolest thing about me is that I have a magnet implanted in my finger, which is even weirder. 

Cat & Marianna: A magnet?! Tell us more. 

Rae: You won't see it, but it's a bio-silicone egg-encased, tiny magnet, just like what's on your fridge. It was implanted by the guy who invented these, Steve Hayworth. I met him when he was doing a seminar in Costa Rica many years ago, and he offered me a magnetic implant. 

It's cool because you can use it for practical things like picking up a pin you dropped on the floor, but you also get to feel the magnetic currents of plants and rocks. I can also feel the magnetic impulses if I'm around a big generator or a speaker.  


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