For Tanner Richie and Fletcher Kasell, launching their genderless clothing line, Tanner Fletcher, in 2020 wasn’t a ploy to capitalize on some new, buzzy fashion term — the word “genderless,” after all, has become as ubiquitous a selling angle as the word sustainable. Instead, the launch felt more personal and purposeful. The clothing label was a tangible reflection of their own identities as creatives (they both studied fashion merchandising in college) combined with their personal desires to do away with gender labeling in fashion. Thus emerged Tanner Fletcher ready-to-wear, a collection that merges vintage-inspired silhouettes — they love drawing inspiration from the ‘50s, ’60s, and ’70s — with elements of interior design (Richie’s speciality).
The duos’ idea for a genderless brand can be traced back to how they consumed fashion while growing up in the midwest — Richie in Wisconsin and Kasell in Minnesota. They both frequented the men’s and women’s departments in equal measure. “I’ve definitely gotten ‘the look’ while shopping in the women’s department, but I’ve never let it affect me too much,” says Richie to TZR. “So many people are still so closed minded, so [Fletcher and I] are hoping to help make genderless shopping the new norm.”
“[When I was younger, I shopped in both [men’s and women’s sections] at [stores like] American Eagle and Hollister,” Kasell adds. “I think in middle school, I was always known to wear just ‘weird’ outfits. Everybody would always comment on [my outfits] and this did affect me mentally. I was bullied a lot. Tanner wasn’t bullied as much, but he still had that stigma [of wearing women’s clothing]. I was just like: “F*ck you, I’m going to get out of [Minnesota] and do my own thing. Somebody will appreciate it. Somebody will like it.”
Kasell’s drive eventually led him to the University of Minnesota where he met and befriended a likeminded Richie as his freshman roommate. The two got on well and started dating (and are still a couple), eventually transferring together to LIM College in New York City, which helped them kickstart their creative careers. Richie specialized in interior design and staging while Kasell interned for the likes of Zero + Maria Cornejo, Barneys New York, and Saint Laurent in its wholesale departments. (But they both loved to browse the women’s section at Bergdorf Goodman in their spare time.) Although the two knew they wanted to start a business together — perhaps in the next 10 years or so — it was the pandemic that speed tracked them into spontaneously launching Tanner Fletcher.
“When the pandemic hit, we were at home in New York City, with only internships [under our belts] and we were just graduating school without a [full-time job offer]. We started making what we call COVID-wear, just tote bags and sweatshirts, and painting the fabric ourselves in our apartment” Kasell shares. “It was just a side thing to get us some extra cash. The aha! moment where [this could turn into a bigger business venture came] when stockists were actually buying our products. I think we had like six or seven small boutiques [reach out to us to carry our pieces].”
Although neither Richie nor Kasell had your typical Parsons/Central Saint Martins background in fashion design, the two took a leap of faith in creating their own clothing label. “We didn’t know exactly what we were doing,” Kasell candidly tells TZR. “So we took some time to teach ourselves how to make a garment, how to produce a garment in the city, and all the different processes that go into making it. We had no idea that there are stores just for trims or buttons, or that you have to dye your jeans [at a particular place]. There was a big learning curve.”
Fletcher remembers how challenging it was to create their first official collection for the Spring/Summer 2022 season. “We were like: Okay, how do we get our ideas into real products?” Kasell says. “[Also,] running a fashion label is much more expensive than I ever imagined, so it took some time to get everything in order,” adds Richie. (As of 2022, the brand is in its first round of seed funding.) The spring lineup was inspired by the ‘60s and ‘70s fashion and the world of interior design — key ingredients that make up the DNA of the Tanner Fletcher brand. The pièce de résistance in the collection was the brown tweed houndstooth blazer with upcycled chandelier crystal embellishments. The look drew inspiration from a vintage chandelier you’d find at a grandma’s house.
“We actually embellished [that blazer] ourselves with a heated device, one of those soldering pens that melt the metal, which is crazy. There are places that do this [for you] in the city, but we didn’t find one in time, so we were like: we’ll do this ourselves,” Kasell recalls. “I was up until late night just welding a blazer.”
Outerwear aside, the collection also encompassed structured wool separates, PVC coats, crinkled silk sets, crisp recycled cotton shirts, and tailored suiting (that was created from vintage floral print Dior linens). The brand’s yellow Roses Shirt was made from deadstock bed sheets (dating back to the ‘60s) while the tracksuit and Marlton dress were made from tufted silk shantung, which is typically used for drapery and upholstery. “In our brand, we use a lot of textiles that are actually used in home decoration (upholstery fabrics, throw blankets, tapestries, etc.) Once I find or create a textile, I can then envision it in garment form,” shares Richie.
“I’m actually inspired by my grandma’s house a lot because the place is this outdated, mid-century house that my whole family says, ‘Oh, it’s the ugliest thing. You need to update it.’ [Meanwhile], she is proudly telling everyone that some of the prints [in the Tanner Fletcher collections] were inspired by her wallpaper,” Kasell adds.
The tones of the range were a soothing mix of cream, muted yellow, and sage — restrained but not boring. In conjunction with their Spring/Summer 2022 collection, Richie and Kasell also launched an online marketplace featuring hand-selected home objects, art, pottery, throw blankets and pillows in coordinating fabrics to pair with the seasonal drop — thus putting forth a full 360-offering for the design enthusiast. Every piece, with the exception of their knitwear (coming from Italy), was produced right in New York City’s Garment District.
“Tanner, if you knew him, his personality is very, go, go, go so he really mans production. He is always in the Garment District,” Kasell shares. “We both design pretty equally though, so it’s both of our creative minds coming together for the actual collection. What you see is 50/50. We rein each other in, too, as I tend to be a little bit more maximalist and he’s a bit more minimalist.”
Once they had a collection under their belt, tackling the next one (for the Fall/Winter 2022 season) wasn’t nearly as difficult. By this time, Kasell notes that they had more resources to turn to and knew more about the industry. Still, the pair struggled with creating a size chart that allowed Tanner Fletcher pieces to properly fit on both men and women.
“The sizing is zero, one, two, three, four, and five. Zero is your typical women’s XS and men’s XXS [while five signals men’s XL and women’s XXL],” says Kasell. “[Figuring this out] has been a challenge, but we are adamant about working through it to get the genderless sizing just right.”
For their sophomore collection, titled “Housewarming Party,” the duo again referenced ‘60s and ‘70s fashion, offering up sharp tailoring, oversized outerwear, and soft knits like its cheeky “Toxic Masculinity” sweater. For those trying to decode the collection and look for that interior-inspired correlation, kindly note that the fringe outerwear was inspired by fringe lampshades. Meanwhile, the tapestry print was inspired by a ‘70s sofa, and made in partnership with a mill that specializes in blanket production.
To celebrate the second collection, Richie and Kasell hosted an in-person presentation during February 2022’s New York Fashion Week at the Freehand Hotel. (The place has a special meaning to them, as they stayed there when they first visited NYC.) Both founders invited their family members to the show, with Kasell’s sister Quinn, pictured below, serving as one of the models, for that inclusive and authentic housewarming party environment.
“We both have big and supportive families, so all of them came and it was so fun. They really stole the show. Influencers, editors, and buyers were telling me, ‘I just met your dad or I just met Tanner’s dad,’ before they even met either one of us,” Kasell adds, laughing. “I thought this was funny and it also gave a sense of the brand. We really are just this inclusive brand where everyone is welcome and it’s not your traditional luxury fashion ‘you can’t sit with us’ type of thing. One of the models [we asked to participate] in the show, Angel, had worked at Crossroads Trading [a thrift store] that we frequented a lot.”
Although the Fall/Winter 2022 presentation received positive media coverage and fanfare, Kasell notes the fashion industry, overall, still has much to learn when it comes to marketing a genderless clothing brand. For one, most retailers maintain a separate men’s and women’s categories, thus making Tanner Fletcher, which label-wise identifies as neither, a harder sell.
“We have to teach the buyers to come over to our side and that [genderless clothing] is the future or we can make it the future,” says Kasell. “We’ve had stores be like ‘Oh, we don’t have a genderless department, so we don’t see where [Tanner Fletcher] fits,’ so then we explain that we’re really just removing the [men and women] labels. You can put our collection in the women’s department, you can put it in the men’s department, or ideally — you put our pieces in both. “I don’t feel the need for gender labels in clothing because it’s limiting and restrictive,” adds Richie. “We want our customers to look at a piece of Tanner Fletcher clothing and determine their opinion on it without knowing what gender it is.”
One of the first retailers to embrace Tanner Fletcher’s genderless offerings was the Canadian e-commerce platform SSENSE. The online shop carries its Spring/Summer 2022 pieces in both its men’s and women’s sections, thereby exposing Tanner Fletcher pieces to a multitude of shoppers. “We didn’t expect them to pick us up during our first official season,” Kasell recalls of the pinch-me moment. “The market appointment was in our apartment, so we moved our bed into the patio and disguised our apartment as a showroom. The buyer came and we just clicked really well, so she ended up buying the collection for the women’s team then referred us to the men’s team, who also bought the collection. Many of the Tanner Fletcher pieces were actually bought on both sides, to further support that genderless concept.”
Kasell and Richie’s genderless designs aren’t simply getting just the buyers and editors talking about the concept, the topic has also infiltrated the daily conversations of their family members. “I talk to my grandma all the time and she’s learned what genderless [fashion] means just from hanging around the brand,” says Kasell. “She and her friends are positively adapting to the concept [through] discussions and my grandma thinks she’s all cool now because she can fill everyone in.”
As this more open-minded way of conceptualizing clothes hopefully continues to catch on, Richie and Kasell are prepared to have Tanner Fletcher lead consumers into this new shopping era. The duo tells TZR that they plan to expand their handbags, shoes (Kasell remarks that he rarely finds heeled shoes for men), and jewelry selections while diving deeper into home goods. “It is crazy to think we have our own brand,” Kasell reveals. “People are buying the clothes that we’re designing, where I was once made fun of for wearing whatever I wanted. So it is a cool full circle moment.”
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