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Built with Pride

Built With Pride: Christopher and Courtney Rhodes, FLAVNT Streetwear

Name: Christopher and Courtney Rhodes

Location: Austin, TX

Describe yourself in three words: Chris – Pretty Boy Extraordinaire; Courtney – Sapphic Cat Lady

What is the name of your business and what do you do? 

FLAVNT Streetwear. We are an LGBTQIA+ clothing line

Why did you decide to start your own business? How did you get started? 

FLAVNT was started sort of by accident—we created some shirts to wear to the Austin Pride Parade and saw a lot of interest in the “Pretty Boy” shirt Chris had made for himself. This made us wonder if we could come up with even more designs that resonated with people in our community, so we put our graphic design backgrounds to work, branded FLAVNT (pronounced “flaunt”), and designed more shirts. Some social media prowess helped us grow from there.

In just a few words, how does running your own business make you feel? 

Accomplished and passionate to keep doing more meaningful and joy-filled work.

What are some of the hurdles or roadblocks you’ve faced as LGBTQ+ small business owners? How do you overcome them? 

The LGBTQIA+ community is a smaller population than the general population, so we are in a niche market (even though allies can, of course, wear our shirts). Additionally, the competition among LGBTQIA+ companies can be pretty fierce and a bit disheartening. In spite of that, we are big proponents of supporting and collaborating with other small businesses and creators.

As LGBTQ+ small business owners, do you feel you’ve been granted the same access and opportunities that other small business owners in your community have been given? How did you push past that?

We feel fortunate to have found success and growth in our community, as well as the longevity we have managed to sustain throughout our lifespan as a business— seven years in business isn’t anything to scoff at, for both LGBTQIA+ businesses and just small businesses in general. That said, we have never received backing or funding, we were denied for the first round of PPP loans, and we started out with very little access to resources, money or business knowledge. Every time we’ve encountered a hurdle or didn’t have the tools we needed to tackle a problem, we have found a way to educate ourselves or find support from someone who is more experienced than us. Running a small business is all about constant learning and pivoting and we feel like we’ve gotten pretty good at that over the years.

What unique perspectives do you feel you bring to the small business economy as LGBTQ+ business owners? 

That queer people have spending power, and that means queer people outside of just cis white gay men. Yes the LGBTQIA+ community faces financial struggles and hardships that other communities don’t—but that doesn’t mean that there can’t be brands out there made specifically with them in mind. Aside from a consumption and business standpoint, just the representation and visibility that comes with saying we are a queer business for queer people is huge.

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You have every right to succeed at whatever you want to do.

What are some of your major wins or accomplishments since starting your business? What are your proudest moments? 

Coming up with the idea for our Bareskin Binders and then successfully fundraising for them and producing them is at the top of our list. These binders changed the game in the chest binder market. There wasn’t an option that was inclusive of skin tones so we changed that. Besides that, every successful fundraising partnership we have had is a huge accomplishment. So far, we have partnered with 15 different trans individuals to help them fundraise for gender-affirming surgeries and raised over $35,000. We have also done separate fundraisers for organizations in between those partnerships (such as Equality Texas, Marsha P. Johnson Institute, LGBT Freedom Fund, and Black Lives Matter). We are more than a clothing line, we like to believe we make a difference and give back however we can!

What are the next big plans you have for your business? 

We recently expanded to finally having our own commercial space—a large warehouse for more production capability. We are hoping to streamline that space and make our work processes more efficient, continue to expand our binder line, and hopefully move into more custom garments and product design as time goes on!

When you’re having a tough day, who or what inspires you to keep going? 

The messages we get from customers who tell us that one of our designs gave them the confidence to come out, or that they found friends by bonding over one of our shirts, or that our binder made them feel gender euphoria. Those types of things are really the best.

How can LGBTQ+ business owners give back to their community? 

There are a lot of ways to give back, and I think that there’s an expectation on LGBTQIA+ businesses to be conscious of how they can do so because the community they operate within is so marginalized and in need of support and resources. Our personal method for giving back is through individualized fundraising partnerships—helping make gender-affirming surgeries more accessible for folks. But really any level of contribution back into the community goes a long way.

What advice would you give to other LGBTQ+ small business owners just starting out? 

Keep at whatever it is that you’re passionate about. Find what makes you different and embrace that. Don’t be afraid to take risks, and know that you have every right to succeed at whatever you want to do, no matter the obstacles or the opinions of others.

What’s your “power song” and why?

We are almost always blasting 90s country in our warehouse/office—not what you might expect but it always puts us in a good mood. Nothing gets us pumped up like that “Let’s go girls!” At the beginning of Shania Twain’s “Man! I Feel Like a Woman!”

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