Tom Sykes: Sharpe Suiting makes customised apparel for the LGBTQ community. What sorts of clothing do LGBTQ people ask you to make?

Vanessa Craig: We specialise in LGBTQ clients because they have a hard time finding a good fit whether they’re buying off the rack or going to a standard tailor. A typical tailor doesn’t understand that butch women usually want a more masculine fit and he’ll make the clothes curvy and design them to more closely fit to the body. Sharpe Suiting does understand masculine tastes!

TS: How did you start up?

VC: My business partner, Leon Wu, is a trans guy and we had been talking about the idea of a masculine clothes line for a long time. A couple of businesses in San Francisco had started to offer these products and I thought, ‘Yeah we might be onto something here.’ It made sense because my background is in fashion, I went to fashion school and I’ve always loved suits. So Leon became the business guy and I the marketing/promotions person. We then found an awesome Ukrainian tailor, Oksana Putyatina, who had been working in menswear for 25 years. She really understands both menswear and womenswear and works with our clients to get the ideal tailored fit for them.

TS: Your website talks about your products being ‘inspired by social context’? Could you tell us a little bit more about that?

VC: When you look at the history of queer clothing, it’s always been hard for people like myself who do not identify with her assigned gender role. So if you identify as butch, even now there’s no big department store selling the clothes I want. With Sharpe Suiting we’re trying to meet that demand.

TS: You recently raised $69,000 using Kickstarter. How was the experience?

VC: I didn’t sleep in maybe two months because of the workload! I never realised how much effort fundraising is. We did great and went from $50,000 to $69,000 in just the last 7 days. Our final fundraising event was in Los Angeles on November 12th and it involved a model search, an auction and a trivia quiz night. Kickstarter is kinda like a baby; you have to give it constant attention.

TS: How do you plan to use the funding?

VC: Right now all we do is custom suiting and that’s a very personalised and finely-tuned service. We want to branch out into ready-to-wear so that people can buy our products online as well as in shops. What we’re hoping for with this expansion is that the straight shops will start carrying these more androgynous clothes that we make. We want a situation where anyone, wherever they are in the world, can get the suit they want.

TS: You have some high-profile lesbian clients and I wondered if you could talk a little bit about working with them.

VC: It’s always good to have a spokesperson for your brand who is part of your community and that your specific clientele can relate to. Our models are diverse: trans, butch, femme, every gender, every ethnicity. We try to incorporate them all into our brand because we have friends belonging to each of those subcultures.

Our main model is Kelsey Grace from The Real L Word. She has such a good reputation and the perfect look for the clothes. There’s nothing polarised about her; she’s neither extremely butch nor extremely femme, but somewhere in the middle. This is why she catches everyone’s attention and promotes the suits to all the various markets.

TS: Did you approach her?

VC: Yes. I’m an event promoter in LA so I’d worked with Kelsey on an event before she signed with Sharpe Suiting. Like a lot of celebrities here, she’s actually real down to earth and surprisingly easy to get in touch with.

We approached her, took her measurements and then asked her what sort of suit would she like. What would she feel comfortable in? She said she was going to a wedding and, for once in her life, wanted to look good in a suit so that her family would appreciate it.

At these kinds of events sometimes families don’t like the idea of women wearing non-traditional clothing. For that reason it was important for Kelsey to have the suit fit perfectly. She picked out a blue double-breasted, we had it tailored for her and she felt confident in it. Our minds were blown minds when we saw how good she looked! We’re so grateful to her for being part of our brand.

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TS: What’s the most interesting suit you’ve ever been asked to create?

VC: Recently someone wanted a Boardwalk Empire-style 1920s gangster pin stripe suit for their wedding. It was very flashy and gorgeous and she was so excited. For a woman there is no other way to buy an outfit like this unless you get it made through custom suiting.