Have you ever tried on clothes and hated the image in the mirror? Trying to find the right fit can be a challenge – especially if shirts are too snug, vests too wide or pants made too boxy to give you the right silhouette.
Part of the frustration comes from labels. Not just the size labels – anyone from XS to XXL can have problems with the way a garment fits. It’s the gender labels – from traditional men’s shirts to women’s pants -- having a gender assigned to your clothes can make finding something you like and that actually fits, that much more difficult.
Related: SFGN's Transgender Special Issue
That’s where Karen Roberts found herself a few years ago – struggling to find a wardrobe that was dressy enough for her career in real estate blended with a tailored and sophisticated look to match her aesthetic. Compared to her female colleagues in pearls, skirts and heels, Roberts felt out of place. “I was a professional,” Roberts says. “I would often look at my counterparts in their power skirts and high heels and I was always concerned with how I looked and trying to ascertain whether I looked as professional as they did in my butch style clothing. I never felt I measured up,” she tells SFGN.
She thought about designing clothes for folks like her. Roberts started with a vision board, using it to envision what a clothing line for people like her would look like. “I didn’t know anything about sewing,” she admits. “I worked a regular job during the day and learned about sewing, sizing and seam allowances at night.”
All of her hard work led to the creation of HAUTEBUTCH. It’s a fashion line for fashionistos – targeting the butch, trans, and queer customer. The clothes at HAUTEBUTCH aren’t just expressive – they are sexy, sophisticated and representative of the people who wear them. Customers can be men, women or people who identify as either.
The typical HAUTEBUTCH customer is a 40ish professional woman says Roberts, who “is professional, likes to look good and may, or may not be super fit.” Many customers live overseas, “A lot of women in the United Kingdom love how expressive we are.” But there’s a common comment from many customers. “People talk about how cool it is to have clothes that fit them and express their personality,” says Roberts. “They just say wonderful things about the fit and how great it is to have clothes for a special occasion. It’s those kinds of comments from our customers that keep us going.”
The clothing line features dress shirts, ties, vests, sportswear, footwear and ties. Customers comment mostly on the quality of the garments and how they literally cannot get enough of them. “Many say they want more items and bigger sizes,” says Roberts. They are also impressed with the level of customer service at HAUTEBUTCH. “When we send out a package, we try to make it special. We make it look like a gift and handwrite each note,” Roberts says. It’s important for our customers to understand that we impress their patronage.”
Right now, HAUTEBUTCH is mainly sold online, with the company also making appearances at festivals and fashion shows. Shirts range from around $80 to $140 while vests are regularly priced around $110. While some people may scoff at the higher prices at HAUTEBUTCH Butch, Roberts isn’t worried. “When I’m designing a shirt, I’m trying to give customers more detail than what you’ll find at Kohl’s, K-Mart or Marshall’s,” says Roberts. “If you want that kind of shirt and you want to pay that price that’s where you’ll have to go. “Our sizing is genderless and our clothes fit men and women. To do this, it takes money and time. If you want something that fits you and with some thought and attention put into the detail, then we are the brand for you.”
Even though the company is not profitable yet, earlier this year, HAUTEBUTCH donated a portion of its proceeds to the America Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The company said it was doing so to defend the constitution. “We are making choices to support what we believe in,” says Roberts. “We’re looking to stand up for women, gay, queer, transgender rights, black lives matter –I would say most of the groups who are marginalized right now, including immigrants, and all those under attack, we stand up for. All of those people are our main customers and we support them.”
Looking ahead, HAUTEBUTCH is cruising – on Olivia Cruise’s June voyage to Alaska. “That’s pretty exciting. We’re looking forward to doing that.” The company is also planning to produce suits. “We’re going to try to fit that into a more affordable framework than what you’ve seen out there and with a HAUTEBUTCH aesthetic,” says Roberts. “It will be different from what you see, not quite as vanilla.”