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TSKENYA: the large sized shoe company that’s choosing gender-free marketing

28 Nov 2017

“Pray to the shoe gods”, my mum would holler before the dreaded trip around town to try and find school shoes ready for September. For as long as I can remember I was always at least three sizes bigger than the designated area for my age group. When Bethany and Catherine had kittens on their Velcro, I had laces and clumpy soles. Where Jodie had shiny leather, I had dull “unscuffable” shades from the boys section.

Whilst I didn’t experience any bullying surrounding my feet or shoe choices (I was 5’11 by year 9 so no one was really messing with me like that), it has definitely played a part in my attitude towards clothing and sustained a continued rejection of formal event invitations.

But this issue is much bigger than just me and my feet. High street stores not stocking shoes above a size 8 in what they deem the “women’s section” is at best a bad business decision and at worst, discriminatory. The exclusion of big footed folk mixed with the very real levels of transphobia rife on UK high streets means that many trans and non binary people are denied the right to exercise agency over their bodies, their comfort and their style in a service supposedly built for public ease.

“TSKENYA is fighting against this cisgender focused, parochial approach to fashion”

Fortunately, the recently launched shoe company TSKENYA is fighting against this cisgender focused, parochial approach to fashion. The brand stocks UK sizes 8-13 (and US 11-15) and its new campaign is free from gender based marketing. I sat down with Tskenya-Sarah Frazer, the self taught designer and wonder woman behind the brand, to talk business.

Hey girl! I’m so thankful for this company. How has your personal journey with shoes tied into the creation of TSKENYA?

Growing up I was always bullied for being ‘bigger’ than everyone else and insidiously chastised for the size of my feet at secondary school. This really affected my confidence and I would constantly look for ways to hide my feet. These behaviours carried on into my twenties until I entered a stage of self-love and feminism, realising that the problem wasn’t me; it was the fashion industry and the ways in which it only caters to idealistic western sized bodies. At that point I realised that I had to do something to support my siblings with larger sized feet, so that they could feel included in mainstream fashion conversations.

At the beginning of the journey, and in my little bubble of big footed woe, I didn’t think about my LGBTQ+ siblings, but I had a revelation when my non-binary friend told me they couldn’t find heels in their size for graduation. They said they didn’t feel comfortable going into stores that stocked a size 10 and felt anxious about how they might be perceived for wearing heels. A light bulb went off in my head and I started to brainstorm about TSKENYA. I realised that the problem was about fixing sizeist discrimination on all frontiers. Non binary and trans people deserve to be represented by fashion brands, to feel safe when shopping and to finally trust that a brand will ride or die for them.

Yaaaas! And the company is completely rejecting gender based marketing, what does this mean to you and the fashion world?

It’s important to let go of these archaic notions of what is male or female clothing, because when you separate clothing using the sociological constructions in relation to gender you make assumptions about who your audience is. In my opinion, that is the height of branding laziness and it excludes people who may not ascribe to either side of the binary. If this self taught 23 year old can do it then brands with millions of pounds behind them can too.

“This isn’t about tokenism or just trying to give off the impression that I give a damn about intersectionality”

Choosing gender free marketing also has a lot to do with personal liberation. The brand hopes to help people reclaim autonomy over their style and bodies, as people’s ability to dress to their true identities has beenstifled by an industry that hasn’t cared to involve them. This isn’t about tokenism or just trying to give off the impression that I give a damn about intersectionality. The brand is a manifestation of my core values.

Come through sis! And what’s featured in this collection?

This first collection includes two heels and two boots that have been inspired by people who have positively impacted my growth as a young woman. The shoe ANDREA is named after my best friend who is vibrant, soft and strong, much like the velvet boot. Then CHARLIE is named after my most inspiring friend Charlie Craggs, who is relentlessly sassy and vivacious, so I thought the fur was a good ode to her. In upcoming collections I want to have a wider range of shoes, which include flats and trainers.

Shoes in this size range often cost over £100 and I wanted to make sure that the brand competed with high street brands. I’m always looking for ethical ways to drive down the price of my product so that people do not have to pay more just because of the size of their feet. It’s hard and often comes at a cost to myself, but people should not have to pay more because of the size of their feet. That to me is a form of exploitation.

Could you tell us a bit about your code of ethics to avoid exploitation at all levels

I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t liberating people here and oppressing people somewhere else. That would never sit right with me. All manufacturers and suppliers that work with the brand have to agree to the TSK Code of Ethics and the TSK Stance Against Modern Slavery. Being a feminist or LGBTQ+ ally isn’t enough for me, you must respect and be willing to learn about the intersections of all people if you are going to work with this brand.

What do people need to know about the Kickstarter and the future of TSKENYA?

The Kickstarter will help aid our first round of sales and fund the future collection. On the Kickstarter you can buy a pair of shoes and if you’re in the UK & Ireland you can get them before Christmas. The shoe sales and generous donations mean I can invest in taking TSKENYA to the next level, so that people with larger sized feet will not have to fret anymore.

I definitely hope to extend the range, have the brand on the high street or on websites like ASOS and go out and teach other budding designers about starting a fashion brand with no assistance. But most importantly, I cannot wait for the TSKENYA to continue to be an example of what gender-free marketing looks like and to inspire other brands to take the leap.

You can donate to TSKENYA’s Kickstarter here