By: Liz Rae
It began with two weddings.
I began my first business just about three years ago. It was a relatively warm winter night, in comparison to what the weather could have been for a Minnesota January, when my friend Maranda and I were eating wings at a bar in Uptown, Minnesota. Over wings and almost too much barbeque sauce (is that possible?), Maranda told me about her engagement in Australia and a few of the details they had already planned for their wedding.
Between some of the details, Maranda mentioned that her brother may have to officiate their wedding. I didn’t understand how it was possible for him to officiate---wasn’t it only a task for religious officials? She explained the details of how he was ordained and later jokingly mentioned how funny it would be if I went through the same process and officiated their wedding. I carried on with the joke, stating that it would be even funnier if someone who looked like they were fifteen was able to carry out a successful officiating business.
Later in the week, I had discussed Maranda asking me to officiate her wedding, and my coworker (and now friend!) Timmie mentioned he was going to be proposing to his boyfriend soon. Timmie asked if I would be willing to officiate their wedding as well, especially since finding vendors that were LGTBQ-friendly was difficult at the time.
After doing some research, I noticed that there weren’t a lot of LGBTQ-friendly officiants, let alone any that fully advertised in this manner. Within a week, Liz Rae Weddings was started and two years and over 150 weddings later, I felt there was more I could do to help make a difference in the lives of LGBTQ couples.
One can see quite a bit at 150 weddings, and while I was officiating weddings, couples talked about their clothing constantly. There was one wedding in particular in which the bride stated they had a rough time finding a suit for their Best Woman, who’s suit needed to match the suit of the men in the groom’s party. If they chose a suit that was a women’s cut, it wouldn't match the men’s but if they had given her a men’s suit, the tailoring would have been too expensive.
At a few other weddings, the brides or the grooms or even straight couples opted out of wearing traditional clothing. Some women wore suits, others would wear dresses laced with color, and wedding parties were no longer just men and just women on each side. Parties were mixed, colors were flowing throughout the entire party, and a man and a woman getting married was no longer the norm.
While at dinner one evening with a friend, the idea of creating gender-neutral clothing for weddings sprung seemingly out of nowhere but deeply derived from weddings where the previous discussions had taken place. Almost immediately after dinner, I began to research the clothing side of the wedding industry, taking note of many advertisements playing to a safe marketing strategy for LGBTQ couples by limiting the diversity shown instead of realistically exemplifying couples that consumers can visually relate to.
After spending almost a year studying fabrics, meeting with suppliers, visiting mills around the world, developing a brand concept and creating prototypes with various manufacturers and designers, Hensa was born. During the process of studying garment-making, I was able to meet phenomenal people from around the world who told me about their personal challenges with clothing--either finding clothing that fit, feeling comfortable with wearing whatever clothing they wanted without feeling judgement, all while watching some of my closest friends be judged for the clothing they were wearing.
Hensa started as a wedding line but was later inspired to add a casual line after I later realized that I not only wanted to wear my own clothing more often, but also have my friends wear whatever clothing they would like outside of weddings.
I have yet to understand why we critique others so harshly based on the type of clothing they are wearing. Isn’t clothing supposed to be fun, an expression of oneself? If someone wants to wear a dress, they should be able to wear a dress and not be looked at any differently or be called names because of how they do or don’t identify.
Today, Hensa has created its first wedding line that premiered at the London Bridal Show and also launched its “Be Bold” campaign, which highlights stories of people around the world who have worn the shirt. Proceeds from the shirt go to various human rights campaigns. Hensa has also shifted focus to create clothing that is more body-focused that generalized sizing focused.
To say the journey has been easy to create this brand, even the little that it is so far, would be an understatement. I don’t know if anyone could possibly understand the maximum stress I've ever occurred, the tears, the disappointments in myself, the depression, the financial burdens, and the tragic loss of some of my friendships and relationships while the business has been created.
But the most beautiful aspect of creating this business has been the gaining of new friends, new experiences, and creating a brand that I hope will make people feel like they can be whoever they are without holding back.
I created this brand with the aim to break some of the chains that hold society trapped between stereotypes and ancient conceptions. I hope to help people open their eyes and see that they can also share in something even if they don’t identify with it.
This is Hensa.