Style / No labels, no problem

No Labels clothing cooperative in Allentown has become more than just a clothier to its customers



Felix Leigh and Rauch with the Marsha P. Johnson Memorial Free store

Photos by Mike Rizzo

 

At this Allentown outfitter, you won’t be pointed to the men’s aisle or the women’s aisle. The staff just need to know if you’re looking for tops, bottoms, or a dress. The doors at Western New York’s only brick-and-mortar store owned and operated by and for the transgender community have been open for just a few months shy of a year, but, in that time, No Labels clothing cooperative has become more than just a clothier to its customers.

 

“It’s not intimidating, and you know it’s a safe space,” says Cameron Schraufstetter, a twenty-one-year-old student at Erie Community College who identifies as transgender. He’s a regular, both at the rack and at the shop’s monthly game nights and gender discussions: “You know No Labels has your back. They’re not going to let anything happen. They’re not going to let anyone in who’s going to cause issues.”

 

In addition to monthly community forums, the shop at 224 Allen Street has hosted a name-change clinic, a film series, anime screenings, holiday meet-ups, letter-writing sessions, a voter registration day, and regular fundraisers for local groups with initiatives serving the transgender community. The backdrop for all of that has been shelves and racks stocked with clothing, accessories, trans and rainbow pride gear, flags, stickers, buttons, pins, and magnets—some new, some secondhand, some on consignment—with artwork by local LGBTQ artists hung on the walls and for sale.

 

Bridge Rauch in front of No Labels; interior of No Labels

 

“Most people are more interested in the secondhand rack and the smaller stuff,” says cooperative cofounder Bridge Rauch, thirty-one, “but we have such a void of services in this region for the community that most of the conversations I have are just about, ‘where can we go to to find hormone therapy?’ —things along those lines. I find that I’m doing a lot of resource direction.” 

 

Rauch and co-owner Felix Keigh, twenty-four, say that was the goal, to become a sort of hub or resource center for the local trans community. Fashion is the chosen vehicle because it’s an industry that has yet to acknowledge the trans experience. From the way clothes are sized and categorized to the personal shopping and fitting room practices, Keigh says that patronizing a clothing store can be an unsettling, even frightening, ordeal for anyone that doesn’t subscribe to society’s established gender norms. The No Labels experience, in contrast, is expressly designed with trans shoppers in mind.

 

Part of any trans experience is building a new wardrobe, Keigh says, and for those undergoing a medical transition, those wardrobe changes may need to become more frequent as the body also changes—“You wind up going through so many clothes, and it’s really infuriating,” he says—and it can get expensive. That’s why a staple at No Labels is the Marsha P. Johnson Memorial Free Store, a rack of gently used items named after the transgender, gay-liberation veteran of the Stonewall Riots. The store also provides a “maker’s station” with a sewing machine and various tools and supplies, so folks can tailor their own garments.

 

 

In perhaps its most lauded offering, No Labels is the only clothing store in the region that sells chest binders and shape-wear: compression undergarments worn by many trans and gender-nonconforming folks to mitigate body dysphoria and bring their outward appearance more in line with their gender identity. Lack of access to these garments often pushes trans persons to improvise with unsafe alternatives, Rauch says, such as Ace bandages or duct tape, methodologies that are common among trans teenagers. But a program run by Gay & Lesbian Youth Services of Western New York allows anyone fourteen to nineteen to get their first binder from No Labels for free. The shop also manages a donation fund to offset the cost of binders and shape-wear for individuals who can’t afford them.

 

“I love the place,” Schraufstetter says. “It’s something local and central that a lot of people can get to. The artwork and the stuff that they have on the walls and on display is welcoming and affirming. I’m there all the time. I wish something like this had been around when I was younger. It is amazing.”  

 

Mike Rizzo was the longtime editor of Loop magazine.

 

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