Affirma Wear finds their stitch in gender-affirming shapewear
Laura Treas is the innovative Kansas City-based sewing artist and manufacturer creating shapewear for transgender people. Her creations include high compression tanks, post-surgical vests, and gender-affirming binders. Her passion for her work was palpable in her conversation with The Pitch.
The Pitch: What is compression shapewear and who do you make it for?
Laura Treas: Compression shapewear started out in the beginning with our mother’s girdles, and we have progressed beyond that heavy-duty stuff. The heavy-duty stuff still has its place, but we want it to be comfortable. I make shapewear for people transitioning from female to male [FTM], and it needs to be safe and comfortable and still give the desired silhouette.
How does shapewear help affirm someone’s gender?
When they have that silhouette in the mirror that they’ve been striving for, it’s emotional for everyone who is witnessing it. It’s amazing when it happens. Especially when it’s not a sports bra-style garment, the change is dramatic. [The client feels] aligned with what they feel inside. It’s a garment for THEM. And that’s very gratifying. Everyone’s always wiping their tears.
Why is it important for people transitioning to wear shapewear, and to not use wraps or tape as binders?
With the tapes or wraps, they can just get too tight. The younger kids are trying their best to get as flat as possible. It’s just so tight that they can put ribs out of place, they can get acid reflux, they can have breathing problems. They can cause skin issues as well.
Doctors really don’t want them wearing anything too tight. And it’s so hard to convince them because they’re trying to get that flat silhouette that’s in their head. They think the only way to get that silhouette is to be uncomfortable or just wear two sports bras. But when I can get someone in my garments, they get it. They don’t have to be uncomfortable or wear bras.
What’s the age range that you’re typically working with?
Starting at 14, all the way to their 60s. If they’re younger than 14, I really try to push the lightest weight compression tank just to have something light, so they are not wearing a sports bra.
I get a variety of clients. I mean, I’ve had couples here where the wife decided late in life that they’re not comfortable with their body. When they come in for a binder, you can see them just changing. And they [say], “I just feel so lucky that my husband is supporting me being me.” It’s all amazing!
Sounds like education on gender-affirming undergarments is part of the gig.
Yes. It’s important to educate. The first thing I always educate the parents on—because their child is usually wearing two sports bras to bind themselves—is that the point is they’re still wearing a thing called a “bra.” That’s what [the transgender client is] trying to get away from.
My tanks are designed a lot like a men’s undershirt. So the line is a different silhouette. Even if it’s a cropped one, it is still longer than a sports bra. It’s not going to look like a sports bra. It’s just going to look like a cropped tank.
Can insurance help with covering the cost of shapewear?
Sometimes—for the post-surgical vest—it can be covered depending on the insurance company. There are all these qualifications, and one of them sometimes is that the drain pouches velcro on and off. So, on my post-surgical vest, the drain pouches do so.
Do clients need to take time off from wearing binders?
That’s something that I have to educate wearers and families on, as well. You can’t compress 24/7. You have to have a day off, or if you’re at home, you need to wear the tank with less compression. There’s a middleweight tank for a day off, because [a client still wants] to feel good at home even though they’re not having maximum compression.
Sometimes people even want to sleep in them, so I have a lightweight one for sleeping or relaxing at home. Once they understand there are options that are safe and comfortable, they relax into it.
Whether you’re looking to explore your own gender identity, you’re a parent supporting your trans kid, or you want to be a good ally, there are a host of Kansas City-based queer resources at your fingertips. Here are a few to get you started.
- Kansas City Center for Inclusion is KC’s LGBTQ+ community center flying the pride flag high over Woody’s in Midtown.
- Transformations KC is a youth organization providing community, resources, and events for transgender, gender-nonconforming, and gender expansive folks from the ages of 12-18.
- Treas says that many of her customers come through referrals from Gender Pathway Services (GPS) at Children’s Mercy. GPS is a “pediatric multidisciplinary approach to provide gender-affirming care after a diagnosis of gender dysphoria is made by a licensed mental health provider.”
- The Gender-Affirming Medicine department at the University of Kansas Health System is another resource for patients past pediatric age looking to explore gender-affirming care and procedures.