A Toronto brand is fighting the battle for inclusivity and comfort, one pair of undergarments at a time.
Toni Marlow, a Ryerson Fashion Zone startup, is dedicated to “defying gender norms, challenging stereotypes and building a positive, powerful and progressive future” with its signature line of all-inclusive boxer briefs.
“I needed underwear that was comfortable, that suited me,” said founder and lead designer Jalisa Luces-Mendes. “I knew a lot of my friends in the same demographic probably had the same problem, so I sent out a survey and got back a good amount of responses that indicated there was a need here to fill.”
Luces-Mendes says that she sent the surveys out in April or May of 2015, and that the first prototype was completed in July of that year. The company’s genesis would come almost a year and a half later, when Toni Marlow officially launched at the end of 2016.
“I graduated from Ryerson in 2015 for business management/entrepreneurship . . . and from there we just hit the ground running,” she explained.
The founder connected with the Ryerson Fashion Zone, thanks to a friend from her previous startup (Proof.It Rentals, a sort of “Rate My Profs”-style platform for landlords and rentals). The Fashion Zone helped give her the support necessary to grow Toni Marlow into what it is today.
“(Toni Marlow) is important because of the often still radically binary design, marketing, and retailing of fashion today,” said Ryerson School of Fashion professor Alison Matthews David who saw Luces-Mendes speak at the school of fashion’s Transdressing event. “Which now starts from earliest childhood with pink and blue clothing and accessories . . . Even mass-produced diapers and pull-ups come in ‘boy’ and ‘girl’ styles, so children have gendered ‘underwear’ before they’re even wearing underwear.”
Toni Marlow currently offers specially-made boxers for women and transmen, designed to better fit their bodies. They include a layer inside that lifts up, allowing you to insert pads with wings; another model of “packer” boxers features a pocket in which you can insert a prosthesis.
“Underwear is worn more privately, but access to undergarments that feel and look good for everyone on the gender spectrum has not been a given, which can lead to having problems with ‘comfort’ both in terms of sizes and styling,” said Matthews David. “We are very much a comfort-loving society, but comfort is more than physical, it’s psychological as well.”
Toni Marlow is dedicated to supporting the LGBTQ+ community in more ways than just clothing; it donates a dollar from every sale to suicide prevention through Egale Canada.
“Suicide affects everyone, whether it’s your own personal thoughts, feelings, or actions, or those of someone else . . . I personally believe it’s preventable, with the right knowledge, support and tools,” said Luces-Mendes, who strategically focused Toni Marlow’s charitable efforts on the issue after losing a childhood friend to suicide.
Luces-Mendes said the company also works with suicideprevention.ca, because not all of the brand’s patrons fall under the LGBTQ+ umbrella. She’s gone as far as to include a suicide prevention page (including statistics, infographics, and links to further information and support) to Toni Marlow’s official website as a testament to her passionate fight for the cause.
“When we think of underwear marketing or take a walk through the Eaton Centre, we’re bombarded by larger than life-sized images of thin, almost-naked white models in ads for brands like Victoria’s Secret,” said Matthews David, who saw Luces-Mendes speak at the school of fashion’s Transdressing event in November 2017.
“I personally find this type of marketing offensive. Looking at TM’s website and product line gives a completely different message about diversity and body positivity. It’s refreshing and empowering.”
So what’s next for Toni Marlow? According to Luces-Mendes, the company is only getting started.
“I want to bring our community to the forefront of media, fashion and retail,” she said. “How can we foster allyship, conversation, and just make the world a better place for everyone.”