Necessity is the mother of invention, and Mary Going needed something to wear.
"It started with my wedding, but extended into every aspect of my life," says Going, the 46-year-old founder of Saint Harridan, a retailer specializing in classic men's-styled suits reconstructed to fit women and trans men. "Professional settings, my kids' holiday concerts, funerals - every event that required dressing up in something more than khakis and a t-shirt was painful."
Solving that problem turned out to be bigger than just getting to a store. Going describes her average trip to the men's department as nothing less than humiliating. "Once the sales rep figures out I'm not shopping for my husband, the customer service tanks. And there's no point in enduring that, because in the end, nothing ever fits."
Last winter, Going found out she wasn't alone. Within minutes of launching Saint Harridan's Kickstarter Campaign, she had backers - customers queuing up for their suits. By the end of the 30-day campaign she had raised over $137,000 from 1,108 supporters.
With numbers like that, it's no wonder masculine clothing for women has been garnering the attention of the media. To date, Going and Saint Harridan have been featured in the New York Times, Huffington Post, San Francisco Examiner, Bay Area Reporter, and several other publications.
"I took me awhile to realize that somebody was me."
In August, Saint Harridan will ship out its inaugural batch of suits to Kickstarter backers and Going will introduce her suit line to the public at a pop-up store in Oakland on the 17th and 18th. But the work to produce those suits started years ago.
Going says when she first started thinking about men's clothing cut to fit women, it was a business idea she hoped someone else would take on. "It took me awhile to realize that somebody was me."
But when Going, already a successful entrepreneur, entered the MBA program at the Lorry I. Lokey Graduate School of Business at Mills College in 2010, she could no longer ignore the inevitable. So, knowing nothing about fashion beyond her desire to wear clothes styled for men, she found herself a mentor in Austin-based fashion consultant and blogger, Sheree Ross.
"Originally I wanted Sherre to become a partner, or design our suits, or at least tell me what to do," Going says, of her first interactions with Ross. "But she just kept turning my questions around, and encouraging me to figure out what I liked." So Going started to look. At collars. At ties. At lapels. Two-button jackets. Three-button jackets. Jackets vented on the side, at the center. Pleats. Plain fronts. Cuffs. No cuffs.
"That process changed me," says Going. "The whole prospect of shopping for men's clothes had always been so demoralizing, I never even considered which details I liked and which I didn't. The truth is, I used to think fashion was just for superficial airheads, but once I started to think more intentionally about my clothing choices I began to feel better about myself. Which inspired me to take better care of myself in general. I look better. I feel better. I'm even more confident."
That's what convinced Going she had to start Saint Harridan. "I want to offer this kind of experience to other people like me who've spent way too many disappointing hours sulking in the men's aisles. If I didn't know it before, I know it now: we deserve to be revered."
Going's increased confidence has come in handy. The process of redesigning men's-styled suits for "Saints" - as she calls her customer base - has turned out to be far more challenging than Going expected. "High-end men's suits are like sculptures," she explains. "So it wasn't just a matter of changing the measurements. We needed to alter the structure, but do it in a way that would still be viable from a manufacturing perspective."
From the start, Going has committed to creating a company that cares about more than monetary profits. Her visit to the Massachusetts factory where Saint Harridan's jackets and pants will be manufactured made that decision even more clear.
"It was back in April, right after the devastating factory collapse that killed over a thousand garment workers in Bangladesh," Going explained. "I walked the floor of that factory in Massachusetts, I talked to people who worked there, I heard how proud they felt about the garments they were creating, and I knew this was where I wanted Saint Harridan suits to be made."
The Massachusetts plant is unionized and employees earn an average of $24 per hour.
"Saint Harridan isn't really about selling suits," Going says. "We're selling confidence, and posture, and presence. And you can't stand tall in a suit someone had to risk their life to make."
About Saint Harridan: Saint Harridan is a clothing company manufacturing and retailing men's-styled suits for women and trans men. Find us at SaintHarridan.com and on Facebook.