How a problem-solving dad created bathing suit bottoms for transgender girls
Swimwear line Rubies named after Jamie Alexander's daughter Ruby
Jamie Alexander came up with the idea for the company Rubies when he and his daughter Ruby, who is transgender, were getting ready for a trip to Panama and he wanted to shield her from any possible hurtful reactions.
She was 11 at the time and had already identified as female for a few years. But going to the beach presented a different challenge.
"In the early days, when she socially transitioned, we put her in boys' clothing for gym and swimming," said Alexander, who lives in Toronto. "She was reluctantly going along with us.
Then last May, before a camping trip with family friends, Ruby said she wanted to wear a bikini.
"No one cared, no one really said anything about it," said Alexander of the fitted girls' bathing suit bottoms, but that was in a group of trusted friends and he worried about what might happen months later, on their upcoming trip to Panama.
It started Alexander, an entrepreneur in the tech industry, on the hunt for a solution for his daughter and others in her position.
He said for him and his wife, the motivation to find another option stemmed from "our own fears and fears for her safety," while their daughter, who's now 12, felt comfortable.
He joined Facebook groups for parents of trans children and found swimwear was a common issue, either for parents or their child.
'A potential safety issue'
"It's a general fear that you don't want your kid to be sort of called out," he said. "Someone doesn't feel comfortable and they feel that it's a potential safety issue."
Alexander has business experience, but acknowledges he knew nothing about the clothing industry when he started researching last fall.
He presented his idea to Ryerson's Fashion Zone, a business incubator bringing together fashion and technology, pairing entrepreneurs with industry advisers.
He decided to start a small, focused business, with basic swimwear bottoms for trans girls offering smoothing compression technology, in addition to t-shirts with the slogan "Every Girl Deserves to Shine."
"I'm not trying to be Lululemon," he said of his online business venture.
Alexander's company doesn't even make bathing suit tops, since he wanted to spend his time and resources tackling a problem.
Trans girls, he said, can buy a separate bathing suit top to combine with the plain-coloured bottoms. At first, he only made the bottoms in black, though has since added some pairs in a sparkly pink.
He said his swimsuit bottoms are already on their 10th iteration, with changes made along the way based on the opinions from a group of 25 transgender girls testing the bathing suits. The girls live in Canada, the U.S. and Australia.
The suits are being sewn at a local company and aren't cheap, at $62 for a pair of bottoms.
But Alexander doesn't want the price to be a barrier for kids who might be encountering difficulties.
"I want to send a thousand pairs for free to kids who can't afford them," he explained. He's funding that through the t-shirt profits.
"I think he's amazing," Ruby said in a phone interview about her dad and his problem-solving instincts.
Everyone who orders one of the bottoms online also receives a postcard with a handwritten note.
Ruby said she wrote one, that read: "You are like a star that shines bright, that's more special than anyone else. And don't let anyone dim that light."
Her dad said even in the short time his website has been up, he's been convinced he's filling a need.
"One woman said, 'As I was reading this, I was crying and this is tears of joy that someone really cares.'"
Alexander is already thinking of two more products he wants to add.
He's had meetings about a one-piece bathing suit with front compression. After that, he'd like to come out with leggings, to provide another option for activities, such as dance and gymnastics.