Pink and pastel. Lace and floral. Ill fitting and uncomfortable. That’s all Abby Sugar could find when it came to underwear, and none of it had any appeal. So in 2014, motivated by frustration and driven to create what did not exist, Abby launched Play Out, a line of gender-free underwear in androgynous styles designed for every body. The now thriving fashion brand, a leader in pushing design boundaries and challenging gender norms, is helmed by Abby, Founder/Chief Financial Officer, and Chief Design Officer, Liz Leifer. Turning mission into movement, they just unveiled a new community-based, courage-filled campaign that aims to help anyone, especially queer youth, struggling with gender and/or sexual identity.
Having no formal education in fashion, but an insatiable entrepreneurial spirit and a drawer full of underwear she loathed, Abby says of setting out on her changemaking path, “I was just crazy enough to start a fashion business.” Being an “industry outsider” came with a number of challenges in getting Play Out off the ground. Being a dissatisfied consumer who knew many others seeking a gender non-conforming undie style gave Abby an advantage… perspective. She was determined to disrupt the gender-specific, $38 billion lingerie market by delivering what it lacked: a diverse and inclusive underwear brand that offers the same styles, colors and prints for all people, however they identify.
Inspired by the traditional men’s underwear Abby was always attracted to but never fit her body quite right, boxer briefs and trunks were the first two Play Out products she debuted in Spring 2014. Prioritizing comfort and high-quality fabric, Abby’s innovative design tweaks rendered newfangled underwear styles that were both wearable – and sexy – for all genders.
Since, the gender-inclusive Play Out collection has expanded to include bikinis, pouch bikinis, thongs and pouch thongs, all featuring one-of-a-kind graphic prints and limited-edition designs in bold colors. Liz, who joined Play Out as Chief Design Officer in June 2017 and comes with decades of artistic and creative experience, told us, “The brand has had people of all gender presentations and identifications wear all styles of underwear; the only difference between our flat-fronted styles and our pouch-fronted styles is that the pouch-front offers extra space so that we’re able to offer underwear for every body type.”
Sales continue to be on an upward trajectory for Play Out, which speaks to the quality of the product and consumer demand for it. But in measuring overall success, Abby and Liz put an equal, if not greater value, on how their brand is living up to the deeper meaning of its mission: giving people the freedom to live comfortably as their most authentic selves as they choose to identify. So just this week, they launched #PlayOutWithPride, a new by-community-for-community campaign, which now lives as a dedicated section on the brand’s retail site.
Featuring profiles of Play Out customers, #PlayOutWithPride is an intimate showcase of people of all ages and backgrounds sharing their deeply personal stories of “struggling with coming out, transitioning or barriers they’ve experienced with their families, friends and coworkers, or in their communities.” Participants also share their triumphs, along with their words of advice and encouragement, proving how powerful a supportive community can be.
“This campaign is not about selling underwear. It’s about creating a stronger future for queer youth,” Abby shared. “We want our younger followers and friends of the brand to be reminded that there is a world of successful, established, happy queer people out there who have lesson-filled stories to tell about how they got to where they are today.” Liz added, “It takes daily courage to live life on your own terms, no matter who you are. This campaign captures that spirit and will hopefully inspire others to strive to be truly and uniquely them.”
All photography credit to Eric Jukelevics