Editors Note: We discovered Terrence Francois when we discovered Wear Versatile via their Instagram. Pop-up stores and clothing Swap Parties have become staple features in New York and elsewhere but none are as unique –and dare we say, as special– as those produced by Terrence. This is because, as you’ll see in his interview, they begin and end with COMMUNITY. Read on to see what we’re talking about. (Photo of Terrence above by Nova Karina Lucero , all others by Josiah Kelevra)
Name Terrence Francois /Age 29
Preferred Pronouns He/ Him/ His
Current city Brooklyn, NY
What is your “cause” ?
The focus of my work is to offer a different pathway for LGBTQIA designers to have their products accessible to the community they serve and to design a better shopping experience that embraces the queer, gender non-binary and transgender community.
How does Wear Versatile do this?
We create a queer shopping experience based on our lifestyle, not gender. We know styles and confidence cannot be limited to “men” and “women” clothing aisles. We transform shopping experiences into affirming, high key fun parties and reliable places for you get your life wear. We feature Women/Queer/ Black and Brown apparel and accessory designers at each of our events or social activations.
Why did you personally get started?
I got started because I was twenty-seven, working as a waiter and biking to work and it came a point where all my jeans had that annoying rip at the crotch. To buy new ones was going to be financially challenging because I didn’t have disposable income like that. But even if I saved the money, I was terribly uncomfortable shopping. So I reached out to my friends to come to a brunch and clothing exchange at my house. It was such an empowering experience to see masculine of center women, transmasculine guys and gender non binary people affirm each other with applause, runways, and becoming personal stylists to one another.
What have you learned in the process?
I’ve learned SO SO MUCH and continue to learn with each experience. One lesson that is close to my heart is forming a creative crew you can rely on is key. Wear Versatile requires a lot of work; not solely logistically but in terms of forming and executing a vision that is expansive and nuanced. The second lesson is that a fusion of day party vibes and shopping with queer, gender non-binary, femme, black, brown, disable fam is a recipe for happiness, healing body shame, impromptu runways and reducing good clothes from being added to the landfill. At the end of our experiences and events, all unclaimed clothes have been donated to homeless and women shelters, activists who fought to prevent the pipeline in Dakota from poisoning sacred land and charity in Haiti.
Who have you found to be influential for you on this path? This could be a personal mentor or someone historical that you’ve used as a role model or learned from their actions, or someone else.
Aimee, Kyle, Kathy, Fanna, Russ, Vicente, April, Boys/Bois in crop tops, real friends and honest community who reflected back at me that my love for fashion was empowering, femmes, Missy Elliot, Felice.
Tell us about a moment that was successful to you.
Wear Versatile experiences are high energy but we know what we create doesn’t happen in a vacuum. Our community continues to lose transwomen to state, misogynistic and interpersonal violence. We recently lost Maurice Willoughby from suicide because of the bullying he experienced from proudly and publicly dating a transwoman. Rest in Peace Maurice.
I was on the mic at the most recent pop-up store experience, and before commencing the thrift runway, I brought that truth into the space and the community was here for that. We rhythmically chanted loud as fuck “Trans Rights are Human Rights” and created church among each other and for those we lost.
That was a successful moment for me because it showed how it is in our DNA to create space where we reclaim our power and the work we still have to do towards inclusivity, respect and safety. After we collectively held space for those we lost, we held space and celebrated the life we are living. There was only one category for the thrift runway… “Living Your Best Life”.
What’s an ongoing challenge? And how do you combat that and keep your spirits up?
An ongoing challenge is saving up the funds to put this experience on and telling guests and interested people that the next experience is in a few months. It’s not what people expect or want to hear because this Queer and Trans Thrifting Social is a shopping experience they want more of. But I work a minimum wage job right now, value putting money into my communites wallets, and want to afford my rent you know.
What keeps my spirits up in the interim of each Wear Versatile experience is knowing that people are looking forward to the next one and will be there when I post the date. As well as the work I do in between each pop-up store experience, the relationships I am nurturing, they all help cultivate more awareness and interest for the next.
Do you have a favorite quote?
Vivienne Westwood was on I think Jimmy Kimmel, and he asked her this question about what staple piece a woman should have in her wardrobe. He made a parallel of how men have suits and ties. Vivenne’s response? “Confidence”. It was iconic for me. Changed how I viewed buying clothes.
What resources would you recommend to people who want to learn more about this issue OR start something similar?
There is not really one place to learn about the in-and-outs of creating your own pop-up store, designing gender free shopping experiences and why LGBTQIA designers in brick and motors don’t tend to be a thing. I have four years of customer service experience and a decade of event planning experience to pull from. You don’t need that same experience you just have to have a vision, a crew, commitment to bring it to life and creativity when it comes to problem solving. The things I didn’t know I learned through an assortment of articles and Youtube videos . Finally the biggest and most beneficial way to learn about these issues is to take notice of your shopping experience –from being greeted with an assumed pronoun, to the ways fitting rooms are set up to be unisex or not – and wonder how a gender nonbinary would have to navigate this space comfortably.
In your free time what do you like to do?
Sit at the steps of The Brooklyn Museum and then check out the art, a leisurely bike ride, attend interactive experience events with my friends or go on a destination-less walk with bubba tea or iced coffee in my hand.
Anything else you feel important to add?
Wear Versatile is all about queer good vibes and is possible because of the relationships I am forming. So I want to shout-out to a badass event space New Women Space, LGBTQIA+ record label Trans Trenderz, queer venue House of Yes, artist Bicana Designs and fly thrift store The Raga Closet.
Please share any social media channels / websites here.