Kempe Scanlan is looking to turn his graduate-school thesis project into his profession.
While at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Scanlan focused on making gender-liberated undergarments, inspired by the transgender community.
The start-up company will be known as Kempe, a Viking name that means "champion" or "warrior." The company name came from a focus group of mixed LGBT and cisgender individuals who were considering name options. Someone asked about his name, and its meaning struck with the group.
"When I get dressed in the morning, I put on my armor for the dayand people really seemed to resonate with that idea. That became the new branding of our company," said Scanlan, 32, who lives in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood.
Scanlan has done extensive transgender research, intrigued "by the way they morph their body to match their mindset," he said. Scanlan studied already-existing products, which he frowned upon and labeled as "really hyper sexualized," especially since the transgender community, though lumped in with three other sexual-based communities ( gay, lesbian and bisexual ), it is not.
"I started creating [garments], inspired by my own athletic endeavors, looking at sportswear-like prosthetics," he said.
Scanlan was able to pitch the concept locally, and it drew positive reviews. So, he's spent 2014 developing the prototype, "trying to perfect something new and different, something that focuses on helping people transition," he said. "What makes us different is, our product is one that you can add to. So, it's really a garment that you can transition with."
Scanlan attended the 13th Philadelphia Trans-Health Conference in mid-June, and naturally shared his concept.
"The company has really shifted from being about from being just about the transition from one gender to another, to having a healthier body image, having a healthier transformation in whatever capacity you want," Scanlan said.
The company is developing prototype garments for cisgender, gay, lesbian, transgender and other individuals.
"We're really most proud of the prosthetics that we've been prototyping for the Trans community, and the Trans community is really the inspiration behind what is becoming a much larger entity right now," he said.
The first garments are expected to launch in October, with more later in the year.
The first garment will be geared for the transgender community, with interchangeable padding, allowing them to transition with their garment, he said.
Kempe initially will be sold online, and possibly soon thereafter in select specialty stores in Chicago and New York.
Scanlan, who split his childhood in upstate New York and Charleston, South Carolina, was a multi-sport competitor in high school, playing tennis and soccer, competing in track & field, and excelling on the rowing team. He then moved on to Skidmore College, where he played intramural sports and earned a degree in economics and a minor in sculpture.
After graduating, he got hooked on triathlonsand has completed 10, most recently the Chicago Triathlon in 2013. He also plays flag football and kickball in the Chicago Metropolitan Sports Association ( CMSA ), and admitted he is more of a college sports fan than a pro sports fan. Scanlan also enjoys hiking, camping and surfing.
He is a Duke University basketball fan and also cheers for Notre Dame football and basketball. After all, his late, basketball-playing great-grandfather, Raymond Scanlan, was Notre Dame's first All-American ever.
Scanlan is openly gay, single and came out on Easter at age 23.
"We've seen a lot of stereotypes about what a perfect body form is. Spanx is a great example of that. We also see so many people trying to perfect the hourglass [body form], and more," Scanlan said. "With the transgender community, it's not just about looks. There's a huge aspect of comfort, of finding the right body-mind connection."
And it all starts with that first layer of clothing, Scanlan stressed.
"We want to create a more empowering undergarment," he said.
in Chicago Sept. 3
The Illinois Humanities Council will present a conversation with controversial performer Alaska Thunderfuck 5000, a runner up in the fifth season of Logo's RuPaul's Drag Race on Wed., Sept. 3, at 7 p.m. at Empty Bottle, 1035 N. Western Ave.
Alaska, aka Justin Andrew Honard, is teaming with soul singer Jomama Jones and the Illinois Humanities Council's Angel Ysaguirre for a conversation about drag, gender, and building a community through performance. This is the fourth installment of Now What? a five-part series about current issues.
Alaska made a video earlier this year in which Alaska portrayed RuPaul shooting a transgender blogger in the head for her remarks against the phrase "tranny" being used. The person in the video is widely believed to be transgender writer Parker Molloy.
"I listened closely to a lot of the responses to my controversial 'Season 76' video," Alaska told WCT's Jerry Nunn. "In order to facilitate togetherness and peace among the drag community and the trans community I took the video down. In response I posted a video named 'RuPaul's Drag Race Season 77,' in which a Dolly Parton-esque Alaska and the previously murdered character Joy Less sing a happy song together in peace and harmony."
Event details are at www.prairie.org/events/28805/now-what-conversation-creators-alaska-and-jomama-jones .