Facemask Q&A with Fran Dunaway of TomboyX

TomboyX Covid
Fran Dunaway. Photo courtesy of TomboyX

We want every one of our customers to feel safe, valued, and heard every time they shop with us. Being able to provide them access to our inclusive products in a safe manner – no matter size, gender, ability, or location – is an honor.

One important part of the Pittsburgh MasQUe ProjecT is highlighting safe and affirming places for trans and queer folx to purchase masks. In addition to this Q&A series, we maintain a list on the project homepage. This Q&A was crafted to highlight some unique aspects of the participating businesses and explore related issues, including the manifestation of racial justice in the LGBTQIA+ community and the real struggles of running a small business in this economy.

We’ve been customers of TomboyX for many years, mostly through their very cool underwear line. I anticipated they would offer some sort of face covering and was not wrong – they rolled out a line of multiclavas. And it turns out that was actually in the works before the pandemic. A multiclava is similar to a balaclava or a gaiter. TomboyX has a ton of fabric choices and a big inventory of many other items.

Note:  the CDC wants you to wear at least a two-ply traditional mask over these others face coverings that they deem less effective in preventing the transmission of the coronavirus. So a multiclava is better than nothing, but on its own – it is not the best or better choice to reduce transmission. As a fashion accessory paired with a traditional mask, yes. In a pinch, yes. With a single layer face covering, yet.

Name: Fran Dunaway
Pronouns: she/her/hers
Your Business Name: TomboyX

How do you describe your identity? Female, Lesbian

Tell us about your company. TomboyX started when I just wanted to find a cool button up shirt that would fit me. Store after store, rack after rack, there just wasn’t anything for me. At first, it was frustrating. Then it occurred to me. We had to make clothes for us, and, by extension, everyone that the fashion industry wasn’t serving.

Naomi and I didn’t know a knit from a woven when we started this company. It was probably better that we didn’t. I wanted something like a Robert Graham or a Ben Sherman. But made for women. High quality fabric and fun details. We could see the products in our heads. So, we bootstrapped a prototype and decided to pay for the production via crowd sourcing. We picked the name TomboyX because we thought it was fun and the name resonated with us. We are tomboys, and there are lots of other tomboys out there. We had an instant brand.

During our Kickstarter campaign we realized we had tapped into a white space of people like us who had never been seen in the fashion industry. They were ignored because the industry didn’t have the imagination to serve them. We felt a responsibility to provide exceptional products for this community, our community.

So we listened. When our customers let us know that they wanted boxer briefs, we set out to make the most comfortable, durable and sustainable product we could. In 2014, we introduced the first boxer briefs made for women, and six months later, we had tripled our revenue. Turns out, when you focus on fit and quality that works on all body types, and accept no definitions of gender, you win. We offer all styles in sizes XS to 6X and so whether you identify as she/he/they or anything in between, we’ve got you covered.

How did you decide to create and sell the multiclava? Why not traditional facemasks? We actually developed the multiclava’s about three months before COVID hit. They were on a boat headed to our warehouse weeks before we shut down. So, it was just a timely coincidence that we had them in our product lineup for the spring. It was a way to utilize extra fabric in our factories and our original intent was as a hair covering, but we are thrilled that they work for facial coverings as well.

Please explain the differences and similarities of a multiclava, balaclava, and a gaiter? Are they as effective in terms of coronavirus as a traditional non-medical face mask? The medical recommendation is to wear multiple layers and so, depending on the environment you are in, you may be okay with double or triple layers. The point is to be as safe as possible and to make smart choices about when and where you mingle with others.

Please describe your mask style(s) for our readers. What inspired the design? We also like to have fun with our prints, and our multiclavas are no different. From rainbows to unicorns to dinosaurs to holiday, we’ve got it all.

As for the inspiration, we initially created the multiclava as a way to utilize excess fabric in our factories. Originally, when we were developing them (far before the pandemic), we thought they would be great for covering up your hair, or for sun protection. Then, once COVID hit, we were happy to see that the multiclava’s versatility allowed for it to be used as face coverings as well.

Cloth Face Coverings

The Pittsburgh MasQUe ProjecT was established to connect trans and queer community members with facemask vendors that are respectful & safe. We live in a world where bakeries go to the Supreme Court to deny us wedding cakes and health care providers want to deny care to transgender neighbors. It is not a big leap for those of us who are queer to imagine being refused a chance to buy a mask when that is legal, like in most of Pennsylvania. That’s why I want to highlight your masks. Being safe isn’t just about wearing the mask, it has to be about securing the mask in the first place. Your thoughts? We want every one of our customers to feel safe, valued, and heard every time they shop with us. Being able to provide them access to our inclusive products in a safe manner – no matter size, gender, ability, or location – is an honor.

It is also important for all of us to support local/queer owned/ally owned small businesses. How have you and the business been navigating these past months of plague, economic uncertainty, and demands for racial justice? We are proud to have made a $50,000 donation to various organizations that benefit the Black Lives Matter movement. We have shipped boxes of underwear to various organizations that work with LGBTQ+ homeless and youth. We recently sent 10 boxes to Safe Place International, an amazing nonprofit in Greece, which serves LGBTQ people and refugees who have left countries where their sexuality/identity puts them at risk of grave harm or even death.

Being able to give back is a huge part of our brand and frankly, who we are as people. We know what it’s like to feel outcast and marginalized so anytime we can help others who feel the same, we make every effort to do so.

Your company claims to be a “tale of two tomboys”, referencing founders Fran & Naomi. How did they make the leap from tomboy clothing to really multiple lines for lots of sizes and gender spectrums? Naomi and I are good listeners and are continually adapting to customer needs and requests. It was a good business move to focus on one product line and grow the brand around underwear. We’ve always believed in the importance of inclusivity so from the beginning of the company, we’ve made sure to be size inclusive. That goes for the trans and non-binary community as well. We want to include everyone in the TomboyX brand. It’s who we are.

How long do you plan to offer multiclava? Probably forever.

What else can people buy from you? Swimwear, loungewear, socks, sleepwear and soon… well, keep an eye out as we expand into new product categories soon. Look for it all at www.tomboyx.com.

Where can our readers find you online and on social media?

Online at www.tomboyx.com

On Instagram at www.instagram.com/tomboyx

On Twitter at www.twitter.com/TomboyExchange

On Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/tomboyx/

Anything else you’d like readers to know? As a clothing brand with a strong social mission, we understand that we have a responsibility to minimize our overall impact on the environment and to support our workers and community via purpose driven initiatives.

We source our fabrics sustainably, utilizing Oeko-Tek 100 cotton, biodegradable and energy efficient TENCEL™ Micromodal. Our anti-microbial coating on our swimwear is chitosan, a sustainable and natural coating from crab shells abandoned by the industrial fishing industry.

Next up – organic cotton!

As part of our social sustainability commitment, TomboyX has a dedicated and continued effort to give to charities and non-profit organizations. In the last two years alone TomboyX has donated over $200k to various non-profits.

But we also know that the work doesn’t end there. We will have more announcements in the new year, but folx can check out our latest sustainability initiatives here.

Thank you, Fran.


The Pittsburgh MasQUe ProjecT connects members of the trans and queer community with face masks to protect them during the coronavirus. This includes identifying safe vendors for purchasing masks as well as offering mask distributions. To sign up as a featured vendor, please email us at [email protected]

Read other posts in this series

Facemask Q&A with HauteButch Founder & Designer Karen Roberts

Facemask Q&A with Goblin Girl Designs’ Lori Korchok

Facemask Q&A with Shapeshifters Eli Coughlin-Galbraith

Facemask Q&A with Stoney Michelli of Stuzo Clothing

Facemask Q&A with Dre Cortes and Lex Londino of Bows for Beaux Co.

Facemask Q&A with Alyah Baker of Show & Tell Concept Shop

Facemask Q&A with Oneita Parker of The Proper Bunny

Facemask Q&A with Fran Dunaway of TomboyX

How to get face masks in Pittsburgh

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