After watching his own daughter Ruby, 12, struggle to find bikini bottoms that made her feel both comfortable and confident as a transgender girl, Toronto dad Jamie Alexander decided to solve the problem himself.
Alexander created a new clothing brand, Rubies, with the specific goal of producing form-fitting clothing for transgender children up to a size 20. His first product: the Ruby Shaping Bikini Bottom.
Though he told TODAY Parents Ruby was drawn to high heels, Disney princesses, and Beyoncé's "Single Ladies" video as early as age 3, Alexander and his wife Angela were not sure at first whether her preferences meant anything significant about her gender. After all, who doesn't love Beyoncé?
With the help of their local public school system, the Alexanders gave their child space and support to figure out if she identified as male, the gender she was assigned at birth, female, or neither. By grade 3, it became clear she knew the answer.
But as Ruby grew into adolescence, Alexander noticed that transgender girls have one specific issue when it comes to fashion: finding bikini bottoms they could confidently wear in public — that can "magically turn a pointy poker into a dainty dune, no tucking required," as the Rubies website explains.
"An item of clothing like Rubies swimwear can be a total game-changer for transgender and gender-creative children," said Jessica Herthel, co-author of children's book "I Am Jazz" with transgender activist Jazz Jennings.
"Being able to do something that most of us take for granted — namely, to go swimming without fear of being stared at or teased, or even targeted — can give a child a feeling of normalcy and belonging," said Herthel.
Alexander, an entrepreneur and veteran of the tech start-up world, developed the swimwear with Ryerson University's tech start-up incubator The DMZ, where he had access to a fashion accelerator and a garment engineer.
"Everything I saw was heavily branded just to trans people and had a quilted pad in the front. They didn't look like normal bikinis," Alexander said. "I wanted to create a garment that looks and feels like a regular bikini and a brand that resonates with kids, not just trans kids."
He interviewed 50-60 different families he found in Facebook groups for parents of transgender children to see what they were looking for in swimwear. "The best businesses are ones that solve real problems," Alexander said. "I knew we had a problem, but I didn't know if everyone else did."
His designer made a prototype bikini bottom using spandex on the outside with a mesh liner that is able to gently compress and "pull things in" without causing discomfort. Alexander sent samples to 25 families in North America and Australia in December 2019 to solicit feedback. "The key was, they had to functionally work," he said.
Now, after finding children who have bought the bikini bottoms are wearing them as underwear because they make them feel so much more confident, Alexander is expanding the company to include real underwear made with a cotton fabric.
His goal, he says, is to make the lives of trans children like his own daughter better — and more unremarkable. "I want to focus on the positive stories about these kids and normalize them," Alexander said. "They're just kids. That's how people need to see them."
Herthel said the fact the swimwear line was developed by the father of a trans kid makes Rubies all the more inspiring. "The world needs more dads like Jamie Alexander who don’t just accept their children’s gender, but celebrate it," she said.
During LGBTQ Pride Month, TODAY is sharing the community’s history, pain, joy and what’s next for the movement. We will be publishing personal essays, stories, videos and specials throughout the entire month of June. For more, head here.
This story was first published in January 2021.