This June we’ve been highlighting some of the amazing entrepreneurs from the LGBTQ+ community on Faire, including Texas-based retail store The Little Gay Shop and Colorado-based stationery brand Ladyfingers Letterpress. As we wrap up Pride Month we’re shining a spotlight on Transfigure Print Co., an apparel and screen printing business based in Grand Rapids, Michigan. We spoke with Founder Bailey Sell about building his brand from the ground up, making an impact through fundraising efforts, and the importance of Pride.
Building a brand
Transfigure Print Co. has been creating LGBTQ+ centered apparel since 2017, but the brand’s roots go back to 2016 when Bailey first pressed wood carving to paper while navigating his own journey of coming out as trans. At the time, Bailey was attending school for graphic design in Grand Rapids and decided to take some print-making classes. That decision inspired him to start making woodblocks to print custom t-shirts that he sold through an Etsy shop. When that became too time-consuming, he taught himself screen printing at home. “That’s when things took a turn where it was a business and not just a hobby,” Bailey said.
While his early creations were more focused on pop culture and didn’t have much to do with his identity as a trans person, the further he got in his courses the more he wanted to intersect his identity with the fine art techniques he was learning. Since then, Transfigure has only continued to grow, enabling Bailey to introduce mutual aid efforts and raise more than $40,000 for nonprofits and organizations nationwide to help further trans lives.
From humble beginnings to proud accomplishments
At first, Bailey found it challenging to scale up production fast enough to meet the growing demand. “I was running the business out of my college house where I lived with three other roommates,” he said. Fortunately, he got an internship at a print shop and the owner eventually decided to leave the space in what used to be a furniture factory for Bailey to take over.
Once his space was secured, the challenge became doing everything on his own. “I started to understand why people have multiple employees for each task,” Bailey said. He brought on an order fulfillment partner and recently hired a production assistant.
Bailey has also had plenty of proud moments to keep him going through these growing pains. He started to realize the impact he was having when Transfigure did a Pride event in 2019 and people started coming up to the booth and thanking him for being there. “Kids were telling us they’d gone to great lengths to be there, and they were so happy to see us and see our stuff,” Bailey said. Another milestone was when Ghirardelli contacted him through Transfigure’s website to ask if he could print their Pride shirts. “I do a lot of custom printing for other businesses and artists,” he said. “People pass my name on and it’s always a surprise to see who will contact me.”
Fundraising efforts that support the community
Bailey is perhaps proudest of Transfigure’s fundraising initiatives that have allowed him to make a bigger impact on the community he holds dear. In 2019 he printed the first series of Protect Trans Kids shirts—a design gifted to him by artist Rio Wolf—and continues to donate 20% of the proceeds from each shirt sold to rotating non-profits like the American Trans Resource Hub. Each month Transfigure also donates 20% of the proceeds from varying products to organizations that support trans people through grants and medical funds.
A few years ago, Bailey started his own Transfigure Trans Fund to have a more direct and immediate impact on the lives of trans people. He uses social media to find GoFundMe pages for people in the LGBTQ+ community, saving any pages he may want to later donate to. He also receives emails through his website from trans people in need of financial support. At the end of the month, he’ll select one or more individuals from social media or email to donate a portion of proceeds from that month’s sales in an effort to help people with things like gender-affirming surgeries, health care, or supplies.
Celebrating Pride by looking back and getting together
Pride Month has become especially important for Bailey in recent years since he started testosterone on his birthday in June five years ago and had top surgery on the same date three years ago. “One of the best things about Pride is community and being able to celebrate each other,” he said.
Bailey explained how great it felt to be coming back together for the local Pride festival that hadn’t taken place since 2019. “There’s a lot to celebrate this year,” he said. He’ll also be celebrating the month by raising funds for other LGBTQ+ artists and makers and uplifting other members of the community. “I’m a bit of an introvert, so I like to give the spotlight to other people and share my space with more marginalized groups,” he said.
As far as his impact on the community, Bailey admitted that he still finds it strange to think of himself as someone people look up to. “I didn’t start off thinking all this was possible,” he said. “I hope that when people look at me they feel like it’s possible to do all of these things as a trans or queer person and to be successful.”
Words of advice for LGBTQ+ artists and entrepreneurs
Bailey advised that other LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs and makers lean on their community for help and support. “Make sure you have a good support system–I was doing it on my own but had friends willing to help,” Bailey said. He also said it’s important to resist the urge to doubt yourself and to get yourself out there as soon as possible. “I have a tendency to doubt myself and my abilities,” he said. Ultimately, Bailey said that at the end of the day, it’s most important to keep producing art even if you don’t think anyone else will see it. “Even if you don’t have a big platform, keep creating art and one day you’ll have the opportunity.”