‘Revolutionary’ new tucking swimwear for trans women and non-binary folk melds comfort with style
Trans activist, model and designer Danielle St James has launched a groundbreaking swimwear line specifically tailored for trans women and non-binary people who tuck.
Zoah aims to help trans women and gender non-conforming individuals feel comfortable and confident in their tuck, using a combination of materials to aid in comfort, utility, and style.
Having launched as an underwear line, Zoah has introduced its first two-piece bikini set, with sizes ranging from XS to XXXL.
Talking to PinkNews, St James explained her philosophy when designing her products – comfort over style.
“My number one priority in everything we have done is comfort and I’m proud that we stay true to that,” she said.
“You name a tucking option, I have tried it. I’ve done the electrical type, I’ve cut the waistbands off of tights and cut the ends off of socks, I’ve done the gaff, all of it and it’s always painful.”
Designing a comfortable swimwear line has been a huge goal for Danielle St James, but realising it has required much research and countless design iterations to get it just right.
“I always wanted swimwear and it was just one of those things where I had tried every option,” she explained. “There are photographs on my Instagram where I’ve been at the beach and Instagram makes it look like ‘Oh, we can just put anything on,’ but we can’t, it just doesn’t work.
“I wanted to do something really fab for the swimwear and do something that’s flattering on the body. I took those learning curves from the underwear. All of the details that make my underwear work make the swimwear work.”
St James created Zoah out of necessity for those who need something that’s tuckable and comfortable. She initially thought of the idea in 2017 on a long train journey from Washington.
“I was sat on the train, and I just started writing what I would want if I had my dream underwear line. I ended up working with this pattern cutter in London who was a friend of a friend. We came up with the initial design for the first underwear and by 2018 I was like ‘okay, let’s do it.'”
Various circumstances put the project “on the backburner”, but with the samples St James had already worked on gaining much praise from her friends, she found that she couldn’t let the project go to waste.
“I’ve been wearing my own designs for about four years,” St James said.
“When the pandemic happened, I lost my job kind of early on, about June 2020 I think, but I was already busy with little freelancer bits. It got to the middle of last year and I was with my boyfriend and said: ‘I just don’t really know what the next bit looks like.’
“He was like: ‘Are you kidding? People ask you about this underwear all the time, just do it now.'”
Once Zoah was born, the first issue was which design to start with and how to make sure it was reliable.
“So it all started with this one design, the original brief,” she recalled. “We kind of stumbled upon the fabric choices within that and it translated to the swimwear.”
The secret is a fabric called power mesh.
“It’s like a four-way stretched mesh, it’s very fine, but it’s really strong,” St James explained. “This fabric just worked for what it was needed for and so we layered that with a lycra and that was the original design.
“What made the underwear unique is that we lined the waistband with silicone. Traditional tucking underwear looks like a thong and its tension points on the hips make it so uncomfortable, you get sore hips and it rubs, just not great.
“We took the silicone waistband, layered the fabric and made a big knicker on the first go. All of that tension came from the silicone waistband, but because it’s all the way around it doesn’t hurt.”
As well as creating her own fashion designs, Danielle St James is also the chief executive of the non-profit Not A Phase, which supports trans adults through community projects, campaigns, and consultancy. The changes it’s making in the wider community are something she is especially proud of.
“It’s going from strength to strength, we’re really proud of it. We’ve got peer support groups running in London, Bristol, Manchester and the South East. We’re working to extend that to another three cities this year, to reach Scotland, Wales and the South West.
“We also run a misfits programme in partnership with Nike which is fitness, wellness, and self-defence free of charge to the community. We’ve got so much going on and I would love it if people want to get involved with it.”
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