Avant-Garde Expression is a trans-owned queer clothing company that was created to provide clothing that purposefully steers away from our society’s obsession with the gender binary. I got a chance to sit down with the founder and president of AGX, AJ Nichols, and she and I discussed a wide scope of topics ranging from what it was like to come out as transgender in small-town Maine, to the motivating factors in founding this queer affirming company. AJ is a 20-year-old transgender woman from Maine who is currently living in Massachusetts and studying business administration with a minor in fashion at Northeastern University. Owning and operating her own business has always been something that AJ has been interested in pursuing and as she got older, she realized that designing and creating clothes was something she was becoming more and more drawn to. In high school she asked her grandmother, who was a seamstress, to teach her how to sew, and she began sewing costumes for her high school’s theatre productions. This then led to a costume design internship where she really got to learn the process of designing clothes, starting from the sketch to fabricating the pieces themselves.

Follow AGX on Facebook and instagram @agxofficial

During this time, she had not yet come out as transgender, and although she felt her sexuality was in question it wasn’t until the internet, and Ru Paul’s Drag Race, that she realized it was okay to express your gender in different ways. Over time she realized that her internal conflict was more of a gender issue as opposed to sexuality. This was also around the time that Caitlyn Jenner was going through her transition, and as she discovered these stories, it started a lot of conversation on her own identity. Things really began to line up and make sense from there. She started hormones shortly before graduating high school and couldn’t wait to move down to Boston where she could start fresh and begin her new life living as her authentic self.

“Change doesn’t happen quietly, and you need to push the envelope for it to happen”

When I asked her to tell me more about AGX and the inspiration behind creating this company she brought up being influenced by the drag queen Violet Chachki, she was mesmerized by the idea of expression through clothing. Another motivating factor was discovering the MarcoMarco clothing company. She stated, “I felt so empowered seeing these queer people looking like superheroes. . . I wanted to feel like I was proud of being different.” Soon enough AGX was born. When I asked her what some of her goals were in creating this brand her first priority was to create something that didn’t adhere to the gender binary. “A lot of the times I don’t really gravitate towards extremely feminine clothing and I feel like when you walk in the stores its very cut and dry. There’s not a lot of middle ground and I wanted to create that middle ground”

Another cool aspect of AGX that is unique to the brand is that each time a new collection was released, so too was a video that spoke to queer issues. There is a consistent underlying message promoting the importance of unisex clothing and the empowerment of queer people. I asked her to speak more to that and why it’s become an important part of the brands identity. She said initially, it was to create interest about the company, but after it took off, she realized it was an opportunity to speak to, and about, the LGBTQ+ community. “Change doesn’t happen quietly, and you need to push the envelope for it to happen.” For her the series has also been a way to channel dysphoria, and other negative side effects that are often inherent to transitioning, through this performance art lens. At the same time, it created something that has become an advocacy and educational tool. We talked about how, as frustrating as it can be at times, to be asked the laundry list of questions that so often come after someone finds out your transgender. However, as annoying as it may be, some of us feel a sense of responsibility to educate the public. The lesson I’ve learned in coming to accept this responsibility is that there are ways in which we can all go about doing this. For her it’s through her clothing brand, for me it’s through visual mediums. However, and this is an important however, the one thing you must always keep in mind, is that you must also give yourself an equal amount of time in spaces where you can separate yourself from that responsibility. Otherwise, it’s so easy to become drained by this constant need to “change people’s minds.” We can’t forget to take care of our own mind, and body for that matter.

Thank you so much to AJ Nichols for sharing her story and brand with me, and the community. I also want to thank all the models who came out to help promote this awesome brand: Alex Gray @midwaygray, Apollo Flowerchild @apolloflowerchild, Brea Hazelton @brxea_, Brycen Gaines @trans_bear, and Steph Durwin @stephdurwin. Check out their Instagram tags and give them all a follow. Lastly, I’d like to thank the behind the scenes help Damaris Gonzalez @damaryy_gonzo and Jannelly Ruiz @janellyr for keeping things vibing on all the right frequencies. I had an awesome time doing this shoot, and it only further affirmed my desire to promote visibility and uplift other members of the transgender community.

Camden is a 28-year-old trans person and visual artist. After serving in the US Navy he moved to NYC and recently graduated with his degree in visual arts. His focus has been primarily on LGBTQ+ portraiture and exploring, through photography, the many facets of sexual and gender identity. More recent projects include exploring spirituality within the queer community with hopes to create spaces for us to grow and rise up to our highest potential together.