K.NGSLEY Takes the Tank Top and Makes it a Queer Statement

K.NGSLEY is Kingsley Gbadegesin’s fashion love letter to the black, femme, and trans communities.

Kingsley Gbadegesin is out to send a message. The New York-based designer is here to rep for the Black, femme, queer, and trans communities. In a year which has seen violence against all these communities reach astonishing peaks, Gbadegesin wants to make a statement — both fashionable and political, with K.NGSLEY.

K.NGSLEY represents the 27-year-old designer’s ambition to speak for a community that has given him so much and forms a part of his identity. His collection promotes the idea that anything can be for you or for your body. By taking the traditionally masculine tank top and championing it, feminizing it, K.NGSLEY challenges your traditional silhouettes and patterns with stylish cut-outs and flexible shapes in your choice of hale navy, white, black, or olive. 

Kingsley Gbadegesin

An activist at heart, Gbadegesin has spent the vast majority of the run-up to his collection launch working on the ground with Black Lives Matter protestors. Through his grassroots organization, “On the Ground,” he has joined up with other Black queer volunteers to assist those making their voices heard on the streets and even organizing candlelight vigils. And with the help of all his friends and supporters, in the industry and outside, he’s able to make a difference both on and off the runway.

Read on as Gbadegesin talks to V about carrying on the activism through his collection, the influence of ballroom culture, and how he plans to reshape our idea of the tank.

V MAGAZINE How does it feel launching this collection, not only in the thick of fashion month, but also in the middle of a pandemic?

KINGSLEY GBADEGESIN This was something that I had originally planned to launch at the end of July or early August. But July was one of those months which was just very fitting for the protests. I probably gave myself a hard cut-off day, which happened to be the end of Fashion Week. I told a friend of mine about it and when I showed her the looks, she wanted to post a teaser on Instagram. And that was the moment when I realized ‘oh shit, I’m doing something right’, and I was so scared. But then it started blowing up. It was just overwhelming, thinking ‘Kingsley, just put it out in the universe and it will come back.’ 

V What would you say are the major influences behind your collection?

K Femme and trans bodies have always existed, and they’ve always persevered. Throughout history, through persecution,violence, oppression and erasure, they’ve endured. We need to normalize the idea of love outside the predetermined norms and build a society in which loving femme and trans Black people are just as safe and celebrated as any other type of love. It’s hard work, it’s the work of a lifetime, but there’s nothing more important in this world.

When I think about this collection, the ways we’ve harnessed fashion to spotlight the brilliance of femme and trans people of color, I hope it helps in some small way–whether someone feels more comfortable in their skin or feels the clothing they choose to put on their body, it makes space for their deep and true expression to be seen or inspires within them the confidence and courage they’ve always had. This is more than just clothing, this is a movement, and trans and femme people are finally being put at the center of it all. This collection is a love letter to them. 

V Your collection prominently features the tank top, what made you want to take the tank and make that the face of K.NGSLEY?

K Whether we realize it or not, tanks are symbols in our community, especially of masculinity, in some sense. I want to queer that, and this line is for everybody—fat, muscular, thin as hell, or anywhere in between. We’ve taken that symbol and turned it on its head. The angles and shapes take them to new places across the spectrum of gender, and you can butch them up or fem them up in ways the classic tank can’t, technically and symbolically. We all want to be free from the social constraints of gender, sexuality, and “ideal” body type, and we’ve quite literally tried to reshape the symbol of the tank for us all.

V I also noticed on your website that you categorize your pieces as “male figure” and “female figure” instead of “men’s” and “women’s.” What role does gender play, or not play, in your collection?

K My exterior is of a cis black man who can squat and deadlift four hundred pounds. But I open my mouth and this crocodile Kelly comes out with gold hardware, and you’re like ‘oh she’s one of the girls’. Growing up, I felt like I was the only gay person in the world. It wasn’t until I entered high school in Maryland that I met some of my best friends who indoctrinated me into the ballroom scene. And instantly, it felt like this is my home, these are my people. So with “female figure” and “male figure,” it’s like you’re calling a category. These are ballroom terminologies. So “female figure” would mean transgender women, cisgender women, and drag queens. And “male figure” means butch queens, cisgender men, and transgender men. We call our collection “BQ Essentials” after butch queens, which would mean a gay/bi, same gender-loving, cisgendered man.

V Are these items that you wish you would’ve had growing up?

K YES! A majority of my tank tops that I buy are from the women’s section. But the one thing about the women’s section — that’s a problem — is they tend to not have the same cut for your body type. Which is why I designed this collection, with the male frame in mind. It looks so good on women, and thank god, because 95% of my sales have been from women. But I made this with the femme or butch queen body frame in mind.

V What’s a message you want to leave people who’re looking at your collection with?

K The only thing I definitely want to say, to any queer or confused people, if you fall into either category; one, I’m so proud of you, continue to be who you are. Don’t let anyone dim your shine. And if you’re confused, just come out when you’re ready, deal with those feelings when you can.

I’m working in an industry where people sensitize themselves to you and the color of your skin. To all my black people out there working in fashion, I see you, we see each other, we can get through this. I was in a very, very dark place before this, and I can honestly say that the first time I was happy again was when I started working on this collection.

You can view or purchase K.NGSLEY’s collection on their website.

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