When Tyler and Tori Farley explain to people that they are launching a line of suspenders, it takes a moment for the idea to sink in.
“Everyone has a physical response,” Tori said, miming the motion of pulling suspenders away from her chest. “They’re not wearing them, but they do the movement.”
The Boston-based siblings are recent Northeastern University graduates trying to revolutionize the suspender game with their new fashion line, Better Than Belts. They hope eventually to make the idea of suspenders fashionable - even hip - again.
“Think about prep and suspenders as something that was limited to wealthy, white men in the 60s,” Tyler said. “Prep has had a resurgence in the past five years in a much different way where it's not limited to that. People wear it like streetwear.”
The business idea began germinating in Tyler’s mind a few months before he graduated college. His weight was fluctuating due to health issues, and he couldn’t wear belts because they would uncomfortably dig into his stomach when he sat down. Not one to shy away from bold fashion statements, he searched for suspenders online, but the only ones he could find were either extremely dressy or tacky costume suspenders.
“There was nothing made for me,” Tyler said. “Then, I was like ‘I could just make some myself.’”
So, he did. Months later, Better Than Belts had raised $11,400 on Kickstarter, set up an online store, and hosted a launch party at Pressed Juicery on Newbury Street. The mission of the business is to create classy, high-quality suspenders that can be worn by anybody at any time.
“It’s definitely something that I’ve designed to be super versatile in the fashion sphere,” Tyler said. “No matter where you fall on the gender spectrum, no matter whether you are dressing casual or formal, it’s to fit with really any outfit that you want to do.”
Tyler jokes that when you search “suspenders” on Google, you are bombarded with 40 pictures of the same “white dude” photographed at slightly different angles. He compares these homogeneous results with the images on the Better Than Belts website, which are full-body shots of a diverse group of people wearing different styles of clothing.
“There are some things that just feel right with you. I want people to feel that way in our suspenders,” Tori said. “I just want them to feel really comfortable and really unique and like they're part of something that's bigger.”
Currently, the suspenders come in six different patterns that range in style from the professional to the whimsical. Tyler handpicked the clasps and materials himself, and the suspenders are assembled in New York. Each pair of suspenders is $49.
“Right now, we're pretty focused on creating the highest quality product we can and having it assembled in New York and supporting U.S. jobs,” Tori said. “Those things come with an upcharge. That's what we're going after right now.”
Quality and design are what sets Better Than Belts suspenders apart from any other suspenders on the market, according to the Farley siblings. However, one of the initial hurdles has been proving product quality to customers when the suspenders are currently only available online. Tyler said sales have been much more successful when the siblings organize in-person pop-up events where people can try the product on and feel the material.
Another misconception the Farleys are grappling with is the notion that suspenders aren’t made for women. Tori recalls that many of the women who backed the Kickstarter gushed about their excitement to buy the suspenders for their boyfriends, brothers, or husbands.
Tori recalls one woman had planned on getting the suspenders for her fiancé, but when she tried them on for herself, she loved them.
“She texted me 20 indoor and outdoor photos of her wearing them. She was like, ‘I never thought that I'd wear suspenders, but I love it,’” Tori said. “That's a business misconception that we're working with right now. One of the ways that we've been trying to combat that is always making sure that we mix female and male photos in our promotion.”
The Farley siblings are very aware that they are not taking a traditional career path, but they are determined to stick with the idea. Highs and lows come on a daily basis, and they don’t know exactly where this start-up will take them. They do know, however, that they want to remain true to their values, regardless of profits or a large customer base.
“I don’t have aspirations to be in every store globally,” Tyler said. “I have aspirations to have a really good company that is supporting a non-slave driven workforce throughout our supply chain and furthering cool goals outside of making clothing.”