One of my favorite things to do on this blog is to share new brands. One new brand that I am eyeing is LED Queens founded by Cesar Torres. They are making some great gear and I got a chance to interview them! Use code UNDIES18. When used at checkout, you can get 20% off your first order at LED Queens.
I found your company on Instagram with the totally rad 80s runners. Can you tell our readers about your company?
LED Queens is a fitness apparel line I launched in 2016. So far, my flagship product has become the tights for men that I make, but I also design other fitness apparel and accessories. LED Queens tends appeals to people that are looking for a very positive and bright energy in their fitness wear. My designs attract a lot of different communities. So far, bodybuilders, runners and fitness-loving guys have fallen in love with the tights. Guys who attend EDM concerts like Electric Daisy have also purchased some of the more psychedelic designs of tees and hoodies that I make. I also have quite a few customers who like some of my Dia de los Muertos designs. It’s an eclectic mix, but every design comes directly from my books.
What made you start LED Queens?
My love of books and my life as an author and filmmaker made LED Queens a reality. I am the author of seven published books, including the dystopian sci-fi thriller 13 Secret Cities, the gay superhero erotica series How to Kill a Superhero, and the brand new dark-fantasy detective novel 9 Lords of Night. I wanted to make the fantastical worlds inside my books come alive in a visual way through clothing designs. To do this, I started out by designing one of my favorite pieces of clothing — men’s tights — with the colors and imagery from my books, which draw their inspiration from the natural world, monsters and witches, as well as technological creatures, such as robots, and AIs. I have been wearing running and workout gear since I was an undergraduate student at Northwestern University, and I wanted to put my own imprint on a very unique fashion accessory for men. After wearing tights for a lifetime, I wanted to get my hands right into the creative process and design looks that I would wear for my own bodybuilding, powerlifting and fitness training.
I launched LED Queens in late 2016. At that time, I was relocating from New York City to Chicago to work on some new book projects, and I finally had the right circumstances to begin publishing my designs. At the time, the brand was called 13SC Apparel, which comes directly from my book 13 Secret Cities. However, like any perfectionist obsessive writer, I made a revision to it in 2017, because the name 13SC was a little too obscure and self-referential for most people to connect with. I renamed the brand LED Queens so that I would have more room to expand its story. The name LED Queens is a sci-fi concept that lives inside my books, and it is a blend of the positive aspects of light and technology (LED lights). The other half, Queens, is a nod to LGBTQ history and culture, as well as a reference to New York City, which inspired me to launch my own brand. LED Queens is a brand that is meant to move people forward into the future with positivity and a colorful kind of optimism.
I am loving the runners/tights. What made you focus on super fun prints?
The designs are directly inspired by characters from my books, and they will always be. Take for example our latest Camo Collection. The nine camo prints that I have released thus far come directly from symbols in the Tonalpohualli, a technology that the Aztec civilization used for time keeping centuries ago. I wrote about the Tonalpohualli in my book 13 Secret Cities. It contains 20 symbols, including rabbits, deer, knives, and it was used by the Aztecs to track the solar calendar and also for divination. I still have 11 prints to go, but by the end of this year, all 20 symbols from the Tonalpohualli will be live in the store. Just like Pokemon, gotta catch ‘em all. Other popular designs include The Crimson Hand tights, which are named after the monster and villain from the how to Kill a Superhero books. The Philosopher’s Stone tights also come from the HTKS series, and they are named after a superhero I created in the novels.
Stories are what drives LED Queens’ design aesthetic, and that means that movement, color, and shape are essential to what I create. I don’t design tights memes, donuts or eggplant emojis (even though they would probably sell really well). Instead, what I make are designs that help create a sense of movement, and which make guys feel like they are superheroes. That means the colors and shapes are flattering to men’s bodies. I spent about 15 years as a runner and triathlete, and I wore tons of spandex from day one. Nowadays, I train in bodybuilding and powerlifting-type workouts, and some of the love for those sports also shows up in my current collections. Whether it’s images of bodybuilders or of owls and skulls, every inspiration for my aesthetic comes straight from the pages of my books. Then I sit down and design on both paper or on the computer, to arrive at something that stands up on its own and tells its own story. You don’t need to read my books in order to understand the images, but if you are a person that likes down rabbit holes, well, come join me, I got snacks and delectables down here in the dark. Ha.
You model most of your gear on your site and social media. You have a real guy build. Is your gear for guys of all sizes?
Thank you, I appreciate hearing that I have a real guy build. And that’s because you hit on the key element here, realness. I grew up in the age of post-punk and new wave, and when I started out my business, I wanted to both maximize my creativity and also keep things on budget. I thought, who else knows my running and bodybuilding tights better than me? After all, I am the one who’s been wearing this type of garment for more almost three decades. I wanted to show that a real person designs this gear, and that real bodies deserve a place on people’s digital daily feeds. I appreciate a model’s body a lot, don’t get me wrong, but I like to see how the clothes fit real people. I call this state of mind being a Queer Punk, and it’s because I mean it. Running your own startup requires a lot of punk energy, and when you do it, you have to be yourself and reject hierarchies and conventional ways of doing things.
Nowadays, I am using other people to model the clothes besides myself, but I reject many traditional models, even though they may be jacked, tan and cut. Instead, I find people who are real, and who have a certain energy or look. You can have 6-pack abs, but if you have a story tell, I will choose you instead. I like to show men in all their glory: lean, athletic, muscular, plus size, and everything in between. And I like to show diversity in my shoots. People of color have sadly been lacking from fashion photography for a long time, and as a gay, queer person of color, I feel like I also have a place in my brand to model the apparel.
Currently, our t-shirts, hoodies, and tanks support guys of all sizes, from extra small all the way to 4XL. I get many messages and DMs from customers who want these larger sizes, and I am happy to connect and help them out. However, my tights only go up to size XL, but I am working on new designs in the future that will accommodate larger and more muscular men. I will help you, my big boys!
What inspires you to come up with new designs?
Each new book that I am writing inspires dozens of new images, designs and sometimes, even a push for a new kind of product, such as pillows or baseball caps. Right now I am working on a new sci-fi thriller that will publish in 2019, and that book features artificial intelligence and robotics. I have already designed some new items that are inspired by the fictional concept of a futuristic AI. I am also working on a spin-off from my HTKS book series, and that means that some of the new superhero characters will soon be showing up in new collections in my store. I also released my first documentary last year, and even that project has inspired many designs in the store.
What has been the feedback from customers on your workout wear?
My customers fall in love with my prints. They also have noted that the tights I make have a very soft feel. They are poly/spandex, and they go on very smooth. The fabric is sublimated, which means that the color will get lighter as it stretches over the muscles of a person. It’s a unique feature that also makes it different than traditional dyed fabric. I feature customers often in my Instagram feed because they love showing off the bright and colorful designs to their followers.
Who would you like to see wearing your gear? As in someone famous or a social star?
I want people who are excited about life to wear my designs. It’s as simple as that. But I am not actually answering your question, am I? I can’t think of any “celebrity” who I would want to see in my designs. But I can tell you that there are people I admire who I would love to see in one of my hoodies, tees, or tights, or even using one of my iphone and Samsung smartphone cases. In particular, real-life runners, powerlifters, Crossfitters and bodybuilders who wear my designs really bring a lot of joy to me. I want to see more of them! But I would also like to see my influences connect with the brand. These people like the filmmaker David Cronenberg, author Clive Barker, singer/songwriters Siouxsie Sioux, Karin Dreijer Andersson, and Arca. More importantly, I would like to see the day where leaders of free speech and democracy like Nelson Mandela, Justin Trudeau or the Dalai Lama at least can comment on what I am trying to do with my art and my creative vision. I am not sure that the world is ready to see the Dalai Lama in tights, but I can at least get him an intellectually provocative hoodie for hikes in the woods.
What can we expect for this year from LED Queens?
This is a big year for me. I have two new books releasing on paperback in the Spring, and that means that there are at least 3-4 collections of tights and other gear that will spin off from those books. I get a lot of requests for superhero-themed designs, and I am working hard in my studio to make those a reality. I don’t write cheesy superhero books, and superhero designs take time if they are going to be done right. But you should expect new collections to drop in Spring, Summer, and Fall.
Additionally, I am working on new garment constructions to offer more choices when it comes to tights. Some customers like ankle zippers, crotch liners, or change pockets. I have even gotten messages from trans men who have asked for specific details to meet their preferences. I listen to every bit of feedback I get, so please don’t be shy about messaging me. One of my priorities is to develop a new line of tights with drawstring waists. But this is no easy task. Working with new manufacturers takes time, and I refuse to launch cheap products out to my customers. I also refuse to sell tights at an exorbitant price. Tights are a very functional product, and as a user of many years, I know that they get washed often, and wear and tear is something to consider against the cost of a garment. I am very excited to roll out new features for comfort and performance to customers, but every detail must be on point in order first.