Toni Branson has come a long way since graduating from Central High School in Largo, MD.
The 36-year-old is the Founder and CEO of Style is Freedom, “a genderless brand that was created to celebrate and liberate the TOMBOI culture.”
Before becoming a fashion designer, Branson was lending her talents to the film industry. Her short film The Education Of ELLIS premiered at the Philadelphia International Film Festival and was nominated for Best Short Film at the San Diego Black Film Festival.
In addition to film, Branson has always had a deep affinity for fashion and eventually she was driven to follow her heart. After graduating in 2008 from the New York Film Academy, she created the Style is Freedom brand for the LGBTQ women’s community. She feels it’s a community that “can most relate to the story of Style is Freedom.”
“I want everyone in this world to live free and always embrace who you are,” says Branson. “Don’t let the world define you, you define yourself. Believe in who you are even at your darkest point because the sun will rise again.”
Tell me about your TOMBOI line.
My TOMBOI line is the staple of Style is Freedom (SIF). It’s what people recognize the most because it was the first logo I printed and my overall motivation for creating SIF. Being a TOMBOI is something I’ve always loved about myself and had pride in. Having a boyish demeanor was my lane and I liked it. As I got older, I realized many people expected me to change and grow out of being a “tomboy”. It was such a negative perception that came along with being a tomboy and I wanted to change that. I redefined a tomboi as a “Talented Original Motivated Brilliant Outstanding Individual.” I want TOMBOI to be a lifestyle people see positively, embrace and champion.
Describe your creative process.
Every season I’m inspired by different moods, colors, and fabrics. I look to film, sports, and music to guide my inspirations for future collections. Lately, the current events of my life have dictated the creative direction for recent collections. I also look to see where I can get better and improve on the details, while considering what the people want from the brand. I have to innovate and put the people on to my vision, but also give them some of what they want too.
You mentioned always having an affinity for fashion. Tell me about that.
Since a young age I always loved fashion. Shoes were my first love. I loved when my mom got fancy high heels and boots. Especially when they were suede or an expensive leather in a crazy color. She would have the accessory to match, whether it was the gloves or purse. I didn’t want to wear them myself, I just loved to see women wear fancy things and the aura it brought to them. I remember watching my mom get ready for work, and being fascinated [and in awe]. Then sneakers came along and I got into denim. Jean jackets were my thing. Especially when I came into my adolescence and could put my outfits together. Even though it was just jeans and t-shirts, it was my armor. Fashion has always provided a freedom and confidence for me that is unmatched.
How do you stay updated with the latest fashion, especially when it comes to the LGBTQ community?
I’m very active on social media. I do a lot of research and keep up with the high fashion houses and what people are wearing throughout culture, especially in my community. I read a lot of magazines and look ahead to what’s next. Music and sports always provide a lot of inspiration as well.
Why is Style is Freedom important for the LGBTQ community?
As a member of the LGBTQ community, I created this brand as a sentiment to my brothers and sisters in my community who are judged and ridiculed for their way of dress. Most of the people within the LGBTQ community use fashion as a way to identify and it’s very important part of our character. We don’t tend to blend and I wanted to liberate that aspect of our journey and have a positive light source that represents us within the fashion world, so that everyone in the LGBTQ community can live free and allow their style to be their freedom. We have to be the ones who teach the world to applaud and appreciate masculinity and femininity on all levels because fashion isn’t defined by sexuality or gender. These are all missions that I have embedded in to my company purpose.
What do you want people to know about Style is Freedom?
I want people to know that Style is Freedom is human made. I created this brand for all those who like it and want to wear it. I’m always competitive with my pricing and charge my customers the market pricing based on the garment. My fabrics are premium cotton and that is also part of my mission statement, “providing high quality garments that will last a lifetime.” The TOMBOI designs are for anyone. Don’t be afraid to wear it regardless of gender or identity. The elephant logo represents the TOMBOI as always being the elephant in the room.
If you’re interested in learning more about Style is Freedom and their TOMBOI line, visit styleisfreedom.com. Currently they have a sale on all traditional streetwear products and accessories.