Feb 8, 2024
Both&Bella: The Story of Partnering with Bella Ramsey
In February of 2023, my community manager sent me a slack in all caps. It read “BELLA RAMSEY IS WEARING BOTH& OMGOMG.” As someone who is very out of tune with pop culture and watches a fairly limited amount of TV, I responded by saying, “who is Bella Ramsey?”
My community manager gave me a good talking to, informing me that not only was Bella an extremely talented actor, rising in the ranks of Hollywood, and the star of the HBO hit The Last of Us, but that Bella was a queer icon. “We should see if they want to collab or something,” my community manager said.
So I went to Bella’s Instagram to write a message. But there was a problem—Bella and I had already been Dming, without me realizing it.
So began the 8 month journey of working with Bella, becoming friends with Bella, and ultimately launching a narrative campaign that touched the lives of LGBTQIA+ community members all over the world.
Both&Bella: a campaign of joy celebrating transmasc, non binary, and gender queer folks.
We all know that brands partner with celebrities. It’s an age old tradition. It’s just not one that I thought Both& would be able to do for a long time—as a small brand always on the brink of running out of money, I knew we could never afford the kind of price tag that goes with celebrity endorsements. But as fate would have it, the combination of our authenticity as a brand serving transmasc and non binary folks, the quality of our product (shirts that were exactly what Bella had always been looking for), and the generosity and goodwill of Bella all coalesced to create an extraordinary opportunity.
After many back and forths with Bella’s team, I received word that Bella was going to waive all of their personal fees to work with us. Both&Bella was officially born. But that was actually just the beginning: when I first reached back out to Bella, I had suggested we bring back their favorite style shirt as a limited edition Bella run. That idea soon transfigured into more ideas: let’s do a photoshoot, with Bella as creative director. Let’s add a video element. Let’s crowdsource a model for the shoot, and use that campaign to fund our Pay it Forward program, which gets product to folks who can’t currently afford it. Let’s add a letter writing aspect to the campaign, and a wild posting treasure hunt, and a micro site, so that people can go on an IRL and digital treasure hunt to find the Both&Bella website, which will house all of these letter submissions. Let’s make Bella’s shirt an easter egg that people writing letters can find and win access to.
Evolving the project with Bella was extremely fun. Yes, there were stressful last minute pushes (including Bella needing to hunt down a retro video off facebook marketplace the day before the shoot in London, which they did uncomplainingly), but overall the campaign evolved in a way all campaigns should aspire to: organically, creatively, and with authenticity.
Bella and I were clear on our goals from the start, and what was the core overlap between Bella Ramsey’s relationship to gender and Both&’s way of serving the community. We both believe in changing the narrative, in intervening in the mainstream media’s constant deluge of negativity and disempowerment around trans and nonbinary lives. Bella Ramsey, in many ways, is a symbol of what gender identity can and should evolve into: someone who can both express and celebrate their nonbinary identity, but at the same time find it slightly absurd that everyone is making such a hullabaloo. Gender identity is only one part of Bella: as it is of all of us. And while it may be an important part, and a part that faces great resistance in the current cultural and political moment, to make it everything about ourselves is to, in a way, be beholden to it. Bella and I wanted to bring lightness, community, joy, and openness to the conversation.
The three part shoot that Bella envisioned was split into what Bella thought of as the narrative arc of queerness. Phase one was internal, it was the disorientation of isolation inside identity, not sure how to name it, how to express it. The second phase was recognition: going out into the world and seeing forms of queer expression and identity, beginning to piece together what that means and looks like for yourself. And the final phase could best be characterized as being ‘seen’, as community, as integration. The beauty of queer community and the freedom of expression, which was characterized by all three models (including Bella) playing with paint, covering themselves and the ‘room’ we were shooting in with wild, carefree splatters of color.
Both&Bella: Collecting Letters to Younger Selves
All of this culminated in the microsite we built, where thousands of transmasc, enby, gnc, and queer folks wrote letters to their younger selves and found empowerment and community in reading each other’s letters. The campaign ran for two months, and every day I would wake up to a flood of new letter submissions from people all over the world, from Minnesota to London to South Africa to Brazil. It was beautiful and humbling to see the outpouring of lived experience, for people to be offering messages of hope and resilience to each other.
The campaign culminated with Bella and I reading a selection of our favorite letters aloud on an IG live, right before Christmas. We timed it that way intentionally, as the holidays are often a particularly isolating and challenging time for queer folks. We wanted to give a message of joy and together-ness during that time period.
Both&Bella was the highlight of 2023. While we accomplished many things this year, from new product launches to print campaigns, the opportunity to work with Bella Ramsey on such a creative and important campaign marks a moment of growing up as a brand. We are honored to do our part in creating a space of gender joy for transmasc, non binary, and gender queer people, and we will continue to do everything we can to protect and nurture that space. Thank you to everyone who participated, and stay tuned–we have many more campaigns planned for the future!