Despite uni-sex designs, queer-owned Gaytanks speaks to a gay sensibility
What started out as a wild hair of an idea has grown into a vivid and fashionable business for James Mealey and Nikhail Asnani. And it all started at a Hong Kong gay bar.
A few years ago, Mealey moved to the Asian city, where he met Asnani. While at a gay club, he wondered where the men got their sleeveless shirts. Suddenly, the word “gaytanks” popped into his head.
Now, it’s not just a name — Gaytanks is an emerging uni-sex lifestyle brand that exclusively features the gay man’s favorite summery accessory: the tank top. What’s even better is that it targets (as you might guess) gay men and their girlfriends.
Though neither Mealey nor Asnani have formal training in fashion, Asnani’s family was involved in manufacturing. Together, they began designing and came up with the distinctive, burgeoning brand that’s roots can be traced back to Hong Kong’s unique sense of style.
“Hong Kong is a very flashy place. It’s known for an almost gaudy style but also fun and colorful,” Mealey says. “Being out there and seeing all of the street styles had a lot of influence on the looks we put together.”
Their debut collection of a dozen tanks took inspiration from the fashion megalopolis, both in design and the funny-yet-unapologetic attitude that speaks to gay culture. One mint green tank bears the words “Eat My Butt” bookended cutely with a fork and knife on either side; a small disclaimer at the bottom corner reads “*gluten free.” Another switches the wholesome hush puppies with the pun “hush poppers.”
“Humor is a really important aspect of it, having fun with it but also in terms of vibrant colors, really eye-catching but flattering colors that you can wear out to the beach, the clubs, in the summer walking around the city. It’s a whole different kind of combination,” Mealey says.
The pair returned to the states last April; by June, they were selling tanks in droves at Pride festivals in Boston and New York. “Every group of guys who walk in with friends would turn to one of their group and say, ‘You need to get that tank top — we’re buying it for you.’ It was really funny to watch,” Mealey smiles.
They get socially responsible as well. One item features a white background covered in the “gay love” emoji: two men holding hands. Others include a couple of wonderfully weird camouflage color combinations in addition to a literal tank schematic for a dash of military flair. And there’s the classic rainbow print — rainbow arches ended on each side with picturesque clouds that comes with green and gray backgrounds (forest and fog).
The fit runs a little small, which isn’t a bad thing; Mealey recommends ordering a size up and the price point for all current products runs $30. Mealey identifies the pixilated tank top as one of his favorites and is an expression of Pride in the digital age.
“It’s really funny to see people’s realizations because it takes them a second to understand what it is,” says Mealey. We worked with an extremely talented graphic designer [Asnani’s sister] to go through a few different versions of this in terms of placement of the pixels and wording. It was very humorous to go through the different amounts of pixilation because sometimes it would look too much like a dick and sometimes it didn’t look like a dick at all.”
The designers plan to expand the product line further following up with additional collections of tank tops and even looking to bring the same bold, striking style to belts; think colorful safari scenes. Mealey and Asnani plan to continue to be present at Pride festivals (including Dallas if things go well), while also maintaining digital sales through their Web site and eventually rolling into boutiques in gayborhoods around the country.
“That’s really been one of the most exciting parts of it. I have friends who will send me pictures of random guys out at the bars that they see wearing our tops. It’s incredible to have this crazy idea and next thing you know you see people out and about wearing your stuff,” says Mealey.
Mealey’s family and friends have been extremely supportive through the entire creative process, even helping them unload and set-up booths at Pride festivals. His mother is a self-employed online retailer for silver and was able to provide insight on the e-commerce side of things, while Mealey’s dad thinks he has the next brilliant design — but it is all appreciated and out of love.
“My dad is really funny about it. He thinks he can come up with really funny tank top ideas and he comes up with terribly hilarious ideas all the time,” he says. “A lot of my friends also give me ideas, some better than others, but I think it’s a good sign that people believe it’s fun and want to be part of it.”
You can shop at Gaytanks.com.
This article appeared in the Dallas Voice print edition March 27, 2015.