Queer is punk: Trans-owned Awarewolf Apparel in Cincinnati delivers subtlety with sharp edges

Founder Landon Reed talks about his brand, representation and why clothing has the power to change and save LGBTQ+ lives.
Landon Reed, creator of Awarewolf Apparel. (Photo Credit: Awarewolf Apparel via Facebook)

When Landon Reed founded Awarewolf Apparel in 2015, he never expected the queer clothing and lifestyle brand to grow so quickly.

Within a year, Reed was able to quit his job at Zumiez, the Seattle-based streetwear brand, and focus on Awarewolf full-time. 

He moved back to his hometown of Cincinnati in 2021, bringing the business with him—accessories like hats, keychains, flags, blankets, stickers, patches and pins, along with apparel: swim shorts, packing briefs, T-shirts and jackets.

With more than 45,000 followers on Instagram and more than 25,000 on TikTok, the brand now fills an important niche in queer communities.

Awarewolf designs are often distinctly queer and trans, like T-shirts that read “Queer is punk,” “Queer now, queer later” and “Bury all the gender roles.”

But some designs signal queer and trans Pride in a way that is not always visible to the untrained eye. 

For spaces where rainbow attire might garner unwanted attention, Reed’s subtler queer designs sport ambiguous phrases like “This body is not a cage” and ‘We’re the lucky ones,” often acting as a quiet reminder that queer and trans people deserve to live and thrive in all places.

Before the start of a busy LGBTQ+ Pride season, The Buckeye Flame sat down with Reed to talk about his brand, trans representation and why attire has the power to change and save LGBTQ+ lives.

Tell me about Awarewolf Apparel. What’s the brand and the concept all about?

We are a queer lifestyle brand. We are trans-owned and -operated. 

When I started the brand, it was really striving to spread awareness in the community in a way that I hadn’t seen done before. Sometimes it feels like everything is vomiting rainbows, you know? At the beginning, it was more  about discretion. Then leaning into the hardcore queer side of it, it just kind of grew from there.

I just saw something that was needed. Early in my transition—I started transitioning in 2013, and this was around 2015—I wanted to show myself without looking like a cliche.

That’s something I really love about this brand. I am queer and trans and non-binary and I’m just not a rainbow guy aesthetically. I have a hard time finding things that are my style that are also a little bit queer or a little bit trans. What you’re offering is something a little different.

I completely agree. Sometimes not everybody wants a bunch of color. I do have options with [Pride] colors, but you don’t always want every color of the rainbow. Sometimes you might not want it to say something so loud. It doesn’t have to be screaming “I’m gay!” or “I’m trans!” That might not always be the safest option.

Exactly. You’re based in Cincinnati. Did you grow up there or around southern Ohio?

I was born and raised in Cincinnati, but I started my clothing brand in Orlando, Florida. I moved there from Cincinnati in 2012, to go to college for film. 

I started the brand in 2015 and I was able to leave my regular job at Zumiez in 2016. I just moved back in 2021, so we’ve been doing it Cincinnati-style since then. It’s so great.

It’s kind of wild because you would think Orlando, Florida, is super queer — and it is. It really is. But Cincinnati is so queer. It almost feels like there are even more queer people here.

I love that about Cincinnati. I think there’s something really special about the queer community there. But you’re also a trans person running a queer business during a really strange time for us. How has that been?

You know, I think it’s actually been better. The ignorance and the hate are just fueling our fire as a community to stand together. 

That’s something that I’ve noticed that is happening here [in Cincinnati]. I’m not saying that Orlando doesn’t have it, because it has a huge queer community and they’re very united. But here, most people who live here were born here. They’re from here. 

We don’t get a lot of transplants compared to places like Orlando, where everybody goes and lives there from every state. So I think it’s a different type of sense of a community.

My first month back, I met someone who runs LGBTQ+ stuff all over Cincinnati. They just know everybody and do all types of queer events. Now I’m doing events. I’m doing parties. 

When Cincinnati was in the Super Bowl, I did an event called. “Who Gay?” It was hilarious. It was such a hit. 

So it really just comes back to building community that gets people more engaged. That’s what we need to change these policies and these politics.

Let’s talk about Awarewolf Apparel products. What does your process look like?

I’m not an artist. I’m a creative. So I work with a professional designer. I come up with the ideas, the concepts and then I work with my artist. I sometimes draw out a rough sketch.

I’ve been working with the same guy since 2017. At this point, we share a brain. It can be hard at times, but he very much understands my vision and values, so that definitely helps.

And your shirts are all screen-printed, right?

Yes! And I screen print all those myself. I started tabletop and then I got a simple DIY press and then I got commercial-sized stuff, so I have a whole shop now. I learned all that myself just so I could save money and have a little more control.

I still do it in my house. I refuse to do it any other way. It can be tough, and sometimes you bite off a little bit more than you can chew, but it always works out.

Do you have a Pride drop folks should be looking out for?

It’s always Pride out here! Anything I put out is a Pride drop!

Right now, I don’t have a collection I’m going to drop, just because I’m doing a couple Pride [events] and I print everything myself.

Because I do everything myself, I try to just drop things as I come up with them. I get too excited to hold onto something and wait until a certain date. I want to put it on the shelves now! It’s always hard for me to hold back.

I actually love that sentiment. Where can we find you and Awarewolf Apparel this summer?

I’ll be [vending] at Hamilton Pride and I’m also doing Cincinnati Pride, which is mind-blowing. I did it for the first time last year and it was amazing. I’m so excited to do it this year. I’ve been printing for months.

Last year, I sold out so quick, and I brought over 300 shirts. So now I want to bring over 500. I got pins, patches and jackets too, but I’m focusing on shirts.

Will you do a brick and a mortar space? Is that in your plans for Awarewolf?

One hundred percent. I would do it right now if I could. 

Ideally, I would like to buy a building, somewhere maybe in Northside or the Over-the-Rhine area. Northside is very queer and walkable.

That’s definitely my goal, but it’s all about finding the right space. I’d love to do that within the next five years.

So this is my absolute favorite question to ask. What about doing this work and running this business brings you trans joy?

I think the whole thing is trans joy. Just simply being able to wake up and do what I do as a queer, trans person? Instant happiness.

And the validation that I can bring to everybody else in the community, seeing the look on people’s faces at events or on TikTok when they’re doing an unboxing or something like that.

The representation is just something you don’t have everywhere. You don’t see people every day walking around with shirts that say “Protect Trans Kids.” It just brings me all-around joy to know that I’m being supported by my community and that I can give back to my community. 

This one guy I used to work with at Zumiez was super into working there. He would always say that we were saving people’s lives. I remember thinking in my head “How stupid. You’re selling T-shirts. How could you be saving people’s lives?”

But then I started thinking about it, and it’s that confidence that you get when you put on those clothes. And especially for queer trans people; it’s so affirming to put on that shirt that doesn’t make you feel so curvy or that just can hide your chest or whatever it may be. 

So I do think it’s life-saving, and I think that really brings it all full circle. 🔥

Ignite Action

  • To shop Awarewolf Apparel’s online store, click here.
  • To visit Awarewolf Apparel on Instagram, click here.
  • To follow Awarewolf Apparel on TikTok, click here.

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