Alumna’s Brand Offers Different Take on LGBTQ+-themed Fashion
Photo courtesy of Simple Gay Apparel
As a University of Maryland freshman, Emily Gross ‘21 often struggled with uncertainty about how to connect socially with other members of the LGBTQ+ community on campus, even as she heard other women in her residence hall breezily talking about going out and meeting guys.
Gross wanted her style to reflect her identity and help her reach out to other queer Terps, but pride-centric clothing options available at the time felt clichéd and a little too “in your face” for Gross.
“I wanted to be visible to people that were like me, but also not necessarily be signaling it to everyone [because] I didn't want to be out to everyone,” Gross said. “So, subtlety was really important to me.”
While attending UMD, Gross participated in the Entrepreneurship and Innovation Program, a former two-year program in the Honors College that focused on building entrepreneurial skill sets. It was during this program that the marketing major’s classroom learning coalesced into an understanding of how to build a brand that is responsive to a community’s needs and wants.
The result was Simple Gay Apparel, a clothing label that she said moves past rainbows and unicorns and embraces more inventive identity-centered designs. While its name echoes the “gay apparel” line from the popular Christmas carol, her brand’s initial tagline summed up what she was looking for in LGBTQ+-themed clothes: “Notice me, but just a little—that’s Simple Gay Apparel.”
From sweatshirts featuring a familiar frog with “it’s not easy being gay” written in tiny lettering to more confrontational shirts that read “queerbait, come and get me” with a fishhook, Gross’ designs stand out among mainstream pride merchandise. Her best-selling item by far is a green T-shirt with an illustration of cherries with bubble letters under it that spell “fruity.”
“What I want to see is good representation and so that means representing different parts of the [queer] experience and doing it in a way where I care a lot about the end product,” Gross said.
Gross experimented with different materials and techniques over the next few years, creating designs on Adobe Illustrator and commissioning various screen-printing companies to find the highest quality material. She formally launched the company after graduation, placing her first bulk order of printed shirts the next month.
After a few months of making and selling clothes on Etsy as a full-time pursuit, Gross decided to try in-person sales at NextNOW Fest in September 2021. There, Gross said she received such an overwhelming positive reaction from students that she decided to expand to other colleges and festivals.
Since then, Gross has visited around 60 campuses from coast to coast, many repeatedly, to sell Simple Gay Apparel. She makes around 30 to 40 sales on an average day, and when she’s not on the road, she stays at the family home or with friends.
One fan, Tia Moriarty, noticed the brand’s products at a stand outside the library at the University of South Florida, which she graduated from in May. When Moriarty saw Gross’ stand outside a library in February 2022, she was instantly struck by the brand’s creative designs.
“I called my girlfriend, and I was like, ‘Dude, there are shirts that aren't aggressively gay—they're cool gay,’” Moriarty said.
She bought herself the pink T-shirt with the illustration of cherries on it that reads, “fruity” and bought her girlfriend a matching one in navy blue. She now follows the brand on Instagram and stops by Gross’ stand whenever she visits USF.
While she is working to grow her website sales, Gross says she still loves the experience of selling face to face.
“When I went to the University of Delaware earlier this year, someone ran up to the table screaming ‘Simple Gay Apparel is back! Simple Gay Apparel is back!’” Gross said. “The returning interactions are quite cool—that people care about the brand and what I'm creating, and that they're excited to see it.”
Maryland Today is produced by the Office of Marketing and Communications for the University of Maryland community on weekdays during the academic year, except for university holidays.
Faculty, staff and students receive the daily Maryland Today e-newsletter. To be added to the subscription list, sign up here:Subscribe