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If you were to close your eyes and envision a traditional fashion show, you probably wouldn’t imagine anything close to what Stuzo presented at Bloom, the 2022 edition of dapperQ, New York Fashion Week’s must-attend queer fashion show.
Every element of the Stuzo runway subverted worn-out norms: The clothing was bright, unpredictable, and genre-bending. The looks ranged from polished patterned button-downs to bold fuzzy headpieces. Especially mind-blowing runway moments were met with resounding applause, rather than the usual pensive silence at your typical show. Models were diverse and singular, and one model’s arms displayed the words “protect trans kids” in sharpie.
This free-spirited, collective, joyful ethos is exactly what Stoney Michelli Love hoped to cultivate when she founded Stuzo. “We create items that encourage you to tap into who you are and express that without shame, unapologetically,” Michelli Love says. The gender-free clothing store has been promoting inclusivity since 2008, way before the idea of de-gendering fashion was on major outlets’ and influencers’ radars.
These days, Stuzo’s going stronger than ever — and between Michelli Love’s new foray into pet products, Love Paws, and Stuzo’s most recent collection, Faux the Crown, Stuzo is positioned to take its place on the throne.
How did Stuzo get started?
Stuzo was born in New York in 2008 out of necessity for representation in fashion that I didn’t see. I wanted to counter biases — whether it’s homophobia or racism — things like people thinking being gay is a choice. You know, my mom would ask me, “Hey, still gay?” and I’m like, “Yup, still gay. It’s not going anywhere.”
The first logo I created was actually out of this conversation we’d have. I was tired of explaining. And that one logo has single-handedly cleared things up for other people.
How’d you end up moving the operation to California?
I loved California when I’d visit, and my logic was, “I’m starting a T-shirt company. Let me move forward somewhere that they’re more year-round.” And then it kept growing and growing.
Do you have a design background?
I’ve always been a fan of the arts as a whole. I’m an actress first, so that really kind of spearheaded it. I did an unofficial minor in photography, and then I ended up doing it professionally. After that, I got into graphic design and went back to school for graphic design. I realized I loved logos, but I didn’t like creating under pressure or for someone else. So, it was while I was finishing my degree that I started sketching and I was like, “This would be great on a T-shirt.” I’ll always love T-shirts. We have those T-shirts that stay with us forever, that get softer, that remind us of shows and messages. You can dress them up and down.
Were you always drawn to fashion?
High school was a fashion show for me. I didn’t even wanna show up if I didn’t look good and feel good. And I think that fashion’s the glue. Fashion brings us together, because we have to wear clothes. It’s such a universal thing across different genres and professions and artistries. I can talk to an actor and style them and someone else could be a musician and we could all have a conversation about clothes. So, the universe knew before I knew. Now, it seems like a no-brainer; yeah, of course, I love fashion, it makes sense. Really all components of my art — my acting, my graphic design — I use within some capacity in different roles with Stuzo.
What was the experience of presenting at Bloom like?
I mean, it’s still nerve-racking in the best way every time. It’s really like 10 to fifteen minutes of this amazing climax that you’ve been building up to for sometimes even up to a year. There was probably an eight-month preparation for this one moment. It’s everything, you know? It shows growth. It shows where we’ve come and where we are.
You know, we have the act of the showing and the preparation, and now the feedback and how people are gonna look in it. These are the rewards that are gonna keep on giving after that one moment. It’s like I won a little mini lottery to me. I can’t stop smiling. I’m overjoyed. I’m still basking in it, like, “Did that just happen?”
What inspired the collection you showed?
The collection’s called Faux The Crown. We believe in royalty. At this point, I feel very hungry, like the day we began. So, this is my way of showing I’m coming for the crown. Because we’ve not only been doing this for so long, but we keep growing and remaining current and classic at the same time. It’s me reclaiming my spot on my own throne — which is in a line of others, ’cause there’s not just one throne to be had and one crown to be had.
Tell me about your pets!
My oldest’s name is Pri, and she’s my baby, my New York baby, my first born. She’s an Aries, and she’s my protector. She’s always ready in a stance — even when we go to sleep, she’s at the foot of the bed with her back to everybody like, “I got you all.” She’s 13. She’s very distinguished.
Then I have Lion, my middle one, and he’s four. He’s kind of aloof and happy-go-lucky. He sleeps with his paws up and legs spread — he’s so free. The total opposite, really, of Pri. It’s good ’cause they balance each other out; she could stand to relax sometimes, and he could stand to be a little less protective. And then I have a baby who’s gonna be one next month, Noli Blue. I met her at the Mexican border. I was leaving to carry on my birthday festivities out of the country. She was put in my hands, and I just couldn’t let go.
And now you’re starting a pet line! Tell me all about that.
I got tired of buying dog beds that didn’t match my decor. I’d try to find beds that were cool and they also wouldn’t damage, but some of them were pricey and some of the other ones would get scratched and bitten up. So, Love Paws is born.
And I also want to dress and match with my dog — you know, I want them to wear the same kind of things. Love Paws is gender-free for pets as well. Because although I have a male-born dog and a female-born dog, they have both energies of masculinity and femininity, you know?
With my dogs, I use all pronouns because I love the beauty and freedom of them; they’re not tied up, they just exist. And while there’s this thing living in this beautiful, loving, unconditional place, I want them to look good. So, I created Love Paws, and I’ve been making pieces we have been soft launching. It’s going well; people are taking to it. It ranges from small dogs to large dogs, so no dog is excluded.
Are your own dogs your models?
Yeah, as of right now I’ve been snapping so many pictures of them and seeing how things work — what’s gonna withstand scratching and that sort of thing. I wanna be able to solve problems and I want to invest in it like it’s a wardrobe for them, really, seeing what’s gonna withstand and look good at the same time.
I know that people are going to appreciate seeing multiple colors that have culture to it. It’s not just these plain colors we see out there — it’s becoming so mundane to me that I’m like, “No, we need to spice this up.” And we should reflect ourselves. You know, as an Afro-Latina, I feel like my dogs are the same — they’re raised in that environment. And I want everything to reflect that.
How would you sum up the goals of Stuzo?
We create items that encourage you to tap into who you are and express that without shame, unapologetically. We’re here to facilitate you being you and celebrating that. Like, who are you? I wanna know, and I wanna assist in, like, “Hey, here’s your crown; show everyone who are you in your way, any way.”
It’s the same with pets. They have their own personalities. They’re very teachable, but they still have their own identity. Having three, I can see how they all work together, and they’re all very different. They accept each other for that. I take a lot of pages from their books all the time on the way they interact with each other. I’m happy to elevate them to looking good in the process.
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Sio Hornbuckle is a writer living in New York City with their cat, Toni Collette.