Before they began rebranding clothes, MI Leggett had to rebrand themself.
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It was only a little over one year ago that MI Leggett was a college senior writing a thesis about their radical, queer, gender-free fashion label. Since that Spring in 2017, Official Rebrand has travelled from a campus in rural Ohio, to the runways of New York Fashion Week, to an ice rink installation at Art Basel Miami, to the pages of the New York Times Style section. Not to mention to the floors of several pop-ups, including a stint at The Phluid Project. Their meteoric rise has both reflected and catalyzed a focus on the place of gender and sustainability in today’s fashion landscape. It has also lead to the adornment of many queer and genderqueer people with clothes that make them feel more fully themselves.

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Young MI presenting a dress they made out of newspaper. “I never really liked throwing things away,” they say.

Official Rebrand is characterized by a process MI calls 'rebranding.’ As the designer posts on their website, to rebrand garments is to paint, draw, print, or otherwise alter them so to “imbue formerly discarded human shells with new life.” Through rebranding, MI — who identifies as non-binary —seeks to disassociate found or donated clothing “from gendered categories.” Rebranding, then, not only translates fluidity of identity into an aesthetic, but it also rejects fashion norms that limit one’s freedom to play with ‘finished’ pieces. “By actually physically painting on these things that are considered sacred,” MI counters this tradition of immutability — an act that is, in their eyes, “very reflective of queer identity.”

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Luca D’Angelo wearing Official Rebrand.

But before they began rebranding clothes, MI Leggett had to rebrand themself. That process began in a bathroom stall in Berlin, where MI was helping designer and post-drag queen Fábio M Silva run a pop-up shop. “[We were] painting clothes with penises all over them,” MI recalls, continuing, “I was like, ‘Isn't it a little bit misogynistic to be painting all these d*cks?’” Official Rebrand probably would not exist if not for what happened next. “In our conversation that followed, I had a pretty major realization why a penis doesn't have to be gendered at all,” MI says. “They can be kind of universal. People of all different genders have penises,” they explain.

This shift in perspective helped set in motion a series of drastic changes in MI’s life. “[I] went from being this liberal arts school girl with a bob to being a Berghain frequenter and part of this incredibly vibrant queer community,” they share. And it was this community that "brought out a bunch of who I was on the inside but was repressing to try to fit in,” MI explains. From this repression emerged a will to dismantle constructed ideas like those that link biological sex with gender: “The brand is all about being yourself and not being defined by any other expectations— expectations like you have to identify with your body,” they say. MI, like Official Rebrand, resists easy classification, final meaning, stasis of any kind.

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Yasmeen Wilkerson wearing Official Rebrand.

When it comes to the creation of Official Rebrand, itself, the story is not so much a story of birth, but one of a series of rebirths. In one sense, Official Rebrand began in that Berlin bathroom — with an idea. Or it began soon thereafter —with a bag: An off-white, almost pinkish purse decorated with several painted, Haring-like shapes. The genderless figures that populate the purse — MI’s first rebranded piece — reflect their creator’s volatile experience in the German capital while also gesturing toward the potential of rebranding to be a spiritually redemptive act. “Through this accessory,” MI wrote in their 2017 thesis, “I communicated my current artistic preoccupation with physical communication, intimacy, and loneliness,” continuing, “I would much rather highlight that aspect of myself instead of, for example, my ascribed gender or young age.” If their realization in that bathroom stall helped expand MI’s perception of gender, it was this rebranded bag that revealed an avenue for translating that realization into an actual garment.

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MI Leggett wearing Official Rebrand and bag.

Or Official Rebrand began years before MI’s time in Berlin — not with an idea, or a bag, but rather with something much more elemental: Dirt. Beginning around the time they were 14-years-old, MI, who grew up in Manchester, Massachusetts, worked part-time at The Food Project, a non-profit sustainable agriculture initiative based along Boston’s north shore. There, working at farms in Lynn and Beverly MA, MI would spend hours “in 100 degree weather…flipping food scraps over and over." The point was to turn food waste into compost, a process not so removed from the brand's current production strategy. “It was just so satisfying taking this stuff that normally is seen as trash and making it something valuable again,” MI says of their time at The Food Project.

In fact, of the varied moments at which one could say Official Rebrand was born, it is the earliest — MI’s work on the farm — that most directly leads to the designer’s most recent collection. Tentatively titled “The Water Project", MI’s latest work takes aim at the fashion industry for its irresponsible, likely untenable consumption of water. Though the idea is simple, the goal for the project is bold: generating 1,800 pairs of rebranded jeans along with 750 rebranded tees — one piece for each gallon of water it takes to make a brand new version of either item, respectively.

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Derek Nguyen wearing Official Rebrand.

But “The Water Project” is not solely a critique of the fashion industry. It is also a love letter. “Being queer provides so much. It's kind of like the meaning of life for me in a way: It means who I love and how I love myself and how I love my friends and the world around me, and you can't do that if there's no water.” More literally, MI is attracted to water’s fluidity: “It's movable. It's dynamic. But it also can freeze. It can melt. It can simmer. It can become the tool to make a cake,” they say. A vital resource and key influence, water is a necessary for MI not only to survive, but also to live.

Ultimately, via the torn, taped, declaratory, singular clothes that populate Original Rebrand’s three collections, MI invites us to consider two simple questions. First: Should clothes be designed based on preconceived notions of gender identity and expression? Second: Is the fashion industry’s emphasis on the creation and sale of brand new items good for the planet? The designer’s work answers both those questions: No and no.

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Yasmeen Wilkerson wearing Official Rebrand.

Even the brand's logo is formulated as a question: OR?!. “I write it with a question mark and an exclamation mark to imply that you should be questioning everything and considering alternatives to anything that seems set,” MI tells me. Questioning what, in particular? Not only how mass-produced “fast fashion” has “such horrible implications for the environment,” but also “how social standards put people in boxes and limit their self-expression and their full potential."

“Official Rebrand is about imagining an alternative world where things are not just accepted as the way things are," they continue, "[imagining a world where] things are improved and alternatives are birthed and pursued.”

And, of course, rebranded.

Official Rebrand’s Official Store and commission contact information is available on their Instagram @official_rebrand — the label is also sold at Otherwild, Café Forgot, and the Phluid Project.