It’s a beautiful thing when you get to combine passion and work. And because of passionfruit, Liz Bertorelli does just that.
With so many brands seen “rainbow-washing” their logos and merchandise going into pride month, Liz felt it was extremely important that there was a brand that encouraged visibility and pride all year round. It was a mission that allowed members of the LGBTQQIA community to rep accessories and clothing all year round that showcase their pride in who they are. Since then, passionfruit continues to grow, even having been the official merchandise provider for Toronto Pride for a year!
I sat down with Liz, the one-woman show running this amazing brand, to discuss all things passionfruit and what to expect in the future from them.
I’m a big fan of your brand. I went through the entire website before this call and definitely ended up buying myself something. But for those of us who haven’t prowled the entire online presence of your brand, tell me what you do!
So, I own and run my own LGBTQ+ side business named passionfruit, so I do everything from the design to marketing and everything in between. Essentially, we sell pride apparel that you can wear all year round. It’s not just a one-stop pride shop for June, it’s all year.
That’s amazing! So what inspired you to get into this? Was it a gap in the full-year pride merchandise area, a personal mission? What started passionfruit?
So passionfruit was actually a rebrand of the first iteration of this project. It kind of just happened really organically. It was never about selling shirts or products, it was about the community I belong to. I know this is cheesy but it’s like wearing my heart on my sleeve, literally. I wanted to make pride wear for my friends that they could wear that wasn’t from big box stores that tend to “rainbow wash” once a year. It happened organically but took off from there. It’s so important for people to see themselves in the message and designs so they know there’s something for them all year, not just during pride in June. Oftentimes I’m not even thinking of who is buying the shirt, but I’m thinking about who is seeing it out in the wild. If a person wearing a “protect trans kids” tee walks downtown Toronto in the middle of the day, and it makes one person’s day or validates their existence because they saw it, that’s what inspires me.
I love that, that you get to literally wear your heart on your sleeve. And I definitely noticed that when going through your website. It’s not your typical rainbow you see from stores in June. People want to wear something that represents them all year, not just one month.
Yes! And I’m so close to the brand because it really is just me. We don’t rainbow wash because we are queer all year round.
It’s so nice to see – it feels so authentic!
And it truly is.
So now, what if any adversities have you had to overcome with this brand? And what did you think made the success happen?
So there’s always going to have so many adversaries, especially as a queer woman in business. I’ve seen a fair share of homophobic comments. Sometimes posts end up on the wrong side of social and you can see the hate roll in. But for one hate comment, there are ten nice ones backing me up that roll in. One big thing I faced a couple of years ago was another queer company, that I will not name names, stealing one of our designs and putting it in stores. I ended up approaching them but everything dropped off. I didn’t do a lot of follow-ups because I figured they were another queer company and hopefully doing something good with the money, but that’s a big moment, a sad moment. But you just have to move on and remember why you do it.
Wow! Did you have any learnings from the rebrand?
Yes! So the original brand I like to see as a test. You should have seen my website! you should have seen the original designs. I just shot photos on a turf background because that’s all the templates looked like. and had to use anything else I could grab from Shopify and Printful. It’s come a long way, but I still see things I want to change.
What do you attribute all this incredible success to then?
I could name a million things. I wouldn’t be able to do any of this without my community at the forefront, my friends pushing me to just do it and pushing my products on everybody. My audience, specifically on Tiktok, has been so supportive. I built an audience of 30,000 people. And then Shopify! I don’t know if passionfruit would have existed without Shopify. It feels like it’s growing with me. Through them, I found Printful, who print my orders. I definitely wouldn’t be around without them.
One thing I love is that I feel like this is a brand with a heart, and we need more businesses like this. So what advice would you give somebody looking to get into this?
I think my advice is just for starting a business in general. And people are so nervous because you’re putting yourself out there in a new way, but just hit publish. A lot of business is testing and learning on the fly. If you have a business you’re passionate about and a cause you care about, make sure you’re passionate about what you are working towards and put it out there.
That’s amazing advice. So how does the design process work, do you design it all?
Yeah! So 95% of the designs, including what you see on social, is done by me. There are a couple that have been designed by my partner and one of my best friends, but who knows! Maybe one day it’ll be fully outsourced to queer designers all over the place.
It must add such a personal wow factor when you see somebody wearing it, and know they’re literally wearing something you made and designed.
It’s definitely happened. And outside Toronto, which is the weirdest thing. I forgot I have shipped to 130 countries so far. So it’s so wild seeing somebody, it’s like a walking billboard. It’s surreal.
That’s HUGE! So, before we wrap up, I would love it if you could share any new projects you are working on.
Yeah, so one thing we’re kicking around is starting a bi-monthly queer dinner club in Toronto. I actually reached out to a couple of restaurants but then the panini hit so I had to put that idea on hold. I’m starting to revisit it, so we will see what happens. Aside from that, I am definitely aiming to do a new roundup of designs and products for Pride 2022, because the last two years have felt like why bother.
And this year more than ever, people are going to want to celebrate! One thing is for sure, we will be following along to celebrate with passionfruit as they grow.