Pride Month: Celebrating Your Most Absolute Self With The Founders of Hank Code
Now, Jeff Madelena and business partners Louis Terline and Ryan Fitzgibbon are the minds and hearts behind HANK Code, a sleek offshoot of the term “hanky code,” universalized by gay men in the 70’s. HANK Code is an online retailer, sure, but also an oasis in an otherwise dry landscape for queer makers and consumers alike.
David and Jeff Madalena’s relationship goes back to a small, yet powerful community in Williamsburg— but it’s deeper than that. They share a love of connection; one that helps others to define their unique identities through expressive nuance— scent, art, design, and values. There’s no one specific mold for each individual’s sexuality, and HANK acts as a conduit to help others define, refine, and articulate their complex singularity via many mediums.
Q: Pride Month is here, but pride seems to be the daily baseline at HANK. What does this month mean to you, and how do you exalt your mission and presence this time of year?
This time of year is about celebrating life, and the fight to keep the communities that we live in safe and striving for liberation. For years, people just saw it as a weekend of parties and a parade to watch on a Sunday. Showing support by putting a rainbow flag in your window was enough for some. Now, we see more businesses and allies showing up, but there’s still plenty that we need to hold these rainbow-bearers accountable for. Pride is more than just a calendar month, and HANK was created to highlight LGBTQ+ makers who live their Pride everyday. Our mission is to support our vibrant community by educating and building a sense of acceptance for all.
Q: How did you create your platform for HANK— what was the initial inspiration besides a personal need?
We created HANK because we saw a void in the market for a queer makers. There wasn’t space online that spoke to us directly, so it became our mission to create it. We love to shop and discover new things; it’s been in our blood for years as buyers and content creators. The three of us have spent our careers engaged in queer creative communities, so it made sense to bring all of our connections together in this way. I would definitely say that a large part of it was something very personal to us.
Q: HANK is such an important platform for brand discovery. Before founding HANK, did you find it difficult to come across clothing brands or otherwise that catered to non-hetero/cis males? Is that still a challenge today?
Any new space will have its set of challenges, but there are definitely brands out there pushing boundaries. We’ve always been most drawn to the ones that are not afraid to throw the mold out the window.
Q: What do you see HANK growing into? More than a shopping destination, but also a physical space? An informative editorial? Something else?
Our plan. which we are still very much developing, is to combine a fully-realized lifestyle site to discover, learn, and shop. It’s not the newest concept but there still isn’t anything like this in the queer community. A place that is speaking to us, where we can learn about our peers, and support them.
Q: Do any of you recall a moment where you felt a truly tremendous sense of pride?
When we launched HANK. I think I speak for all of us by expressing how proud we were with the concept and how where we landed with the execution we unveiled.
Q: We’re finally veering off from the notion that there is one kind of queer, and seeing that it’s a beautifully broad spectrum of identity, sexual and otherwise. How does HANK help others find exactly where they fit, or find their perfect shade?
Finding self-acceptance in a world that’s stacked against queer and marginalized people is a life-long journey for most. As we evolve and come into ourselves, we have a responsibility not only to radiate and lead with loving acceptance in every space we have the privilege to exist in. Uplifting voices that have historically been overlooked and oppressed, while leaving space for all individuals to develop and express their identity as authentically to themselves as they can. We hope to continue showing up for our communities through our work in this way.
Q: We love the history that HANK founders have with Materiae via David P. Can you share a little about the community you had/have together when David lived in Williamsburg, and how that shaped your businesses like OAK, Carlen, etc?
Louis and I met David in Williamsburg Brooklyn probably close to 20 years ago. He was a pro shopper and an amazing customer of OAK and, at the time, was working as a wholesale rep and brand manager for Red Flower candles. Back then, Williamsburg was a small community of creatives. There was an emerging alt gay scene that felt really fresh and fairly small, so we all knew each other. We kept in touch over the years, and after David moved to LA I started a fragrance collection called Carlen. David had already established David Pirrotta Brands and was doing amazing, so we reconnected through Carlen and he represented the line for a few years.
Building the HANK community now, is an opportunity to forge new relationships, but also to re-engage with old ones—it’s been such a joy. We see a great value in cross-generational. So much of our growth as individuals is about learning from the past. Shaping the HANK brand is this newness merging with the past—taking by-gone references and re-contextualize them with new meaning. The name HANK was actually taken from the 70’s “hanky code,” where gays would wear different handkerchiefs in their pockets to signal something about their identity, kinks, and interests.
Q: How can brands like HANK and Materiae bolster each other to strengthen and spread the mission of inclusivity, especially in beauty, wellness, or fashion?
Some things we did in our past ventures that were queer-leaning may have been downplayed to conceal something that wasn’t accepted in a mainstream way. Now, being out and proud as business owners—owning our identities—we have the ability to influence and create a feeling of acceptance in all spaces we enter. I think HANK and Materiae are very similar in that way, and that is why we work so well together. We’re both gay/queer owned, and it’s a major part of our brand DNA. Our experience is the lens we use to approach and highlight what we do, and how we strengthen and spread our mission inclusively across all categories.
Written by Nicole Lesmeister
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