When Selfridges debuted a gender neutral pop-up called Agender in 2015 it occupied a tiny, slightly awkward space in its London flagship store. At the time the directional retailer was lauded for thinking outside the gender binary, which four years ago was still a novel conversation.
Of course genderless fashion has been on the runway for decades and featured heavily in fashion editorial, but as societal norms change so are retail concepts, challenging the traditional fashion departments that are segregated by gender.
Could the era of separate men’s and women’s wear departments be over?
According to research by J. Walter Thompson, an advertising agency, 56 percent of Gen Z consumers already shop outside of their gender, ignoring clothing labeled and categorised into gendered sections.
Big clothing retailers like H&M are starting to incorporate gender fluidity into a larger retail strategy, wrote Bloomberg in an article about gender neutral clothing retailers. Back in 2016 Zara released a line called “Ungendered” and H&M launched a capsule collection dubbed “United Denim,” built on the ethos that “his and hers clothing are one in the same, blurring borders and challenging norms.” This year LVMH-owned Sephora launched a campaign aimed at an image of broader inclusiveness.
It is evident that gender-free retailing is no longer seen as a commercial impetus and there is money to be made. The Phluid Project, a gender-free brand based in New York, is a successful retail space that sells clothing, accessories, and beauty for the LGBTQ communities. Its mannequins have no distinguishable male or female features and offers its own sizing system to fit a wide range of customers.
“There is a paradigm shift that is currently happening in our society. An unlearning and a relearning,” Phluid Project founder Rob Smith told Bloomberg. “By next year, Gen Z will account for one-third of the national population, which accounts for 40 percent of U.S. spending power. It’s time to change with the times and generations, because their voice and power is undeniable.”
“It became clear to me,” Smith said, “that there was a need to shatter the historic infrastructure of companies we’re operating under.”
Gender fluid clothing is no longer a trend, but a movement, and retail is catching up. Store concepts are changing to create an inclusive experience for a new generation of gender-nonconforming shoppers. Customers today do not want to be limited by traditional viewpoints that simultaneously limit their self-expression. At the least they don’t want to be defined by binaries and told what is appropriate to wear.
Image courtesy of Phluid Project Blog