The need for gender fluidity in fashion beyond Pride
The unisex space is a fully realized market, yet that doesn’t mean it’s all-encompassing.
Amongst the flurry of rainbow-themed merch dropping ahead of Pride, products advertised as ‘unisex’ or ‘genderless’ were popular across promotions. But with gender fluidity yet to be fully integrated into the fashion industry, are these long-overdue gestures for inclusivity or tokenistic attempts at wokeness?
The blurring of genders has been prominent in fashion for years. From androgynous influences on the runway to mass market retailers running ‘borrowed from the boys’ clothing edits for women. The unisex space is a fully realized market, yet that doesn’t mean it’s all-encompassing.
Retailers don’t always separate gender-neutral from gender-fluid, pitching shapeless and oversized garments as gender-inclusive, which according to Wren Sanders, ‘overlooks trans people who wear skirts and suits to affirm their identities.’ With the increasing awareness of and sensitivity to the experiences of the trans and gender non-conforming (trans&gnc) communities, this is another area of the fashion industry that needs improvement.
Ahead of Pride, notable retailers have launched capsule ranges advertised as ‘genderless’ or ‘unisex.’ We present the data findings of what this market currently looks like and who are the brands catering to it outside of this period.
Reach out for a demo on how retailers are approaching sensitive issues such as gender fluidity and other changes in the market.
Gender neutral doesn’t always mean gender fluid
It’s easy to see why this is an area of focus. According to the Phluid Project, 56% of Gen-Z consumers shop outside of their assigned gendered area. Factoring in this cohort’s $143 billion spending power and the growth of the savvy consumer demanding diversity in fashion, it’s never been more timely for brands to promote an inclusive message with non-binary merchandise across all areas.
But how inclusive is this market really? Despite the word ‘unisex’ appearing dated in comparison to ‘genderless’ and ‘gender-neutral,’ the bulk of products in this space are described with the former term, while the use of ‘gender-fluid’ or ‘gender-inclusive’ are scarce. Overall new arrivals in the past three months are down 32% in the US and 8% in the UK. This doesn’t mean demand is contracting as COVID-19 has impacted arrivals market-wide while retailers may be cluing in that consumers are shopping based on aesthetics rather than labels. For example, Ssense told WWD it buys lines that blur gender norms but avoids categorizing products as ‘unisex’ or ‘gender-fluid.’
For retailers using this terminology, tops make up the majority of categories in stock in both regions with T-shirts as the most invested style, equaling 29% and 33% of its parent category in the US and UK, respectively. In the US, this is followed by hoodies at 11% versus in the UK, sweatshirts at 12%. The US leans more towards bottoms with sweatpants and trousers, making up 6% of its total category while jeans are 4%. Genderless outerwear is more commonplace in the UK market.
With consumers embracing the ‘homewear’ wardrobe post-COVID, sleepwear also resonated within this space, especially in the US. This category makes up 5% of unisex products in this region compared to 2% last year.
As imagined, this market leans towards more dark and muted tones. Outside of white and black, blue is the strongest tone invested in across both regions. Grays are more prevalent in the US, while the UK gives similar weighting to pinks and greens.
Further to the point that gender-neutral doesn’t always equal gender-inclusive, unisex products are predominantly graded in standard men’s sizing as the current psychology is women are more inclined to wear men’s clothing than vice versa. This mentality is still apparent in the fashion industry and proven through the product catering to this market. It is usually classified as either essentials, like jeans and tees, or sports and loungewear, which presents an opportunity to break down gender barriers through under indexed categories.
Recent launches & collaborations
JW Anderon x Yoox
With the motto “beyond seasons, beyond trends, beyond genders,” London-based label JW Anderson celebrated Yoox’s 20 year anniversary with a genderless nine-piece capsule collection. Traditional gender norms were challenged through the cut and fit of garments, which included an asymmetrical shirt dress, corduroy trousers and a long skirt.
Ralph Lauren x Pride
This Pride Month, the American retailer reimagined its Polo pony graphic in rainbow, emblazoned across T-shirts, fanny packs and tank tops. Ralph Lauren tapped members of the Black and LGBTQIA+ communities such as Indya Moore and Jeremy Pope to front the campaign, while a percentage of every purchase will be donated to the Stonewall Community Foundation.
In celebration of Pride month, Nordstrom released its first-ever gender-inclusive collection, Be Proud by BP, a 28-piece colorful range consisting of tie-dyed hoodies, tank tops, shorts and accessories. The department store will donate 10% of sales from the range to True Colors United, a nonprofit organization that focuses on youth homelessness within the LGBTQIA+ community.
While this is a step in the right direction, the cadence of product launches can often read to customers as a box-ticking exercise. With more brands pioneering genderless and gender-inclusive fashion from their inception, there is plenty of opportunities for multi-brand retailers to support and cater to these communities outside Pride.
Brands of note
A Black-owned business based in London, Cold Laundry offers modern and functional streetwear transcending genders with a focus on ethically sourcing and manufacturing at an affordable price point.
Known for its iconic vegan leather ‘TC’ tote and its brand message, “It’s not for you, it’s for everyone,” Telfar boasts both eco-friendly and inclusive credentials.
A New York based streetwear and lifestyle brand launched in 2015. Known for its edgy and playful approach to ready-to-wear and accessories, as well as high-profile collaborations with MAC, Macy’s, Urban Outfitters and more.
Also written as OR?!, Official Rebrand gives new life to discarded clothing through painting and alterations, minimizing waste and creating new gender-free garments.
For more brands in this space, log in to read our report.
The end of traditional fashion culture
According to the Fashion Spot’s diversity report, Fall 2020 saw only 21 transgender and non-binary models cast compared to 46 castings in Spring 2020. The new fashion week format will see more seasonless and genderless presentations, hopefully setting the tone for more inclusive casting. London’s Digital Fashion Week, which wrapped up on June 14th, was defined as a gender-neutral event. Unisex collections fom designers such as Charles Jeffery Loverboy and Parc, while Natasha Zinko x DUOltd merged menswear with womenswear.
The fashion industry is poised for an overhaul with the Black Lives Matter movement acting as a catalyst for businesses to rework their hierarchies, seeing many executives stepping aside while brands enforce policies for change. Earlier in June transgender model and activist Munroe Bergdorf rejoined L’Oreal, now sitting on its Diversity and Inclusion Advisory Board after previously being fired by the company for speaking out against racism. If more businesses give Black, trans and queer voices a seat at the table, it paves the way for a more diverse and inclusive industry from the top down.
While brands are making strides to be more gender-inclusive, the microscope will be on their integrity going forward. How are they continuing this conversation and support in the future? Only time will tell but what’s for certain is Gen-Z’s collective $143 billion and unwavering loyalty will go to the businesses that pull up and champion inclusivity all year round.
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