The recent Project New York show held a firestorm of discussion with the statement, “Fashion is ever-changing and in its current iteration is making room for gender fluidity.” The message was clear: stores and brands that embrace gender-fluid clothing and merchandise have a broader customer base.
For the uninitiated, Project Show’s discussion was an interesting lesson in how to reach consumers who don’t want gender-specific clothing.
Travis Weaver, founder of One DNA Clothing, explains what gender fluid fashion means: “The freedom to choose what you want to wear and not limit yourself to what we’re made to wear. “You feel like breaking the binary and not being so attached to what our society says. In Western culture, one should wear business attire. But in an African country, a person wears different clothes that are considered as clothes in the western culture. So fluid fashion is about having that freedom, and not feeling like you’re restricted to one type of outfit. You should be free to express yourself in a way that reflects who you are.”
Rob Smith, founder of the Fluid Project, a gender-neutral fashion, activism and education brand, likens the word fluid to flowing between two spaces like a river’s water.
“It just flows back and forth,” Smith said at a project event. “And if you think that every part of the river is made up of sex, religion, race or age, we look at each of these and say, ‘Am I this or that, or am I?’ And Well, I think most of us are ‘this and that’. Curiosity and precision are what make this happen. “
A majority of consumers (70 percent) want apparel brands and retailers to be more inclusive in both their products and advertising, according to a 2019 report by Cotton Inc. Lifestyle control™ survey. And more than 8 in 10 consumers (83 percent) say they want the fashion industry to offer more items and sizes.
An NPD Group study found that 40 percent of U.S. consumers said they’ve purchased clothing or shoes outside of their gender identity, said Christine Clasey-Zumo, industry analyst, director of apparel.
“The top reasons for these purchases were size and fit (22 percent), convenience (21 percent) and price (16 percent), Classy-Zumo said. “The active and comfortable movement that has become prominent in the past few years is helping to expand the gender-neutral trend. In addition, personal reasons are also involved, such as truly ‘social statements’ or ‘gender expression’ purchases, applicable to 5 percent of respondents.” While this number may seem small, this trend is gaining attention as social movements — including self-expression — break old concepts of gender identity.
According to Weaver, the longer a DNA is, the more attractive it is to consumers. But the brand is working to educate customers on how a DNA dose works.
“We’re really careful about sizing and showing the clothes online to different groups of people,” Weaver said. We offer a relaxed fit, and our pants have an elasticated waist to accommodate different sizes.
A relaxed fit and stretchy waistband are universally desirable to consumers today. In terms of factors in clothing purchase decisions, consumers ranked comfort (95 percent) and fit (95 percent) at the top; monitor™ research. Those factors are followed by price (89 percent), durability (89 percent), style (85 percent) and color (83 percent).
While selling gender fluid fashion has its rewards, it is not without its challenges. Weaver says the fashion industry is still very binary, and he identifies marketing as such.
“So we have to push the buyers a little and teach them what it would look like if the clothes were placed on multiple company websites,” he said. “It’s really rewarding to work with the buyer and let them know they’re going to have a lot of people to sell to.”
Weaver and Smith suggest that gender fluid merchandising can work across all retail sectors. Consumers now buy their clothes from wholesalers like Walmart and Target (59 percent); monitor™ research. That’s followed by Amazon (46 percent), chain stores like Kohl’s (40 percent), department stores (34 percent), specialty stores like Gap and American Eagle (33 percent) and off-price retailers (33 percent).
Smith acknowledged that retailers still have separate men’s and women’s departments in their stores, but said there are ways to overcome that, even in established brick-and-mortar locations.
“There are people who buy men’s and there are people who buy women’s and they are comfortable there,” he said. “I like to add a third section. If you’re an existing business, create a little space in the middle and make it an all-gender store.”
“A lot of it is how they label the product,” Smith said. “Maybe sweaters can be labeled as men’s and women’s. Some products are for all genders, but are sold only to women. I think it’s about communication, and you have to learn to communicate differently. Even when I’m working with big box retailers, I’m like, ‘Why don’t you take women’s dresses down and just say dresses? Make it more tailored than menswear. It changes the game. It will increase your business by inviting more people to your place.
Cotton’s Integrated Lifestyle Monitor™ survey is an ongoing research program that measures consumer attitudes and behaviors related to apparel, marketing, fashion, sustainability and more.
For more information about the Lifestyle Monitor™ survey, please visit https://lifestylemonitor.cottoninc.com/