From store layouts to online shopping categories, the gender-free treatment is hitting mainstream retail.
Brands are beginning to embrace gender inclusivity in droves, echoing gen Z’s sensibilities for more fluid expression through fashion. But the fallout from the pandemic is giving mass retailers yet another incentive to reassess their traditional design, production and release formats in favor of more streamlined, sustainable processes and all-purpose designs.
In August, Stella McCartney released Stella McCartney Shared, a genderless capsule marked by a utilitarian design and eco-friendly materials. Soft and loose-fitting sweatshirts made with 100 percent organic cotton accompanied a voluminous puffer coat, a double-breasted jacket, and more in a nearly neutral color palette, geared towards inclusivity-minded youth.
While it’s likely Stella McCartney’s collection was in the works long before the pandemic, it arguably couldn’t have come at a better time. The post-pandemic shopper has slow retail, inclusive values, and sustainability on their mind, and this sentiment could continue long into the future. In a report published in September, consulting firm Kalypso, imagines the effects of COVID-19 on retail and production in five years, noting a possible scenario where “COVID-19 fundamentally changes consumers, who adopt more localized, less-is-more, values-first buying habits and curtail retail shopping. Merchants strip down assortments in favor of long-lasting, high-quality, seasonless, genderless and sustainable product.”
For retailers facing financial strain during the pandemic, a genderless model also has its benefits. “If you think about it, it’s actually a whole lot easier if everything is gender neutral,” says Rob Smith, the founder of the gender-neutral clothing brand, The Phluid Project. “You’re taking up less space, and you can have a much smaller store because you don’t have to have two footprints, you just have to have one.”
“Imagine if you’ve got a men’s collection and a women’s collection, you’re making two samples, two fits, and two productions, and then you have to put them in two different spaces,” Smith tells Wunderman Thompson Intelligence. “If you’re gender neutral, you make one sample, one fitting, and one production. And when we do that, whether it’s shoes or apparel, we have 40 percent less buying to do…It actually creates a lot less cost and it’s a lot more efficient for operations…but also for the environment.”
However, Smith said it can be difficult for brands and retailers to break down these long established binaries that not only span clothing design themselves, but also pervade trade shows, sizing norms, as well as the shopping experience—from in-store floor plans and design to online navigation—where womenswear and menswear are frequently housed in separate sections.
In July, Gucci set a new standard for luxury brands by launching a genderless section on its website called MX. The addition follows its womenswear and menswear sections at the top of its homepage navigation and houses gender neutral clothing, accessories, shoes, and bags. On its website, the fashion house notes that its MX collection, which will drop each season along with new menswear and womenswear, “underlines the performative nature of what we wear, presenting masculinity and femininity as relative concepts.”
At its new gender-neutral store in London, Adidas helps shoppers navigate its collections by function, sport, and aesthetic, rather than gender. The Soho concept store opened in early October and is aimed at the gen Z shopper, VP of Adidas UK Chris Walsh tells Vogue Business. “People don’t want to be defined by what someone tells them is right for them or isn’t,” he said. “It used to be that pastel colors were very gender-specific, but we don’t see that anymore. We just produce the best shoes and allow people to adopt them however they want to.”
The pandemic-driven retail environment will likely accelerate the genderless fashion movement in more ways than one. “I tell people all the time,” Smith says, “if you want to be bold and audacious, now is the time to do it.”
Main image courtesy of The Phluid Project and Justin J Wee.