This is 2020, and in 2020, the range of gender identities isn’t limited to “he” and “she”.
Already, Gen Z and millennials have shown that they are far more accepting of gender-neutral pronouns. Thanks to their understanding that genders exist on a spectrum and is therefore a lot more fluid than what two pronouns can encapsulate, the conversation on gender neutrality and fluidity is far more pertinent than ever.
According to a Forbes study in 2019, 59 percent of the younger generation are more vocal in advocating for alternative greetings, while 50 percent of millennials believe that gender is a spectrum.
Beyond just a construct of speech, the contemporary understanding of the gender spectrum also reflects how one chooses to present one’s self.
For starters, Facebook, which reaches billions of users across the globe, offers nearly 60 different gender options. The Oxford English Dictionary recently included “Mx” as a neutral replacement for current salutation options. The social simulation video game “Animal Crossing” by Nintendo does not restrict players from identifying as a specific gender, and that also goes to the clothes you prefer to wear virtually.
But while the digital sphere at large has steadily demonstrated an understanding of these nuances in representation, it wasn’t until recently that the fashion industry joined in the conversation in a visible way.
Sure, we’ve seen more influencers and celebrities blurring the lines in the way they dress, from Harry Styles and his love for ruffled shirts, to social media stars Kevin Ninh and Seth Williams, who actively break down gender taboos by popularising hashtags such as #FemboyFriday, which has accrued more than 158 million views on TikTok. Yet the majority of the fashion industry hasn’t really grasped the zeitgeist of this turning point until recently.
While one wouldn’t say no to more, there is already a healthy crop of independent labels tailored to non-binary fashion, including London-based Loverboy and Rui Zhou, and One DNA in New York.
With Rui Zhou, her knit bodysuits are in a league of their own. Traditionally, a bodysuit accentuates the wearer’s curves, but Zhou’s designs do more than that. With a keen eye for draping and fabric manipulation, she introduces circular and oval cut-outs to explore the space between the skin and the fabric. Rather than focusing on gender, she explores the human form as a whole. “A garment is like an installation; when I do draping or sketching, I always think of the body shape as a frame,” Zhou explains.
Major fashion houses are taking note too. Under the creative direction of Alessandro Michele, Gucci regularly presents its catwalk shows with women appearing in menswear and vice versa. As of July this year, the fashion house embarked on a new milestone with the introduction of Gucci MX, a new gender-fluid section on its e-commerce platform. Gucci MX allows shoppers to browse every single item from the current pre-fall and AW20 collection — and every coming season, when the pieces drop, they are shot exclusively on androgynous models.
Stella McCartney is another reputable name embarking on this path. In September, McCartney launched the capsule collection named Shared, celebrating youth culture and gender-neutral clothing. The debut range was inspired by the peak of private clubs in London in the 1920s, featuring genderless variations of the designer’s signatures: double-breasted blazers, trench coats, shirts and monochrome knits.
The greater acceptance of gender neutrality within fashion is poised to grow even bigger. And with its total industry value worth an estimated $758 billion globally, venture capitalists are trying to get a piece of the gender-neutral pie. Just last May, gender-neutral underwear and swim brand TomboyX received US$18 million from investment firm The Craftory.
While some might view this moment as nothing more than a marketing trend, Craftory’s co-founder Ernesto Schmitt sees TomboyX — whose hero product is boxer briefs for women — as the disruptor that fashion needs right now. Schmitt explains the potential of the brand and notes that “in researching TomboyX, it was clear that there was enormous potential not only because of the fit and function of the product, but because it offered a broader representation of femininity.”
Based on his industry expertise, Schmitt estimates that 20 to 30 percent of consumers now prioritise purchases based on a product’s mission, rather than just function.
More recently, Kleiner Perkins — a venture capitalist firm who backed Amazon, Google and Twitter in their early days — has invested in Re-inc. Owned by the gender-equality activist known for leading the US to World Cup victory Megan Rapinoe (you’ll recognise her by her striking pink hair), Re-inc received an undisclosed sum of money from Kleiner Perkins to take the brand to a wider audience.
Speaking about her decision to back Re-inc, Kleiner Perkins’ principal Annie Case cited that “there’s a shift happening around what fashion looks like and who people look up to as role models, and I felt that they had an opportunity to be leading the charge on some of that.”
Even more recently, Adidas Originals unveiled a gender-neutral store in London’s SoHo area, while Browns Fashion’s newest department store in East London naturally integrates gender-neutral shopping experiences into the way the product areas are designed. This was a move that head buyer Ida Petersson says was a natural progression, given how she’s noticed that shoppers of both genders started cross-shopping within the men’s and women’s collections.
“We wanted to make that journey easier for them and challenge the perception of what a women’s collection is and what a men’s collection is,” Petersson says. “When we looked at the collections, there was so much synergy between menswear and womenswear.”