This Pride Month, we wanted to shine a light on a few brands that are paving the way in the gender fluid and nonbinary design space.
We sat down with four leaders in gender fluid fashion to discuss their philosophies, the highs and lows, the future of the industry, and their tips and tricks for those who want to dive into the beautiful world of gender fluid design.
Cover photo: Unknown Union
Meet Our Brands
Unknown Union: Unknown Union stands at the intersection of fashion and storytelling. The founders create unique garments infused with a rich tapestry of ancient and indigenous knowledge. Their designs don't just challenge the gender binary. They challenge societal expectations related to race, culture, and class, inviting their audience to express their identities with pride.
No One: No One celebrates juxtapositions with every stitch. For their Baltimore born creators, embracing dualities in design was a natural trajectory of their own lives. Their designs combine youth and sophistication, luxury and utility, “menswear” silhouettes and “feminine” color palettes. They create for people that want to challenge these traditional definitions.
Pas Une Marque: French brand Pas Une Marque is tailored for the modern day philosopher in the pursuit of knowledge. As their ethos is not encapsulated by gender, neither are their clothes. Their aesthetic blends effortless luxury and the bold spirit of street culture. Pas Une Marque uses naturally dyed Peruvian materials, solidifying their commitment to a greener future.
Spitfire Sunglasses: For the last 20 years, this UK-based brand has pushed boundaries with thoughtful and sustainable designs. They enjoy marrying contradictions, combining masculinity and femininity, retro and futuristic, demure and badass. Their philosophy encourages their customers to embrace not only all that they are, but all they want to be.
When it comes to the design process, I was curious. What role does gender fluidity play in that process? Does it sometimes feel like a constraint?
The resounding answer was no. In fact, it’s a natural byproduct of removing the constraints. Here’s a look into their process.
“Our first piece was a purple moleskin overshirt with a floral embroidery design. It wasn't until I was told that every piece in the first collection could be worn by anyone, that I realized my natural creative expressions will always encompass this fluidity," said Lenard Grier, co-founder and lead designer of No One.
“We like to say that we design clothes for human beings. We test our sample styles on various body types without respect to gender, and adjust the silhouettes from there,” said Jason Storey, co-founder of Unknown Union.
“Our designs tend to be driven by the motifs of the overarching philosophical theme. We focus on clean, bold lines, rich textures, and a neutral color palette that does not confine our clothes to any particular gender,” said Sean Coutts, Head of Partnerships of Pas Une Marque.
From the beginning, it was clear that designing in this way is a true joy and an outcome of free artistic expression. Unfortunately, the fashion industry has historically stuck to the binary, creating unique challenges for our brands.
One common issue is retailers needing to know exactly which designs are for men and women.
“It's always been curious to us that anyone would need our permission to sell to a certain gender. If you love it, it's for you!” said Vanessa Velkes, co-founder/co-owner of Spitfire Sunglasses.
While there’s been some progress, Velkes revealed they recently lost an opportunity to launch with a popular online retailer. She loved the designs, but was worried they would be too ‘masculine’ for her customers.
Another issue is sizing. First, there’s the clear practical problem. Men’s and women’s sizing are distinctly different. But there’s another problem: lack of inclusivity. Storey says, “it reinforces arbitrary lines of gender and may discourage a customer from purchasing something that they love.”
To overcome this, Unknown Union took the time to create a gender neutral sizing guide that’s a simple range from 0-6.
Grier also touches on the intersectionality of these challenges. “We've had to fight through the challenge of being two Black guys that are creating designs that aren't normally what you see from guys like us.” To push past this, they’ve taken the time to use imagery and an open dialogue to convey their brand’s origins, intent, and DNA.
The pull to conform to a binary fashion industry is strong. So what keeps them going?
The response I kept hearing was the satisfaction of knowing that you are pushing for inclusivity and empowering individuals. Especially individuals who may not have felt their identities and artistic expression validated or celebrated before.
“The most rewarding aspect is undoubtedly seeing our customers find a piece of themselves in our clothes, witnessing the confidence and comfort they radiate. We are thrilled to be part of a movement that is challenging outdated norms and advocating for greater inclusivity,” said Coutts.
“It's been great knowing that we might have helped some customers just be themselves and not be confined to any stereotypes,” said Velkes.
“The biggest joy by far is having my modern family be proud of how our brand truly represents each and every member. Regardless of success, I know the brand represents what I want to see in the world,” said Grier.
Advice for Joining the World of Gender Fluid Design
Thankfully, it’s not as hard to enter this space as it once was. In the last 20 years, we’ve seen a significant movement towards more gender fluid/neutral design. With more brands wanting to take the plunge, I wanted to get their advice for newcomers.
Here were their tips:
- You can start with fashion that inspires you, but don’t spend too much time emulating others, or it will become a reflection of someone else’s vision.
- Remember that gender-fluid fashion is not about disregarding gender, but acknowledging its fluidity and complexity.
- Know that the world is shifting from strict heteronormative ideals, but it will take time. Your core demographic will likely skew between men and women for the next while. Keep pushing creative limits, but keep your core demographic in mind.
- Actively engage with the community you aim to serve. Understand their needs, and have an unwavering commitment to inclusivity.
What’s Next for the Industry?
Finally, we looked toward the future. Will the fashion industry continue to open up to gender fluid design? Is this going to become just a trend, or is it here to stay?
Everyone agreed it’s here to stay. Coutts believes it’s going to be at the forefront of a revolution beyond fashion, helping to break down barriers to create a more inclusive world.
Storey echoed that this is the beginning of something bigger, saying “we’ll see a similar shift from a eurocentric perspective to one that embraces diversity across geographies.”
Grier had a unique perspective, encouraging people to enjoy this period of great creativity where the category has yet to be defined. “The industry will utilize data to figure out the archetype of the gender-fluid consumer. Thus, it will become its own defined category where most gender-fluid brands will ultimately look the same.”
Velkes also touched on the effect on the younger generation. “Now, more than ever, it is so important to let our young people know that there is acceptance in their self expression.”
We all know wholesale software can either be a headache or a lifesaver. I asked these Brandboom pros: what made them choose Brandboom? Here were their four deciding factors.
- Digital line sheets: We have explored quite a few platforms, but in the end it comes down to the fact that Brandboom has allowed us to realize our creative vision. We really like the ability to create and store our linesheets digitally.
- Intuitive interface: Users appreciate the intuitive interface, its user-friendliness, and sleek design. It’s allowed our shift to wholesale to be less intimidating and more user-friendly.
- Brandboom Marketplaces: The ability to connect with buyers who we would not have the chance to meet without exhibiting at a tradeshow has been hugely beneficial.
- Managing Orders: The ability for us to manage our orders from our distributors in other markets has been a game changer.
To learn more about these brands, check out their links below!
Pas Une Marque: