Stella McCartney to Gucci: Lessons on the new gender-neutral

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Disregard what you think you know about gender-neutral fashion. After years of fits and starts, the industry is finally embracing gender neutrality, this time with a fresh outlook on the category though largely limited to smaller brands and one-off capsule collections.

Past gender-neutral clothing collections were made up of boxy and oversized fits and neutral palettes, which critics have said dilute individual identity rather than cater to it. This “overlooks trans people who wear skirts and suits to affirm their identities,” says LGBTQ+ fashion journalist and commentator Wren Sanders. Newer iterations are blotting out the beige, as brands design unique pieces that use traditionally masculine and feminine aesthetics, but package them for all genders. Recent launches, like Stella McCartney’s Shared collection, Gucci’s The MX Project, PacSun’s gender-neutral shop and Adidas’s gender-neutral store, represent this shift in strategy with fashionable designs that don’t fall into men’s or women’s categories.

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By rethinking the gender designations that have historically categorised fashion, both traditional and emerging brands have an opportunity to reach more people. While the gender-neutral category is gaining mainstream traction, Ben Pechey, a fashion critic and diversity and inclusion consultant, says some retailers fear that if they make gender-neutral clothes, they risk alienating their current customer, assuming mainstream approach equates to the widest reach. Instead, adopting a broader inclusive approach, including size, genderqueer, race and disability, would help brands reach 60 per cent more consumers, according to The Diversity Standards Collective.

“Marketers assume mainstream approaches equal the widest reach,” they say. “If you were to combine all marginalised identifiers — including genderqueer people — you would invite a higher share of the market to consume your brand. Marketing to LGBTQ+ people through gender neutrality will actually drive more sales.” 

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