How the rise of genderless shopping is transforming the fashion industry

When you go into most clothing stores, the chances are you’ll have two options: to browse the male section, or the female section.

Things are beginning to change, though. Fashion designers are combining men’s and women’s collections on the runway, parents are pushing to scrap “boys” and “girls” labels on clothing and a number of retailers are defying gender conventions altogether – to cater exclusively for non-binary people.

The Phluid Project, a new shopping space in New York City which opened in March, is one of the first gender-free stores of its kind. It’s not just about buying clothes, but about creating an inclusive shopping experience for non-binary customers.

“There is a paradigm shift that is currently happening in our society,” says founder Rob Smith. “Today’s young people are leaving behind the traditional roles and structures that constrained generations prior. They are choosing to live a freer and more self-expressive life.”

“In many ways, I have created a retail space and community centre I wish I had access to as a young person.”

Spaces like the Phluid Project, where customers can sip coffee, chat to others and browse gender-free brands – which are divided by aesthetic – are going to become more common, Smith adds.

April Mellas and Amy Bender co-founded the genderless shopping app RIGit (Supplied)

“It has become very evident that people need a space which allows you to be yourself, where assumptions are checked at the door and honouring the individual is priority,” Smith says.

Crucially, though, gender-free clothing is also about tackling the challenges faced by non-binary people when shopping.

“They may be challenged, or feel worried about being challenged, when shopping in stores that split their clothing by gender, particularly if their external appearance leads staff or other shoppers to believe they fit into a binary gender category,” says 26-year-old Nat Saunders, who is non-binary.

“They may also feel uncomfortable choosing which changing rooms to use if those are divided by gender – or, again, worry about being challenged by staff or other shoppers.”

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