Gender-fluid brands are moving beyond the binary and into the mainstream

There are plenty of products where the distinction between the "male" or "female" versions is largely arbitrary. Some brands are ditching this binary altogether.

Sarah Drumm

Editor
KÖN designs its underwear to fit any body, regardless of gender. (Photo: KÖN)
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In the world of modern brands, gender stereotypes are falling out of favor. At first glance, it can be hard to distinguish if deodorant brands like Fussy or haircare startup Jupiter are aiming their products at men or women – despite operating in categories that tend to embrace these binaries. (Hint: they aren’t fussy about who’s buying.)

Gender-fluid fashion brands, meanwhile, are more sought after than ever. According to e-commerce company Lyst, searches for fashion items with agender-related keywords are up 33% from the start of this year, and press and social media mentions for genderless fashion and related terms rose 46% in May.

This shift in shopping habits reflects wider societal attitudes. According to a 2019 Pew survey, 59% of Gen Zers in the U.S. think that when asked to define their gender in paperwork, people should have more options than simply "male" or "female" – 50% of millennials agree with them. Meanwhile, a survey by marketing agency Wunderman Thompson found that 56% of Gen Z consumers are ignoring the gender labels that fashion brands put on their garments, opting to shop across gender categories.

And it's not just direct-to-consumer brands designing beyond the binary. Legacy brands including Gap, Old Navy, PacSun, Adidas and Banana Republic have all released lines or shops with gender neutral offerings. So have luxury brands Gucci, Stella McCartney, and Marc Jacobs. Department stores Nordstrom, Saks, and Bloomingdales, meanwhile, are stocking unisex fashion and personal care brands.

Design for everyone

There are plenty of product categories where the distinction between the “male” and “female” version of the product is largely meaningless – often coming down to choices that the brand has made around packaging and price (in the U.S., shampoos marketed at women cost up to 48% more than the equivalent for men).

But there are a few products where some consideration needs to be put into how to break out of the accepted gender binary.

For KÖN, a gender-neutral underwear brand based in Sweden, creating underwear that looks good on all bodies was a tricky task. The company has one product, a pair of basic underpants that can be purchased in black or white, which the brand’s founder Bill Heinonen says took over three years – and more design iterations “than Elton John swaps sunglasses” – to perfect.

“It was aesthetically challenging to create a minimalistic design with a mix of both ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ inspiration,” Heinonen explains. “KÖN has a quite thin elastic band - which I’ve never seen on men’s underwear, for example.” The leg openings on the briefs, meanwhile, have been designed to look good (and be comfortable) both sitting low on the leg or pulled up over the thighs, depending on the wearer’s preference.

Heinonen says the inspiration to launch KÖN came from a frustration with the wider fashion industry, that he felt didn’t take gender-neutral design seriously (Heinonen says he was told it would be “impossible” to create an underwear product that could be worn by any gender), and that was excluding customers because of this attitude.

“In my point of view, most brands have quite a superficial idea of how their customers should look,” Heinonen says. “I’m not against products that are marked as something for ‘men’ or ‘women’. I just think it’s important to have other options as well.”

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