Gender neutral clothing is clearly becoming both more talked about and more commercial.
From Selfridges to John Lewis and Zara, leading retailers are gaining headlines with what can only be termed trials of gender neutral clothing.
For most, the focus is on adult clothing, but John Lewis has recently embraced the concept – to a degree – in its childrenswear, launching what it calls gender neutral clothes under the ‘boy & girl’ and ‘girl & boy’ labels.
For those brands that have been pushing the gender neutral approach for some time, it is important to recognise that there is so much more to creating successful gender neutral ranges than changing the label.
And, for that matter, why not just put ‘kids’ on the label as a growing number of retailers choose to do?
Gender specific retail model
The current reality for those brands that are gender neutral is that retailers – even those that have moved to a ‘kids’ label – are still organised along traditional gender lines.
From product buyers to store layout, products are often allocated to a specific gender, even if they have been designed to be genderless.
From assumptions about products with a slim line fit being automatically designed for girls, to the decision to put anything with a space ship on the boys’ side of the store, a genderless product can find itself marketed as gender specific if the retailer doesn’t have a gender neutral model in place.
Indeed, a retail buyer will often specifically demand a certain brand or image in a colourway that fits traditional gender stereotypes – resulting in designers being caught up in essentially irrelevant debates about avoiding ‘girly’ pink, too many dark colours or being compelled to provide shapeless garments to avoid stereotyping.
Irrelevant debates? Well, most certainly to the children who are far less gender aware than any previous generation – it is their parents and grandparents who are still demanding the pink dress with butterflies for girls and navy trousers with a dinosaur motif for boys.
The kids are just looking for a favourite character – from Batman to Peppa Pig; that is the driving force.
And this is the key message for any business exploring the gender neutral market: don’t lose your brand values and brand message in the process.
To be successful, organisations need to think more clearly about the brand image and consider innovative clothing for boys, girls and genderless, which reflect and engage. Genderless should not become style-less.
Demand for genderless clothes will grow, especially as millennials become parents according to the latest research.
In the meantime, brands, designers and retailers alike can use this time to address the challenges associated with a gender neutral marketplace – from changing the retail structures, including store layout, to considering issues of fit, colour and styling to ensure how best to deliver a gender neutral product that children want to wear.
Gurdev Mattu, Managing Director, Fashion UK