Transcending Social Norms: Gender-Neutral Fashion

Gender non-conformity has opened a new market in fashion that is severely underserved. While established brands have yet to potentialise on this growing demand, a handful of independent designers are instilling non-binary values as part of their brand’s DNA. In this report, discover how popular indie brands like Telfar and Ader Error approach gender-neutral fashion and its impact on the market.

By Ashley Looi

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Introduction

He/him, she/her or they/them? Society now has the option to choose their gender pronouns. ‘They’, a pronoun used to refer to non-binary individuals, was 2019’s Word of the Year. The pronoun gained a 313% increase in searches on Merriam-Webster, demonstrating the increasing awareness of the gender-neutral movement.

The gender-neutral fashion movement caters to transgender and gender non-binary (TGNB) individuals. Non-binary individuals spend significantly higher than males and females on average when purchasing streetwear, revealing streetwear’s influence on gender-neutral fashion.

Additionally, the timelessness of streetwear designs eases consumers’ concerns about wasteful purchases. Gender-neutral clothing promotes sustainability because the designs hardly go out of style. Moreover, there are gender-neutral brands that position themselves as sustainable such as, Olderbrother, Kirrin Finch and Wilde Vertigga.

More recently, celebrities have caused major buzz by pushing the boundaries of gender roles in the public eye. Sam Smith came out as non-binary. Besides that, Harry Style’s flamboyant style has made him a fashion icon while K-pop stars are breaking gender stereotypes.

In this report, we reviewed 5 gender-neutral brands to analyse their success with bending gender norms in fashion.

More than 1,500 data points were screened from March 2019 to February 2020 across US, UK and Korean markets.

All data used in this report comes from products retailing online as tracked by Omnilytics, unless otherwise mentioned.

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Performance Overview

The brands were selected based on their premium pricing and gender-neutral assortment. Eckhaus Latta and Telfar are US brands, Toogood is from UK, whereas Ader Error and Blindness originate from Korea.

Overall Performance

Only offering 22% of its products on discount, Toogood managed to achieve 90% sell-out at full price. Toogood also had a steep median price at USD 1,277 – nearly 4x higher than the average. Its impressive performance in spite of the high median price indicates Toogood’s strong brand equity.

The total sell-out rate of all 5 brands at a median price of USD 348 reveals the willingness of consumers to purchase gender-neutral clothing at a premium price. The message of inclusivity is promoted by gender-neutral brands like Telfar, with the motto ‘It’s not for you – it’s for everyone’. Resonating with consumers, this shows that customers will pay more for products with a strong brand image that aligns with their beliefs.

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Diversity & Inclusivity

Despite being known for its fluidity, gender-neutral clothing tends to lean towards one gender – either more masculine or more feminine. This shows that it is less about the clothes but more the message of diversity and inclusivity being delivered.

Boxy and Loose Fit

Gender-neutral clothing traditionally has a boxy and loose fit to cater to both male and female body types, creating ambiguity around the wearer’s gender. The drapey, oversized designs also allow individuals with different body types to wear them confidently. The diversity and inclusivity element of this is evident among the LGBTQIA+ community and especially resonates with TGNB individuals. They feel represented and no longer have the dilemma of shopping in a section that differs from their sex in fear of being judged and ridiculed.

Sustainability

On the topic of sustainability, gender-neutral brands are no different from luxury and commercial brands – all five documented in this report included at least two types of sustainable materials in their products. There were 128 products in their combined sustainable assortment, consisting of Rayon, Linen, Silk, Vegan Leather and Tencel. Ader Error, at 59 SKUs, had the most sustainable products. However, the brand that used the widest variety of sustainable materials was Toogood.

Additionally, gender-neutral clothing promotes sustainability through its similarity with streetwear. Basic designs in gender-neutral fashion remain stylish after the season is over. This allows gender-neutral products to have a longer product life cycle than most clothing.

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Collaborations

Global brands like Puma, Ugg and Gap have collaborated with gender-neutral brands to produce unisex clothing and footwear lines.

Ader Error x Puma

The collaboration between Ader Error and Puma resulted in a streetwear and athleisure inspired collection. Entitled ‘Under Creativity’, the collection seeks to represent a combined voice of different subcultures while featuring progressive silhouettes accented with bright splashes of colour. Ranging from apparel to accessories, the collection of 96 SKUs garnered a sell-out rate of 76%.

Eckhaus Latta x Ugg

The brands teamed up to produce a gender-neutral footwear line with 3 different styles – each with colour options. The collaboration debuted in Eckhaus Latta’s Fall/Winter 2019 collection during NYFW but was officially released in August last year.

Telfar x Gap

Telfar and Gap recently announced a collaboration, expected to release next September. The collection aspires to rethink and remix universal basic garments. Telfar Clemens, the founder and designer of the eponymous brand, is confident that collaboration with Gap will help spread the message of gender-neutral clothing globally.

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Celebrity Influence

The gender-neutral fashion movement has gained attention from the numerous celebrities that have been pushing boundaries through their fashion. These gender non-conforming celebrities do not just hail from the west but from the east too. Furthermore, gender-neutral fashion is well represented by TGNB influencers on social media.

Male Celebrities

Male celebrities that challenge gender stereotypes generally gain more attention due to the stigma often associated with it. Harry Styles, Timothée Chalamet and 2AM’s Jo Kwon have become male fashion icons, not afraid to transcend gender norms by showing their more feminine side.

Female Celebrities

Showing touches of androgyny, Cara Delevingne, Amber Liu and Kristen Stewart dress in tailored and tomboy styles. Liu and Stewart also have short, cropped hair to complete the androgynous look. Another celebrity that regularly wears baggy clothing is Billie Eilish, who does so to prevent being sexualized. However, the singer recently removed her shirt, accompanied by a speech pushing back against body shamers in a video that played during her current tour.

TGNB Influencers

Well-known LGBTQIA+ activists, transgender and non-binary influencers are also setting the tone for gender-neutral fashion. To name a few – Jamie Windust, Vittorio Franco and Alok V Menon are prominent in the LGBTQIA+ community. With tens of thousand of followers, these Instagram famous influencers constantly test gender stereotypes with the outfits they post on the social platform.

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Conclusion

Main Findings

Diversity and Inclusivity: The gender-neutral movement has largely taken off thanks to the LGBTQIA+ community, particularly TGNB individuals. The gender ambiguous element of streetwear and athleisure have also resonated deeply with TGNB individuals.

Taking cues from the oversized and boxy look associated with streetwear, gender-neutral fashion mostly emulates the same fit. The oversized fit embraces individuals of all body shapes, making them feel accepted and included. The message conveyed through gender-neutral fashion widely promotes diversity and inclusivity. Consumers that strongly relate are willing to pay a premium price for gender-neutral clothing because they feel well represented.

Sustainability: 90% of Gen Z believe that companies must play their part, taking action to help social and environmental issues.

The brands’ undertaking of sustainability can be seen in 8% of the entire assortment which was manufactured with sustainable materials. With the extended product life cycles of seasonless gender-neutral fashion, the clothing promotes sustainability even without the use of sustainable materials. Assortments for gendered clothing tend to incorporate seasonal designs, making gender-neutral clothing a more sustainable option.

Next Steps for Brands

Tapping into the Under-represented: Although gender fluidity is a hot topic, gender-neutral clothing has yet to become a global trend – especially in countries that are more conservative. Hence, the LGBTQIA+ community is still under-represented.

Global brands like Puma, Ugg and Gap have caught on to the gender-neutral movement. To address the issue of under-representation, these global brands have collaborated with gender-neutral brands that advocate for the target market.

Brands that are looking to branch into gender-neutral fashion or intend to release a gender-neutral clothing line can rely on historic data to support decisions around product, price and timing.

Assortment Planning: Due to similarities in gender-neutral clothing and streetwear, brands have an opportunity at the assortment planning stage. With the small number of gender-neutral brands available, brands can also refer to popular streetwear labels to observe current trends in both clothing and accessories.

Additionally, brands should be deciding how each category contributes to the overall assortment according to what has worked for established gender-neutral brands.

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Meet the Author

Ashley Looi

Ashley Looi combines her major in econometrics with her interest in fashion to help brands and retailers uncover actionable insights. She currently produces in-depth reports on the fashion industry and its changing retail scene across the United States, United Kingdom, Australia and Southeast Asia.

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