Is ‘he’ past it?

Are the terms he/she past it? You only have to walk into any popular high street retailer children’s department to find signs stating ‘Girls’ or ‘Boys’ with gender stereotyped clothing beneath them. With the market trend of consumers not wanting to be told what they should be wearing and not wanting to be labelled, are fashion retailers meeting the needs of the public and should they be using more gender-neutral language?

Could using more gender-neutral language promote inclusivity and individuality and cater to fashionistas not wanting to be termed as a gender? The rise in gender neutral fashion brands certainly seems to prove that. Even traditional model retailers are dipping their toes in non-binary fashion, including children’s brands.

A quick Google search produced an explanation of the term Gender Neutrality: ‘it shows that policies and language should avoid distinguishing roles according to peoples sex or gender…’ A recent study by 2 researchers at the University of Washington, Missouri, found that using a gender neutral pronoun, reduces mental biases that favour a sex and boost positive feelings towards all sexes and the LGBTQ people. The study was completed in Sweden, where, in 2015, the country came up with a new neutral term ‘Hen’ that could be used alongside ‘hon’ (she) and ‘han’ (he).

The SEO challenge

The classic gender neutral stripes from Polarn O. Pyret. But how far to go with gen neutral language?

One brand originating in Sweden is Polarn O. Pyret, who although don’t outwardly market themselves as a ‘gender neutral’ or ‘unisex’ company, like to ‘be inclusive and give fewer pointers and more possibilities’. Jo Nilsson, Director, explained that consumers favour their clothes and the fact they are not so gender specific or labelled as such, although being a more inclusive company can, however, cause problems with being found via search engines and SEO. ‘Friends wanting to search for clothes or gifts for a baby are more likely to type in baby boy or girl clothes and from a business perspective that can be a problem as we use collective pronouns and are not being found’. A great positive from having an ungendered labelled product, is it is more sustainable ‘we expect our clothes to last 3 children of any sex’.

Toogood – gender unbiased

Another example of a gender unbiased company is British fashion brand Toogood. The brand born from two sisters Faye and Erica Toogood, sells unisex clothing online and in Selfridges in London. Their website distinguishes the clothes only by collections or by garments and there is no mention of genders, in fact, even in their ‘About us’ it doesn’t mention that their approach is neutral. Possibly a marketing ploy, but for a truly neutral company maybe it doesn’t need explaining, after all an item of clothing is just that. A shirt is just a shirt, the clothing itself remains genderless unless stated otherwise.

Whilst not all companies have adopted a full gender neutral approach some well known retailers have brought out neutral collections such as Abercrombie & Fitch’s Everybody collection, H&M’s H&M x Eytys collection, Zara’s ungendered line and even Chanel produced the Gabrielle, a unisex bag. Although these seem to be temporary seasonal collections and almost separate entities to the stores and online shops that still demonstrate gendered labels, signs and categories.

Top tips for a gender-neutral existence:

  1. Use non gendered language when talking about a child or adult, for example ‘They are such a great person’ instead of ‘great girl/boy’ etc
  2. Let all children play with, and buy, a range of toys including items such as dolls and cars and without stereotyping.
  3. Purchase or rent clothes based on need, want and practicality. As Jo Nilsson stated, a unisex item of clothing can last many children and be easy to pass or sell on. This can be said for adult clothes too!
  4. Possibly avoiding stereotypical colours for items. Whilst it isn’t necessary to stick to a bland palette, avoiding stereotypical colours for items can save other people coming to gender conclusions.
  5. Encourage individuality, not just in children but embracing friends and families’ too. Helping to build confidence in people lets them feel comfortable in who they want to be.

With more retailers bringing out non gender biased clothes collections, and the rise in gender neutral brands, the trend should see this changing the way clothes are labelled and signage in shops, especially in children’s departments. Watch this space!

Helen