Author Nel Margerison
This section gives more information about us and is compiled to be of use to fashion undergraduates, journalists and anybody else who wants to know more.
What inspired you to start this brand?
While exploring some ideas around gender and clothing my business partner and I went shopping for shirts. Lisa (Director) loves to wear shirts and is always frustrated by the availability of interesting shirts in ‘menswear’ departments which don’t fit her; and the proliferation of pastel colours, pink things, frills and ruching in ‘womenswear’ departments which she doesn’t want. As we explored the menswear/womenswear departments on the high street we were struck by so many odd binaries in both the buying experience, such as being forced to turn one way in to the men’s department or the other way for the women’s, and being restricted in which dressing room to use - and also in availability of products. We realised that what we wanted to do was expose some of this stuff and seek a starting point to unpick some of the gender specific notions in clothing. Shirts was this starting point.
What research did you conduct to come up with the way you size your shirts?
We started by asking ourselves what the biological implications in sizing were. Some people have breasts, some people have larger bottoms, some people have both, some people have neither. We started with splitting our shapes first, we know there are many more variations and we are not a bespoke service but we wanted to be as close as possible, so we came up with Charlie, Alex, Billie and then the following year Drew. We chose the names based on their neutrality and then decided that the sizes we would like to make our own because it was impossible to make references to people’s existing buying experience without making it also specific to menswear or womenswear traditionally. This has been a challenge as there is very little common ground in Menswear/Womenswear sizing. We place a lot of emphasis on measurements and hope that when someone has found their size shape combination that we will become their ‘go-to’ place to shop.
Would you like to further expand your brand into a wider range of products such as bottoms?
Yes of course, we are chipping away at developing more items and trousers are very much on the horizon. The whole process becomes far more complicated when you are trying to be really inclusive in your product development.
If so, would you use the same idea with your sizing you have used for your shirts?
Yes we would. Measurements would be key.
Do you find that your sizing gives your brand a loyal customer base?
What do you think makes you different to any other genderless brands/collections?
One has to fully get to grips with what gender actually means before we can call ourselves genderless. We have a long way to go before then. If we decide that gender is a construct and not really a thing then there cannot be a not-nothing-thing. We prefer to think about freedom to move around within some of the deeply embedded norms, accepting that products have an identity which has historically been aligned with a particular biological feature and then turning it on its head. The further you go the more crazy it becomes. We notice that more neutral brands or collections are also quite neutral in their aesthetic and although we only have a small range of products we do try and also have a ‘look’ rather than muted colours and shapeless garments. We do understand there are biological differences in how some people are built and try and acknowledge these.
What impact do you want your brand to have on your customers?
We want our customers to just say things like ‘at last’, ‘finally’, ‘thank you’ and ‘I love my shirt’. We don’t want them to enter our space and have to identify themselves with anything other than the product.
What impact do you want your brand to have on society?
We want to open a door to a different way of looking at clothing and also shopping. We would like to be a portal for those who don’t feel comfortable or don’t want to limit their choices by the first decision they make in a shopping space. Many people are happy with starting their journey by choosing menswear or womenswear and that is fine but there is space out there for it not to be necessary.
Do you feel that society creates unnecessary pressures on us in regards to our gender?In so many ways this question itself is too big because it involves and exploration first of the concept of gender itself and whether the pressures are to do with gender or sex, the historical and cultural context changes with the question. Within the first 5 weeks of his presidency, Donald Trump told his female workers to dress like women and the fact that we even know what he means tells us enough about how gender representation is embedded completely within society.
If yes, how would you like to see this change in the future?
The more we discuss gender and see backlashes like #dresslikeawoman, I would hope we can start to unpick some of the odd ideas about sex and gender when it comes to clothing and other inanimate things really. I would like to see people be able to express themselves however they see fit, opening the door for a different type of creativity not contained by outdated and odd notions of how things ‘should’ look.
Do you feel the fashion industry as a whole plays a part in the way we see ourselves in regards to our gender?
Of course. Every time we walk into a shop, enter an online store, turn on the television or go to work; we are faced with representations and decisions. Is this for a man or a woman? How will other people see me? Will I look or be seen like the person in the advert? The fashion Industry is very interesting as the only way really that ‘high fashion’ can exist is in opposition to ‘high street fashion’ and the latter has to be consistent in gender representations to allow high fashion to play with it and be creative. Even when we see people or designers play with gender stereotypes the mere fact that we recognise the play means the norms are embedded in our understanding of who wears what.
Are there any hints/tips you would give to anyone in the process of researching and designing a genderless collection?
I would encourage them to first identify their own understanding of the difference between gender and sex. Whilst remembering that there are some biological differences between the distinct ends of the spectrum of sex it is important to remember that it is a spectrum and there are lots of variations and spaces not covered by the traditional Barbie and Ken design start point. Not all XY people have huge shoulders and tiny hips and not all XX people have hourglass shapes. Even disregarding chromosomal variants in between, it is important not to get swamped by thinking it is impossible to design clothes for people and just go with neutral shapeless clothes. It is a great challenge to design interesting clothes whilst also taking these points into account.
How would you describe Gender Free World to someone new to the brand?
Gender Free World is a shopping space where we like to focus on fit. We will not ask and do not care what your gender definition is.
What makes your clothes different?
Our shirts are designed as a halfway house between bespoke and off the peg. If you want one of our shirts we hope our customers, after having checked out the size guide, will have confidence when buying one knowing that we have taken into account the variations in bodies. We have 3 different body shape templates and 7 sizes. Charlie: classic fit, for those who have similar proportioned hips and shoulders. Will fit woman and some men. Billie sizes are made to accommodate a larger bust.. Alex for those with wider hips and larger bottoms. Because we have 21 variations per shirt design (more than any other manufacturer we think) our shirts will fit better.
Who has been particularly important to the founding of GFW?
The individual shareholders who put their hard earned cash into this project and shared our faith that we were onto something exciting and different from that what is currently available in the fashion world.
What have been the highs and lows of the experience so far?
Where do you draw inspiration for your designs from?
We want to combine our love of a classic cut shirt you know is going to fit with the ability to make a statement about who we are or who we aren’t. We want people to ask about our shirts and ties but also allow someone to not stand out because they are wearing something ill fitting. We ask our customers what they want to see.
What is the most important message you want to get out there?
Be true to your individual style – wear the clothes that excite you, ignore what mainstream society might have to say about what is appropriate for your gender (or for that matter what is in / out of fashion). One of our T shirt’s slogan is – just me, no labels, and I think that sums it up nicely! It is ok to move outside of traditional binaries in clothing and there will be people out there designing for those choices.
Why did you decide to create an androgynous line and how does it reflect the manifesto behind Gender Free World?
We recognised that it was very hard to buy the kind of clothes we are making here in the UK. At the moment we have only really tackled one gap in the market but ideally we would like to expand this. We want to show people that they don’t have to have their choices restricted by outdated notions attributed to gender and continue the tradition of blurring these lines that started in the 20’s, not allowing complacency or fear to halt the questioning brought up by attempts to play with notions of gender.
Why do you think women are drawn to your unique pieces or why gender neutral clothing is so popular today?
Women are drawn to our pieces because they are designed with bodies in mind without all the other assumptions that go with having particular attributes. If you have breasts it doesn’t mean you can’t wear a smart shirt for work, especially with the hidden button which means underwear or binding aren’t visible; If you have small shoulders you can buy a shirt that doesn’t hang off you looking like a teenager in dad’s suit; If you are trans and maybe your hips don’t allow for a traditional men’s shirt but you want to be able to wear something which still has male buttoning and fits nicely; If you love bow ties but they only come made for big necks or If you just like a shirt and you like the fabrics and designs we choose to make.
What are your personal favorite pieces of gender neutral fashion - or what pieces do you consider the most popular today?
Nel: I love being able to wear a tie or a bow-tie which is just an adornment but can really make an outfit come together.
What is something people probably don't know about androgynous fashion that you think they should?
That there are so many odd conventions in fashion that have nothing to do with biology or gender identity, such as different styles of buttoning. We want to be a label that starts to strip away or expose these odd identifiers because they don’t really mean anything.
I was wondering if you would you ever consider selling male to female trans swimwear and what you think about the swimwear market regarding the transgender community.
I don’t know much about trans swimwear but if we grew enough to cover all areas of clothing that are fulfilling the gaps that others miss in regards to gender that would be amazing. It would of course be something we would consider but not something that we have at this juncture.
Still want to know more?
Annabel Pribelszki Podcast interview January 2018