Forbes India 15th Anniversary Special

Brad Pitt to Ranveer Singh, Gucci to desi startups: Brands and consumers warm up to fluid fashion as gender stereotypes take backseat

Propelled by global celebrities and Gen-Z consumers, gender fluid fashion is cooking up a storm in the retail space in India

Published: Jan 3, 2023 10:37:53 AM IST
Updated: Jan 3, 2023 10:50:21 AM IST

Brad Pitt to Ranveer Singh, Gucci to desi startups: Brands and consumers warm up to fluid fashion as gender stereotypes take backseatNew-age fashion brands are backing a modern marketing mantra for their clothes that focus on inclusivity and sustainability. Image: The Pot Plant

Brad Pitt made quite an impression when he appeared in a linen skirt for the promotion of his film in Germany this year. Closer home Ranveer Singh is quite famous for his edgy clothes and OTT looks. So, while global brands like Chanel, Stella McCartney, Marc Jacobs, Louis Vuitton have already done a fair bit to deconstruct fashion binaries, fluid fashion has also hit the Indian runway.

Brands like Jaywalking India, The Pot Plant, Anaam, Huemn, NorBlack NorWhite, Biskit are designing clothes and accessories based on ‘self-expression’ and not gender stereotypes.

Gen-Z, according to experts, is very particular about silhouettes, patterns and fabrics, they do not care about whether they pick up their style from the men’s or the women’s section.

Marketing and selling fluid fashion in India

This trend however is not just another phase in the fashion scene. It also makes perfect business sense. Sanya Suri and Resham Karmchandani’s The Pot Plant, for instance, has grown 30 percent year on year since they launched the brand in May 2017.

They call it a craft forward brand working with Bandhani artists from Bhuj, Gujarat. Their focus according to Karmchandani is on translating indigenous craft into clothing.

Is marketing gender fluid fashion any different from general fashion? “No,” says Karmchandani.

“It is the same marketing tool. The only difference is the narrative. At Pot Plant however we do not market our clothes as gender fluid. We design it on that line. What we sell is just clothes. We do not label them. We have a style and it’s on the customers to decide whether it suits their personality and expression of who they are,” she tells Storyboard18.

Celebrities like Vidya Balan, Ranveer Singh, Babil Khan, Dia Mirza, Tisca Chopra, Taapsee Pannu, Rajkummar Rao and many others have worn The Pot Label. Inspired by the success on home grounds, the brand has now started exploring global markets. The founders have started exporting to New York and the Middle East and are also venturing into ethnic clothes with their very first wedding collection. Just in time for the great Indian wedding season.

Since, the target audience for most of the labels in the space is the millennial and Gen-Z crowd, influencer marketing and celebrity sourcing is an important channel to create buzz and recall for these brands. While a lot of paid collaborations happen in the space, organic mentions by celebrities also lead to engagement and sales.

Also read: From suits to denim to glitter: 10 incoming fashion trends for 2023

Interestingly a lot of retail brands are also jumping on to the bandwagon. Collaborations and campaigns to promote fashion beyond gender is an integral part of marketing for many.

Umashan Naidoo, head of customer and beauty at Westside says gender fluid fashion is not really about color, pattern or shape – it’s more about individuality.

“At Westside, we like to stay ahead of the curve, we embrace fashion forward thinkers and appreciate a good sense of style. During the pride month this year, we ran a campaign using our contemporary brand, NUON. We collaborated with 4 amazing queer people who styled themselves as per their whim. We didn’t dictate that they had to wear gender specific clothing, they had the opportunity to create their own style meshing up men’s and women’s fashion,” Naidoo says.

Likewise, street style is another space where fluid fashion is grabbing a lot of eyeballs. Those in the business of sneakers especially are noticing a paradigm shift in preferences of their clientele.

Abhishek Bardia, head of marketing at sneakers, streetwear and hype products marketplace SoleSearch says that the streetwear scene today is definitely more inclusive than mainstream fashion.

“Unisex clothing, breaking the colours stereotypes and fluid fashion are something the streetwear scene has had ingrained in it from day one and still continues to break barriers. Even the SoleSearch merch that we produce, is usually designed keeping in mind anyone can wear it, regardless of how they identify. This change was always brought on by the young and rebellious and now this is being carried forward by the youngest spending generation, the gen z,” Bardia says.

Accessories and makeup businesses also join the fluid crusade

Breaking gender stereotypes and pushing the unisex narrative is not restricted to clothes only. Jeweler, bags, shoes and make up have all taken to the trend of breaking gender stereotypes.

Though there is a long way to go for men to be open about using make up, Medhavi Nain, head of marketing, Anastasia Beverly Hills India, says the market is noticing visible change in that area. “Anybody interested in makeup is our client and we do not want that to be women only. While colour cosmetics are mostly bought by women in India, the sale of basic make-up goods like foundation and loose powder from the interested male community is picking up in India. Cosmetics have become an integral part of grooming even for men,” says Nain.

Some brands that cater to mostly the women clientele are now starting a line in the unisex category. It is a demand-led decision for most of these brands.

Also read: From Rihanna and Margot Robbie to Harry Styles: 10 celebrities who disrupted the codes of fashion in 2022

Sumer Gehani, the founder at SimSum Fine Jewelry says at the end of the day fluid fashion is a spectrum that lies between our typical menswear and womenswear.

Switching gears to the Indian consumer today, and their current mindset towards a non-binary jewelry line, Gehani feels women need little convincing to accept such a line. It’s the men that need more handholding and guidance along the way.

“The unisex collection we are currently working on focuses on simple designs that not only break gender stereotypes but also tap into the consumers’ personal life. The introductory idea for the collection is - You’re not wearing it to look stylish, you’re wearing it because it means something to you,” Gehani says.

According to him, building these sort of stepping stones will help the wider male audience slowly accept the concept and get comfortable and confident with wearing unisex jewelry.

Why is unisex still a niche concept?

While preconceived notions on how men should dress and what women should wear and not wear is still a huge barrier that keeps the unisex space from going all out, mass brands not taking to trend is a major roadblock in creating more acceptance for this range.

Also read: Will Gen Z's passion for DIY help them break their addiction to fast fashion?

Karmchandani explains why. “With fast fashion, the basic idea is to create demand for different segments. The more categories they create the more impulse buying happens. If they put everything in one category of unisex then it becomes difficult for them to generate demand. This is the reason unisex remains a niche category for these brands,” she says.

Global inspirations

Globally however, markets like North America, Europe, Japan and South Korea are more open to the idea of gender fluid brands. In fact, the backing of the luxury industry has added a lot of weight to the narrative. Way back in 2017, Chanel launched a gender-fluid handbag and ran a campaign with Kristen Stewart and Pharrell Williams to promote it. In 2020, Gucci started a collection called Gucci MX that, according to the luxury brand, highlighted accessories and ready-to-wear styles with an all-gender focus.

Even as brands adopt gender fluid fashion experts say it will take time for the Indian consumers to look at the category as something that is not merely eccentric but just another form of expression.

Fluid fashion is not about men wearing skirts and women sporting pant suits. It is not about gender. It is all about style and an expression of one's individuality.