Blue, considered stronger in the colour spectrum, will definitely match the masculine and strapping characteristics of the “not so fair sex”.
By Vaishali Dar
It is not known for sure when exactly colour of attire fell prey to gender discrimination, but the trend of dressing a girl in bright pink and a boy in sombre blue has been exceptionally long-lived.
Like all things delicate attributed to girls, pink became the stereotype for the “fairer sex”. Blue, considered stronger in the colour spectrum, will definitely match the masculine and strapping characteristics of the “not so fair sex”.
While experts maintain that the gender-colour association was formed on the basis of human biology, developmental psychologist Christia Spears Brown, in her book Parenting Beyond Pink & Blue, used science-based research to address all the issues that contemporary parents should consider — from gender-segregated birthday parties and schools to sports, sexualisation, and emotional intelligence. She empowered parents to help kids think out of the pink and blue boxes and become their authentic selves.
Consequently, conversations related to gender denotation have gradually begun to blur. Be it fashion or beauty, the burgeoning acceptance of diversity and gender fluidity promise to be the focus of many brands experimenting outside the traditional confines of ‘for him’ or ‘for her’.
Even Generation Z is ignoring the conventional values and embracing garments or skincare products sans gender-specific labels. Genderless fashion is gradually finding its footing in the mainstream. The result — more places to shop from with more labels and designers surfacing in the market. “Why to limit yourself when you can be neutral and creative at the same time?” asks designer Sahil Kochhar. Popular for his non-conformist and multifunctional approach towards design, designer Kunal Rawal focuses on customer personality rather than gender. He emphasises on educating his customers on trends and designs. “People should know what they are buying and how to use them. With this kind of insight, we have seen a change in the mindset and this has seen our numbers and sales go up,” he says. At WGSN, the world’s leading trend-forecasting company serving the fashion and creative industries, Jenni Middleton (director of beauty in London) welcomes diversity in all its forms. “It is ‘radical inclusivity’,” she says, adding, “Generation Z, in particular, will drive this trend, with social media inspiring and encouraging them to reject gender-conforming identities, and search for brands that represent and reflect their desire for diversity.”
Brands, steadfast in the process of evolution, have devised a fresh strategy for growth in order to secure their grip on the fast-changing market dynamics, consumer sensibilities and lifestyles. They have realised that innovation is the only way to cater to customers’ expectations in terms of fashion aesthetics, utility and value.
As an outdoor lifestyle brand, Woodland has both casual and formal fashion, but with an edge. The boots are unisex and can be worn on any occasion. Managing director Harkirat Singh confirms, “Our leather boots are designed for all. When we design our products, we make sure it is not put in a box in terms of design and colour. We envision to make it accessible for everyone.”
Another brand built on the principles of radical transparency and versatility is Postfold, an e-commerce portal, where the co-founder Ashish Gurnani has introduced tailored design techniques for shirts, shrugs, polo and knit tops for men and women.
Not even fashion, the trend has even spread to beauty and automobile industries. The beauty industry offers unisex services that include facial, manicure, waxing, hair spa or threading. Aashmeen Munjaal, director of Delhi-based Star Salon & Academy, has as many male clients as female when it comes to skincare. “Men as well as women know how to cleanse, tone and moisturise,” she says. Jatin Ahuja, the founder of Big Boy Toyz, refurbishes and resells pre-owned high-end luxury cars. His line of luxury merchandise has customised perfumes for a unisex consumer base. “And we have seen an increase in demand,” he says.
Many fashion and beauty brands have started to revisit their brand strategies for the year. In June last year, online retailer ASOS announced it had dropped the term ‘beauty’ on its website and marketing materials, replacing it with ‘face + body’ for greater gender inclusivity. “Brands that support fluid identity, providing a safe space for self-expression and celebrate differences do well. We also think partnerships that speak to Gen Z’s desire to support movements that matter to them do well. For example, Fluide, a makeup label for all gender expressions, identities and skin tones, believes makeup is a transformation tool and a powerful means of self-actualisation. The brand donates 5% of profits to organisations that support LGBTQ rights,” says WGSN’s Middleton.
Customisation is key
Whether it’s a fragrance, bag, or makeup, some of the brands are blazing ahead with unisex collections. As a matter of fact, how does one decide on the set design for gender-neutral. Manjula Gandhi, chief product officer at Numero Uno, says, “The ground rules for creating unisex products are to keep the preferences of the generic customer in mind and create a product that would match their preferences in terms of fit, form and aesthetics. Overall the garment should make a desirable statement and should spell individuality. For instance in AW18 (Autumn Winter), Numero Uno created a collection of gender-neutral denim trucker jackets. These jackets were high on creativity, mix of prints and hand embellishments that would appeal to anyone who is young, free thinking, bold and expressive, and is willing to experiment with her looks. The truckers were made a bit larger in size with drop shoulders in keeping with the trend of wearing oversized garments, thus allowing boys and girls to wear it their own way and make a fashion statement. These were very well received by our customers in metro cities. Our graphic tees appeal to both genders, we even sell fragrances that are unisex.”
Silhouettes are classics with Postfold’s signature subtle twists, which give customers an option to choose what they like. “Many women customers have demanded our supima products (superior staple cotton) or jackets for men in winters. It’s all about personal preferences at the end of the day,” feels Gurnani. Paul Penders, a skincare brand, stands by uncomplicated packaging, which is universal and liked by all. “This way, we are able to sell gender-neutral products that suit the taste of both men and women. Our strategy is to adhere to similar colours, prints and designs that depict our brand well to our customers,” says Sargam Dhawan, director at Paul Penders. On the contrary, Shankar Prasad, founder of Plum — a vegan beauty brand — is excited at the several growth avenues: in terms of product lines, distribution and go-to-consumer channels. He has customised products for unisex use. “Skincare needs sensory preferences. When we start with product development, we first look at the consumer needs, figure out the best product format (gel, oil, etc), the best ingredients that will do the job for us, and then add the sensory aspects. There’s a lot of consumer insight and development work that go into each product and its design, and we think the better focused the product is, higher the chances of its acceptance,” he says.
Fastrack, as a brand, became iconic because of differentiated product offering, quirky and edgy communication. It recently launched the denim watch collection with straps made of actual denim and inspired from the cult following of denim. “Be it colour choice, shape, size or design sensibilities, this watch is good for both genders. We even have a smart band Reflex 2.0 and the functionality appeals to both,” explains Ayushman Chiranewala, head of marketing at Fastrack Titan Company.
According to WGSN, Asia has taken the lead in challenging traditional perceptions of masculinity. In Korea, there are over 44,000 YouTube ‘male idol make-up’ videos mostly created by teenage boys. The sale of colour cosmetics to male teenagers increased 71% in 2017, compared to 13% in 2016, according to Korean e-commerce giant Gmarket. Euromonitor predicts that male cosmetic consumption in China will see a year-on-year growth of 13.5% in 2019, well ahead of 5.8% globally. Korean men’s make-up brands like Panacea, Laka are increasingly becoming popular, much like the European and US gender-neutral brands such as Boy de Chanel. “As a trend, more brands are making their offer all-inclusive — salons, spas and retailers will come up with products and create experiences and environments that are not conforming to a specific gender. Even packaging and advertising will increasingly present beauty products as gender-neutral,” confirms Middleton.
The trend towards gender-neutral fashion is relatively new in India though globally fashion houses like Gucci, Burberry and Calvin Klein have merged their men and women’s fashion shows over the past couple of seasons. Designers in India are also now making clothes that are more unisex. “Soon we will see a lot of change in the fashion sense in India. During the ‘Lakme Fashion Week Winter/Festive 2018’ four new designers, showcased gender fluidity. Gender defying clothing is already a trend. The oversized looks, dropped shoulders, boxy fits, long and fluid silhouettes and neutral colours that are easily adaptable can be combined with anything to create a look and this is a growing preference among boys and girls,” says Gandhi. Even Da Milano, a luxury leather accessories brand that entered the Indian market in 1989, has started to observe the change in the cultural scenario. Shivani Malik, director at Da Milano, says, “Until recently male merchandise was accepted as products that included a handful of colours like black, brown and tan. Today, though the shift is slow, we have observed the new generation embracing trends and colours that were earlier not accepted. We produce these colours in our unisex collection of computer bags, slings, stationary products like diaries, notepads, etc. Today, men are seen buying more fun colours like pink, yellow and red and similarly women are seen buying products from our men’s collection,” she adds.
Still, gender neutral is a win-win situation as there is less stress of focusing on one gender and brands have come up with some amazing trends. Singh of Woodland can see millennials break the monotony and experiment with different styles and colours. “They are more receptive to ever-changing trends in fashion and a lot of brands are betting big on this. A variety of jackets, suits and footwear taking inspiration from the international markets come in floral prints and have been adapted as unisex fashion,” he says.
With more women stepping into the biker segment, the market has increased manifold, almost doubling the data even at a time when the auto industry is experiencing a crunch. “For instance the merchandising section of Big Boy Toyz last year sold the same fragrance to about 70% men and 30% women. This shows that unisex products are in demand in the current scenario and over the years will gain more momentum,” confirms Ahuja. Recalling his experience of starting out in 2009, he says, “The ratio of women buyers/sellers for pre-owned luxury cars ranged between 3% and 4%. However, there has been a gradual increase in the segment and now the ratio stands at 17-18% of the overall ratio. Since both bikes and cars are becoming more and more gender-neutral products, the purchasing base is increasing manifold.” Even Rawal has seen a huge number of female walk-ins, who choose to customise menswear. “I promote functionality and versatility and give people the creative freedom to style and pair the outfits separately,” he says.
Gurnani sees fashion as one of the most fun, creative forms of self-expression. He says it seems rather antiquated that many brands categorise their clothes into two genders, when in reality, there is much more to gender than simply male and female. “The unisex clothing trend is a revolution in the fashion industry. It is breaking away from the stigma of clothing being binary — for men or women only. It gives one room to experiment with endless style options.
With the decriminalisation of Section 377 of the Indian Penal Code that abhorred gay sex, it is even more important for the fashion industry to be inclusive and not just restrict to how we perceive clothing.” As a designer brand, Gurnani foresees Sherpa fleece, textured panels and eco-friendly garments in the near future. Dhawan says, “With demand for extensive skincare products by men and women, the need for gender-neutral product lines are getting attention from consumers. Greater awareness and product knowledge will make consumers more informed about their product purchases.”
While the market is likely to be led by conscious consumerism, specialist/targeted skin care/grooming for various needs and international trends, Prasad foresees a quest for more natural and eco-friendly choices, exceptional sensory experiences, and brand authenticity. “We are just seeing the beginning of specialist beauty and grooming in India, and have a really long way to go,” he observes.