Breaking Barriers

16 May 2016 / 16:23 H.

FOR the longest time, gender was the focal point in fashion.
We have fashion brands rolling out niche collections, clothing stores adopting gender-specific layout, and separate men and women fashion shows.
Regardless of the reason behind these decisions, gender binary clothing has been the norm and, in large part, still is.
However, there has been a paradigm shift recently. Along with the rise of the gender fluid movement, the fashion industry has had a social awakening of sort when it embraced the unisex appeal.
To welcome the future of genderless shopping, London department store Selfridges launched Agender last year.
It is a pop-up concept space where the items' colour, fit and style take precedence over gender, and where genderless mannequins were utilised.
Fashion label Zara popularised this movement too when it introduced its unisex clothing line, Ungendered.
Meanwhile, Gucci had transgender model Hari Nef strut down its runway for its Autumn/Winter 2016 menswear show at Milan Fashion Week.
The high-end brand also announced that it will merge its men and women fashion shows by presenting its first gender-fluid show in 2017.
And these are just a few examples of how the fashion industry is espousing genderless fashion. In fact, these actions have inspired similar reaction worldwide, including Malaysia
A couple walked into a quaint fashion boutique, and immediately browsed through the collection available. Yet, instead of looking at separate selections, both man and woman were looking at the same item before they each took said clothing into the fitting rooms.
What stood out in this incident is that they weren't browsing matching couple outfits. No, what they were interested in was the Him & Her series.
Designers Ana Abu and Aimi Ismail developed this new unisex collection for local brand, Anaabu, due to the increased "demand in menswear clothing and the need to provide genderneutral, comfortable, functional, and versatile outfits".
"Before this, our customers were mainly women, and whenever they shop here, their partners constantly ask us for a menswear collection.
These requests got us thinking, and we decided that rather than a menswear collection, we want to produce a unisex line," disclosed Ana, who is also the brand's founder.
Him & Her offers basic pieces such as shirt, parka, kimono, loose and tapered pants, as well as culottes and more.
It has 14 designs to create seven looks, although mixing and matching is highly possible due to the adaptability of each piece.
According to the two creators, their unisex collection is one where the clothes are neither effeminate nor manly.
This series, which sounds simpler than it really is, took six months to complete.
"Coming up with clothes that are neutral was extremely challenging. We changed our designs countless times. Since Anaabu only did womens wear before this, we really had to do our research and market survey properly.
We kept asking others for their feedback too," said Ana.
Aimi concurred that catering to both sets of consumers was demanding.
"Learning how to design wearable clothes is not easy, because sometimes we want to make things that may not be practical, and considering it's a unisex collection, it's hard to find that delicate balance."
Thus, it brings forth the question of how the issue of sizing was dealt with.
"The added advantage of having loose fitting clothes is that we don't have to worry too much about sizing. Our solution,nonetheless, is to equate and list out the sizing for both genders.
For us, women's size 'S' is the same as men's size 'XS', and we'll list them out on the label, so it's easier for customers to identify," answered Ana.
The gender-neutral trend may have making waves recently, but it is not exactly a groundbreaking phenomenon for those who have been wearing the opposite gender's clothing for a long time.
Gillian Hung, president of Malaysian Official Designers' Association (MODA), is one such person.
"I have been regularly buying shirts and pants from the men's section because of their fitting. This has been going on for a long time already, and I know many others who are doing the same," she said.
Even then, gender-fluid fashion is still a positive move as it provides people with the platform to be themselves.
"I think it's good because people are slowly opening up to the idea that we can wear anything we want. Before this, we might get labelled for dressing a certain way, but this is starting to change," opined Aimi.
Anna agreed as much, "It's also one way of sustainable designing because both men and women can wear it, so it's more viable in the long run."
The enthusiastic response to Him & Her shows that people do accept the agender style.
Anaabu has received orders from Singapore, Taiwan and other countries,
"The older generation might have a problem with it because they think it's wrong if one doesn't dress according to their gender. This is why our collection is neutral and we are using this as a platform to educate people," explained Ana.
A fashion connoisseur, Hung too believes that fashion is all about personal taste for there is no good or bad, only what suits you.
Therefore, she expects this gender-neutral trend to be evergreen.
"It's similar to when Marlene Dietrich first wore pants. It was uncommon then and she was scrutinised, but the public eventually accepted it. Once there's a start, people will follow suit. Soon, it'll become the norm." Likewise, Ana is counting on this trend to be timeless – seeing as it's more of a daily wear, instead of something that will run out of style.
"We've seen many trends slowly fade away, but this one is different. Regardless of gender, it can be worn by just about anyone.It's more or less like a basic minimalist collection, but with an added statement.
Hopefully, it will be everlasting," she said.
As it is in life, fashion is always evolving and thus trends come and go.
Whether the gender fluid movement will continue to flourish in this industry remains to be seen,but at least it has created a path for people to express themselves. This is definitely a cause to rejoice!

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