Once considered risqué, gender-blurring fashion is now de rigueur on runways and red carpets. From Alessandro Michele’s directorial debut at Gucci in 2015, where both male and female models stomped down the runway wearing pussy-bow blouses and tailored trousers, to Jaden Smith rocking a skirt in an ad campaign for Louis Vuitton’s Spring Summer 2016 collection, in just a few short years breaking down the gender binary has become an expected part of what designers do. And the trend is trickling down to the mainstream, with brands like Simons and Zara releasing unisex capsule collections for the everyday consumer.
But in defining genderless fashion, it seems designers have created a narrow vision of what androgeny looks like. It’s usually a white, lanky model with both feminine and masculine features draped in oversized, colourless garments…over and over again.
When it comes to racial, gender and body diversity, the unisex fashion market it still lacking. But a handful of up-and-coming Canadian labels are here to change that—and we are here for it! Read on for four homegrown fashion brands that are challenging modern definitions of what gender blurring looks like.
Broke & Living
As the all-Black female design team behind the buzzy online brand Broke & Living, Charlene Akuamoah, Meghan Prosper and Nicole Simmons are pushing boundaries through their edgy, genderless clothing, while also diversifying the industry behind the scenes.
“It’s very rare to see women of colour—or three Black women—helming a clothing brand,” says Akuamoah, explaining that she and her colleagues are constantly having to carve out their own space in the fashion industry.
“We’re the last people in the room that anyone would expect to be designers,” adds Prosper. “But I feel like it’s more inspiring than anything.”
Akuamoah, Prosper Simmons met in college when they were all working as stylists part-time while completing their fashion management and journalism degrees. They began creating accessories together and writing about fashion, music and culture on their blog. The three friends were all in Prosper’s mom’s basement one day when they decided to start a genderless clothing brand, calling it “an organic next step” in their creative process.
“We often shop in the men’s department, so it’s just natural to us,” says Simmons, “and that’s the way clothing should be.”
The trio wanted to create clothing for themselves, but also for people of all genders, body types and races. For example, they recently released a traditionally feminine mesh dress, which they styled in their campaign imagery on both men and women to show how versatile it is.
“We’re trying to push the boundaries when it comes to genderless clothing” says Simmons. “It’s easy to just keep everything uniform and create boxy items that fit both men and women.”
Andrew Coimbra is *over* gendered fashion.
“It’s all just bullshit anyways, like who cares? If I want to put on a pink dress, I’m going to put on a pink dress,” says the acclaimed designer, who has fun playing with traditional notions of gender through his clothing.
“I love the idea of designing something that people can bring into their lives and make work for them,” he says. He started off designing menswear before making the transition to genderless fashion after he saw stylists putting his pieces on female models.
Coimbra says now he likes to style female models in his more masculine pieces and male models in his more feminine pieces “to show how flexible those garments can be.”
“Women have had that flexibility because it’s easier to feminize masculine things than it is to put a masculine twist on feminine things,” Coimbra says, arguing it’s time that men have the freedom to blur gender lines, too.
The brand is currently based in Toronto but the designer is looking to expand New York, Paris and beyond.
“I think [my brand] is diversifying unisex fashion specifically because I don’t approach it as diversifying unisex fashion,” he says. “It’s not necessarily about being genderless or gender-specific—it’s about accessing a garment that you feel attached to and making it into the DNA of your style.”
Muttonhead is one of the only unisex brands in Canada taking genderless fashion from the runway to the streets.
“The current market for casual unisex clothing isn’t very big,” says Meg Sinclair, head of design and manufacturing for the brand. “Many unisex brands offer very sculptural and artistic pieces, but there aren’t many options for those looking for a classic, casual, everyday wardrobe.”
The Toronto-based company is known for super comfy T-shirts, hoodies and hats adorned with Canadian imagery (think: evergreen trees, mountains and maple leaves) that are meant for summer camping trips and cozy nights in.
Sinclair and her sister Mel co-own the brand and work out of their office in the Roncesvalles neighbourhood. They sell a carefully curated collection of Canadian-made pieces from both their brand and other local designers.
“Unisex to us is gender neutrality. Everything we make is for everyone, regardless of how they identify,” says Sinclair. “We want those people looking for gender neutral clothing to be able to find it, and feel confident in supporting a company that shares their values of inclusivity.”
Sinclair and the design team are currently working on samples for their upcoming Spring 2019 collection, plus their soon-to-be-released Fall 2018 line, which focuses on fleece fabrics with reversible, weather-proof construction.
“We take classic pieces and fits, and alter them to work on an array of different body types. Nothing we make is overly masculine or feminine—everything is made so they wearer feels comfortable and confident.”
Frank And Oak
The much-loved Montreal-based company launched the third generation of their And* collection in June to celebrate the start of Pride. The casual unisex line consists of a t-shirt and tank top in grey and white with the word “And” written inside a rainbow patch.
“As a brand, we believe in embracing our differences and celebrating what makes each of us unique,” says Ethan Song, founder and CEO of Frank And Oak. “As the name And* suggests, we wanted to encourage people to say ‘and’ instead of ‘or’.”
With each purchase of the Pride And* collection, Frank And Oak will donate $5 to Montreal Pride, so they can continue to be “a beacon of hope for people around the world who continue to battle injustice,” according to the Frank And Oak website.
“It’s about a larger message and conversation surrounding inclusion and celebrating the LGBTQ community,” says Song. “We wanted to make the collection gender-neutral, or ‘gender inclusive’ as we like to say, so that everyone could identify with it.”
Even though Frank And Oak typically sells men’s and women’s clothes separately, the brand is planning to continue exploring more genderless pieces in the future.
“We are passionate about telling bigger stories through fashion, and gender-neutral styles are an interesting way to do that, as equality, diversity and inclusion are important to all of us,” says Song.