Fashion retailers are masters at riding the Zeitgeist. So with interest in gender fluidity mushrooming across the globe, it’s no surprise that innovative retailers are reaching out to a growing band of consumers who like their jeans, jackets, tops and trainers to be gender neutral.
Statistics reveal that 56% of Generation Z already shop outside of their specific gender – a demographic that will represent 40% of consumers by 2020 – demonstrating a keen demand for gender-neutral styles. Smart retailers who want to cater for this audience, will be wise to also ensure their complete omnichannel offer, including marketing communications, customer view, and in-store services, will be as perfectly well tailored for these specific needs as the carefully designed apparel and footwear products appearing on the racks.
Personalisation that spans the channels has long been the aim of the apparel retail sector, and the gender fluid trend provides an opportunity for brands to show how in touch they are with the latest trends, as well as individual needs and preferences.
Gender neutral style in NYC
New York is normally ahead of the curve. The Phluid Project’s retail concept certainly embodies the spirit of the age, summed up with its marketing strapline ‘Whoever you are, however you identify in our world’. Its founding philosophy is all about fighting against alienation and conformity, and letting customers embrace their authentic selves.
The Phliud Project’s collection at the Broadway store in trendy NoHo, NYC aims to make gender-fluid fashion exciting and accessible. At NRF Retail’s Big Show this January, founder Rob Smith described the online and off-line business as “an open house for new designers and a platform for them to share their latest gender-neutral design concepts”.
As well as a fashion outlet, the store also acts a community hub, with panel style events around sexual positivity and transgender-based discussions, aiming to address previously ‘taboo’ topics, which run alongside The Phluid Foundation’s vlog, regular podcasts on LGBT issues, and health and wellness resources.
There are already over 24k Instagram followers, confirming that a vast and active community are very much engaged with the product, the brand and its over-arching philosophy.
Breaking the binary model
This trend is gaining momentum in Europe too. Zara’s Ungendered range launched in 2016 showing the retailer had “taken a step towards breaking the current binary model that shapes the fashion industry and put the focus on style-conscious consumers regardless of their sex,” according to a report by BrandHouse.
In January 2019, H&M launched its unisex collection, in collaboration with cult Swedish brand, Eytys, in a bid to introduce its customers to the concept, and claim H&M’s place at the forefront of this style movement.
“With this collaboration, we hope to introduce the H&M customer to our design philosophy of robust and fuss-free design where function triumphs over embellishment, and styles span genders,” H&M acting head of menswear design Ross Lydon said. “It’s the Eytys idea of a ‘generic’ look, one that is meant to elevate integrity, attitude and confidence.”
Unique customers like the personal touch
Getting the offer right – and pleasing all shoppers and influencers – may not be easy, but what’s a given is that unisex, or gender fluid fashion is an important consumer trend in 2019 that retailers need to consider. With personal preference so important in the consumer mind set today, retailers that can offer personalised marketing and instore service that chime with the ‘celebration of self’, will put themselves at a distinct advantage.
Having the right omnichannel technology in place has never been more important in this era of individualism. Connected commerce can underpin a retailer’s strategy to build a loyal customer base, based on unique customer needs and interests. If store associates are equipped with digital tools that give access to a shopper’s past preferences and purchase history, in-store assistance can be greatly enhanced. The skills of clienteling – digital personalisation of the store experience – can be put to work to know what makes individual customers tick, and how to engage with them on a meaningful level.
Retailers that have achieved the holy grail of the 360° customer view – in-store, online, at contact centres – are those that have invested in unified commerce technology as the central enabler, and enlisted expert help to gather, integrate and align the necessary data sets to allow visibility, and put that to everyday use.
As many brands are learning, those that digitise their stores and equip their sales associates with innovative, digital and mobile tools, are better positioned to offer full omnichannel services, and make sales-driving use of this single customer view. They can impress and delight segmented customer groups with topical promotions, tailored brand news and events, and give reassurance that, as The Phluid Project’s website so neatly puts it, ‘We’re here for you’.
By Samir Belkhayat, UK director for Cegid