In a new 39-piece Nordic capsule collection, the online retail platform Zalando has teamed up with contemporary brands Han Kjøbenhavn, Wood Wood, Makia, and others to drop gender-free outerwear, knitwear, crop tops, shorts, blazers and dresses.
We asked Elina Lappalainen and Aleksi Helisten, lead designers at Makia, Jannik Wikkelsø Davidsen, founder and creative director of Han Kjøbenhavn, and Mikkel Kristensen, PR and communications manager at Wood Wood to share the thought process behind their brands’ vision of designing gender-free clothing.
You would be shocked to see ”men” and ”women” sections on mainstream design, mobility, tech, or travel websites. What makes fashion lack behind?
Elina Lappalainen & Aleksi Helisten: For most fields of commerce, yes I would be shocked. Old patterns of behaviour change slowly. Obviously, fashion has more challenges in this area of retail due to various body types and fit measurements. Naturally, loose or relaxed-fitting garments are more adaptable to genderless fashion than tailored fits.
Jannik Wikkelsø Davidsen: It is a good point. It is changing though more and more. The time when girls wore skirts and boys wore pants is really changing and more and more designers are shifting towards gender fluidity in fashion. I think the reason why fashion lack behind some other industries from a product point of view is the difficulty in body shapes, sizes, and fits when it comes to the difference in bodies. The way of making and talking about clothes is changing.
Mikkel Kristensen: Although we see fashion as a progressive entity, it’s still constructed around traditional practices and seasons. Altering long-standing structures is an enduring process, but we’re in process, and we’re continuously working towards facilitating a more unrestricted space.
Except for the occasional partner hoodie and borrowed clothes, do you purchase any clothing specifically made for the opposite gender to yours?
Mikkel Kristensen: When it comes to accessories, I never consider the standardised gender sections. The perception is oftentimes that a product comes with a pre-determined look – this refers to all categories, really – but in reality, this isn’t the case: every product has a different expression depending on the wearer.
Elina Lappalainen & Aleksi Helisten: Yes. This spring I purchased a women’s spring overshirt because I liked the fit and style. During winter I wore a longer women’s oversized puffy coat because I like the silhouette and the protection it gives me against the elements of nature here up North. Also, fluffy oversized beanies from women’s collections have appeared steadily on my head.
What is your brand’s view of genderless clothing?
Jannik Wikkelsø Davidsen: For us, it is not only about genderless clothing. It is about empowering the human body no matter who you are or what you are. It’s about creating innovative and spectacular designs that eliminate distance and becomes emotionally inclusive to people. And thereby it is a commitment to give those who wear our clothes the space to find themselves and a recognition of the expressive need for individuality.
It is important to highlight this field because it is a fundamental thing that needs to change, and we all have a responsibility to contribute where we can here. In Han Kjøbenhavn one of our three strategic focus areas within the UN Sustainability Goals is Gender Equality (no. 5).
Elina Lappalainen & Aleksi Helisten: I feel like it yields the utmost freedom and leaves room for the bearer to express their own personality. As a whole it is a bigger part of going forward with equality in the world, breaking free from stereotypes and prejudice. Makia has strived for democratic designs since our first collection. The youth of today have grown up in a different world than it was just twenty years ago. This is a positive thing and we want to be aboard the train of solidarity, breaking down old dusty barriers.
Mikkel Kristensen: We aspire to work more intuitively, and it is a natural progression for us to work with this collection that is not restricted by the ‘normative’ gender perceptions. WOOD WOOD is community-driven, and foremost, we aim to promote creativity and expressiveness.
From a future perspective, how will brands need to progress to stay relevant within genderless fashion?
Mikkel Kristensen: Brands will need to re-think previous processes, seasons, and separate collections and presentations.
Jannik Wikkelsø Davidsen: There are fundamental rights in play here. Equality and genuine respect for any individual is not a new thing. I think innovation and uncompromising creativity that open conversations, minds, and perspectives will pave the way here.
Joni Malmi: Focus less on gender categories, and more on genderless fits, measurements and functionality. Comfortable well-designed clothing rather than what is based on gender.