We’ve come a long way when it comes to recognizing that gender isn’t binary and that maybe, in fact, it doesn’t matter what clothing section you want to shop in. Nonetheless, most stores are still very binary-oriented, with designated “men’s” and “women’s” clothing sections still the norm. That binary is especially reinforced in the dressing room, where people might be told to go to “their line” — an embarrassing and frustrating experiencing.
This is where The Phluid Project comes in. The Phluid Project is a new Manhattan-based store that’s the first gender-free store of its kind. It’s a blend of retail and community space, where events will be held to generate conversations around identity and gender. Upcoming events include a talk on Tuesday, March 27, with Cory Wade (who COOLS spoke with recently) and Rain Dove, two gender non-conforming artists. On March 29, diversity and inclusion coach Aaron Rose will speak about gender, sexuality and identity.
The Phluid Project was founded by Rob Smith, who’s worked in retail for 30 years for mainstream brands like Macy’s and Victoria’s Secret. Smith told i-D, “I felt like I needed a more purposeful reason for living than just grinding away for corporate America. [Phluid] allows a space for young people to be free and have a voice in a real tangible space. As a young person I would have really wanted this space for myself.”
The NoHo store is split up by aesthetic instead of gender, with reasonably priced brands like Fila, Levi’s, Dr. Martens, Superga, Taschen, and Gypsy Sport rounding out the selection. These brands are stocked alongside The Phluid Project’s in-house label of graphic t-shirts with positive statements like “One World” and “Be Yourself”. One of the great things about The Phluid Project is that they’re also affordable. A lot of gender-free designer labels tend to be around the price point of $500 and higher, which Smith told i-D, isn’t necessarily accessible for the young people who might be shopping at Phluid.
Phluid has the potential to redefine what it means to be a gender-free space — a gender-free retail space — in a major way. By stocking mainstream brands that are recognizable, but this time removing the “men’s” or “women’s” labels that tend to be slapped on clothing, it somehow highlights the beauty of what Phluid is doing even more. And the space’s social mission has never been more needed. Among a few tenets of the store’s social code are these:
“We believe in free speech without discrimination. We make room for everyone at the Phluid Project. We ask that you enter our space with an open heart because we are all stronger together.”