Finland prides itself on being remarkably progressive when it comes to gender equality. It routinely scores among the highest countries when it comes to economic equality between men and women, and tops charts for countries that have the highest number of women serving in parliament.
Inside Stockmann, located in Helsinki, there’s a section called “One Way.
“Our aim is to inspire our customers to forget the rules and shop unbiasedly,” Stockmann chief operating officer Anna Salmi told the Australian site SheSociety.
But it’s still not clear whether it’s a passing moment or will spell a lasting shift in how we dress.
“From clothing to footwear to technology, forward-thinking companies are enacting a less binary vision of how we shop, dress, and live — in response to an emerging consumer need,” NPD wrote. “Half of [millennials] believe gender exists on a spectrum and shouldn’t be limited to male and female.
So retailers and manufacturers with their eyes on this most valued of consumer demographics would be wise to start thinking of shoppers as more complex and varied. They’re more than just male or female.
Dubbed the “great gender blur” by the New York Times, there’s been a rise of androgynous fashion. Brands like Alexander Wang, HM, Zara, Marc Jacobs, Burberry, Tom Ford, and Gucci have made androgynous collections, and in 2016, Jaden Smith appeared in a Louis Vuitton womenswear campaign wearing a skirt (sparking some outraged headlines).
In 2017, John Lewis, a chain of department stores across England, Wales, and Scotland, combined the kids’ clothes inside its boys and girls sections, citing the desire to do away with gender stereotypes. Earlier this spring, the gender-neutral fashion brand Phluid Project opened its store in New York City.
While gender fluidity has attracted positive press for fashion companies, it’s certainly not the norm. The industry is still notoriously rigid when it comes to gender expectations; it still relies on society’s sexualization of women, as well as the promotion of the patriarchal definition of femininity.
Agender collections from important designers and big stores have largely been just that — one-off collections.
When there’s money on the table, it can be difficult to tell whether brands are authentically interested in executing change and recognizing the fluidity of gender expression, or if it’s all just another clever marketing campaign.
Helsinki’s Stockmann appears to be going all in on the androgynous approach.
The department store is hosting ongoing discussions about “unisex thinking,” according to its website, and the change is purported to be a permanent one. Still, this is a store that prides itself on gimmick marketing; six months ago, it changed its name to Stockwomann for a campaign in honor of International Women’s Day.
While it’s a step in the right direction, genderless shopping sections certainly don’t solve everything. Gender-neutral clothing currently on the market often doesn’t cater to shoppers who aren’t thin, or those who can’t afford the price tags of brands like Acne or Calvin Klein.
And it’s not a two-way street when it comes to clothing coded as “masculine” versus “feminine” — as one trans Auckland University sociology lecturer, Ciara Cremin, told the New Zealand website Stuff about Finland’s latest move, “although shops that had gender neutral sections were ‘welcome,’ it was not the shops that were the problem, but an aversion amongst men towards anything feminine.”