A Project for Phluidity

By Charlotte Hurd, on 13th July 2018

In a series of posts we consider buzzwords ‘inclusivity’ and ‘diversity’ and how they are affecting todays consumer 

Rob Smith, the fashion executive best known for his work with brands like American Apparel and Victoria’s Secret has recently decided to leave his successful career behind to create a retail space where gender does not matter. With the opening of Phluid Project, he questions the traditional boundaries of retail and retail design presenting the consumer with a genderless shopping experience.

And with current buzzwords like ‘diversity’ and ‘inclusivity’ increasingly becoming a critical part of the social lexicon we consider how the changing attitudes towards age, gender and disability will affect the retail of our future and what inclusivity really means to the consumer.

With both the Millennial and Gen Z customer expecting to be treated as individuals with personalised experiences, inclusivity is an important factor facing the retail climate. Creating a space which feels entirely inclusive means that brands, agencies and clients will need to re-consider design with specialisms or specific requirements in mind.

As activism continues to break down gender binaries in fashion, retailers and design should follow suit. Genderless fashion which has origins in children’s clothing has begun to permeate both high-street and designer fashion alike.

East London concept store, Browns East is leading the way by adopting a fluid and expressive store layout. Clothing is merchandised by colour and trend story and not by gender. And over in the US, newly opened Phluid Project is less about clothes – and more about creating an inclusive retail experience for gender-nonconforming and genderfluid customers.

When it comes to inclusivity big global brands and retailers have so much influence and resource at their disposal, they wield a lot of power in being able to change the conversation around inclusivity gender and also disability.

As well as tackling gender norms, there is a distinct priority for researching and developing new products, services and communications which genuinely serve the disabled community. This is not about simply paying lip service but about making a conscious commitment to invest and improve.

In April 2018, for example the NBA redesigned its NYC store to be more inclusive for people with sensory issues. All employees underwent specific training to be on the lookout for signs that someone has specific needs.

American Eagle Outfitters are also trialling technology which helps those with disabilities. They have tested a VR app in their Pittsburgh store which helps people with mobility challenges to experience the store from home. The app uses VR to guide the customer through the shop where they can communicate with store staff from home.

In the fashion world both Izzy Camilleri and Tommy Hilfiger are recognising the need for adaptive clothing for those with disabilities who love fashion. Gillette have also taken note of their consumer, releasing their first razor which has been designed specifically for assisted shaving.

The transformative potential of such innovative products and technology has the power to revolutionise the way that customers who have a disability of any kind view retail.

Savvy brands will become more attuned to tailoring services beyond mainstream requirements, making effort to explore and respond to a variety of human needs. With fads like VR and other tech being used once for big effect in-store to create buzz it is good to see that brands are beginning to use technology as something to tangibly benefit people and not just to drive footfall.

To introduce diversity and inclusion change must be carried out throughout an entire organisation. As consumers demand transparency from every aspect of the brands they shop with diversity must form the core of the business from HR and procurement to the products they sell and the retail environment in which they are sold.

These claims of diversity should also feel relevant and make sense to the brands that are making them. Brands should not make giant leaps or gestures which feel unnatural to the consumer.

Ultimately, if a shopper can finally feel that a brand understands and fully represents them and that their offer suits a set of very specific requirements then the brand is taking a huge step-forwards.

As an agency, we understand shifting consumer mindsets and how brands are fluxing their activity in light of this. To really resonate with consumers these changes should be more than skin deep. We can help to move your brand forwards providing credible suggestions which feel a central part of your organisation.

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