I’ve always been fascinated with the concept of clothing. As a young teen, I found comfort in dressing in a way that best represented who I was. From loud prints to loose silhouettes, I would constantly be bombarded with cries of “Men don’t wear that!” Why not? Do clothes have a gender? The way I see it is like this: gender is a social construct. If the clothes fit and you like them, you simply…. wear them!
Let’s begin with the obvious. A piece of fabric, textile, or a garment has no gender. This is a fact. However, for as long as fashion has existed it has worked under the assumption that gender exists in a binary form. Every aspect of fashion, be it retail, Fashion Weeks, e-commerce or other trends is confined within the social parameters we have placed on ourselves. Fast forward to today, the fashion system as we once knew it may need to be overhauled. “Consumers are ready for genderless fashion, especially Gen Z consumers [….] 56 percent of Generation Z consumers shop outside their assigned gendered area,” says Rob Smith, the founder of Phluid Project. With this in mind, how can we represent the spectrum of gender in a more inclusive and realistic way, particularly in the MENA region?
Fadi Zumot, who goes by the pronouns they/them, is an artist and designer seeking to cultivate a deeper understanding of human interaction and a wider sense of community. They launched Fadi Zumot in 2017 and their work coalesces at the intersection of art, fashion, and activism. Through their brand, they tackle cultural notions of normative expression and their emergent restrictions, and seeks new possibilities in the performances of human relations through fashion as a primary investigative tool. “Clothes have no gender, we’ve gendered them. By imposing gender on clothing, we have given each piece certain possibilities,” they say. “We should be able to wear whatever we want, explore our bodies, see the poetry and beauty of everyday clothing.
There is so much in gender non-conformity and if we allow ourselves to see it we are able to liberate ourselves from social restrictions.” How we express ourselves through clothing is how we come alive, a balance of feminine and masculine at the same time. There is so much to learn about oneself when you embrace individualism. “It is really poetic how people treat their bodies and explore them. A lot of people wear clothes to fit in, but how can we free ourselves from these restrictions?” they ask.
Freeing ourselves may come at the price of controversy, especially in the MENA region, “because it’s a discussion that involves society (rejection of its culture, norms, and traditions), and gender identification. The perfect recipe for controversy nowadays,” says Ahmad Alwohaibi. Alwohaibi is the creative director of TOO DARK TO SEE TOMORROW. 2D2C2M’s core purpose is to embody the rebellious vitality of youth subculture that perennially unpopular and probably misunderstood. Innovation, modernity, and individuality are the core tenets of the brand.
The concept of genderless fashion is not new. “I have noticed this that year a growing number of big and emerging brands presented collections that are unisex. Also, Avant-garde in Asia (Japan in particular) has always been genderless, like Comme des Garçons and the great Yohji Yamamoto. So for me, it has always been there, and it’s going to continue,” says Alwohaibi. In the MENA region, for example, a dishdasha, a long robe traditionally worn by men in the Middle East, may be perceived as a loose fitting dress in the West. So who gets to dictate how we gender our garments? And how do we overcome these restrictions?
“As designers and makers, we should be making this change, challenging these restrictions and breaking them! I’m so glad we’re having this conversation today!” says Zumot. “Giving people the choice and possibilities to choose from, to offer this exploration and appreciation is important and as designers, we should continue to do so. There is so much honesty and bravery in being your different multiple selves.”
Before I go for lunch, let me leave you with this thought. Accumulate pieces that resonate with you. Pay attention to the items that bring out a good side of you. When you feel good, you do good. If we assimilate for the purpose of fitting in, we’re truly missing out. Embrace your individualism, be expressive and always be kind.