Fashion Rule Breakers

'Gender-Free' Clothing Store Empowers People To Express Their Identity Through Fashion

The Phluid Project is the first gender-neutral clothing store in NYC.

Fashion Rule Breakers is an original A Plus Lifestyle series: Each month, we profile a fashion designer, model, organization, or icon who is a fashion rule breaker — someone who acts outside mainstream industry standards to make a positive difference.

Walk into any fashion retailer and you'll see clearly marked sections for boys and girls or men and women. The way most apparel is traditionally marketed makes it clear that a piece of clothing is meant for one gender or the other. Fashion is supposed to be a way to express yourself, but branding can make it hard to feel comfortable shopping for the things you want. 

Enter The Phluid Project, a gender-free retail space that opened its doors in New York City last month. Located in a 3,000-square-foot space in NoHo, there's no gender-specific labels in sight. Clothes are displayed on custom-built gender neutral mannequins and fitting rooms are open to all. Customers can feel at ease trying on and shopping for anything in The Phluid Project without feeling judged. 

"Traditional retail spaces fail to encourage self-expression in a judgment-free environment," founder Rob Smith told A Plus. "Silhouettes like skirts and dresses are displayed in the women's section, alienating non-conforming individuals. At Phluid, we wish to push traditional boundaries, break the binary, and embrace all forms of self-expression in a loving and safe environment." 

The Phluid Project aims to redefine the way people think about gender and fashion. It's a safe space for the LGBTQ+ community, but also a place for anyone to feel empowered to explore and embrace their self-expression. 

"There is a paradigm shift that is currently happening in our society. Today's young people are leaving behind the traditional roles and structures that constrained generations prior. They are choosing to live a freer and more self-expressive life," Smith said. "I am taken and inspired by their intuitive understanding of identity and wanted to create a safe space to nurture and encourage individuality." 

Throughout their aisles, customers will see tons of T-shirts, crop tops, pants, leggings, overalls, jumpsuits, dresses, and all kinds of accessories. The store carries apparel from brands such as Levi's, Champion, Soulland, Fila, Gypsy Sport, Skingraft, and more, as well as its own in-house brand. Smith has made an effort to carry women-owned brands as well as brands that donate a portion of their sales to nonprofits. 

The Phluid Project has also developed a unique sizing structure. Their clothing currently comes in sizes 0 to 4 where 0 is regarded as an XS and 4 as an XL. "We function under a numerical sizing structure rather than lettered as we believe the latter contributes to body shaming. This is our way to remedy this rampant issue in the fashion and retail space," Smith said. "We will expand to 00 and 5-6 this summer."

In addition to a retail space, The Phluid Project is also a cafe and community center. They host events in-store such as casual community-driven talks and workshops. They've held a patch-making class, a talk on fashion and waste, and a discussion with Brian Anderson, the first out gay professional skateboarder, to name a few. The community center is also available for anyone to book for meetings of all kinds, free of charge, for up to one hour

To connect with the community even further, they're giving artists an opportunity to showcase their work. Last week, The Pluid Project announced a Graphic T-shirt competition as well as a contest to get an entire collection manufactured, featured in-store, and spotlighted during New York Fashion Week

"In many ways, I have created a retail space and community center I wish I had access to as a young person," Smith said. When people enter The Pluid Project's doors, he hopes they feel a sense of community and recognize that they're not alone. "On a broader scale, beyond the LGBTQIA community, I hope to offer insight, influence, and understanding of gender fluidity, identity, expression, and sexuality." 

Smith hopes The Pluid Project will make a positive impact on the fashion world and inspire more people to shake up the industry for the better. 

"I hope designers will realize the appetite for gender-free clothing and create collections targeting the gender-fluid community," he said. "Be conscious of people's needs and open-minded to change in an industry which has functioned in a secular manner for so long, We are at the forefront of a revolutionary movement and are stronger in numbers." 

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