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September 20, 2016
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September 20, 2016

Photo: iStock/Thomas Faull

Consumers increasingly view gender as fluid, and the fashion and beauty industries are reflecting this shift in mindset with products that present a neutral aesthetic. Cosmetics and fragrance brands are realizing they are ignoring a great opportunity by catering to specific genders, and are adopting a more inclusive approach.

Photo: iStock/LemonTreeImages

Photo: iStock/LemonTreeImages

“Today, most beauty products are still marketed toward either women or men, but consumers are looking for a new message that speaks directly to their sensibilities rather than their gender,” says David Arbuthnot, founder of skincare brand CONTEXT.

The runway has been a forerunner in blurring the gender lines, with high-end fashion designers abandoning gender signals altogether by featuring men in women’s clothes as of late and vice versa. Additionally, the rise of the transgender model has also pushed the boundaries of gender rethinking.

Many brands are intentionally blurring the lines in their offerings and outlets to embrace an increasingly flexible perception of sex among consumers.

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Recent polls suggest that society doesn’t believe gender is defined by biology as it once was. In fact, 60% of people between the ages of 14 and 34 think gender lines are blurred, and 81% of today’s teenagers worldwide claim “gender doesn’t define a person as much as it used to,” according to the Innovation Group and JWT.

A new report by market research firm NDP Group, “Blurred Lines: How Retail is Becoming Less Gendered, and Why You Should Care,” suggests that retailers and brand marketers should not ignore the trend for gender-neutral clothing. It cites data supporting the assertion that young shoppers increasingly see gender along a spectrum rather than in black-and-white terms, and are much less attached to male and female distinctions than their predecessors.

The conversation around identity is now key for the retail industry.


Photo: iStock/Thomas Faull

Photo: iStock/Thomas Faull

Given the visibility that celebrities like Caitlyn Jenner have brought to the issue, as well as the political firestorm that ensued earlier this year over the controversial HB2 transgender bathroom legislation in North Carolina, for example, the gender discussion has come front-and-center in the media and society at large. The notion of neutrality is increasing in importance among consumers who are seeking new definitions of identity, which is often expressed through beauty and fashion, in particular. As a result, non-gender-specific brands are reporting double-digit growth in a challenging market, according to NPD Group.


A Wall Street Journal report looks at fit in gender-neutral fashion. Click to see video.

As noted, the global mindset is shifting toward a fluid outlook on gender that rejects traditional male-female categorizations, which is being manifested most notably across the retail, fashion, and beauty categories. Here are a few examples:

  • Retail Gets a Makeover. Perhaps the most notable case in the genderless retail trend is the announcement by Target last year to remove gender labels from toys and bedding. An official Target company statement notes, “Over the past year, guests have raised important questions about a handful of signs in our stores that offer product suggestions based on gender. In some cases, like apparel, where there are fit and sizing differences, it makes sense. In others, it may not.” Consequently, Target no longer suggests boys’ or girls’ products in the bedding area, and references to gender—including the use of pink, blue, yellow, or green paper on the back walls of its shelves—are being removed in the toy aisles.

British department store Selfridges experimented with a gender-free popup store, aptly named Agender, according to Quartz. NDP also notes that American Apparel has been testing the waters of gender neutrality for years with its Unisex Tri-Blend Short Sleeve V-Necks, for example. Some brands now feature genderless clothing sections online.

  • Closing the Gap on the Runway. According to NPD’s report, Marc Jacobs, Rag & Bone, and Giorgio Armani are creating clothing lines tailored to people identifying as any gender, and Gucci recently launched a menswear line featuring delicate lace and slouchy bows and displayed by both sexes on the runway. Similarly, Miuccia Prada’s 2015 Spring Menswear collection seemed to fit models of both genders equally well.
  • Skin is Skin. New genderless strategies on skincare are built on the premise that men and women have chemically identical skin, so products should be formulated for end results rather than targeted to a specific gender. Based on this principle, former Dior and Gucci executive David Arbuthnot launched CONTEXT, a New York-based skincare brand catering to both genders with products sold in simple black and white packaging. The brand touts natural ingredients with antioxidant properties, such as witch hazel, manuka honey and green tea, and their universal benefits, such as oil control, brightening and protection.
  • Enhanced Living. Cosmetics brand MAKE’suniversal Naxos line is a gender-neutral collection that includes a primer, eyelash and eyebrow gel, and lip and cheek color stick housed inside minimal, monochrome packaging. Multifunctional formulations, such as an all-in-one lip oil and remover, extend the flexible ethos.
  • Scent of a … Calvin Klein dominated the unisex scent market in the 1990s with its CKOne perfume. The marketing behind the brand’s new CK2 fragrance relies on a more heterogeneous approach. Likewise, for Chanel’s gender-fluid fragrance Boy, perfumer Olivier Polge used a variety of notes to create a fragrance aimed at men that can also be worn by women.

While the tendency may be to cast as wide a net as possible in this genderless age, brands would be wise to carefully consider the following principles and strategies for capitalizing on the Neutral Beauty trend:

  1. Products not tied to gender let consumers decide whether and how to use them.
  2. Beyond an inoffensive unisex approach, neutral cosmetics reject the notion of gender categorization entirely for ingredients, design, and marketing.
  3. If emerging consumers don’t consider their gender to be an issue affecting their product choices, consider focusing your brand more keenly on issues and results.
  4. Injecting personality into neutral branding is about obliterating previous gender constraints.
  5. Being gender-neutral also increases the broad appeal of your brand.


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