Gender Free World (GFW) Clothing was founded in 2015 (part of Gender Free World Ltd) by a consortium of like-minded individuals who were seeking alternatives to ill-fitting androgynous and masculine attire that is traditionally designed for a narrow group of consumers. The highly gendered world of retail fashion disproportionately restricted access to clothing choices for the founders, who became increasingly frustrated with being forced to define gender before making purchases for everything from clothing to gifts to toys and toiletries.
Motivated to expand clothing options, Lisa Honan and Nel Margerison launched GFW’s first collection of long sleeve shirts in February 2016.
The shirts are made in the UK and the fabric is sourced from sustainable production and conforms to the ‘fair made’ standard. Their collections has since grown to include underwear, bow-ties, and coats. dapperQ spoke with Honan to get the deets on what inspires the GFW aesthetic and what we can expect next from the brand.
dapperQ: Can you tell me a bit about the history and evolution of Gender Free World? What motivated you to start the brand?
LH: The desire to make shirts came from a dissatisfaction with my own experience of trying to find shirts that I liked the look of but also fit me. I have always bought shirts from the men’s section, but as I have got bigger with age, the men’s shirts were not fitting me so well. I was still buying them, but customizing by shortening the sleeve and total body length and adding vents to accommodate my hips. After chatting with friends and acquaintances, I realized that this was a shared problem, not just mine, and I couldn’t understand why the high street was ignoring a large section of their female market, which wanted a less feminine aesthetic for their shirts.
I realized that there was a gap in the market which I could try to fill. I talked some acquaintances in to investing a bit of money so that we could research the market and produce a first run.
dapperQ: How would you describe the Gender Free World aesthetic?
LH: We have created a classic relaxed fit for our first two ranges. After the success of the Penguin shirt, we realized that our customers were crying out for more fun and eye-catching fabrics. Our winter range will fulfill this need, and we are also going to introduce an oxford shirt style with button down collars. Our designs, including shirts and bow-ties, cover the range from wardrobe staple to night-out wear.
dapperQ: What inspires your designs?
LH: Getting designs to fit bodies well was our initial inspiration and motivation. We did some customer surveys as part of the research process. These helped us think about the limitations offered by the standard fit of shirts available on the high street. From our research, we found that about 25% of women had busts which were large enough that many shirts did not fit well (accommodated by our Billie range). About 28% of women had hips which were wider than their shoulders (accommodated by our Alex range). The rest would suit a Charlie. We also got feedback regarding fabrics, colors and prints. When researching fabrics, we saw a couple that we knew we had to use, such as the Penguin print. The others we chose as a result of the feedback we received in the research stage. Additionally we like shirts and bow-ties with attention to detail so used the contrast cuff and collar look.
dapperQ: Many of our readers have problems finding masculine clothes that fit them properly. How is Gender Free World addressing this issue?
LH: That is exactly why we exist! Clothing designed for male shapes will often not fit a female form: the shoulders tend to be wider, sleeves and total shirt drop longer. We created the 3 body shape templates to fit the variations in female bodies, so that individual style choices can be combined with shirts that actually fit.
Additionally, Billie style caters for larger chests, but it does not accentuate them. And, because the shirt fits well, it can have a minimizing effect.
dapperQ: How does Gender Free World stand out from some of the other recent queer clothing collections that have launched over the last few years?
LH: I’m not sure of any other company that has 3 body shape templates. We also have 7 sizes, which adds up to a total of 21 variations per shirt. This means that one of the variations will fit you better. Our sizing goes up to a US 18 which is more than many other stores.
dapperQ: How would you describe your personal everyday style(s)?
LH: On a day to day basis I like comfortable clothes: jeans, tees, and shirts obviously. For going out, creepers, turn up jeans, smarter shirts.
dapperQ: Has it been a journey defining your own personal style? Tell me about it.
LH: As a child, I didn’t skirts and dresses but like most female children had to wear them for school. When I was able to make my own choices, the Punk movement was growing and I adopted that look. Nowadays I can be a bit eccentric in my color choices. I am a big fan of orange, and have a number of different orange coats and a brilliant striped orange and yellow blazer.
dapperQ: Who or what has most influenced your personal style?
LH:British 60’s 70’s punk. Rockabilly style.
dapperQ: Who are your fashion icons?
LH: I like flamboyant dressers even though I cannot carry off the look myself. David Bowie, etc. Classic female actors like Kathrine Hepburn wearing slacks and men’s shirts. Annie Lennox.
dapperQ: What is the one article of clothing you cannot live without?
LH: Jeans (boring sorry!)
dapperQ: What can we expect next from Gender Free World?
LH: New ranges for winter and spring 2017. Own brand nightwear, boxers. Collaborative ventures with like-minded companies.