What a different path to take. What brought you here? What is your inspiration,” asked the presenter as I concluded my talk on gender-neutral fashion at TEDxChennai in March earlier this year. Ever since the launch of my signature fashion label, several people have enquired my route towards gender neutral clothing philosophy. People are curious to know the exact moment I decided on an agender clothing line where no styles are labelled as menswear or womenswear. In reality, there was never a one-particular-moment that I can point out and credit. It was never a one-time plunge. It happened over years, ten years probably… when I enrolled to study fashion design at NIFT New Delhi in 2008. I was just out from the monotony of school-uniform and for the first time, I had to freedom to experiment sartorially in a fashion college.
When I went shopping clothes in men’s section, they all more or less looked alike to me – graphic t-shirts, jeans, shirts, and trousers – more or less in the same cut – the same checks and stripes. It simply wasn’t “trendy” enough for a fashion college. In search of variety, for the first time I picked up clothes from women’s section – mostly jackets and outerwear and when I wore those styles to college not many even noticed that it was from women’s section.
In college, we are initially taught to make womenswear clothes. In most cases, we give away the womenswear styles we make or they simply rest in a cardboard box forever. I eventually started making my womenswear designs in such way that I could later wear those styles. My graduate design collection at NIFT New Delhi in 2013, presented as womenswear pieces on-ramp was later worn by myself for style shoots in my fashion blog. I no longer had a gender in mind when I designed clothes.
This was also the period when I studied clothing history in detail and it surprised me that men actually wore decorative robes, wigs, makeup, jewellery and other ornamentation for the most part of the clothing history before many of those styles got gender tagged post 19th century. A style perceived as feminine wasn’t necessarily feminine even 70 years ago! In fact, earliest people who wore clothes didn’t wear menswear or womenswear – they just wore clothes devoid of gender tags.
Following my graduation at college, I took personal interest to study the relationship of fashion and clothing with gender and sex and from thereon, it became easier to analyse the gendered economics and the cult of unnecessarily gendered products that target pre-existing gender notions and insecurities to make you spend on the product. Gendered clothing of today is a direct product of the sexism inherent in the past.
With all these different angles converging together over time, my approach towards apparel design became increasingly ungendered and by the time I launched my signature fashion label, it only came naturally to me to not gender any styles thereby making it the first exclusive ungendered high fashion label in India.