The phrase “gender nonconformity” is rippling through our culture and affecting every industry. This isn’t just a trend; it’s a fundamental shift in how society thinks about gender. From trans-identified models to androgynous fashion, we are entering a new era.
Gender nonconformity is a concept where individuals do not identify within the traditional gender binary of male and female: they may identify as trans, genderfluid, queer or avoid boxes entirely. In short, millennia-old gender norms are being broken.
This is especially true when it comes to Gen Z. Vice reported that “56 percent of 13-to-20-year-olds said that they knew someone who went by gender-neutral pronouns such as ‘they,’ ‘them,’ or ‘ze’” and “over a third of Gen Z respondents also strongly agreed that gender did not define a person as much as it used to.” In other words, gender nonconformity is not the exception, it’s the new normal. In years to come, there will likely be different expectations of how brands present themselves and embrace gender fluidity.
Ushering in the next generation, many industries have abandoned pink and blue color coding and classic signals for gender. Even household brands like Ikea sell products that are unisex. In the world of kids’ products, there are an increasing number of gender-neutral educational and apparel brands emerging.
H&M was one of several mass fashion retailers to embrace what they call “unisex,” with a gender-neutral collaboration with Eytys. And smaller brands have more directly addressed the demand for nonbinary shopping options as well.
Beauty has also shifted in its perspective. Chanel launched Boy Chanel, which signaled to the beauty industry that makeup is no longer just for women. Other gender nonbinary makeup brands like Fluide feature nonbinary models, product lines for any gender and even donate a portion of sales to LGBTQ nonprofits. It’s now almost as common to see male-identified beauty influencers as their female counterparts.
Representation is also key in spreading ideas and embracing societal change. In the last few years, trailblazers like Lena Waithe have increased the visibility of androgyny in mainstream media. Not only have trans models like Juliana Huxtable, Andreja Pejic, Carmen Carrera and Laith Ashley shaped the landscape of high fashion, but the FX television show Pose, a show about the ballroom scene and transgender community in the 1980s, was nominated for two Golden Globe awards. The show by Ryan Murphy brought trans identity to America’s living room and created breakout stars like Indya Moore, who now leads the conversation on the national stage.
So, what should brands do or not do with this wave of change?
Don’t try this tomorrow
If your brand has never thought about this concept before, don’t suddenly create a campaign to capitalize on the movement. Again, it’s not a trend, and any inauthentic marketing tactics will be called out by the community.
Expand through collaboration
Instead of trying to do this all yourself, bring in partners and work with other brands that already have the knowledge. This can be another way to give back to the community and support the hard work of others.
Hire people from the community and make a commitment
Whether you are a mass retailer or a startup, if you are interested in breaking down gender, make sure you have educated people on your team or hire an expert. If your brand wants to support the gender nonconforming movement, consider partnering with a nonprofit to put your money where your mouth is. It won’t go unnoticed.
Rethink the gender binary of digital
Consider disruptive digital concepts like collapsing gender structure on your website, discontinuing “his and hers” concepts from marketing, removing “Mr. and Mrs.” from customer forms, hiring androgynous models for your imagery and bringing influential trans or nonbinary figures into your website creative.
Launch a limited-edition product collaboration with a startup
Offer a product drop that is all about genderless products, no matter your category. Try partnering with a brand that already specializes in this area to ensure the product development comes from an informed perspective instead of trying to reinvent the wheel. Use this to build buzz for your brand and spur the shift to androgynous concepts. Build cross-promotional excitement with your partner, and in turn benefit from co-branding and halo effect. This can be a unique moment to go in a direction your brand has never gone before, so make the most of it.
Bring influencer voices to your website
Influencer integrations with websites and ecommerce experiences are a great way to bring authentic voices into your business. More and more sites are building out influencer content pages to create a connection with customers and add a “cool” factor. Work with a social media team to identify and subsequently hire gender nonconforming influencers to work with your brand, develop a mini-campaign and spotlight them seasonally. Give these influencers space and freedom to showcase their personal story, visual style and favorite products.
Create a campaign around Transgender Awareness Week
Invest in sharing the stories of trans individuals and donate a portion of sales to a trans nonprofit like the Transgender Legal Defense and Education Fund. The LGBTQ community is observant of whether brand statements (i.e., “We support trans rights”) are backed by real, ongoing commitments that benefit those communities. Major brand partnerships with grassroots advocacy groups or fundraisers will get attention and build an authentic relationship over time. This will also unlock new opportunities to partner with the talent and programming that these organizations already engage with.
Host a speaker series featuring gender nonconforming panelists
Activations around major festivals like Art Basel and Fashion Week are a great way for brands to connect with culture and have a voice. In the past, major brands have hosted focused panel discussions related to the LGBTQ community with influential figures, and these have been received well. Be sure to create space for thought-provoking discussion and consider sponsoring these types of events that support conversation. It will show that your brand looks outward, not just inward.
Partner with entertainment shows and programs
Finally, continue to not just talk the talk but be sure to walk the walk when it comes to embracing gender nonconformity. Investigate podcasts like Food 4 Thot or Nancy, TV shows like Pose or RuPaul’s Drag Race and create content partnerships. These series have a large following and can be a great way to both support the programming itself and bring your brand front and center.
If they are ready, brands and marketers will have an opportunity to join the conversation and find innovative new ways to reflect gender nonconformity in their online experiences, product lines and strategies. This can be an exciting evolution in the marketplace.