Marketing androgynous clothing: language choice

When I started developing the line I hope to launch to launch next fall, it had a target audience of exactly one–me–so, by default, it was a womenswear line. (Edited to add on 7/16/13: It’s happening! It’s called Scout’s Honor Clothing Company, and I couldn’t be more excited about it.)

Over the last few months I’ve been following various companies who are doing more or less what I want to do: making clothing in shapes, colors, and styles that we traditionally associate with menswear, and cutting them to fit people with hips and/or boobs and/or small frames. These companies include Androgyny, Androgynous, Kreuzbach10, Marimacho, Original Tomboy, and recently, Saint Harridan. (Saint Harridan launched their pre-order Kickstarter campaign about two weeks ago and have already well exceeded their $87,000 goal. Wow!)

A few days before their Kickstarter began, I was reading the “Words” page of the Saint Harridan site and had a pretty strong reaction to one of the comments there–or, rather, to the /tone/ of the comment. I actually agree with the commenter’s main point. But, without getting further into it, because each time I try I wind up writing a half-dozen paragraphs that will probably make you go ZZzzzzZZZZzzz, I’ll say this: I think it’s a bummer that (it seems to me) the harder someone tries to be open and inclusive, the more they set themselves up to be attacked.

Reading these “Words,” and the comments they provoked, got me thinking even more about the language I will use to describe the garments in my line. And it got me curious about how the other companies I’ve identified talk about their customers, so here, in rough order of company launch, are some more words:

Marimacho: on their About page, they describe their products as “fashion for the unconventionally masculine,” then go on to describe how they’ve modified the cut of traditional menswear to the fit the “diverse bodies” of their customers.

Original Tomboy: on their About page, they write that this is a “collection designed for women who re-define what it means to dress ‘like a girl’, creating a forward yet timeless option for fit and style.” They don’t say anything about whether/how they’ve modified the fit of typical garments.

Androgyny: their Kickstarter describes the frustration “queer women” and “women outside the queer community” feel when unable to find clothing that fits their identity and makes them feel comfortable, and they state that their products “offer a men’s aesthetic re-engineered for the female form.”

Androgynous: on their Kickstarter, they suggest that their target audience is “women who don’t fit into the societal “feminine” category [and] have never been able to find clothing made just for them.” Their products are “Simply elegant, classy, clean-cut menswear made to fit women.”

Kruezbach 10: according to their indiegogo page, “Kreuzbach 10 makes men’s shirts, cut to fit women’s bodies.” They go on to comment that they “don’t like to say we make women’s shirts….Our shirts are designed to be straight up what you’d expect to find in the men’s department….However unlike shirts in the men’s department Kreuzbach10 shirts are cut to fit female bodies.”

Finally, Saint Harridan, who sent me down this rabbithole, from the opening of their Words page: “We who are attracted to the clothes at Saint Harridan use many different words to describe ourselves. We use words like stud, butch or boi among many others. Some of us embrace the word woman, others like man, some prefer neither or both.” On the Kickstarter, the only mention of their potential customers’ gender is in the video, when they say they want to make suits for “her…or her…or him…or her…or you.” In talking about fit, they mention that they “size for Saints with breasts and no breasts.”

Even though I’ve spent a gazillion hours on all their sites, and have read their copy a gazillion times, I was surprised to discover that 4 of the 6 companies market themselves specifically and exclusively to women. I like what Marimacho is doing, just sort of sidestepping the issue and letting the customers decide whether these clothes are for them. I’d like to try to emulate this in my own copy; however, I’m very attached to my branding slogan, which uses the word ‘tomboy,’ which, as this reader of tomboy/femme points out, is not an inclusive term. Blurg. Thoughts, world?

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4 Responses to Marketing androgynous clothing: language choice

  1. k says:

    Words are hard, but the likely triggering comment on the Saint Harridan site seems almost trollish in their critique of SH’s word usage. As the next commentor noted, they used “born female-bodied” not plain vanilla “female-bodied” and while that isn’t as far as the language that the first would like, assigned female at birth, there are those on the other side of the political divide who would argue against that language, and efforts to be inclusive mean making compromises. Besides the fact that in some 80% of pregnancies, gender and sex are assigned before birth through the use of sonograms, so really, assigned female prior to birth. Then there is their notion that genitalia has little to do with how a suit fits. Oh sir, how wrong you are. Those of us lacking appendages between our legs actually do fit pants differently than those with appendages, just as those of us with appendages on our chests – highly correlated with genitalia, though not a correlation of 1, obviously – fit jackets and shirts differently. Not all male-assigned bodies are alike, not all female-assigned bodies are alike, but there are correlative differences between them that guide fashion design. I’m not convinced that rhetoric and reality are the same, and certainly by changing our rhetoric we can alter some degree of reality, but I’m a phenomenologist when it comes down to it. And while I obviously can’t sum up what in my dissertation is about a chapter long explication on the relationship between cognition, knowledge, and the body in a blog comment, I do think that this embodied aspect is overlooked by a lot of queer activists.
    Anyway, I like the SH language, and I like the MM language, and while the other four are also marketed towards me, I appreciate aiming more towards SH/MM style marketing.

  2. audiohelkuik says:

    This is always such a tough wording issue. It’s great to see the list of different wordings that you’ve collected during your research. Many of the garments that I create are designed androgynously. I have a wide range of genders amongst my customers, and I LOVE this so much. They just shop for a certain aesthetic and care little who the clothes are intended for. I can’t quite figure out how to encourage this through wording, or how to market my clothing as such. Luckily, my androgynous/gender-free clothing has attracted a lot of gender variance naturally.

    Right now I try to show the garments on a traditional female form as well as a male one and give the measurements of the garments, so the customer can decide if the garment will work for their own body type. I also use wording that goes something like “This top looks great on any gender.” instead of saying “both genders” or “men and women” or something else that enforces a bi-gendered mentality.

  3. anna says:

    Such an interesting and complex topic – and so loaded for so many people.
    I’m Anna, the designer/creator behind Kreuzbach10. (found this post googling K10) Working out how to word and approach gender in my marketing is something I’ve had to think about a lot. In the end I took a narrower approach on purpose. Not because I don’t want other people to buy my shirts, but because I don’t want to mislead customers about what they are getting when they buy my shirt. I’ve spent a lot of time patternmaking and working on the shape so that they work around things like boobs and hips and waists associated with female bodied persons… be that cis-women, or trans-women or any identity living in a body with a shape associated with female. That was the niche-within-a-niche I picked to explore first, so I feel like I can’t say ‘this works on both female and male bodies’, because there is a good chance that the shirt actually won’t fit a male bodied person who buys it. I want to be inclusive, but not to the point of misrepresenting the product, which is a difficult thing to navigate.

    If someone is unsure, I’m more than happy to liaise over email, send them a shirt to try, and refund if it just doesn’t work on their body. I should probably try to convey that openness a bit better so we’re a bit more welcoming for people outside the gender binary.

    So far I haven’t had any awful criticism, which is nice, but I’m always open to polite constructive criticism. I try, but I know with something as complex as this there is a good chance that I won’t always get it right the first time, and I want to learn and make sure I do it better the next time.

    Scouts Honor looks really cool. If you wanted to chat about the whole crowdfunding thing I’m more than happy to talk about my experience. I’m not an expert, but happy to offer what I learnt by doing it! I think its really wonderful that this niche market is blossoming in so many directions and really think we should all support each other to really improve the options that are out there for people! I’m a bit shitty at answering emails promptly, but if you want to get in touch I’ll try – anna [at] kreuzbach10.com

    • Anna! How great to hear from you! One of your bowties is sitting in a place of honor on my desk as we speak.

      I’m guessing one of the things you remember about crowdfunding is that there is suddenly no time to write intelligent responses to lovely, intelligent comments on one’s blog! But I thoroughly agree with you that we should support one another, and wish I’d spent more time reaching out to my kin over the last couple months. No time like the present! I shall send you an (albeit brief for now) email promptly.

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