As a child, Ankita Munshi often wore the clothes of her mother, father or grandfather. When she went to college, her male friends would raid her closet for clothes and accessories. This led her to question the value of gender-specific clothing. “Why should a sari only be worn by a woman when it is just a long piece of cloth that we can present as we wish?” She wonders. Integrating her training in textile design (at NIFT Hyderabad), she launched her Alluvial label during the pandemic. The brand offers ready-to-wear fashion, incorporating Indian art that caters to a gender-neutral fashion space.
Munshi is of course not the only designer to feel this. Several others are losing gender categories from their lineups as asexual and unisex fashion makes its presence felt in Kolkata.
For Diptangi Roy, co-founder of Neko Boyz, the goal has always been to deliver sustainable fashion beyond gender binaries. “Growing up, I never felt completely comfortable with conventional, cisgender norms of fashion. This led me to decouple fashion from my gender. genderless recycled fashion experimentation at Neko Boyz,” Roy shares.
Roy’s philosophy is simple: if someone likes a particular item of clothing, they should be able to wear it regardless of gender or body type. “Pop culture and big multinational brands usually follow traditional norms, like certain clothes are only meant to be worn by certain body types, or only women can wear flowers. The photos we post online clearly show that we don’t believe in wearing only what we’re ‘supposed’ to wear, and that fashion shouldn’t be associated with gender,” says Roy.
Personalization has been key to his approach. Roy thinks this has made the label more accessible to people with different body types. Despite this, common perceptions remain the biggest deterrent, she points out. “Sometimes we get DMs asking if an item is for men or women when we post it without a model. I feel like that’s how society is built. While the buzz around the item tells us people are interested, societal perceptions often hold them back from making the purchase,” adds the designer.
Hiya Pal, who co-founded inclusive size label ONN_Hold, found herself at home in Kolkata during the lockdown and had some revelations about the local streetwear space. “While I grew up as a plus size woman, my co-founder is quite petite. Both of us had problems finding the right sizes. In college (NIFT Delhi), I also interacted with members of the queer community and realized how clothing is a crucial aspect of everyone’s identity. Given our passion for streetwear, we decided to create our own unisex and size-inclusive brand,” says Pal .
Currently, ONN_Hold only sells shirts, pants and bags. This allows the label to respond to buyers more transparently, with one unit in Delhi and one in Bandel. “Our categories are limited, so we can develop our own prints and customize measurements based on customer requests,” Pal adds.
Srestha Bhattacharya, who founded Instagram label 2NAi (after daak naam), putting her experience as a stylist to good use in curating a line of sustainable clothing. “When it comes to fashion, comfort has always been my priority. As a child, I was more interested in men’s clothing and always wanted to present a brand for everyone,” shares Bhattacharya.
Bhattacharya, who has always had a fascination with collecting one-of-a-kind items, decided to extend this hobby to acquiring discarded clothes and refurbishing second-hand items. “I am often asked if my fashion is for men as there is not much awareness of unisex fashion among shoppers, more so in Kolkata than in Mumbai. People don’t quite understand the possibilities of genderless fashion yet,” she notes.
But Bhattacharya is optimistic about the new generation of labels committing to this approach. “The rise of gender-neutral indie brands is great to see and is definitely helping to create awareness. Although it is an evolving process, young people care about what flowing fashion represents and are not afraid to show it,” smiles Bhattacharya.