A native of Grosse Pointe Farms creates a genderless fashion brand
Darlene A. White
Rob Smith’s mission is to put an end to stereotypical clothing.
“I’m all about genderless fashion,” said Smith, founder of Project Phluid. “It’s just fabric. If it makes you feel good, wear it.
Smith, originally from Grosse Pointe Farms and specializing in marketing at Michigan State University, has over 30 years of retail experience, having held leadership roles at Levi’s, Nike and Macy’s. After working for decades, he realized that most stores fail to cater to marginalized youth and wanted to change that.
He combined his passion for social justice and retailing into a genderless fashion brand called Phluid Project, www.ThePhluidProject.com, a non-profit organization that aims to empower individuals by giving them a way to s ‘express through clothing.
In March 2018, the Phluid Project opened what Smith says was the world’s first gender-neutral store in New York City.
“Gender is a typical binary that people get trapped in, and we want to go beyond that,” he said. “There is no“ men ”or“ women ”section or differentiation of silhouettes and sizes; we want to erase any preconceptions about how people should dress.
Shopping in a physical space can be somewhat traumatic for some people, Smith said.
“What bothers me is that if you’re an expressive woman or a transgender person and you’re in the women’s department, the gender police come out,” he said. “They don’t always want to be hurtful, but when they say things like ‘This is the women’s department, the men’s department is over there’ can really hurt someone who is shopping. The police. the genre also likes to decide if you can use a locker room based on how they perceive your gender, which is not acceptable.
The Phluid Project works primarily with the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and People of Color) transgender community, with a focus on trans women of color, as well as the growing LGBTQIA + homeless population.
“I want to grow this brand as a national organization that supports our most at-risk members of the queer community, which includes trans women of color and homeless queer youth,” Smith said. “I say this because 10% of the transgender community has been physically assaulted in the past year simply for being transgender.”
The gender-neutral brand is available in more than 5,000 stores through partnerships with retailers like Nordstrom, Target, Sephora and, most recently, the outlet stores of luxury retailer Saks Fifth Avenue, Saks Off Fifth.
Toni Thomas, 19, of Detroit, says she is proud of the work the Phluid Project has done.
“It really turns me on that fashion brands are finally coming out and celebrating gay pride,” she said. “Now I don’t have to hide behind a keyboard all day if I want to buy an outfit. Target is one of my favorite stores, so it feels good to know that I can buy a Phluid Project outfit when I’m there. Not only does this sound like a step in the right direction, but it makes me feel good to support a great cause. “
Prices for the Phluid line, which includes message tees and sweatshirts, range from $ 35 to $ 150 and are available in body-positive sizes, eschewing the classic XS-XL metric in favor of a range of digital sizes.
Last month, Saks Off Fifth launched its first exclusive line of gender-neutral clothing and accessories, with 100% of the proceeds going to the Phluid Foundation. The collection features rainbow designs on t-shirts, hats, sneakers and tote bags for under $ 50.
“We tend to all kinds. Our whole world is built on a binary construction, ”explained Smith. “Everything we wear is gender neutral. It is we, as a society, who dictate whether something is male or female.
The project now runs a diversity and inclusion training program called GET Phluid (Gender Expansive Training), to educate workplaces on how to have safe spaces for the LGBTQIA + community.
“Right now I’m working on showing businesses how to create space in the middle,” he said. “For example, there will always be a boy’s section which is blue and a girl’s section which is pink, but there has to be space in the middle for the others. Also, things like women’s dresses, stores should just put up a sign that says “dresses” as this makes it accessible to more people. ”
Angelo Hart, 18, of Ferndale, says he believes Project Phluid will open doors for many people.
“A lot of my friends are afraid to go out because they fear being ashamed when they buy specific clothes,” he said. “Now that the Phluid Project clothing line has come out and is spreading positive messages about these shirts in popular stores, maybe it will encourage my generation to come out and live its truth. They just need to know that they are being supported.
Seeing rainbow flags feels good, but it’s so much more behind those vivid colors, Smith said.
“I hope we see more gender neutral clothing soon that is suitable for everyone, no matter your race, size or color,” he said. “Everyone needs to feel good and accepted. “