A shopping trip to a mainstream clothing store is usually a fun and relaxing way to spend a day out. But for people like Tatyana Bellamy-Walker, who is gender fluid, a "normal" shopping spree can turn into a total nightmare.
"Sometimes it feels like you're put in a dangerous position," Walker said. "It feels like everyone is judging you if you're in a section you don't look like you're supposed to be in."
Thankfully, shopping opportunities for non-binary people — or really anyone with a genderqueer presentation — have grown over the years. If only more people could afford it.
Queer-owned stores and marketplaces like Official Rebrand, Rebirth Garments, the Phluid Project, and Radimo are dedicated safe-spaces for the LGBTQ+ community. But prices range wildly, and stores and brands like these are up against big-name designers and even bigger corporations.
Behind the pricing
"I try to make my clothes accessible to everyone," Official Rebrand owner and non-binary designer MI Leggett told Mashable over the phone. "T-shirts run around $15 to $20, and sometimes jackets and coats can go up to $1,500."
Before opening up a store, Leggett designed clothes in Berlin during their college days in 2016. After returning to the states, the designer's experience abroad inspired them to create a store that did more than just stick a gender neutral label on a traditionally gendered clothing item.
"I like to take clothes that were gendered and make them non-gendered," Leggett explained. "There are tricks and adjustments you can do to alter the size and shape of different garments like dresses, shirts, and jackets, that can allow them to fit different body types and figures."
Leggett is ambitious — but ambition costs money. The online store, which, according to Leggett, is "still in the works," currently offers five hand-painted jeans that are a part of the brand's "Water Project" collection. Prices range from $150 to $300.
Unlike corporate brands, Leggett doesn't benefit from outside funding: "As LGBTQ designers we need to learn how to value ourselves," Leggett says. "We don't have big companies helping us, we just have to advocate for ourselves."
The struggle isn't limited to Leggett's business. Sky Cubacub is a non-binary designer and the owner of Rebirth Garments, one of few brands dedicated to the non-binary, trans, and disabled communities. Cubacub works hard to make their items affordable — tucking panties run from $26 to $75, and wrist and prosthetic leg protectors cost between $10 and $25. But as a small, entirely self-funded, sustainable shop, the cost of production is high.
"I try to take all of my items on Etsy and try to make it affordable while still being able to pay the people who are working for me a fair wage," Cubacub said. "The more colors and fabric involved in the product, the more I have to charge because I buy all of the materials myself."
Still, Cubacub said they understand the financial limitations of their customers.
"I don't expect people to buy their whole wardrobe from me," they said. "But having options out there for folks with different kinds of disabilities or identities is important to have."
Even with lowered prices, non-binary customers like Walker struggle to see how people in their community can afford it: "It just comes down to one really big question: Should someone spend $100 on hormones, or $100 on clothes?"
According to the American Psychological Association, LGBTQ individuals are more likely to experience "socioeconomic disadvantages" compared to straight people, a likely result of LGBTQ discrimination.
Some statistics from the APA fact sheet show that more bisexual and lesbian women between ages 18 and 44 live in poverty than do straight women of the same age. Similarly, more bisexual and gay men between ages 18 and 44 "are living at or below the federal level of poverty" than straight men of the same age.
The fact sheet also shows that transgender individuals were "nearly 4 times more likely to have a household income of less than $10,000 per year compared to the general population."
Because of the major differences in income, clothes shopping can be difficult for people in this community. Everyone should feel good in whatever clothing they buy and wear, but as Walker summarized, sometimes there are other priorities that need to be taken care of before purchasing $75 tucking panties.
Not all brands struggle the same way. Let's say you do have a marketing strategy, investments, and designers at your disposal — you get something like the Phluid Project, a gender-neutral, brick-and-mortar clothing store based exclusively in New York City that opened in March.
"We're right near NYU's campus so we always get lots of students coming in and they're taken by the Phluid line," Phluid Project publicist Christina Zervanos told us over the phone. "And then you have non-binary people from all over the world stopping by because they heard about all the work we've done and the clothing that's available."
Upon entering Phluid, you'll notice that "men" or "women" sections are completely absent. Instead, the store is set up as a large, open space divided by articles of clothing and brands.
Sizing at the store is also done differently. The Phluid brand has items numbered from 0-4 rather than "small, medium, and large," meant to dispel any negative connotations with body size. Designers of the brand have also spent time perfecting a silhouette that they say encompasses most body types and figures.
Price-wise, the store offers a mixed bag of results. While Phluid-branded gear is relatively affordable, other brands they sell in-house, like FILA and Champion, can run for more than $100 depending on the item.
"It was really important for us to have a brand that was as attainable as possible," Zervanos explained. "When we were creating our own brand, we wanted to start at $35, and avoid exceeding over $150."
Phluid's price point can run a bit high, due to the way it sources its clothing. According to a fact sheet provided by the company, the store sources all of its branded gear, like shirts and zip-up hoodies made from organically-grown cotton and recycled materials, from a manufacturer called Groceries in Los Angeles, a company that says it "empowers human beings through fair-trade, fair conditions, and fair treatment across our entire supply chain."
"We typically buy 36-72 pieces per graphic," Zervanos told us via email. "You have to average $2.00-$3.00 to print each piece, then a dollar for shipping. On average we pay $15/16 per T-shirt when it's fully completed."
For all products, Groceries offers an MSRP (manufacturer's suggested retail price) that helps retailers figure out how much they should sell a certain item for in order to make a profit. So if we're going back to a zip hoody, for example, Groceries suggests that retailers sell the product for $88 a pop.
While the pricing isn't affordable for everyone, Phluid is buying products that are ethically sourced within the United States.
Beyond concerns about mixed pricing, Walker appreciates that the store offers a queer and friendly atmosphere. This, they said, eliminated the anxiety of having to shop between sections for men and women at more mainstream stores.
"I think what the Phluid Project is doing offers a positive experience for all people in the LGBTQ community," Walker said. "Even having dressing rooms that don't have labels adds another great layer."
For Walker, the emotional relief of not having to choose between gendered sections is worth having to spend $35 on a T-shirt.
One gender-neutral clothing brand that's managed to avoid high prices is Radimo. Based in Los Angeles, the online marketplace features dozens of queer-owned clothing brands and designers. Featuring simple clothing with a queer flair and a price point often lower than $30, the store establishes itself as an accessible clothing line for non-binary customers.
"You want to be putting your money into companies and organizations that are from your world because a lot of other places have really high prices," Radimo owner Dan Owens-Reid explained. "A lot of places tend to charge $70 for a shirt, and if you're genderqueer and 23-years-old, that might not be an option for you."
When Owens-Reid was first building Radimo back in 2016, they sought to create a clothing-line that could be worn by any gender or body type. As someone who was young, low-income, and exploring their gender identity, they also wanted to make the clothes affordable.
But how are they able to offer such low prices? Owens-Reid only brings on LGBTQ designers who are understanding of the community Radimo markets towards, and are willing to keep their prices down.
"I'm not looking to make millions that's not the goal here," Owens-Reid said. "Price-line is a huge part of this, but being able to support shop owners and consumers from marginalized communities is something that I think is really important to a lot of us."
"I really liked that a lot of their clothes were under $30," Walker said. "It was colorful and practical. A lot of masculine appearing clothes can be dull, and it was really great to see something floral and different."
How can mainstream stores help?
Stores with greater access to funds, materials, and designers could also do their part to help make this type of clothing more affordable. In fact, gender-neutral clothing designers and store owners want to encourage more mainstream participation in hopes that this type of clothing will become more widely available.
"I think that will be healthy for the world to be able to accept this," Cubacub said. "Hopefully that happens, maybe employees will go through training that will be more mindful of people's gender."
We still have a long way to go before we start to see this clothing roll out in mainstream stores, but it isn't entirely unheard of.
Earlier this year, Abercrombie & Fitch released a gender neutral clothing line for children called the "Everybody Collection." The launch received criticism for an absence of any sort of femininity in the designs, leading people to question whether or not the clothes are truly gender neutral.
To Owens-Reid, oversights like this are due to a lack of queer representation in major corporations.
"It isn't just sweatpants and overalls," Owens-Reid said. "Big companies who want to make a proper effort in gender neutral clothing need to hire from the communities they're trying to reach out to."
Mainstream stores that want to create this type of clothing can afford to hire talented designers from this community to help create affordable gender neutral clothing.
"As queer people we should have a seat at the table so we’re able to discuss what’s important to us," Walker said. "Even if it's at a department store."
Pricing is likely to remain an issue for a community that often faces discrimination in the workplace. But hopefully more mainstream stores and designers will begin to consider the needs of the gender-fluid community, and find ways to make it financially accessible for all.