Gscene catches up with Lisa Honan, founder and director of Gender Free Clothing (GFC), established in 2015, now an international brand, based in the city.
FROM clothing to gifts, toys and toiletries, we are forced to define a gender before making purchases. GFW aim to bring quality, comfort and choice to their customers with no added gendered nonsense.
What has gender got to do with pants?
“Haha Wow that’s a corker of an opening question. Gender has nothing to do with pants…we can all like different styles of underwear: lacy, boxer, tighty whities, and that has nothing to do with gender but style preferences.”
What else do you sell?
We began with shirts in 2016 as that is my personal passion. I was always buying men’s shirts and adapting them to fit my shape as I couldn’t see stuff I like in the women’s aisles. The unisex boxer was launched in November 2018. We also have a new range of slogan T shirts made from 100% recycled material – 40% organic cotton/60% polyester from plastic bottles.
Was it easy to find garment makers to work with?
“We decided that we would work with British shirt manufactures so we could keep an eye on the production process. My business partner, Nel, researched patterns and bodies to develop our initial body shapes. When we launched we had 3 different shapes and 7 sizes per shape, making 21 variants. Most shirts come in 7 sizes so finding someone who was happy to do a relatively small run with lots of variants – at a cost which was not too prohibitive was a challenge. A factory in Tottenham worked with us to produce our first runs. The underwear is made in a factory in Manchester, by the same company who makes Mary Portas’ Kinky Knicker’s range.”
Your marketing is very polished, who do you see as your customers?
“Thanks, we are keen to have models from within our local community, as LGBT is under represented in all advertising. People want to see people who look like them, not tall skinny models. How can you tell how the shirts or boxers will fit if you cannot see it on a similar body to yours?
“Our customers are majority LGBT but not exclusively. If you like a fun, well-fitting shirt we got you covered. If you are forced to shop in the women’s section on the high street because of the shape of your body it can be a very dispiriting process. Women’s shirts can be overly fitted, have the odd lacy frill, or strange collars and often in muted or dull fabrics…nothing wrong with that if you like that style, but what if you want a more classic cut with bold and bright patterns?”
You’ve an international brand but are based in Hove, what attracts you to Sussex?
“My business partner and I both live around the corner so we can walk to work – nice. We love Brighton & Hove and it’s diversity, so no need to go anywhere else. Seriously though, when you are selling on-line it doesn’t matter where you are based, 30% of our customers are from the USA.”
You have a very clear commitment to quality, durability and honest locally produced products, why is this important to you?
“I don’t want to get on a soap box here but fashion is a very polluting industry and fast fashion is horrific. Why do people buy anything only to be worn a couple of times. New Look and Primark have a lot to answer for especially with regard to pricing and influencing consumers expecting of what to pay. How can they afford to sell a shirt for £14? How much did the fabric cost, how much were the workers being paid? We produce shirts in limited edition runs, which provides customers with a unique product but also eliminates much left-over waste in the production process. Parliament (with the help of Extinction Rebellion) has declared a climate emergency and we all have to do what we can. We have big ambitions and yes, why not the next gender free Johnnie Lewis.”
What kind of nuance do you design into your garments?
“Of our first shirts, 4 were fairly traditional, checks, black and a denim look and one was wacky – a penguin print. The penguin print sold more than all the other combined and we realised that people of all genders were crying out for fun shirts. We have retained the fun element through all our subsequent ranges, so even if it is a plain fabric it will have a pop of colour on the collar, cuff or stitching. The clothes you choose are an expression of your style, which may or may not tie in with your gender identity. For us, gender is irrelevant, we just want to make well-fitting clothes.”
What would your grandmother say about your pants, would she wear them?
“I never saw my grandmother’s pants! But I would say that comfort was important to her so I reckon she would give them a go.”
Is comfort more important than style?
“I would say both are important. Something that looks good does not need to be uncomfortable. If something is well designed it should be comfortable. Garments that are designed to be thrown away after a short life don’t have a lot of thought put into them (back to the point about fast fashion).”
What’s the worse item of clothing ever given you?
“A brown corduroy pinafore dress when I was 8. I suspect it may be the height of fashion now.”
Who do you think are the most interesting designers working with a post gender world in mind?
“TBH we don’t pay much attention to high fashion designers…we beat our own path.”
You can check out the full exciting range of GFC on their website or pop along to their shop at 102 Portland road, BN3 5DN in West Hove.