On Gender On Gender

On Gender

By Saeed Al-Rubeyi

On Gender On Gender

We hadn't planned on penning something about our stance on gender because we naively assumed this would come through in our work - but we have received a couple of messages since launching our new line and Instagram @storymfg_femme so I want to make our position clear.

Up until now, we have as a brand made unisex clothing that explores vintage inspiration through the medium of our eco-focused fabrics. We have always styled these on men and women and from our very first season selling into other stores we've promoted the collection in both the menswear and womenswear categories. This has been really successful - the stores that stock STORY mfg. generally do the same and market our garments to both genders if they have separate offerings.

We've loved it so far, and I know lots of people who enjoy the brand have admired that about us too - but we have always had a few niggles.

It's undeniable that because of our references (vintage workwear, military and denim) our look ends up being masculine. I think in general this is something that 'genderless' or 'unisex' clothing suffers from - because to ignore femininity is to invite masculinity - which is not, to us, a true representation of the infinite scope of human identity.

From SS19 onwards we began exploring more traditionally feminine styles (dresses, blouses etc), and we took a major financial decision to invest in showing our collection during women's fashion week (which more than doubles our costs for sampling, shooting, showing and producing). I know words are powerful, but we cannot change how the industry names the fashion weeks and collections. We have no choice but to label our femme line as 'womenswear' -- stores that visit need us to present our work in a digestible way, and we believe its more powerful to change things from the inside than to exclude yourself from the outset.

With that, we discovered the identity of this new line is quite different to what we have been doing with story mainline, so we made the decision to create a new Instagram handle that allows it to breathe and grow in its own right and form its own art direction. To those that feel let down because they believe we have split into genders -- stick with us. We have deliberately not called this 'story women's' or 'story girls'. @storymfg_femme is an exploration of femininity open to anyone.

To be entirely honest I feel taken aback by the reaction from some people - I'm a little disappointed that people who do not support gender stereotypes would want to enforce them on brands that are directional in their approach. I know this likely comes from a place of mistrust and being let down by companies - but I would hope people realise STORY mfg. is not a just company - we believe fashion can be a pure form of social activism.

We are a unisex brand, but we are not genderless. We want to celebrate gender and its quirks - we don't believe the answer to inclusivity is through sanitising what we do and removing any whisper of sexuality or gender. Masculinity is beautiful, femininity is strong and every blend in between is powerful, special and relevant. This is why we chose to call the Instagram @storymfg_femme - and you'll see all genders on both accounts.

In time...

STORY mfg. is a teeny tiny company made up of just two people - Katy and I. We have no investment and we put almost everything we earn back into the company to pay fair wages and buy real, organic and pure materials. We would love to be in a position to shoot new looks every week and explore different identities but it's both expensive and time-consuming - not to mention quite challenging.

We have for some time been trying to get more LGBTQ models for our shoots, but we are above all most concerned with being sensitive and authentic about our approach (this is why we generally shoot customers who self-select story as their style). It's a sad truth that society has created a system where many people exploring their own gender also experience body dysmorphia so we want to make sure that when we do have an opportunity we do it with empathy and in a way that is empowering. Too often we see inauthentic and exploitative tactics used and we will not be part of a system that uses people in any way.

We’re going to continue on this journey and I hope you’re along for the ride too. If not, and you truly believe that our approach is not aligned with your beliefs, we respect that and wish you the very best.