Champ Lexical: clothing and gender identity
Champ lexical: the beginning!
Our new project, Champ lexical, is a series of meetings where the atelier b team discusses social issues related to the practice of design with people who are directly concerned by the topics discussed. Freely inspired by our discussions within the team, this project is intended to be a space for sharing our experiences and slowly implementing changes that go hand in hand with our values. Since sharing is limited by the space available for writing on social networks, we wanted another platform where we would not be limited by the format. Available as a podcast, video or text (below), each interview will provoke thoughts on a sensitive, current topic or one that we want to better understand.
Episode 1: Clothing and Gender Identity
How do we present clothing in a more inclusive way? That's the question Annik asked us while we were discussing diversity. Annik St-Arnaud is the colleague who looks at atelier b with a step back and questions our way of dealing with different social issues. Whether we are talking about age, colour, body diversity or gender, she questions, proposes solutions, and quietly paves the way to improve things. It's partly thanks to her that we offer more clothing sizes and it's at her initiative that we decided to do a non-gender specific photo shoot to try to break the barrier between our clothing collections. While a photo shoot with a non-binary model may seem like a small step, for us it was a first reflection on how we conceive clothing.
At the workshop, we all have someone around us who is either trans, non-binary, or who has decided not to perform gender according to established norms. As the conversation went on, we realized that we could do more to provide a space where people feel comfortable talking to us, visiting our store and trying on our clothes. The question of representation becomes paramount when we talk about inclusiveness. It is often thanks to it that we can have a place in a group, in a city or in society.
Dressing people allows us to get closer to them. We are witness to the relationship that is created between a person, their body and a garment and this often uncovers an element of vulnerability. Finding places where this relationship can happen comfortably and safely is done through representation. On social networks is usually composed of individuals who look like us, that appeal to us or who evoke what we aspire to be. It is with this in mind that we started this process. The workshop is for us a place of gatherings and we want to allow as many people as possible to recognize themselves and feel welcomed in our space.
To address gender diversity, we needed to find a team who are sensitive to this reality. While one person can't speak for a whole spectrum of people, this is our way of starting the conversation. With this in mind, we contacted Alex Lacelle who, in addition to being a non-binary person who models, founded Details Agency which brings together a diverse community of models and artists. With her agency, she wants to help expand what is being done in terms of inclusivity and representation in the fashion industry.
We also wanted to find a photographer that inspired us and who was sensitive to diversity issues. We contacted Cassandra Cacheiro, who co-founded the Womahood Project. She works on multiplying the representations of bodies that could be seen as atypical by magnifying their normality. To work with her is to feel her listening carefully while working in a comforting atmosphere.
So with Alex and Cassandra, we created a series of photos that mix our women's and men's collections. This shoot opened the door to discussing how to make our creative and promotional practice more inclusive. The interview was captured right after the shoot.
The shapes and cuts of garments
For designers, gender-neutral clothing requires us to challenge what we learned in fashion school. Our work begins with the design of patterns that are built around generalities associated with binary bodies (considered feminine or masculine). It is therefore necessary to deconstruct how clothes are created from general proportions. Patterns create a dynamic that excludes many people before even thinking about gender issues. Indeed, the diversity of sizes offered and the so-called average proportions are examples of what limits the possibilities!
By customizing clothing for different body types, one realizes how different the needs are from one body to another. When trying to cross the line between genders, these same issues come up. The length of the trunk, the width of the shoulders, the thickness of the torso, the shape of the hips or even the circumference of the thighs are technical details that we must think about in order to design clothing that suits the maximum number of profiles.
Creating inclusive spaces
As the conversation progressed, we touched on the fact that there may be some similarities in the difficulties trans people and other marginalized groups face when it comes to dressing. Whether it's finding clothes that fit well and look good is just as difficult as visiting stores that warmly welcome people of body diversity, for example. The list goes on and on when it comes to experiences: clothes that just don't fit, unsuitable fitting rooms, fear of judgment, etc.
For everyone around the table, it is clear that representation influences not only where we feel confident, but how we feel about ourselves. While some of the work starts with a journey of self-reflection - you have to feel confident enough to just go shopping - the world around you is also a big part of it. To help us feel good about ourselves, the three guests suggest first cleaning up our social networks to see people who look like us or who accept different bodies. On both sides, we can better imagine a world in which we can exist by being ourselves. For many people, it seems very complicated to make spaces more inclusive and this is not necessarily wrong. We need to make big changes in the way we create and communicate to encourage inclusiveness. In our case, these actions allow us to make our workshop more accessible to a diversity of people.
Through our community, both within our team and in our circle, the exchange has allowed us to move forward. Whether it's having outside input on representation or making sure we go outside our network to showcase people from diversity, there is no one way to do it. We have to allow ourselves to make mistakes, accept when someone points them out, and continue to strive through every possible mistake. Every misstep we correct allows us to move forward to a healthier environment. Through constant listening and always keeping a critical eye on ourselves to identify our own cognitive biases, we can try to create a space that Bell hooks called a Brave Space, a space of encouragement to make our own voice heard. That's how we've always viewed the workshop, and we want to make this space we hold so dear comfortable for as many people as possible.
To see our ungendered section, it's here..
Learn more about Details, Alex Lacelle's agency..
Enjoy the work of Cassandra Cacheiro..
Discover Annik St-Arnaud's portfolio..
Suggested readings and resources:
Apprendre à nous écrire, guide & politique d’écriture inclusive (french)ATQ (Aide aux trans du Québec)
Gender Creative Kids
Designating non-binary people according to the OQLF (french)
Integrating trans people in the workplace (french)
Equip yourself to better intervene (french)
Knowing the right vocabulary to better understand
Thanks to Mathieu Pipe-Rondeau for the writing, Marion Quesneau for the filming and editing and François Ste-Marie from Studio Elnk for the visual design.