ONE is normalizing non-binary clothing choices
By CJ Sommerfeld, Staff Writer
“I don’t think the archetype of what is traditionally feminine and masculine will ever go away. Some people really jive with it which is totally cool. For those that don’t, it’s nice to have options that fit outside of this categorization.”– Michelle Bylow
“Fresh, creative, unique, free-spirited, urban, handmade. If [it] were a human, they would be accepting, kind, fun, cheeky, free, and confident.” Michelle Bylow, the creator and design director of Jojee Apparel, describes her new gender-neutral clothing collection called ONE.
Its pieces range from bucket hats to ponchos, and scream comfortable, ethical, and functional spring streetwear. Many exhibit gauzy patterns in easter hues, others are block coloured in more valiant ones. One of the coolest things about this collection, however, is that many of its garments are hand-painted and hand-dyed. ONE differs from Jojee Apparel’s previous collections not only in its aesthetic but more so in its contribution to social change.
ONE is size, age, race, and gender-inclusive. On the brand’s website, Bylow writes, “A Gender-Neutral collection was the natural progression for my designs. As I reflected upon why I was upholding the typical fashion binary categorization within my brand, it didn’t make sense and went against everything Jojee Apparel stands for. Jojee is inclusive and encourages people to dress how they want regardless of societal pressure to be a certain way. The ONE collection upholds this ethos. Each ONE garment can be worn by anyone and everyone.”
The Other Press was lucky enough to catch up with Bylow and chat via a Facebook messenger interview. We first asked her what the above epiphany was rooted in. “During a photoshoot, I had forgotten to shoot one of the women’s jackets and we ended up shooting it on a male model instead. When I was editing the photos and making the website, I questioned what section to list the jacket in. […] My perplexity was reinforced by comments on our social media saying, ‘I wish you made this in Men’s,’ ‘Do you have this in Women’s?’ The garments being commented on worked for all genders.”
She continues, “When it was time to start the idea and conceptualization phase of a new collection, gender-neutral seemed like a natural progression. The division of clothing by gender has never worked for me and I often found myself in the men’s sections of stores. This made me feel unattractive and confused. I didn’t want to make anyone feel that way.” When it came to making the transition, there were a few difficulties. “What was ultimately holding me back was the lack of knowledge on how to draft my patterns to fit all body shapes. I spent a lot of time researching and testing and once I got my head wrapped around it, it was full steam ahead.”
However, despite Bylow’s overt and genuine intention, the line has not been received with full acceptance. Upon releasing the collection, she shared a promotional post on the Facebook page Made in Canada. The post was simple, noting that the line was fully Canadian having been made in her Ontario studio, as well, that it featured gender-neutral pieces. The short post was accompanied by an image where both a male and female wore the same jumpsuit.
The first comment on the post reads “I love the women’s suit, but not the man’s,” five laugh emojis accompanied this comment. One Facebook user responded, “They are both the same!” To which she replied, “I know, they look great on the woman, not the man.” Another user asked her to elaborate, and while she abandoned the post, another piped in, “I agree, I don’t find them gender-neutral, I find them feminine. The design is fine, the fabric is fine, the colours are not gender-neutral in my mind.”
This brief exchange of opinions shows the largely negative way in which non-binary clothing is being received. The user who commented that the jumpsuit’s colours were not gender-neutral reproduces what we have forever been taught: pink is for girls. After many other nasty comments, the group administrator took down the post, and deleted the most demeaning ones before putting it back up—with the post’s commenting turned off. These blatantly disapproving and rude opinions of the line’s aesthetic and concept are a great example of why projects like Bylow’s are so necessary for social change.
We asked Bylow what her reaction to these comments was. “I was really taken aback. It’s obvious from my designs that I’m not catering to the mainstream. What I make won’t resonate with everyone and I’m totally fine with that. The picture I chose to post was [of] a man and woman wearing the same hand-painted hooded jumpsuit. I chose this picture rather than some of my more traditional looks because it’s creative and highlights the overall feel of what I was going for with the ONE collection.”
“The demeaning comments ranged from, “I would be appalled if I saw someone wearing that,’ ‘It is too feminine for a man to wear,’ ‘makes me sick,’ ‘No wonder the male model is covering his face, it’s nasty.’ Strong reactions to a jumpsuit! […] I guarantee if I had posted a picture of just the female model or one of my looks that leaned towards the masculine side and removed the words “gender-neutral,” the post wouldn’t have received the negativity and hate. Some serious food for thought.”
What does this mean for the future of clothing? It gives us an idea of the molds which need to be broken and normalized. “For a long while big brands have been offering gender-neutral styles on top of their regular collections. Fully gender-neutral brands are certainly rarer. Fade Out Label and Zero Waste Daniel both come to mind as exceptional fully gender-neutral brands. I don’t think the archetype of what is traditionally feminine and masculine will ever go away. Some people really jive with it which is totally cool. For those that don’t, it’s nice to have options that fit outside of this categorization.”
We then asked Bylow if she believes collections such as ONE are paving the path to normalizing gender-neutral and essentially off-trend fashion. “If you had asked me this question before the launch of the ONE collection you would have gotten a much different answer. I thought it was standard to see gender-neutral clothing being offered by brands and that it was accepted. I didn’t think what I was doing with the ONE collection was in any way radical and still don’t. With that being said, the reactions to it have opened my eyes. A comment on an article written about ONE in the Orillia Matters online paper reads, ‘I’m tired of this push on gender neutrality. What happened to the days and morality of the Cleavers?’ This comment highlights a lack of acceptance for those that don’t fit into the archetypical 1950s suburban Cleaver family found in Leave it to Beaver. It’s 2021. Things have changed and will continue to change. Gender-neutral fashion is part of this change. It opens a space where the dichotomy between genders doesn’t exist and gives people the freedom to choose on their own accord. What we wear and how we express ourselves through clothing should be of no concern to anyone else. We should celebrate our diversity and appreciate our differences.”
Bylow’s ONE encourages others to break out of this strict gender-binary on-trend mold. There does not need to be a divide between males and females with regards to what clothing they use to convey their personality, or frankly, just want to wear. Yet, a very prominent division exists.
What does an ideal future look like for Bylow, in terms of aesthetic expression? “I would like to see the freedom for people to express themselves through clothing without being ridiculed and judged. An accepting, kind, and inclusive world.”