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Keny Galleries' impressive 40th-anniversary exhibit can be seen in person or online

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Fashion & Style

Why VCs are backing gender-neutral fashion

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As one of Silicon Valley’s most well-known venture capital firms, Kleiner Perkins was an early backer of Amazon, Google and Twitter. But it recently invested in a different kind of disruptive startup: Re-inc, the gender-neutral fashion and lifestyle brand from US women’s soccer star Megan Rapinoe, the pink-haired, gender equality activist known for leading the US to World Cup victory, and her teammates Tobin Heath, Meghan Klingenberg and Christen Press.

Amid an industry-wide reckoning for better inclusion and diversity, this vote of confidence from a traditional VC firm signifies that rethinking gender norms isn’t just a cultural groundswell — it’s something that might make money.

“There’s a shift happening around what fashion looks like and who people look up to as role models, and I felt like they had an opportunity to be leading the charge on some of that,” says Kleiner Perkins principal Annie Case, who invested an undisclosed sum in Re-inc, whose streetwear and athleisure is released as capsule collection drops in gender-neutral sizes from XXS to XXXL.

“It was less about wanting to push into fashion. We think a lot about both online and offline communities and human expression, and this was a really interesting example of fashion as a wedge into these broader communities and beliefs.”

Klingenberg says that the funding “communicates that everyone — including investors — are ready for change. New leaders and new business concepts”.

Tobin Heath, Christen Press and Megan Rapinoe (L-R) are on the US women’s national soccer team, while Meghan Klingenberg is a former member and currently plays in the National Women’s Soccer League. 

© Re-inc

There is still some way to go. The investment community has been slowly looking at gender non-conforming and LGBTQ-led brands, which often go hand-in-hand in conversations about representation in fashion. In June, Ohio-based VC firm Loud Capital announced the Pride Fund 1, a $10 million fund that will invest in companies led by LGBTQ+ founders. The fund’s CEO, Densil Porteous, said that a couple fashion brands are under consideration. And last May, gender-neutral underwear and swim brand TomboyX received $18 million from investment firm The Craftory.

It is still early days for the market opportunity to be fully tested. A 2019 study found that 27 per cent of Gen Z are interested in gender-neutral clothing lines. Combined, US Gen Z and millennial consumers account for $350 billion in spending power.

Rapinoe is ebullient: “We felt like the world is moving in a gender-fluid direction, and we’re seeing it too,” she told Vogue Business. “Fashion is a bit all over the place… and we saw the opportunity to really break through binary gender norms.”

Redefining norms

Re-inc was introduced one year ago amid a gender-discrimination lawsuit against the US Soccer Federation and three days before the start of the Women’s World Cup (in which three of the founders played). This highly publicised suit, which argued that women should be paid more equitably, combined with the World Cup win, made them well-positioned to parlay gender equity from the field to fashion.

Re-inc investor Annie Case says the brand has been relatively insulated from the challenges due to the pandemic, in part because it is online-only and its apparel is suitable for spending time at home.

© Re-inc

This is partly why Case, who played soccer with Press while they were both students at Stanford University, invested. “They stand for so much more than just the T-shirt,” she says, adding that they come with a built-in community of fans who appreciate both their activism and their fashion sense. “As the world transforms rapidly, we need a reset,” Press says. “We are looking to disrupt the male-dominated fashion industry by making clothing for all, made by women.”

Investing in challenger brands

The Craftory co-founder Ernesto Schmitt, who led the investment in TomboyX, says that while the firm’s mission is to invest in “challenger brands” — including those that might have been left behind in terms of equality or diversity — it is not a charitable vehicle but rather an investment house with the intention to make profitable returns. In researching TomboyX, whose hero product is boxer briefs for women, it was clear that there was enormous potential not only because of the fit and function of the product but because it offered a broader representation of femininity, he says.

We saw the opportunity to really break through binary gender norms.

Schmitt estimates that 20 to 30 per cent of consumers now prioritise purchases based on a product’s mission, rather than its function, even if it is more expensive.

This presents an opportunity for investors. “You’re seeing many funds, including tech funds, now invest in consumer goods brands because they see that that is where the future value lies. Brands like TomboyX are in an exciting space because they represent a new manifestation of the zeitgeist,” he says. Often, he adds, this forces incumbent brands to adapt. He anticipates that brands will increasingly incorporate non-binary offerings, but doubts if consumers will find it authentic.

“Many brands have built their businesses on being more sexualised or specific to a gender, and for older brands, it’s hard to shift,” Case says. “Companies that are really well-positioned are those who are not having to change or adapt their values. Re-inc is touching on a lot of the themes in reaching [Gen Z] in an authentic way, rather than trying to generate a report on, ‘What does Gen Z value? Let’s go build toward that’”.

Beyond gender

In 2016, Porteous, of the Pride Fund 1, wore a tunic from gender-neutral apparel brand Olly Awake. This opened up his eyes to gender-neutral clothing, and helped shape his investment thesis with the fund, for which he is now looking at two fashion brands from LGBTQ+ founders. “It’s individuals who are pushing boundaries and redefining what fashion is. For so long, we developed fashion in spheres of male and female,” he says.

In place of numbered sizes, Ohio-based gender-neutral fashion brand Olly Awake uses shapes. 

© Kyle Asperger/Olly Awake

Porteous says that investing in LGBTQ+ founders means not just investing in brands that are targeted toward a queer or non-binary audience; instead, it’s an effort to invest in people, and ideas, that might have been underrepresented previously. TomboyX, Schmitt points out, is not necessarily about being a gender-neutral brand, but rather an antidote to “antiquated representations of women in underwear”.

Rapinoe even rejects the limitations of the label “gender neutral”. “All of us founders like to dress in a way that’s almost beyond gender. It’s not about neutrality or even fluidity. It’s just about wearing what looks and feels great to us,” she says.

However, Porteous counters, while a founder’s gender identity or sexuality is not the reason they might receive funding, it might be what led them to a great idea. “It’s not central, but it’s relevant,” he says. “The business idea has validity, but a cis-gendered white guy would probably not think of that in this moment.”

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Comments, questions or feedback? Email us at feedback@voguebusiness.com.

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8 of Kate Middleton’s favourite sustainable brands

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The Duchess of Cambridge is known for re-wearing pieces that she’s owned for years—a practice that is inherently sustainable, as it both reduces the number of clothes you buy and prevents the garments from ending up in landfill. Recently though, the royal—like her sister-in-law, the Duchess of Sussex—has been wearing more eco-friendly and ethical labels, including Faithfull the Brand and Beulah London.

Considering the impact the Duchess’s fashion choices have across the world (the so-called ‘Kate effect’ has led to searches for particular items rising by an average of 86 per cent during lockdown), it’s only a good thing that she’s throwing her support behind designers promoting sustainable practices. Here, we round up eight brands the Duchess has been championing.

1. Faithfull the Brand

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge during a visit to The Nook in Framlingham Earl, Norfolk, United Kingdom, June 2020.

© Photography Getty Images

Founded by designers Sarah-Jane Abrahams and Helle Them-Enger in 2012, Bali-based label Faithfull the Brand’s pieces are an antidote to mass consumerism, with all their pieces handmade, hand-dyed and hand-printed by local artisans in Indonesia. The Duchess wore the brand’s Marie-Louise midi dress during a visit to East Anglia’s Children’s Hospice in Norfolk in June, leading to it instantly selling out online.

2. Raey

Fashion editor favourite Raey also got the Duchess’s seal of approval in May, after the royal wore a yellow printed dress by the brand for a television appearance. Launched in 2015, MatchesFashion’s in-house label, which is best known for its minimal designs, focuses on using materials with low environmental impact, as well as working with artisans and craftspeople to produce its garments.

3. Sézane

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge visits LEYF (London Early Years Foundation) Stockwell Gardens Nursery & Pre-School, London, January 2020.

© Photography Getty Images

Parisian brand Sézane—whose celebrity supporters include Bella Hadid and Irina Shayk—has also caught the eye of the Duchess recently, with the royal wearing a cream jumper by the brand during a visit to a London nursery in January. As well as being a go-to for French-style staples, the label has also laid out a series of detailed environmental commitments, including a target of using 80 per cent eco-friendly materials by 2021.

4. Stella McCartney

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge visits The National Portrait Gallery in London, July 2012.

© Photography Getty Images

A long-time fan of Stella McCartney, the Duchess most recently re-wore a blue shift dress by the designer—first seen in 2012—to launch her new photography competition, Hold Still, in June. With McCartney being well known for her eco credentials, it’s no surprise that both the Duchess of Cambridge and the Duchess of Sussex (who enlisted the designer to create her evening wedding dress in 2019) are among her high-profile clients.

5. Beulah London

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge visits Queen Elizabeth Hospital in King’s Lynn as part of the NHS birthday celebrations on July 2020.

© Photography Getty Images

Known for her desire to support charitable causes, it’s clear why British brand Beulah London is another of the Duchess’s favourites. The label, founded by Natasha Rufus Isaacs and Lavinia Brennan in 2009, aims to create employment for previously trafficked women, with 10 per cent of profits going to the Impact Partners via the Beulah Trust, which works to eradicate modern-day slavery. The royal wore a navy floral dress by the label during a hospital visit in July, wearing a similar design in red for a video message in May.

6. Perfect Moment

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge at a charity event at Peterley Manor Farm, England, December 2019.

© Photography Getty Images

For a sportier look, the Duchess favours skiwear brand Perfect Moment, wearing a red puffer jacket by the label (first seen during an outing to London’s Olympic Park in 2017) for a festive engagement in December 2019. Founded by professional skier and filmmaker Thierry Donard back in 1984, the brand uses eco-friendly fabrics made from recycled plastic bottles, while its down is 100 per cent natural and recyclable.

7. Daniella Draper

Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge visits Cardiff, Wales in January 2020.

© Photography Getty Images

The Duchess debuted a new personalised pendant necklace during a visit to Wales in January, featuring the initials of her children: George, Charlotte and Louis. Its origin? Responsible jewellery brand Daniella Draper, which makes all its products in England and uses recycled gold and silver. The necklace isn’t the only piece by the designer owned by the royal: the Duchess also recently wore a pair of hoop earrings by the brand during a Zoom call with charity Action on Addiction.

8. Monica Vinader

Catherine, The Duchess of Cambridge visits the RHS Chelsea Flower Show, May 2019.

© Photography Shutterstock

Ethical jewellery brand Monica Vinader is another regular feature of the Duchess’s jewellery box, with Kate first wearing a pair of green onyx earrings by the designer back in 2016. As well as offering affordable pieces, the brand is committed to the responsible sourcing of all its materials, as well as offering a lifetime repair service to ensure the longevity of its pieces. The jewellery label also works with charities including Women for Women International to ensure it has a positive social impact.

Also read: 

6 of Kate Middleton’s sold-out Zoom looks that you can recreate with pieces from Zara, H&M and more

7 times Kate Middleton aced wedding-guest style like a modern-day royal

50+ pictures and videos inside Meghan Markle and Prince Harry’s stunning royal wedding


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The 6 Best Tie-Front Shirts and How to Style Them

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While timeless in nature, the classic button-down shirt has also been trending this season amongst the fashion crowd. Sure, an oxford blouse could be considered “plain” in theory, but its polished silhouette is what makes it an ideal piece in some of the chicest, effortless ‘fits. And as we’ve been spotting on the ‘gram recently, there’s one shirting trend that can enhance those button-down looks even more.

Yep, talking about the tie-front shirting vibe here. Whether purchased as an intentional tie-front top or tied on its own from a regular oversized shirt, the addition of this easy piece will take any simple ensemble to the next level as it will bring extra dimension to a look.

To showcase what we mean, we rounded up a bit of visual inspiration featuring the top. And if you’re shopping at the moment, we’re also showcasing how to master each look as well.

 

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