Gender neutral stores on the rise in Calgary
Businesses create safe spaces and open conversations downtown
By Drew Tytgat, Contributor
Walking into Velour clothing for the first time is an experience dashed with a lot of colour, bright patterns and the odd metallic hue. What is missing, though, are men’s and women’s sections. It still sells both, but recently adopted a new approach to organizing clothing. It’s gone gender neutral.
Stores that have gone gender neutral are starting to appear across Calgary, with Velour and Hedkandi Salon being two of the largest ones.
Velour, a shop on the second floor of a small business complex on 17 Ave and 9A St amalgamated its men’s and women’s sections over the summer.
Myra Miller is one of the co-owners of Velour, who runs the shop day to day.
“Over time, looking at our demographic and clientele who were coming, [we realized] there were a lot of people who weren’t fitting necessarily into the women’s or men’s,” said Miller.
Miller said that after conversations with a non-binary employee, the decision was made.
“It would feel validating that you could wear whatever you want and it’s not your gender.” – Blair Janke
“We really aren’t doing it because it’s a trend, it could have very well backfired,” she said, explaining that some clientele could have taken to it harshly and organizing sizes can become tricky business, but the response has all been very positive.
“We’re continuing to encourage or suggest pieces to people crossing the [gender] spectrum and trying to break down that barrier,” she said.
Hedkandi and Velour both announced that they were going to take steps towards gender neutrality on the same day, although it was unplanned.
Although these decisions were coming from a good place, Trent Warner, who does public relations for Hedkandi, said that it can be a risk. When the salon made the announcement to offer gender neutral pricing, there was some backlash.
“I think lots of men were particularly like … offended by it, maybe because the way we did it, we raised our men’s cuts a little to match that of our women’s,” they said, “that was offensive to them.”
“To the people we wanted to build relationships with I think it was overwhelmingly positive,” they said.
The negative reactions did not stop the change. It went ahead, and Warner said the salon is better for it.
“Our industry, generally on stuff like this, is a little bit behind. Most hair salons have that traditional gendered pricing structure … it was just kind of an agreed upon thing when we thought of it,” they said.
“We just wanted to set a standard and set a tone and kind of move off of the beaten path of what the hair industry has been like for the past x amount of years,” Warner said. ”Really we see no need for it.”
At both establishments, the change was implemented in a way that felt like a sure step forward for the business.
“It was just a natural progression to have our store reflect a lot of our values as well,” said Miller.
“What we really want to bring people, to create a comfortable and safe environment.”
Stores that are adopting gender neutrality are opening up a conversation not only about gender identities, but about the pervasiveness of gender in everyday life, according to Miller.
“I was noticing … how trained guys seem to be, like they just make a beeline to the back and stop and look at the men’s section and then they leave,” Miller said, “and I’m going ‘Oh, we gotta do something about this.”
“[Now] some guys end up selecting a women’s top that they wouldn’t necessarily have before and they aren’t necessarily gay or non-binary, so a lot of straight shoppers are buying stuff [this way] too.”
Blair Janke says that although they do not know of many gender neutral stores, the more that exist, the safer they would feel.
“Whenever I walk into a shop it’s always like ‘Hey, hey girl,” they said. “It would be so freeing [to shop somewhere gender neutral] because I could feel safe in every part of the store and not be nervous.”
“It would feel validating that you could wear whatever you want and it’s not your gender.”
Janke explained that they do not think that gender neutrality in stores only benefits trans and other LGBT+ people, but really is a step forward for everyone.
“I think [cisgender] people would have a lot more options as well, because right now we’re so limited in the gender binary of clothing … I don’t exist in that and I still wear clothes,” Janke said.
“You have to put something on your body and it doesn’t mean that you’re a woman, it doesn’t mean you’re a man.”
The rise of gender neutrality in stores does not seem to be starting or ending with Velour and Hedkandi. Although a relatively new concept gracing the Calgary streets, Miller, Warner and Janke all expressed hopefulness towards seeing more businesses adopt the similar policies.