‘Queerness isn’t a western concept’: Adeju Thompson is bringing genderless Nigerian Fashion to the World
There are very early examples of gender bending in African culture,“ explains the designer behind the gender-fluid Nigerian clothing label Lagos Space Programme. "Queerness isn’t a western concept.”
From West Africa to Europe and beyond, non-binary fashion designer Adeju Thompson is showcasing genderless African fashion on the world stage.
Thompson, 30, who uses they/them pronouns, grew up in Lagos and, bar a stint studying fashion design in the UK, has lived in Nigeria their entire life. In 2018, Thompson founded the label Lagos Space Programme. “I’m always collaging different ideas, tying all these things together,” Thompson said. “To highlight the queer community and also to make fun of myself and make fun of fashion.”
“I’ve just always felt incredibly fluid in how I express myself, because it’s always felt very natural to me,” Thompson explained. “I’m just so aware on a historical and personal level the damage toxic masculinity can cause. It’s just not a space I connect with.”
“It’s so important for me to express myself and share my story through my work,” Thompson added. “(It’s) my contribution to the political and cultural conversation.” (Read More
How these friends created a functional undergarment brand for trans, nonbinary and gender nonconforming people
Sometimes fashion is more than just fashion.
“The clothes that we put on our body actually have a big role in our self-esteem, our body image, our self expression and our sense of identity and affirmation,” says Mere Abrams, a licensed clinical social worker and co-founder of gender-affirming undergarment brand Urbody
, who uses they/them/theirs pronouns.
That can be especially true for people whose identity extends beyond the binary notions of gender. It’s something Abrams has experienced.
Growing up, Abrams would sneak into their brother’s room to try on his Batman briefs. “For whatever reason, it made me feel so much more comfortable in myself and in my body,” they say.
The fashion industry and retailers have taken steps in recent years to be more inclusive of all gender identities — stripping away binary gender categories, offering universal sizing and marketing “gender fluid” clothing items. But when it comes to creating garments that help people facilitate a more positive relationship with their bodies, little has been done, according to Abrams.
In founding Urbody, Abrams and their co-founder Anna Graham want to change that.
The line, launched in March, sells gender-affirming, functional undergarments for trans, non-binary and gender nonconforming individuals, ranging from $40 boxer briefs to $88 leggings. Abrams and Graham hope it will help change the future of the fashion industry. (Read More
What is gender-fluid clothing? Fashion industry experts explain.
“Gender-fluid or gender-inclusive clothing can be any clothing, in theory,” said Nick Paget, a senior analyst at World Global Style Network
(WGSN), a global trend forecasting company that analyzes consumer shopping behavior. “The notion that clothing as an expression of our personality belongs to one gender or another is the social construct that needs disassembling.”
“I think about a place that sells jeans, like Levi’s
: If I went in and am just looking for a certain cut and a certain size, I would go for that cut and size whether or not it said ‘men’s’ or ‘women's’ over it,” said Nalo Zidan
, a Black masculinities scholar and a designer for Yazi Clothing
. “It’s because I’m looking for a particular fit to my body to help me express my sense of style. A designer’s focus should be getting the clothes on bodies to be right in relation to sizing.”
Brands that place special attention on fit — and refrain from splitting their collections into genders binaries — show genuine interest in their consumers, according to some experts. For example, Zidan referenced TomboyX
, where the fit and sizing process is key to the brand’s identity. Fran Dunaway
initially started the company when she couldn’t find comfortable boxers for herself — TomboyX offers “gender neutral” undergarments.
Fran Dunaway founded TomboyX with wife Naomi Gonzalez, aiming for a simple mission: Creating a comfortable and durable button-up shirt.
“A lot of times, companies start with Zero or Size Two, and then they use an algorithm to grade,” explained Dunaway, noting how one design spec informs another spec via some calculation or another. “Rather than just using an algorithm, we brought real customers in and real fit models and measured on different body types.” TomboyX’s “fit-tested on all body types” approach means the company fits undergarments on the bodies of “cis-female, cis-male and all of the different genders and a spectrum of identities” and compiles the data to create their sizes. By deemphasizing gender, they may better embody what it means to be a gender fluid company, Zidan told us. (Read More