Rob Smith’s six-month-old clothing store, The Phluid Project, is an explosion of color.
The NoHo store is also a display of equality: It calls itself the world’s first gender-free store.
“This is a safe space, this is a space that anybody could come in, free of judgment and just be their authentic selves,” said Smith, the owner and founder of The Phluid Project.
He spent 30 years in the fashion industry before he took a year off to travel. He returned with a new idea: A store where all the clothes, shoes, and accessories can be worn by anyone of any gender.
“Whether you’re a non-binary or trans or gender fluid or gay, it’s just that the concept of why should I be — why should I have to live up to the social code that society’s created around gender?” Smith said.
The Phluid Project sells name brands, its own clothing line, and the work of new designers, including store manager Travis Weaver and his brand One DNA.
“I created a line of gender-neutral basics,” Weaver said. “I think it’s important to have something that’s for everyone.”
Gender-free by no means translates as “plain.” The clothes sold at the store are bold and brash, challenging gender stereotypes.
“A lot of times I’m in Midtown and I’m wearing one of my tunics that’s not with like pants at that time. I do get a lot of stares and it does make me feel uncomfortable, but I think it’s something important to do,” Weaver said. “I think it’s important to live your true authentic self.”
Besides the wide array of colorful clothing and accessories, The Phluid Project also features a community space that’s just as inclusive.
It includes a Rise coffee shop, a bleacher area to relax or listen to monthly speakers, and a conference room that can be reserved at no cost.
“Sometimes people, even in the city, they leave their apartment where they’re safe, and they come here where they’re safe, and the time in between is very scary and dangerous for many people especially if you’re gender non-conforming, if you’re trans — if you stand out in any way, people can be hard,” Smith said.
The concept strikes a chord with many customers.
“I think everyone should do what makes them happy, wear what makes them happy, love what makes them happy,” customer Hannah Taylor said. “So I think a store like this is really important.”
The Phluid Project is hosting several parties and runway shows during Fashion Week. Every other week, the gender-free shop is open for anyone who wants to stop by.