RILA sat down with Rob Smith, CEO& Founder of Phluid Project
How did the Phluid Project come to be?
I am a FUTURIST who thrives working at the intersections of Free Enterprise and Humanity. Several years ago, I began a journey to live a more honest, authentic, altruistic life, merging my professional career with my greatest passion, advancing social justice. I was inspired by my heritage as a third generation Native American from the Ojibwa tribe to create The Phluid project, as a way to honor the Two Spirit indigenous leaders of the past and present. I created a place where I could leverage 30+ years of fashion leading multi-billion-dollar brands from Macy’s, Levi’s, Nike and Victoria’s Secret, coupling decades of work fighting for human rights and social equality.
Throughout the process of creating The Phluid Project and GET Phluid, I’ve immersed myself in an adventure of creating and exploring unchartered territories. I’ve chosen to unlearn in order to relearn. I went off into this wilderness with curiosity, parked both judgment and ego, and rooted myself in honest connection, social justice and a deep interest in the desires of our youth. This commitment has created The Phluid Project, a gender free fashion brand grounded in activism, community, and education. Through The Phluid Project, I've had the great fortune of getting to know humans of every generation, gender, race, religion, and socioeconomic status, better understanding the reality of the limiting labels society prescribes to us. Creating the space between the binaries allows each of us the curiosity and freedom to truly be our authentic selves. Fueled and inspired by the outlook and philosophy of younger generations, and realizing they want to identify and express in a way which heightens self-empowerment and demand for equality, I am extending The Phluid Project outside of a retail experience.
We are a brand with brand extension through licensing, wholesale, pop-up shops, partnerships, and collaborations. We are also an education and training vehicle, “GET Phluid,” helping to facilitate learning about the new generation as we deconstruct language, policy and culture to create affirming spaces through Gender Expansive Training.
How does the Phluid Project approach operating both as a platform for education as well as a retailer?
As we continue on our journey, sharing the knowledge we’ve learned over the past three years and helping major companies prepare for this new generation, not only as consumers, but as the newest generation to enter the workforce. Companies must begin to introduce and embrace gender expansive language and create a culture of acceptance and appreciation. Addressing one word in a policy can make an employee feel seen and affirmed. It takes some education, some policy adjustments, and an education throughout the company to open up and embrace folks who identify outside of the gender binary. And, yes, this includes pronouns, third gender markers, dress code policies, restroom accessibility and more.
We love to work with retailers that carry our collections. But, we’re comfortable in any space from consumer goods to financial services.
What is the Phluid Project’s approach to working with brands?
With GET Phluid, we meet brands where they are. We realize this may be the very beginning of the journey and it’s very introductory education seminars. Others have begun the journey and we dig deeper into expanding training workshops where employees get to work and practice on language. Also work on opportunities for them to impact change by giving them tools to advocate and become accomplices on this journey.
What advice would you offer retailers just starting to explore genderless approaches to their products?
The reality, everything we wear and the way we express ourselves is without gender. Society and marketing genders everything.
If we take down the word “ladies”’ from fragrances, you can shop by lighter, fresher scents.
Adding new navigation opportunities on a website allows for shopping by category instead of gender. Breaking down artificial barriers takes time, but we can begin to peel away the limitations we have created over time. I think it’s most glaringly obvious in the children’s section. How we use color and language to message a girl or boy to act or to portray a role that is full of limitations and expectations. We begin damaging humans at a very early age, conditioning them to be the person they are “supposed” to be. We are so much more authentic when we can express ourselves without society mandating our self-expression during the most impressionable time in our lives through apparel, color, toys and sports.
How can retailers get involved in the Phluid Project?
There are many ways to get the better involved.
Through The Phluid Project we sell apparel and accessories to major retailers. We work hard to ensure each retailer has a unique assortment that resonates with their consumer without losing our brand DNA. We enjoy the co-creation process.
Through GET Phluid, we meet employers where they are on their journey toward inclusion. We realize one size does not fit all. We set up time, listen to the desires of the company and create short term and long-term goals. This cannot be successfully achieved with a one-hour presentation. It takes time, commitment and work. We leverage our trainers, each of trans experience, as well as our community for focus groups and consumer insight, both with product creation and marketing. We work to ensure that entering this space that it’s done with intention and integrity.
Finally, I look around and recognize that there is nothing I would rather do with my life. It is my greatest honor to be a part of this moment in history. I recognize my privilege to be a part of this cultural zeitgeist as we all learn to free ourselves of the past and move toward the future...free to be.
At Nordstrom, we believe that we’re all made better by the diversity that exists within our communities. Our partnership with The Phluid Project supports our goal to make Nordstrom an inclusive shopping experience for everyone, and we’re excited to continue our partnership, serving customers with on-trend pieces that make them feel good and look their best.
- Nordstrom Spokesperson