For those of you who are ready to view footwear in an entirely new way, let me introduce you to Un/tied Shoes.
Launched in June 2019 in the guise of a fictitious online shoe store, Un/tied Shoes takes viewers on a mock lifestyle-driven online shopping experience. The kind in which each customer envisions their journey reaping the-ultimate-pair-of-shoes-that-will-finally-make-my-life-complete. Shoes, of course, being a metaphor for the much meatier matter of how mainstream fashion empowers -- or denies -- our ability to comfortably express our true identity. Then again, it's also very much about shoes.
Creator Evie Ruddy covets men's shoes. But at five feet tall, Ruddy faced shoe and clothing choices limited by the mainstream fashion industry's assumptions around gendered categories and sizing. Ruddy, who uses they/them/their pronouns, has long struggled to match their outward appearance to their trans-masculine gender identity. They live in Regina, Saskatchewan, where they work as a communications officer, freelance writer, and audio walking-tour producer.
Initially, Ruddy began by laying out their growing collection of shoes to illustrate the progression of their gender identity. According to Ruddy, "We all say something about ourselves through our fashion choices and outward expression, but this is particularly true for genderqueer people like me. And while my options in this regard have improved since I was a child, I've always had difficulty finding shoes and clothes that 'fit.'"
The issues faced by trans and non-binary people are still often neglected or misunderstood. Ruddy believes everyone, however, can relate to wanting a pair of shoes or a piece of clothing that informs their identity.
Ruddy wants to free viewers from the ties that ground us in the traditional gender binary. Throughout their life Ruddy has struggled with clothes and shoes and especially gender identity. There are few masculine styles that cater to smaller sizes.
Ruddy pitched the National Film Board the idea of lining up shoes and documenting them. This then morphed into the idea of an online challenge of the gender binary in the fashion industry. Since the site is open to everyone, Ruddy is hoping to reach those who may not know the story of genderqueer persons.
Un/tied offers people choices when actually there is no choice and this forces shoppers to face the struggles encountered when shopping for something as simple as shoes. Ruddy hopes visitors to the site realize not everyone is included among "people who take for granted the ease with which they can display their gender identity."
For Ruddy the whole shopping experience leaves them feeling disheartened and defeated and "facing the fact that clothes and shoes express who I am, but that I don't fit the gender binary and I'm different. So, I'd like people and the fashion industry to question why they make men's clothes and shoes in certain sizes."
To reach a larger audience, the interactive exhibit is expanding to include pop-up stores at physical locations with photos of shoes and Ruddy reading stories sent to them by others detailing their shopping experiences and level of satisfaction.
Gender neutral clothing and shoes are available online but they are more expensive due to their rarity. Then, shoppers have to add shipping and exchange for U.S. funds since most are American sites. Total it up and often men's fashion in smaller sizes is far too expensive for the average customer.
Ruddy highlights this fact by adding a queer tax at the end of the Un/tied shopping experience. For Ruddy this exemplifies the cost of alterations to traditional men's sizing for clothing as well as the cost of ordering shoes online from the United States.
Recently, Ruddy did find Peau De Loup, an online store with one brick-and-mortar location in Vancouver, B.C. Founded in 2012 by clothing designer Adelle Renaud and Canadian soccer player and visual artist Erin McLeod, Peau De Loup specializes in redefined feminine aesthetic in womenswear by creating functional, well-made, timeless apparel.
In 2015 the company expanded to serve an older female demography by adding their Caposhie line. The androgynous-style clothing and shoes are designed for all bodies with curves regardless of gender identity.
Using upcycled fabric and manufacturers in Bangladesh and China that pay living wages, Peau De Loup is able to manufacture limited-edition Alpha-fit button-down shirts in a range of 16 sizes. The shirts include a secret inner pocket on the left breast big enough for cash, credit cards, and even your phone. It's situated on the inside of the shirt so valuable items are safely held against your body.
For the Peau De Loup team, it's always been so much more than creating a cool shirt. It's about creating clothing that makes the wearer feel the same on the outside as they do on the inside.
Malloreigh Hamilton, brand manager for Peau De Loup, believes:
"One of the most powerful things I've found about working with Peau De Loup is witnessing the transformation some of our customers have when they try on our shirts. I've had multiple people tell me that they've never had a positive experience shopping for clothes before coming to PDL. I had one customer in tears after their first time -- that was how powerful it was for them to find gender-affirming clothing that they felt confident, authentic, and like themselves in."
Renaud's French-Canadian grandmother used to tell Adelle she was a wolf in sheep's clothing because of her tomboy look. So, it was very fitting for Adelle to use her grandmother's term of endearment, Peau De Loup, for the company, since it creates fashion that helps tomboys express externally the way they feel internally. Hamilton says, "When that hits home for people, it is truly magical to see."
Peau De Loup clientele range from cis-gendered women to nonbinary and transmasculine individuals, but the clothing is designed for bodies that tend to be narrower through the shoulders and wider through the hips.
Ruddy hopes their story provides a relatable, personal demonstration of the negative effects that result from a fashion industry built on forced choices. They look forward to the day when:
"Clothing-store owners see this story and question how and why they market certain clothes to women and others to men. I also hope servers and restaurant owners see it and think twice about assuming the gender of their customers. And I hope that people who identify as trans and non-binary see their experiences reflected."
Doreen Nicoll is a freelance writer, teacher, social activist, and member of several community organizations working diligently to end poverty, hunger and gendered violence.
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