Fashion doesn’t have a gender. The Phluid Project is a new space dedicated to providing gender-free clothing, providing inclusive events, and pushing customers to think outside of the binary.
The Phluid Project in the Spotlight:
Name of business: The Phluid Project
Name of founders: Rob Smith
Date founded: March 2018
Date certified: November 2018
Location of business: New York, NY
Number of employees: 15-20
1. What is The Phluid Project?
The Phluid Project is the world’s first gender-free store and community space. We are a movement, committed to challenging the ethos of traditions past and rather encouraging those which embrace and celebrate freedom and self-expression. It is a world where gender is a spectrum and expressed authentically and individually through fashion, cafe, and community. At the essence of The Phluid Project’s concept is inclusion, and thereby welcoming all races, genders, and ages. TPP is grounded in purpose, aligning with queer-owned brands and charitable foundations with every product.
2. What were you doing before you founded your business?
I have worked as a retail executive for well-known companies and brands. Most recently, at Haddad Brands – Nike, Levi’s, Jordan, Converse, I provided strategic oversight in daily operations of the design, branding, sourcing, and marketing departments. I led a team of 100, including 4 VPs and 20 managers. While at Victoria’s Secret, I directed a $600M apparel, shoe and accessory business for catalog and online distribution, managed content for 65 catalogs yearly, and created the industry’s #1 ranked website. During my 20+ years at Macy’s, I led a team of 6 VPs and 75 executives, successfully merging four operating divisions into one division, while delivering sales and profit growth. I consistently executed more than 6 mergers of Macy’s divisions into one successful Macy’s.
3. How did you get the concept or idea for your business?
After 30 years in the retail space spanning corporate institutions like Macy’s and Nike, I decided to quit my job, put on a backpack and go on a global trip. My intention was to honor my individual freedoms and ambitions and to do so without the constraints of a traditional professional environment. While being away, and tapping into passions most true to my heart which is working with young people in the LGBTQ community, I realized I wanted to create a gender-neutral shopping experience and spent the following months creating and bringing to fruition that exact vision.
4. What makes your business stand out when compared to other businesses in your field?
The Phluid Project highlights and normalizes the beauty of gender expression like no other space in our field. I created the first gender-less mannequin. The appreciation for doing so has spanned shoppers and visual merchandisers alike, realizing and appreciating the freedom and expression this allows. I believe the model of part-retail part-cafe and community space to be the future of retail. Phluid hosts poetry readings, talks, events, and booking our community room free of charge which encourages a sense of loyalty with consumers.
5. What are your goals for your business? Where do you hope to see your business in one, five, ten years?
First and foremost my concentration is NY and making our flagship here a success. That said, of course, we look forward to expansion both stateside and abroad. I hope we are the first of many similar spaces internationally.
6. How has being a member of the LGBT community impacted your business, if at all?
As an executive in traditional retailers for 30+ years, I was unable, uncomfortable even, to express my authentic self. Phluid encourages my playful self, and that has proven so liberating. It is infectious, the freedom to present yourself to the outside world the way you feel inside. This truth has permeated Phluid’s staff as well and I think contributes and attributes to company loyalty. My business provides the opportunity to merge my profession with my passion. I am taken and inspired by today’s youth’s intuitive understanding of identity and wanted to create a safe space to nurture and encourage individuality. In many ways, I have created a retail space and community center I wish I had access to as a young person.
7. How has being a Certified LGBTBE through NGLCC impacted your business?
It is an honor to be certified through NGLCC and gives our business the weight and legitimacy in business and the community it deserves. Even with such recent certification, I notice a broader reach and opportunity for greater advancement,
8. What advice would you give to an LGBT person starting a business?
Embrace and learn about your community. I hired a diversity coach, Aaron Rose, who truly taught me the nuances of appropriate language and the importance of pronouns. As a world, we are in the process of an unlearning and a relearning, and it is our jobs as humans to share the knowledge we have with others and to practice patience with those who require.
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