On March 1, the world's "first gender free store" opened its doors in Manhattan. Called The Phluid Project, the store is a mix of a retail and community space meant to offer a place for people to feel free in their expression of identity, whatever that may be, and to foster connection and conversation centered around a gender-fluid atmosphere. Founded by Rob Smith, whose work with the project is preceded by 30 years in retail, says he was inspired to create The Phluid Project by his work at the Hetrick Martin Institute, a social services organization for LGBTQ youth. We spoke with Smith about the store's open, which designers they're working with and why gender-fluid spaces are beneficial for us all.

What was the inspiration behind the store?

The Phluid Project is a gender-free store and community space committed to redefining gender labels and creating a place for self-expression and creative sharing where strangers, allies, friends — people — can unapologetically be themselves.

I've always wanted to create spaces for young people to really be themselves. As a kid I didn't have that, and I often think about how my life might have been different if I had the opportunity to explore my authentic identity sooner. Even now I'm still in a process of peeling back the layers of who I thought I should be and finding out who I really am. I want to give young people a safe space to truly express themselves.

Which designers are sold in the store, and why?

About half of the assortment is The Phluid Project, which is both apparel and accessories. We're launching with a large collection of graphic t-shirts with inspiring and uplifting messages about connection and inclusion. The balance of other brands includes: Gypsy Sport, Fila, Champion, Meat, Soulland, Levi's, Dr Martens, Superga, State Bags, Izpezi, Context Skin, Bon Parfumier, Taschen, and Rizzoli to name a few.

Who should shop at The Phluid Project?

Practically speaking, we plan to expand our outreach and connection through our website, which is part retail, part conversation. Just like The Phluid Project store is a place for connection, storytelling, and exploration, the website will bring that community space to more and more people. The community creates the content. We simply create the platform for self expression.

Why is this project important to you?

The Phluid Project is part of a paradigm shift that is currently happening in our society. Today's young people are leaving behind the traditional roles and structures that constrained Gen Y and Baby Boomers as young people. They are choosing to live a freer and more self-expressive life that's honest, real, and courageous. They are asserting their right to self-determination, and they intuitively understand that identity continually evolves over a person's lifetime. The Phluid Project seeks to support and amplify this movement by offering an intentional space for discovery and self-expression.

Images via Daniel Potes, Sonzai Photography

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