Men’s or women’s? ‘Shoe store’ sheds light on genderqueer struggles

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‘Shoe store’ sheds light on genderqueer struggles
WATCH: A new "shoe store" has popped up in Regina's atmosphere. This store doesn't have anything for sale though, except a message about inclusivity. – Jun 17, 2019

A new kind of store has popped up in Regina’s atmosphere, one that displays the struggles genderqueer and non-binary people face when they shop.

Un/Tied Shoes is an online shoe store, with each pair telling a story about what it’s like to be non-binary in a gender-specific world.

Evie Ruddy, a Regina-based artist, launched the site and each story is told by them, a non-binary person.

“Some people might say, ‘it’s just shoes, it’s just clothing’. But [clothing] is vital to a person’s gender expression,” Ruddy said.

“It’s emulating my experience while also trying to challenge the gender binary.”

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The online experience begins on the site’s landing page where people must choose either ‘man or woman’, a common choice people face when choosing clothing, but for a non-binary person, those two stark choices may not present an option for them.

“It makes people think, ‘what if I didn’t identify as male or female but I’m presented with these two categories right away?’ You have to click on one to enter into the store, yet you don’t identify as either,” Ruddy said.

Visitors are then taken to a page with many shoe options, each one holding a story from Ruddy’s life.

Evie’s story begins with children’s shoes called “the Johnny”, explaining how Evie was supposed to be born a boy, and was born a girl. The story then takes readers to Evie’s teenage years packaged as shoes called “the idol.” A punk rock style that encompassed a time where Evie didn’t have a crush on Corey Hart, but wanted to be him.

The site not only features a story, and items that tell it, but it surfaces other struggles non-binary people may face like what Ruddy calls a “genderqueer tax,” which customers of the site are given when they check out.

“It explains that this is an extra fee that I sometimes have to pay, because I’ll buy shirts that don’t fit me and then I’ll have to tailor them to fit.”

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The tax sheds light on a bigger trend in fashion and societal gender norms. Men’s clothing is often found in bigger sizes, while women’s clothing is made to fit smaller statured people.

“I face challenges being a small person who is interested in wearing men’s clothing,” Ruddy explained. “Because of the gender binary and because of the assumptions that the fashion industry has about what a man is and what a woman is.”

Ruddy said the store is an invitation to the fashion industry, to think about people who don’t fit the norm and here in Regina, a store called Norwood shares the sentiment, by including a clothing line called Peau de Loup.

It’s an ethical, Vancouver-based clothing company that offers masculine-styled shirts in sizes for smaller people, or those born assigned to female.

“Finding gender-affirming clothing is really important for people when it comes to expressing who they are and moving about in the world in a way that makes them feel confident and authentic,” Peau de Loup spokesperson Malloreigh Hamilton said.

“We’ve tried to create a product that helps people show who they are on the inside, on the outside.”

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Hamilton noted the negative impacts that not being able to fully express who you are, can have on a person.

“Many of us, especially tomboys, are in this trap where we’ve been navigating the world our whole lives just never feeling like we look like how we want to look, and we don’t feel right in our bodies.”

“Smaller cities or smaller towns are really the hardest place to be a non-binary or gender non-conforming or queer person, because you don’t see a lot of representation in your daily life.”

Ruddy said they hope the site is a call to action for the industry to get away from the confines of two genders.

“I hope that clothing stores and the fashion industry start to think about why it is that they market their clothes to men and women and why they make clothing in limited sizes for men and for women.

“I invite them to think about making these styles of clothes for all sizes and all shapes of people.”

The store launched on June 5.

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