"It’s a closer step towards people acknowledged as people, and not their cultural-assigned birth labels. It’s a chance to push the envelope and emphasise the question: should clothing be gendered at all?"
Stephen A. Russell

20 Feb 2017 - 3:10 PM  UPDATED 20 Feb 2017 - 5:16 PM

Two fashion brands challenging gender stereotypes will strut their stuff on the catwalk when The Aurora Group charity hosts its latest fundraiser, the [STYLE] aGender genderqueer fashion parade during this year’s Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras Festival.

Hosted at Waterloo’s Commune on February 24, the runway show will feature gender and sexuality-diverse models, and there will be panel discussion on gender-queer fashion to follow.

Cass Delaine and Hannah Mackenzie co-founded Androswag in 2016 after their own personal struggles growing up wanting to wear boys clothes and either facing ridicule from their peers or not being able to get hold of the right fit.

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“We gather too often for inequality. This is an opportunity to focus on the celebration of their lives and achievements.”

“Clothes reflect who we feel we are,” Delaine says. “We've aimed to create a platform of expression, a society for chicks who like dude's clothes, no matter how you identify. Our vision is to have all gender lines busted, but we can only break through one gender stereotype at a time.”

Inspired by the likes of Calvin Klein, Hugo Boss and Marc Jacobs with a dash of street style a-la Diesel or G-Star, Delaine says the brand aims to welcome all colours of the rainbow. “At the end of the day, we're probably most defined by what we don't do; pinks, frills, pastels, sparkles or glitter, sweet or innocent. We make what society would have previously deemed traditional menswear and cater it to the tomboy, the queer woman, the non-binary person and the androgynous human.”

Both hailing from creative backgrounds and with a passion to work for themselves, Androswag was a natural fit. The [Style] aGender event provides a great platform for the brand, particularly as queer communities have gravitated towards the range. “As two homosexual homosapiens, we love Mardi Gras and all it represents,” Mackenzie says. “We love the queer community, culture and creativity. It's our stomping ground. We know our customers because we are our customers.”

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Exposure for androgynous brands also helps combat stigma, Mackenzie adds. “The less segregation there is, the more acceptance, the more embracing of the new and unfamiliar. It’s a closer step towards people acknowledged as people, and not their cultural-assigned birth labels. It’s a chance to push the envelope and emphasise the question: should clothing be gendered at all?”

Clarita Farrugia, a former PE teacher, founded Tom-Boi in 2012 and says it’s been a steep learning curve switching to the fashion world, with the help of her partner’s IT and accounting know-how, but a challenge worth accepting to help out women who don’t want to be pigeon-holed in their sartorial selections.

“I’m gay and that’s not something I’d ever try to hide, but with the Tom-Boi brand, I want to aim it at any women who embrace the tomboy look,” Farrugia says. “She doesn’t care what society says, she’ll wear tracksuit pants, run in the mud and play with the boys. It’s really about a girl that goes against the grain and is empowered to be whatever she wants.”

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Pointing to the launch of the AFL women’s league and the fervour of the female fans hanging for kick off, Farrugia says this is the sort of audience she’d love to get into Tom-Boi’s boxers and briefs, caps, socks and singlets. “The long-term plan is to be Top Man for women, but that takes time and money.”

Farrugia says that in blurring the boundaries between what’s perceived as male and female clothing, she hopes to challenge stereotypes, including the notion of all tomboys dressing alike. “Tomboy fashion goes back along way and includes the likes of Katherine Hepburn and Coco Chanel,” Farrugia says. “I love Lizzie Garret Mettler’s book Tomboy Style: Beyond the Boundaries of Fashion, which runs through the various archetypes. It was really championed by the feminist movement and that’s what we want to hit on, that empowerment.”

The Aurora Group’s Mardi Gras Festival fashion event Style aGender takes place at Commune, in Waterloo on February 24 at 6:30pm. For more information and tickets, click here.

SBS will be streaming the 2017 Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras parade live on Saturday, March 4 on SBS On Demand, and will then air our Mardi Gras special event - with commentary from our hosts, behind-the-scenes action and exclusive interviews - on Sunday March 5. In the meantime, you can keep up with all our Mardi Gras content here.