Preston Souza is a non-binary influencer championing gender-fluid fashion, and one of the original employees of the world’s first gender-free store The Phluid Project, based in Manhattan. Founded by Rob Smith (a former fashion executive who’s worked at Macy’s, Victoria’s Secret, Levi’s, and Nike), the company is now on a mission to challenge boundaries and empower individuals to explore identity through acceptance, balance, integrity, intention, and openness - and Souza has been a key voice in the process.
Since the store’s humble beginnings in March 2018, Souza has grown into their current role of Chief of Staff and Product Curation; become a major advocate for gender-free clothing; mediated a Europhia panel with Hunter Schafer and Barbie Ferreira; and gotten a design credit for a World Pride 2019 sunglasses collab with custom eyewear brand King Children under their belt. They were alsorecently featured in a book of portraits celebrating queer identities by award-winning director and photographer Manuel Rodrigues called Untitled.
Through the Phluid Project, Souza coordinatesand speaks on educationalLGBTQIA+panels; helps showcase emerging queer designers on the daily; hosts fundraising events; collaborates with major brands like Nico Panda and Fila; and arranges in-store pop ups.To say the least: Souza is making an impression on the present and future of gender-free fashion.
Preston, you have such an amazing sense of personal style, and aren’t afraid of breaking through binary boundaries. How would you describe your fashion sense?
My personal style changes everyday. It starts with how I'm feeling each morning, kind of like portraying the character and energy I connect with most that day. I believe self-expression is freedom, so if I wake up and if I'm feeling feminine, you might see me in a pair of heels, or a dress. On the other hand, there are days that I feel a bit more masculine, but whatever I choose doesn't make me any less non-binary. I choose to build my identity everyday, and I don't believe that it must be the same each morning. It’s an ongoing journey that changes all the time. We should embrace this and have some fun with it.
Is there anything you’d like to say about own personal experiences with gender in fashion?
My personal experience with gender in fashion is changing constantly, and has developed for me over time. I can't say I've always been so expressive or confident in the way I choose to portray myself, but something I've adopted is always asking the questions "why" and "who said." This is in the lens of, who set these restrictions that men should wear X and women need to wear Y?What I can confidently say, and have come to learn, is that there isn't one person, regardless of sexuality or sex assigned gender, that hasn't struggled with the restrictions that their gender has put on their expression or life. For example, when a cis woman is struggling between wearing a pant suit or a dress for an interview, or when a man negates his emotions because that’s seen as not being masculine. It is more than just fashion, it is truly a societal dilemma that we all face everyday, just some more than others.
You’re such an active, positive and inclusive voice in the NYC LGBTQIA+ community, and community-driven spokesperson for the Phluid Project. What are you working on now?
I am very fortunate for all the support The Phluid Project has received from within and outside of the community. What I would love to continue to do is bring these types of conversations to the forefront of mainstream culture. I want to encourage people, LGBTQIA+ or not, that they don't need to be a servant to the restrictions that society has put on them, or the expectations, when it comes to their gender or identity. I choose to live in a world that is free, because I will be damned if anyone will tell me who I am outside of myself. I want that confidence to rippled through the world through me and everything The Phluid Project stands for.
The store uses the slogan ‘break the binary’. What does that mean to you?
The binary to me are rules, rules set by people we aren't even sure of. I think society is waking up and asking the obvious question of why. I actively choose everyday to live against this.
Who are some of your favorite queer designers and icons at the moment?
I really love No Sesso. They're an LA-based, queer-owned brand run by Pierre Davis and Arin Hayes. They're not only queer, but people of color, and a member of the trans community. It’s brands that are built for the community, by the community, that are the ones I believe we should support most.
Your self-proclaimed motto is,“who said?”Can you tell us a bit more about that?
"Who said?" is all about asking that question of why are we following rules predetermined for us by people we don't even knowor, often times, believe to be right. Why do we feel the need to follow rules that inhibit us from being free and exploring? I refuse. I'd like to live in a world where society embraces all people, all types, values creativity and people who live outside of the norm. It is only through people who break rules, that we actually able to innovate, create, and progress society, art, and culture forward.
What do you hope for in the future of fashion without gender?
Someday, fashion will have no gender and that this will trickle into everyday lives. I'd love to see trans people, non-binary, femmes, and queers, to be able to live freely without judgement. I'd love to see cis people have fun, embrace the journey of gender, and that there is no right or one way of presenting.
courtesy PRESTON SOUZA
words AUDRY HIAOUI
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