Hirsuit offers a much-needed option for those whose gender expression extends beyond ‘male’ or ‘female’
When it comes to fashion, there have never been more designers creating collections that subvert the line between gender, or, in some cases, obliterate it completely. From Charles Jeffrey, Neith Nyer, and Art School, right through to Louis Vuitton, Rick Owens, and Maison Margiela, the industry is sparking and pushing forward conversations surrounding identity, while allowing people who don’t fit the binary to express themselves in whatever way they wish – and ensuring they look really, really good while they’re doing it.
But what happens when gender neutral people want to hit the beach or the pool? Established (and wholly outdated) swimwear codes dictate it’s shorts or Speedos for the boys, and a swimsuit or bikini for the girls, with no real, viable option sitting between the two. That is, until now. Step in Hirsuit, the recently-launched label making androgynous suits for a wide variety of bodies and gender expressions, and, in the process, filling the hole left by the limited and patriarchal notion of swimwear.
The brainchild of Rachel Berks, the LA-based creative behind concept store and community space Otherwild – and those ‘The Future is Female’ t-shirts you might have spotted while scrolling through your IG feed a few years ago – the idea came to her almost eight years ago when she first met her partner, artist A. L. Steiner. “We’d been talking about starting Hirsuit forever,” she explains. “To swim, she used to wear a really unfashionable version of what we ended up designing, which sat somewhere between a wrestling uniform, an early 20th century swimming costume, and a modern dance unitard. It looked really good on her, but we were always like ‘what can we do to make this better, and how can we bring the idea to more people?’”
The answer lay in premium – and, importantly, sustainable – fabrication, a more streamlined, flattering cut, and attention to even the smallest of details. “Working all of this out became our process over the course of the last couple of years, figuring out what would make it really special” Berks says. “We decided we wanted it to be reversible, to have hidden interior pockets, and just to fit better, basically. We cut the leg a little bit higher, adjusted the height of the chest, things like that.”
“Aside from maybe one other label, I’m not really aware of anyone else doing what we are, which is crazy to me. It made launching Hirsuit feel all the more important” – Rachel Berks
As far as Berks is aware, she’s one of a very small number of brands catering for people who want to go swimming, but don’t fit neatly into a supposedly acceptable gender category: “Aside from maybe one other label, I’m not really aware of anyone else doing what we are, which is crazy to me. It made launching Hirsuit feel all the more important,” she says.
Given the label was also almost eight years in the making, she had amassed quite a following in the lead up to the first drop last month. “I’ve spoken to so many people over the years that have been looking for something like this, and I get messages all the time telling me they’re waiting in anticipation,” she laughs. “But in all seriousness, I think for many people this has been a long time coming. What surprises me, though, is that this isn’t an entirely new concept: back in the 1920s and 1930s, men and women wore pretty much the same thing to the beach.”
It’s not only dismantling traditional gender constructs that’s at the forefront for Berks though – sustainability and building a brand that operates ethically is equally as important to the designer, who splits her time between LA and NYC. “I want to expand on what we’re doing for sure,” she explains. “I work closely with a pattern maker in New York and there are a few things we’re working on at the moment, some of which we want to be at a much more accessible price point.”
Citing the moment she sat down to watch The True Cost, the eye-opening documentary that explores the impact fashion has on the planet and its inhabitants, as a turning point in her life, she is intent on not cutting corners. “We want to do things the right way, it’s one of the most integral things for us,” Berks surmises. “We set out to make everything in the US, from fabric made of recycled polyester and plastic, and to make sure that anyone working for us, either directly or indirectly, is paid a fair wage. And that’s exactly what we intend to keep doing.”