“The whole company was built in response to the frustration with fashion and how binary it was” Wilson tells me over the phone, highlighting what she believes to be an unnecessary division of style by gender.
“Fashion inherently loves to put labels on stuff and so does any commercial industry.” Jackson adds. “I feel like it’s important to get over the sectionality of it all.”
To many, it seems like the fashion industry is already well on its way to eliminating the gender binaries that define it. Top designers continue to cast women in menswear shows and small unisex labels have been idealized through a seemingly endless barrage of agender editorials.
And while the people behind YouDoYou are happy about the changes, they see a host of new issues emerging.
“I think you run into problems whenever you completely focus on one group of people instead of just having people just be people in a mix.” Wilson says of the countless emails she receives asking her to shoot plus-sized editorials or trans-only campaigns.
“Why can’t there just be plus sized people in the mix with straight sized models in an editorial. Why can’t we have some older people or some shorter people or differently abled people?” She asks. “I think anytime you expressly just get a whole group of people that have the same sort of difference together you are putting too much attention on that difference and you’re not actually making any change or helping anybody.”
Instead, YouDoYou features genderless fashion editorials, focusing on individual empowerment and achievement rather than perceived identities. “We approach things without thinking about gender” Jackson says of #squadgoals, a recent collaboration with Opening Ceremony featuring downtown girls Kyle Luu, Tiffany Luu and Dese Escobar.
In an editorial that defines femininity through friendship, it’s not an absence of gender that separates YouDoYou from other platforms, but rather its willingness to explore it within a framework that challenges the status quo.
“You do you means you should just be yourself,” Wilson says of the brand-cum motto. “Express yourself, dress how you feel and look how you feel.”
Not everyone agrees with this sentiment though. Last September, during Refinery 29’s Peopleswear Fashion Roundtable, journalist Katherine Bernard challenged Wilson, asking, “How do you empower someone to ‘do you’ without being prescriptive?” “You’re saying ‘You do You,’ but that has been the hardest thing I’ve ever tried to do in my life.”
Both Wilson and Jackson reiterate that they are not out to tell anyone what to do, but instead are providing a platform for others to offer up alternative styles, opinions and practices. “We didn’t set out to be a face for just trans-people or a face for agender people,” Wilson tells me. “We really just want to be a face for people, all people.”
But at what point does being a face for “all people” become a cop out? I ask Wilson if her decision not to label the site as a space specifically for trans-identified or gender nonconforming people was the result of a fear of criticism. She tells me that it’s not a matter of being careful about language. “We are just clear about what our platform is and that’s a space for everybody and it’s not exclusionary in any way” Wilson says.
“It’s being respectful rather than being careful” Jackson adds. “We don’t ever want to assume anything about anyone. When we first launched it sort of seemed like we were being careful because we wanted to carve out the niche we were going for, but it has leant itself to expanding so much.”
Jackson is referring to a recent editorial in which seated Broadway actress Ali Stroker is photographed in homage to Interview Magazine’s problematic editorial featuring a doll-like, wheel-chair bound Kylie Jenner.
In a powerful commentary on disability in the media, Wilson and essayist Kenta Murakami break down the tropes of governing representations of the differently abled. Wilson uses her own camera to capture a powerfully poised Ali Stroker, while Murakami disseminates the highly controversial Interview spread. The essay is titled “Feel Free to Stare."
“We figured that we might be pigeonholing ourselves by just focusing on the way fashion and gender relate to each other, and we wanted to just get ahead of ourselves and save ourselves from being called out.” Jackson says of the feature. “We say we are an all-inclusive site but you know, where is the representation for disability and differently abled people, people of various weights and ages? It definitely started out on the agender tip and it still is there, we aren't trying to move away from it but we're just trying to expand rapidly.”
So what does the future hold for YouDoYou? The duo hope to feature more longform articles, including coverage of art, literature and film. “We still want to remain notorious for our imagery” Jackson says. “We’re both photographers and artists and that’s a very important thing in getting messages across.” But more importantly, it’s about collaboration. “It’s partially our message but it’s also the message of all the people we feature” says Jackson.
And what is YouDoYou's message? Exactly that, Keep doing you.