NGLCC Global Spotlight on Agents of Change: The Phluid Project and LGBTI Inclusion

This piece is part three of a three-part series, which highlights the work of NGLCC’s partners to advance the well-being and economic empowerment of the global LGBTI community.

In the spirit of pride month, NGLCC celebrates its network of LGBT entrepreneurs that show their businesses are innovative, sustainable, and will meet the needs of an ever-changing future. These businesses are built on non-discrimination policies and can empower its employees and communities by exemplifying that business and human rights go hand in hand. This blog examines the intersection between sustainable businesses and human rights & inclusion goals by focusing on an innovative company, The Phluid Project.

Launched in March 2018, this gender-neutral clothing brand and Certified LGBTBE® The Phluid Project, is a “brand, a movement, a community and platform based on activism, executed through the lens of fashion, and committed to challenging the ethos of traditions past and encouraging those which embrace and celebrate freedom and self-expression.” This mission statement is a testament to incorporating human rights standards into a business model, and The Phluid Project leads on its commitment by being one of the 200+ businesses and corporations who support the U.N.’s Standards of Conduct for Business: Tackling Discrimination Against Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Intersex People.

The United Nations Office of High Commissioner on Human Rights released The Standards to galvanize the collective power of the private sector and guide their interventions on behalf of LGBTI issues. Since then, there have been huge strides on behalf of the private sector to champion these issues, with more than 200+ having shown support at the time of this writing. NGLCC spoke to Rob Smith about his journey starting The Phluid Project and the brand’s support of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, intersex, and asexual (LGBTQI)+ rights and activism.

1. What inspired you to begin The Phluid Project? After 30 years in the retail space spanning corporate institutions like Macy’s and Nike, I decided to quit my job, put on a backpack and embrace a global trip. My intention was to honor my individual freedoms and ambitions, and do so without the constraints of a traditional professional environment. Whilst being away, and tapping into passions most true to my heart, I realized I wanted to create a gender-neutral shopping experience, and spent the following months creating and bringing to fruition that exact vision.

2. How do human rights factor in your business? Human rights and activism is at the center of who we are. The Phluid Project is a brand, a movement, a community and platform based on activism, executed through the lens of fashion, and committed to challenging the ethos of traditions past and encouraging those which embrace and celebrate freedom and self-expression. Charitable components are a priority for me when aligning with brands. 100% of proceeds from The Phluid Project’s candles go to several different charities including GLSEN, The Trans Women of Color Collective, True Colors Fund, and more.

3. Before the inception of The Phluid Project, did you believe business could be a platform for advocacy? Business can absolutely be a platform for advocacy and should in purest intention. As a business owner I have learned about the community I am catering to – Gen Z and gender-non conforming individuals. I have learned what is important to them and what they look for in businesses they support. It is important to support human rights and other issues that affect the community, and ultimately humanity. We are in the process of an unlearning and a relearning, and it is our jobs as humans to share the knowledge we have with others and to practice patience with those who require.

4. Since the launch of the store have you noticed changes in the local community? Or would you like to share a story of success about how the store or the project at large has impacted the LGBTQIA+ community? A few weeks after we opened, an individual came and made all my dreams of Phluid's purpose come true. He was a self-identified male teenager, and seemed apprehensive. He grabbed a few shirts and we set him up in a dressing room. It wasn't until he popped his head out of the dressing room, and asked for a dress he saw when browsing, that we could see how much being in the store had destroyed his original fears. After I happily handed him the dress, I saw how comfortable he was wearing it, spinning in front of the mirror, and feeling completely free. Before he left, he thanked us for assisting him, and described how he shops online because he feels judged and afraid trying on 'women's clothing' in stores. It was so inspiring for the Phluid team to know we have provided a safe space for him. The location of our store (Broadway) allows for a lot of tourist traffic, including families with children. This has opened doors to communicate with people outside the LGBTQIA+ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queer, Intersex, Asexual, Plus) community, and help them achieve an understanding as allies.

5. Can you tell us about the importance of being a Certified LGBTBE® and a supporter of the UN Standards of Conduct for Business?

The philosophy and missions of the NGLCC is very much aligned with the ambitions I had in mind when bringing Phluid into fruition. [Becoming a Certified LGBTBE®] in January of this year was tremendously meaningful to me, and was a goal of mine when opening The Phluid Project in March 2018. Supporting the UN Standards of Conduct for Business is how I will always choose to run my business, preventing any and all discrimination, and providing a safe space for all genders, races, and ages. I provide consultancy to major companies, teaching them to re-evaluate business standards, make them more inclusive and less jarring, and prejudice to so many.


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