In 2015 Let Clothes Be Clothes challenged a range of science themed t-shirts produced in collaboration between Marks and Spencer and the Natural History Museum in London, which were marketed to boys only. In March 2015 a demonstration led by Let Clothes Be Clothes took place outside the Natural History Museum where staff were handed a petition of over 5000 names, demanding that the range be marketed to both boys and girls. The demonstration was supported by Labour MP Chi Onwurah who went on twitter to encourage others to turn out and support the action stating "girls want a share in science too" as well as her Labour colleague Tessa Jowell "Come on M&S/NHM. The clocks changed but it’s still 2015. Can’t believe I have to say this: girls enjoy science too!"
The 2015 range of t-shirts at Marks and Spencer in collaboration with the Natural History Museum featured images of Dinosaurs alongside factual snippets and NHM branded labels. The range was exclusively marketed to boys online and in-store (top image)
However in the years following, M&S and the NHM have not repeated the same mistake and now sell a large range of unisex clothes - offering the same designs and styles to all children with marketing images featuring girls and boys playing together.
The image (right) is taken from the current 2020-21 M&S and NHS range of Roald Dahl inspired designs. The online categories into girls or boys, and gender coded designs of some products is far from ideal, but it is a big step forward from 2015.
Some declared the move an act of political correctness, including Piers Morgan who tweeted "Britain has officially gone bonkers" over a photograph of the newspaper article, while his co-presenter on Good Morning Britain, Susanna Reid stated during an on air discussion with Let Clothes Be Clothes representative Cheryl Rickman, that she would let her son wear a dress if he wanted to do so.
The move was heavily praised by parents and commentators, outweighing more conservative views such as Tory Councillor Luke Stubbs, who threatened to burn his John Lewis Loyalty Card in protest.
Writing for the New Statesman, Victoria Smith poked fun at such attitudes stating that perhaps a content warning was needed "whenever there's a risk they might come into contact with a toddler of ambiguous gender presentation?" while at the New Scientist, Lara Williams wrote "If sex and gender aren't a perfect dichotomy - why should clothing be?"
In response to the outcry, Marks and Spencer issued a statement to the press promising to "work with the Natural History Museum on expanding the range to include products for girls."
Engineer Sasha Roberts, a member of the Women in Science board commented:
"As a society we still insist on dressing our girls in pink and filling their bedrooms with dolls and ‘pretty things’ while our boys run around in blue dinosaur T-shirts playing with their footballs and cars. By enforcing these stereotypes on children so young we risk inadvertently turning away the next generation of male primary school teachers or female engineers before they’ve even realised they’re interested."
On September 1st 2017 the Daily Mail ran an article stating that John Lewis, in consultation with Let Clothes Be Clothes (following an earlier face-to-face meeting with the group), had become the first major retailer to "ditch girls and boys labels from its clothing range," quoting Head of Childrenswear at John Lewis, Caroline Bettis as saying:
"We do not want to reinforce gender stereotypes within our John Lewis collections and instead want to provide greater choice and variety to our customers, so that the parent or child can choose what they would like to wear."
The change in labelling, removal of in-store girl and boy signage, and commitment to not "reinforce gender stereotypes" made international headlines.
Watch Let Clothes Be Clothes rep Cheryl Rickman discuss the changes at John Lewis on GMB with Piers & Susanna.