Updated: Nov 15, 2018
From buyer to seller to advocate - Why I admire the indies taking a stand against gender stereotypes.
Surely shopping for kids clothes on the high street shouldn't be so universally frustrating? The habitual use of Girl or Boy categories in childrenswear is a useless way of finding a. what your kids want and b. what your kids need (after all, up until puberty they're pretty much the same size and shape, and do the same things). Choice regrettably feels like no choice at all, and I find myself trying to gleam the odd top that hasn't been through the gender stereotype mill. Practical clothing for all that running, jumping and falling over should be in abundance, but the high street is leaning more towards what today's marketeers are calling the "fashioning of childhood" which, given the adult business model, is based on being fast, exploitative and environmentally unsound - ie, completely unsustainable. Its now quite common to see trends shaping kidswear, like slim fit and skinny fit - with most clothing in the girls section sold smaller, shorter and tighter than that offered to boys. No doubt there were a few snorts of laughter at the bigger retailers when skinny fit became a thing, after all, you're buying less for your money - not to mention more clothes overall after natural shrinkage in one wash changes that jumper into a glove. I guess I just want what all parents want? Choice free of sexism (incredible that that needs to be a prerequisite), value for money, quality and made in a way that is sustainable for workers and planet.
From 2013 to 2017 I quit buying and started making. My oldest daughter loved Space and liked wearing dresses, and in 2013, those things just didn't exist together. Sewing Circus was lauded as a "trailblazer" and even The Science Museum in London approached me to stock their onsite shop with Space themed dresses following a feature in The Guardian. Through Sewing Circus I was able to meet lots of other home-based entrepreneurs, who like me, were trying to turn a passion into a living. The common link was not just our energy, but our ability to be responsive to new ideas, we could evolve our businesses in ways larger stores either couldn't or were too reticent to try. Rather than trend focused, the businesses I came to know - mainly run by women - were risk-taking and responsive. Unaffected by the lumbering nature of big business, the indies I came to love were personable, proactive and came with a keen sense of social responsibility. Social media not just opened doors to new ways of creating and reaching a customer base, but also one where social responsibility mattered. I for one became not just a social entrepreneur, but a socially-active entrepreneur, and teen me with "Against Animal Testing" badge and soaps that raised awareness about the plight of endangered specifies, hopes that the likes of the late, great Anita Roddick would be proud.
Many of the childrenswear businesses I meet through Let Clothes Be Clothes sell clothes made from Organic Cotton, Eco-friendly dyes and, in the case of Little Green Radicals, are Fairtrade Certified. Mimi & Will for example only offer sustainably made Organic t-shirts, using good design over fast fashion - which means that they build to their design catalogue, rather than focusing on trends. We all know that there is too much plastic in our lives (including our clothes), so it's for our kids now and in the future that independents are focusing on natural fibres. This really comes across with brands like Little Leaf Organic (surely the cosiest looking homepage on the net?) who recently blogged about organic cotton vs conventional cotton:
" Organic cotton is renowned for lasting longer than conventional cotton and we have always stressed the importance of buying quality so that clothes can be passed down between siblings. We all need clothes and its better to make the most of the valuable clothes we produce, rather than treating them as disposable. " Little Leaf Organic Blog
Heard of the phrase buy cheap, buy twice? When it comes to clothes, for both myself and my kids, we buy based on quality and not quantity. Despite what some Daily Mail readers have commented about my name (two surnames, one is mine, the other my partners) we are a low income family, but recognise that cheap clothes come at a hidden cost. Don't get me wrong, I'm no angel - especially where it comes to school uniform - but we try and source via hand-me-downs and charity shops. I'm a big fan of the old hand-me-down, though in my teen years when my mum was trying to save on bra's, not so much. One of the big problems with the way today's high street - like never before - sells clothing as either for girls or for boys, from an environmental and monetary perspective is, fewer handing clothes from brother to sister, or vice versa. Quality clothing should come at a price, and anything less is ultimately a false economy. With me?
The retailers we choose to support as a family, and the ones we approach via Let Clothes Be Clothes are all unisex - that means, they don't use sexist ideas about gender (what it means to be a girl or a boy) to either design or market their wears. They are intended for all children, and when you start designing for all kids, the colour and the fun start to come back into childrenswear.
Colourful threads at Beeboobuzz
I guarantee that my 5 year old, despite having a parent who campaigns again gender stereotypes will turn to me and say "but, that's a boys top Mummy?" Children get the marketing - and if not the marketing then the peer pressure from the marketing - they hear loud and clear that as a girl, this is for me, and as a boy, that is for me. I don't want to support that, and I don't want my money to pay for it. I want choice, and to help build a society less obsessed by defining gender and more responsive to individuality. I am not just relieved, but genuinely excited that brands like Little Green Radicals, No Pink Please, Mimi & Will - to name just a few - are there to offer not just choice, but quality, colourful clothes for my kids. When it comes to the future of childrenswear, my money is on what these indies are selling.
Our annual Christmas Market supporting unisex childrenswear businesses takes place on the Let Clothes Be Clothes Facebook Page - Thursday November 15th from 7pm!
Click here to join the event or to find out more
Click here to apply for the Let Clothes Be Clothes Approved Award
With thanks to the following who have all offered discounts to supporters of Let Clothes Be Clothes: