Unisex Kidswear? We approve!

This month we're delighted to award the following brands our Let Clothes Be Clothes Approved Badge, recognising their commitment to provide what our supporters are telling us they want - more choice, less stereotypes! These gender-marketing-busting brands sell clothing by type, size, colour and theme, ditching ideas about what girls and boys are supposed to wear, and swapping instead for colourful, comfortable and practical designs (plus pockets galore!)


Its been a great month for our Approved Badge scheme, and we are delighted to add the following businesses to our list of retailers who are getting things right.

For any business, small or large, starting out (and that first year) can be the hardest, and we acknowledge this can be harder still when you are either testing or using a method of selling products that is not - at present - the norm or industry standard. For example, many of the big high street retailers we speak to say that google algorithms (and indeed a whole network of gender segmenting platforms) are a key reason for listing clothing online as "for girls" or "for boys," and that the challenge for established brands is moving towards new practices in the long term, without losing customers in the short term. In essence, this means evolving, rather than sudden change but can present difficulty for those retailers who have invested so much in gender marketing and a very clear binary way of thinking. They have essentially become stuck in a web of their own making and will have to make some concise choices if they are to move forward with their customer base.

For new businesses, or small retailers who have some manoeuvrability over their marketing practices, this is a great opportunity to not only lead the way, past outdated gender-coded marketing, but also capture the emergent customer base who are tired of gender stereotyping in children's clothing design, and are alarmed by the ever increasing proliferation of profit at the expense of childhood wellbeing.

Instead of doing what Lego did for example, and create a product that stereotyped all children by marketing certain designs just to girls, these smaller unisex-led retailers are starting out from a place of equality, focusing on treating children as children instead - rather than trying to define what it means to be a girl or a boy. For Lego the mistake has taken a decade to acknowledge, even after crowing a 35% profit increase following the launch of Lego Friends, only to discover that actually this may have alienated their core customer base from a viable product strategy. What any good business should take away from Lego's example, is that far from saying "sexism sells" (as one Forbe's contributor smirked), if you have a good product, you don't need gender marketing - because all you end up doing is halving your potential market. Smaller or new businesses may need some help to take hold of the market share (which is where we come in), but their foundations are strong because their conduct is ethical and social based, rather than driven by corporate "all white male" boardroom practices that include charging more for pink products (aimed at women) over blue (see Pink Tax)

Perhaps the most obvious thing we can do as consumers, that bigger high street retailers will respond to, is losing a share of their market. So tell them - I'm spending my money elsewhere because.... Make it clear what bothers you, the messages, the harmful slogans, the towering "girls" and "boys" section signs in-store. Take your money elsewhere, and support smaller businesses while you're at it, many of which are run by families who seek financial independence following +10 years of job cuts and austerity that has disproportionately affected women.

As a campaign, we want to actively support these brands, who reject gender marketing and are instead engaged with some of the principles our work is founded on, namely:

  • Choice. All clothes are designed, marketed and sold unisex. No girls or boys categories, no reinforcement of harmful ideas about what it is acceptable for children to wear based on their sex.

  • Positive marketing principles based on egalitarian attitudes to children's dress and play. Depicting boys and girls playing together, child-like poses and designs that are colourful and fun yet comfortable and practical (often mutually exclusive via gender marketing) for active childhoods.

  • Challenging rigid ideas about what it means to be a girl or a boy, and as such we support retailers who face those stereotypes head-on. Clothing is heavily tied to ideas about gender, and as such we look for businesses who are prepared to let children get creative and feel comfortable wearing what they feel most suits them as a person.

  • Time saving categories. Fed up of having to look through the girls AND the boy section? Clothing sold by type, size, colour or label instead.

  • Sustainable and ethical. How can we talk fairness without acknowledging the social and ecological disaster of fast fashion and sweat shop culture?

Many of the brands we work with (if not all) are keenly aware that they have a moral responsibility to the environment, and to those who are making the garments they sell. After all, how can we see injustice in negative messages aimed at children in the UK and not acknowledge (and act on) low wages (which has a far reaching social impact) and dire working conditions of those making our clothes abroad? That is in itself, the most negative message at all - a literal wearing of someone else's suffering via a confluence of historical (colonial) and commercial (capitalist) practices. Unisex childrenswear runs parallel with other ethical practices, complimenting how we protect and work with our environment, challenging social reproduction and offering a new, better way of designing, making and selling stuff.

Some of the brands we support also make clothing by hand from their own studios or homes, and as such make only a limited number of items to be bought "off the rail" with the bulk of orders satisfied on a "made to order" basis, resulting in far less waste. Its more expensive, but small scale production hands back more control over the social and environmental impact of the work. For example, as a former maker of children's clothing myself, I gave all my offcuts away to Project Linus who make and give away handmade quilts for free to children on prolonged stays in hospital. As a smaller business, I could engage better at the local level.

Yes, this makes clothing much more expensive compared to low cost supermarket childrenswear for example - and for some, myself included, it is not always affordable. Yet, as consumers (myself included) is worth remembering that old adage, "buy cheap, buy twice" because cheaper, throwaway fashion is not designed, or intended, to last. Cheaper high street clothing is a heinous form of social levelling, because in the long run it costs everyone more, from keeping wages low for garment workers (resulting in huge social and economic inequalities that shatter lives) to damaging the environment (habitat loss, shrinking biodiversity, climate change) inevitably resulting in price increases in the supply chain.

Capitalism will essentially eat itself, and we will go along with it.

In the words of Lucy Siegle in To Die For - Is Fashion Wearing out the World:

"My fear is this: unless we as fashion-lovers and consumers assert ourselves, the industry will take the path of least resistance. The combination of the global recession and inevitable price rises of major ingredients of the fashion supply chain, such as oil and cotton, will see the big players, the multinational brands and the giant retailers that control the UK high street, become even more ruthless in grabbing their margin. The victims will be the producers, garment workers, and eventually you and me, as design and quality are sacrificed. I don't want that to happen."

Many of the brands we work with also have regular sales, such as Little Green Radicals (who at the moment are holding a 50% flash sale), lay-away schemes that allow you to spread the cost, or groups you can join on Facebook to take advantage of returned/second-hand garment sales (which are fantastic, because those clothes were made to be worn, and designed to last) Buy less, and buy well - and you won't be disappointed.

First up...

Funky Little People

When Anna from Funky Little People got in touch I was over the moon. I've long been a fan of Scandi brands such as Smafolk and Dunns, and Anna's selection is extensive! Anna provides a one-stop shop for fans of the Moomins, incredible Ekelund woven homewares and Scandinavian inspired adult clothing by the likes of Aarre.

Anna describes her business as:

"A carefully selected variety of Scandinavian certified organic cotton kids clothes in unique, completely unisex, with a wide availability of sizing from baby to teenagers and beyond. Funky Little People is a small family run business with passion for slow fashion, and the clothes we sell are high quality and long lasting - with great opportunities to pass or sell on when outgrown."

You can find out more about Funky Little People here:

Buy now via the FLP website

Find out more via Facebook and Instagram

For bonus chats and previews join the FLP group on Facebook

Ducky Zebra

Ducky Zebra are new, and I anticipate great things from this ethically conscious, unisex brand!

Ducky Zebra was founded by Oxford-based mum-of-two Sally Dear, in response to a growing frustration with gender stereotypes across the UK high street. Sally wanted to create colourful clothes that celebrate kindness and confidence while putting climbing and adventure above looks and beauty. Sally also listened to what consumers were saying - shorts should come in a choice of lengths, tops shouldn't be plastered with itchy frills and clothes need pockets for little found treasures.

And Sally is not wrong. Throughout the period of our recent survey into the demographics of those who support Let Clothes Be Clothes, the issue of pockets came up time and time again, and its no surprises why. The parents we speak to want practical options for girls and boys, and the gender-code for clothing aimed at girls in particular, does not allow for practical considerations - often taking the lead from women's fashions where pockets have traditionally been avoided in order to maintain the integrity of the ideal female form. No wonder 82% of those we surveyed (out of 776 respondents) said sexualisation was a big concern to them.

Sally goes on to say:

“When I was buying clothing for my children, all I could find was pinks, pastel colours and cute pretty images for girls. And sludgy blues, greys and aggressive, teeth-baring predators for boys. For one half of the population there's a focus on looks, beauty and kindness. And for the other half, there's a focus on dominance, action and confidence.”

After doing her own research, Sally discovered she wasn’t alone: over 80% of parents and carers she spoke to were happy to buy unisex clothing to avoid gender stereotypes. However, only 6% of parents said their kids wanted to wear unisex clothing because of the poor choice and dull items on offer. (based on a survey carried out by DZ with over 1000 respondents)

“I don’t believe gender-neutral should mean dull and boring, and I’m proving it with the launch of Ducky Zebra. Children have been involved with our design process from the very start, to ensure we create fun, colourful clothes that kids want to wear.”