Meet Elliot. He’s a good friend of Climbing Trees Co-Founder B’s and his favourite colour is pink. According to his mum he didn’t take off our one-eyed-monster top all weekend.
Just as my daughter struggles to find anything she likes amongst the pink princesses and pastel coloured kittens in the girls aisle, similarly, when Elliot walks down the boys’ aisle he faces the same sigh-inducing limited definitions of what it means to be a boy: dark colours, fighty superheroes and “here comes trouble” slogans. They are just not him.
Pink is. It’s his absolute favourite colour. But, according to too many retailers, pink is ‘for girls only’.
There are lots of children who don’t conform to the increasingly narrow and ludicrously limited definitions of feminine and masculine in these gender-segregated aisles. Nor should they have to.
Just as there are lots of girls who like dinosaurs and pirates and cars and football, there are boys who like pink and Elsa and jewellery and kittens. They are not wrong. Just as those girls who adore pink princesses and those boys who adore ninja battles are not wrong either. Children, like adults, should be free to choose to like whatever they wish to like; to be whoever they wish to be; from whichever end of the spectrum of what society deems as ‘feminine’ and ‘masculine’ as they want to.
I have a daughter and encountered these limitations so frequently it led me to take action by creating a range that said ‘hey… hold on there… but girls like dinosaurs too’; a range that would fit readily in any girls’ aisle but reclaimed motifs that have been exclusively reserved for boys only as for girls too. And that’s the important part – our range is not 'for girls only' but 'for girls TOO!'
We are so pleased to see mums of boys who have faced the same predicament launching clothing ranges which give boys more choice too. Our friends over at HandsomeInPink.com, QuirkieKids.com and MyPrincessBoy.com are doing great stuff. Also, ‘brother’ site to PrincessFreeZone.com is BeFreeZone.com and we especially love this top by SelfishMother.com
There's also a book by Fiona Paterna which addresses this issue called Dylan Likes Pink.
So why do we feature mostly girls on our site (for now)?
We decided we needed to in order to get our point across with the most impact - to get heard and to appeal to our niche (primarily parents of daughters who love dinosaurs but can't find them in the girls' aisle). Most businesses are launched as a reaction against the status quo in a bid to provide a solution to a problem; to provide a choice that wasn’t offered before, but should be.
For us, the best way to convey our message and to create a solution was by creating a range that said ‘girls like dinosaurs too’; a range that would appeal to ALL girls – not just girls like my daughter who always opt for the clothing in the boys’ aisle but for girls who like to dress up as Spiderman one day and a princess the next. As such, because our ‘why’ for doing this was to give little girls more choice, a choice not previously offered, we needed to create a range featuring motifs that had previously been exclusively ‘for boys’ that would appeal to all girls (those who like stuff from the feminine end of the spectrum as well as those who like stuff from the masculine end of the spectrum).
We decided the best way to do this was to play the retailers at their own game – to fuse motifs that have been deemed for too long by retailer and society as ‘girly’ with motifs that have been reserved just ‘for boys’.
Crucially though, we are not saying our range is FOR GIRLS ONLY. We are saying our range is FOR GIRLS TOO. That’s an important definition. We know that some boys will love our range and much prefer our range of brightly coloured tees to the dark and dingy colourways on offer in the boys’ aisle. (So, if you buy a Climbing Trees top for your son, please do send in your photos to us here at Climbing Trees so that we may add them to our gallery). We are purposefully ClimbingTreesKids.com. As such we nod with subtlety to unisex. However, we have chosen strategically not to promote ourselves as unisex at this stage because we wanted to have clarity in our launch marketing. We wanted to clearly say ‘there were no dinosaur tops for girls, so we made some. Because girls like dinosaurs too.’ We wanted to talk directly to our niche market of parents like me who struggled to find clothes in the girls’ aisles for their dinosaur-loving daughters by creating a range of dino tops for girls too. Fundamentally, I have a daughter and so I wanted to solve THAT problem – to take that first step to reclaim those motifs as for girls too. And so that is precisely what we’ve done.
We have nothing against ‘girly’ or ‘boyish’ as clothes that are deemed as such represent opposite ends of the spectrum which many children LOVE; we are merely against not making those options available FOR ALL and, like many other campaigners, the labelling of clothes as just ‘for boys’ or just ‘for girls’. Our tops are available for boys too, and we have male customers. Elliot being one of them. In the future we plan to feature more boys wearing our tops. But we currently feature primarily girls wearing our t-shirts because girls wanting to wear dinosaur tops is our absolute WHY and reason for starting in the first place; to be anything different would dilute the message of giving girls a choice not previously offered to them. It really is that simple. (Just like other campaigns which are part of the movement to empower girls to be all that they are use girls in their marketing).
There are, of course, many wonderful unisex stores and purist/idealist campaigns such as Let Clothes Be Clothes (the founder of whom runs Sewing Circus - which also gives children more choice) doing great things to promote unisex clothes and focus on that long-term goal which we all share of there being no gender labels at all – just clothes – available for all. However we believe that there are MANY WAYS to tackle the gender stereotype issue – not just ‘unisex or nothing’.
For example, 'girly' versions of ‘boy’ stuff and 'boyish' versions of ‘girl' stuff are, in our view, a step forward. Some might say this merely perpetuates the gender stereotypes. We disagree. We see this as vitally playing gender stereotypes at their own game; twisting them round to provide a choice not previously offered to say ‘girls like dinosaurs too’ and ‘boys like butterflies too’. So whilst we are absolute advocates of the more idealistic view of removing all gender labels to let clothes be clothes (like toys should just be toys; not segmented for either sex), we also think that another viable way to tackle this issue and take a first step towards an end to gender stereotyping is to promote what has been reserved for boys only as for girls too and what has been reserved for girls only as for boys too. We are part of that movement – to give children a choice not previously offered to them; a crucial building block that advocates more choice. And choice is what we are all about.
Motifs such as princesses and sparkles, Ninjas and footballs are not wrong, what is wrong is saying they are exclusive to one gender or another. People get confused and think that anyone using those motifs in clothes are perpetuating gender stereotypes. However, we believe it’s HOW you use them that matters. For example we are using those motifs – those which have been exclusively reserved for boys and mixing them up with those which have been exclusively reserved for girls for good reason - for a positive purpose.
Yes, girls who like dinosaurs can go and buy a dinosaur top from the boys’ aisle, but the point is that THEY SHOULDN’T HAVE TO! We have bought t-shirts for my daughter from the boys' aisle since she was three (for four years now) and we don't mind doing so. We just feel that those motifs through which children express their love for something, shouldn't be reserved for one gender. We wanted to reclaim them 'for girls too' and the best way for us to do so and make them appeal to all girls was to fuse what have been exclusively 'boy' motifs with what have been exclusively 'girly' motifs. Of course this is complex issue. Some wish to rid the world of gender stereotypes so that there is no such thing as 'boyish' or 'girly'. In the future I believe this may happen. However, I fear that, in eradicating boyish/girly motifs completely we could disregard the likes of those who LOVE those motifs – whichever gender they are. We realise that unisex campaigners want to banish the world of labels not to banish the world of pink or princesses. Although some, such as PinkStinks and PrincessFreeZone seem like they are anti-pink-princesses, we realise they are not against boyish/girly motifs per se, they just don’t want such motifs to be labelled as one or the other or for such motifs to be the ONLY OPTION. We too want this, but we know it will take a while for this to happen and requires a lot of social conditioning over many years to be undone.
So, as a route towards the end to all stereotyping, we believe girl versions of traditionally 'boyish' stuff and boy versions of traditionally 'feminine' stuff is a BIG step forward as it's a choice not previously provided. Quite simply, whilst supermarkets and retail shops do continue to have separate aisles based on gender, as I have a daughter, I wanted to create a range that would sit comfortably in the girls' aisle, so she didn't always have to go to the boys' aisle to get her dinosaur tops. I wanted to provide her and other girls with a choice not previously offered. And so that is what we've done.
Of course, as we've seen, the limitations of gender stereotyping apply to boys who like pink too. Children should BE PROUD TO BE WHO THEY ARE AND LIKE WHAT THEY LIKE. So that they can ignore the limitations perpetuated by retailers and adopted by society. When anyone tells them ‘that’s for boys’ or ‘that’s for girls’ they can say ‘no, that’s for children’ with their heads held high. That’s what we want for our children. And so, by reclaiming stuff ‘for boys’ and providing them ‘for girls too’… we are taking a step forward, breaking down limitations and giving children more choice.
Thank you for your support.