Children Now Have Less Freedom Be Themselves

By Cheryl Rickman
on November 26, 2015

As printed in my new Lifestyle Column for The Daily Echo...As 70s kids we wore mostly brown and orange. Lego was only produced in primary colours, and bikes were generally red. We played with whatever we wanted and pink was just another colour. Boys often sported long hair, girls often didn’t; we were free just to be; to be ourselves.

Fast-forward some decades and pink has become the epitome of femininity, used to market everything. In supermarket baby aisles, the boys’ section swims in a sea of baby blue and the girls’ in pink. It’s a commercial no-brainer for retailers to offer best-selling clothes and pink outsells other pastels. But perhaps this is because of the lack of alternative choice? Why not add other colours and represent the full spectrum of what it means to be a child, without limitations? Some children like stuff that fits the stereotype but some don’t. Do children really need to be restricted and told what to like before they can even walk?

Children are increasingly polarised into stereotyped boxes and told what they should like. Signs above toys and clothes say boys must like dinosaurs and vehicles and girls must like princesses and butterflies. But what if they don’t? Some children are deciding not to wear stuff labelled as for the opposite sex for fear of being teased. That’s so limiting for children.

As parents we can buy their clothes from the other aisle, and we do but, the point is, we shouldn’t have to.

There’s nothing wrong with pink princesses, but there’s so much more to girls than that. Equally, there’s nothing wrong with snarling Marvel characters, but there’s so much more to boys than that.

Retailers should not abolish pink or princesses though. They are loved by many and we want retailers to provide more choice not less.

The good news is retailers are listening. LetToysBeToys persuaded many to remove gender signage telling boys to play with trucks and girls with dolls. A couple of weeks ago, representing LetClothesBeClothes, I met with Mothercare who, already leading the way with Jools Oliver’s unisex LittleBird range have made some promising promises (#watchthisspace).

After meeting with Tesco’s F&F they’ve agreed to make girls clothes more practical over pretty, with longer shorts and robust cardigans. Let’s hope we’re moving towards a sea-change back to that playful, expressive era of freedom of choice where children can just be themselves.


THIS is a copy of my brand new column in The Daily Echo - Choice Words where I'll be writing about gender related issues and how to help our children to flourish in today's world.

Climbing Trees were also proud to be included as the lead feature in last week's Echo



Leading Retailers Begin To Realise That Girls Like Dinosaurs (and Star Wars) Too

By Cheryl Rickman
on September 28, 2015

Today Tesco's F&F Clothing have told Climbing Trees that they have "removed gender specification" from their "new Halloween dress-up costumes which will be hitting stores shortly" - a move that signals some small yet significant changes are finally taking place within the childrens' clothing industry. (Although, online, models still wear specific costumes to "show parents what items look like").

This is the first of a bunch of changes following discussions we had with F&F about reducing limitations that gender stereotyping creates in a bid to provide all children with more choice and improved practicality.

F&F have also told us that "We are considering your views as we develop our ranges, for example longer lengths on shorts for girls and more robust cover up items (cardigans). You will see these come through in next years ranges."

This is a massive step forward and something Climbing Trees is very proud to have been instrumental in changing, as we read out comments from parents who highlighted concerns about the limited practicality of certain girls' clothing, among other issues.

Back in July, were invited to represent Let Clothes Be Clothes to meet with Head Buyers from Tesco's F&F. The objective was to start up a conversation on gender stereotyping and hopefully guide them towards making changes that would give children more choice and reduce the restrictive stereotyping around gender labels that has steadily increased over the past decade.

Said, Cheryl Rickman who met with F&F buyers: "The result was promising and positive. Although they couldn't publicly commit to any specific changes, they demonstrated that they are listening and interested in learning as much as they can about the issues that concern many parents today.  We discussed a number of potential changes that would make a difference and they DO intend to make a few small but worthwhile changes based on our suggestions."

F&F said: "We're interested to understand more about this and we want to do the right thing by our customers. So we're prepared to give what we've heard today serious consideration as you've made some really good points."

Fast track two months and a lot has happened in retail:

The weekend after the Tesco's meeting, Target announced they would be removing gender signage from their toy department. They chose not to do the same within their clothing department due to sizing differences. (Across retail, sizing is determined and set by Size UK which provides guidelines based on the average size of girls and boys across the nation).

In the clothing department, Next led the way with their new Star Wars range in the girls' aisle, featuring various Star Wars tops and leggins.

M&S followed in close pursuit offering dinosaur pyjamas for girls as well as boys. (We were quick to place an order for the dino-loving Climbing Trees co-founder).

With Disney Stores recently announcing the removal of gender signage from their fancy dress items, Climbing Trees and F&F are continuing dialogue to see what other changes can be made.

"In an ideal world retailers would remove all gender labels, provide more unisex options and,if they are going to label clothes by gender, place items that have been traditionally reserved 'for boys only' or 'for girls only' in BOTH aisles, because girls like dinosaurs, pirates and robots (and boys like kittens and butterflies) too!," says co-founder of, Cheryl Rickman.

"That said, we understand that they are in the business of making money, so they will only make changes if they know it will positively impact their bottom line as well as enhancing their relationships with their customers. We don't expect them to remove clothes that sell well, but we hope they may consider adding more choice by removing or, at least, reducing the gender-based limitations that currently proliferate."

The good news is that retailers are starting to make steps in the right direction by providing clothes that have, until now, been marketed 'for boys only' as 'for girls too'.

"That's exactly how Climbing Trees came about - because girls like to play with dinosaurs and pirates, get muddy and climb trees just as much as boys; hence our range of tops featuring those motifs 'for girls too'."

Consequently, Climbing Trees has garnered a good deal of media attention by providing something not previously offered. Now it seems that the larger retailers are catching on. Which, says Cheryl, "is brilliant news!"

"One reason why we launched was because my daughter and I were fed up of going down the girls' aisle and finding nothing that she loved. So we made our own range featuring stuff that had been labelled 'for boys'.

If we can now go into mainstream retailers and find clothes in her own aisle that she will wear, that is brilliant news and definitely worth celebrating."

It's about labelling. Kids are kids. Some boys and girls like stuff that fits the stereotype but some dont. They shouldn't be boxed in and restricted and told what to like before they can even walk. Climbing Trees feels it is important for retailers to offer more choice to provide for the whole spectrum of what it means to be a boy or girl without limitations. 

"We don't want retailers to get rid of all the pink princesses and butterflies altogether," declares Cheryl. "My football-loving daughter may be princess-averse but many children DO love those things and retailers are not going to remove clothes that sell. Nor would we want them to, because that would be reducing choice rather than offering more choice, which is what we're all about. We simply want them to add A WIDER CHOICE of colours and motifs to their ranges for both genders, so that girls who love Spiderman and boys who like Frozen can find the stuff they love in their own aisle, (if aisles must be segregated). And, in time, #ditchthegenderlabels altogether."

And, with the changes being implemented by leading retailers and clothing distrubtors here in the UK, it looks like this dream may slowly come to fruition in the coming years so that children can choose clothes based on their interests, regardless of gender. This will further encourage children to be proud to be all that they are and play with/wear what they like, without being dictated to by society and retailers alike.

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