Gender Neutral Parenting: Challenging Stereotypes and Irresponsible Retailers Is Just Parenting


What is it with the media love affair with the term gender neutral parenting? It’s gained real traction in its attempt to capture the zeitgeist of campaigners who want a retail landscape based on choice, not stereotypes. As terms go, its a really poor one, and instead of promoting a rainbow of choices, we have this sense that some parents want identikit beige uniforms and the banning of dresses, against those who don’t. The problem isn’t actually parents, and how we choose to parent, but a retail landscape dominated by irresponsible and exploitative stereotypes. Its so pervasive, so ingrained in our culture, you’d be forgiven for not questioning it, and yet question it, we must.                                            12647519_635516766588893_2395756372805386964_n

When my daughter was born, I was perfectly content in the convenience of letting retailers figure out my options for me. I lamented my daughter not having Dinosaur clothes without even acknowledging we both had a choice in this, I just accepted the culture – swallowed it down, like a swig of pink sugary lemonade. By age four I started to see the real damage this was doing to my child, she had accepted what was for her, and what wasn’t – on the basis she was born a girl. I guess you could call that my turning point.

There’s no denying that childhood is now commercialised and targeted by big business in ways we can’t begin to fully appreciate, and it reaches us through well funded, well researched, marketing campaigns. That is what marketing does after all, not necessarily selling you what you want, but convincing you, you want what they sell. Branding is about building trust as well, we can trust them with our kids, but should we?

Responsible Retailing in Childrenswear is something many of the UK retail giants signed up to, with a nod from the government and a hearty handshake from the BRC (British Retail Consortium), but even that makes the assumption we need gender neutral colour choices. Boys will be boys is a slogan routinely making the rounds on the high street, alongside here comes trouble and it wasn’t me, and I can’t think of a worse sentiment to embolden our children with. What, boys shouldn’t be held accountable for their actions, like girls are?


When a Mum questioned why Target was selling a T-Shirt aimed at Boys with “Is my sister done talking yet?“ the complaint was heavily trolled with comments intended to silence the mother – after all, its just a joke? As Dr Rebecca Hains states:

This may seem like a small thing. Some people will read this and say, “It’s just a t-shirt. Learn to take a joke.” But in a culture in which women’s and girls’ voices are devalued, their ideas and interests trivialized as less important than boys’ and men’s, why would any responsible retailer sell this?

The pay gap, rape culture, violence against women – you can take action on these and still question why “it wasn’t me“ is suitable for boys and “happy is prettiest” for girls. Its the big picture, and its all connected.

boys trouble t-shirts.jpg

There’s a certain amount of irony in an industry that promotes an obsession with gender stereotyping and then interprets unisex or gender neutral as an equal yet opposite partner to this. Instead of labeling all clothes for all children, we see the very literal interpretation of neutral to mean appropriate for both sexes within the same stereotyping parameters. The Lil Londunn unisex range at Marks and Spencer is a great example of this, all grey/black and shapeless. Its telling it looks at home in their boyswear section, with a a careful nod to the idea anything feminine is demeaning to boys, but not the other way around. In fact the only dress in the unisex range is labelled Girls…

I don’t want to see shops stop selling pink, or dresses, or t-shirts with roaring dinosaurs – I want more choice, not less. I want my child to be able to find what clothes and toys she wants without being confronted by signs, labels and even shop staff who question her decisions. I don’t want a middle option either, where unisex is used to mean blank. We are individuals, with our own tastes, passions and yes, even favourite colour that can’t be determined by what genitals we have. In challenging what you feel is wrong, you’re just behaving like a normal parent.        

Kid’s Sun Safe Swimwear: Exposure to sexism really is bad for your health


“Exposing your child to too much sun may increase their risk of skin cancer later in life.” NHS

Click to hear the “Slip Slop Slap Song” by Sun Safe Nurseries!

Its that time of year again when we dig out or dig deep to buy sun hats, sun lotion, swim suits, shorts, t-shirts and sandals – all in the name of celebrating the glory that is British Summertime. And why not! After a long winter inside, its time to go out, go play, splash, dust off last years bucket and spade and head down to the nearest beach. I am THERE.

  • New swimsuits (last years too small)
  • New Factor 50 Sunscreen (last years too crusty)
  • HATS. Hats for all… (begins sewing)
  • Shorts and T-Shirts (standard)
  • Sandals (last years and one new pair for the 3 year old)
  • All-in-one Sun-suit for beach, sand and water play (bit of a luxury, but hey, we’re parents – we’re told every day that buying the RIGHT things is part of our duty. We buy, therefore we parent)

School swimsuit shopping thus far a pain, with “sorry, the plain, sturdy swimsuits are out of stock!” and being directed to the frilly tropical tankini’s and wondering why anyone would want their child to look like a cocktail.

We know there are big differences in the design and marketing of childrenswear between girls and boys ranges, but does this include retailers annual dive into Sun Safety sales? The first place I check:

Screenshot_2016-05-22-12-15-10 Screenshot_2016-05-22-12-15-06

Followed by:



(Websites, May 22nd 2016)

Marks and Spencer’s Swimwear: Girls 61 items, boys 48 items and yet…

Boys: 11 “Sun safe” suits (1-7 and 5-14) plus 9 rash vests

Girls: 3 “Sun safe” suits (1-7 only – pictured below) plus 2 rash vests

Despite there being more Swimwear options “for girls”, there are LESS “Sun Safe” options. Why is that? Have I missed something here? Does being a girl mean you are not susceptible to the dangers of sun exposure?

1-7 year old’s catered for, but of course only if your son only likes Thomas/Blue and your girl Butterflies/Pink.

thomas mand s 1-7 1-7 mark s and spencer fun n sun

NEXT Swimwear: Girls 129 items, Boys 140 items

Boys: 44 “Sun safe” options including rash vests

Girls: 23 “Sun safe” options including rash vests

Plus if your kids want to splash about in Disney Pixar NEMO swimwear, tough luck girls, your skin isn’t as important as male fans (yes, the hat is “for boys” only too)

nemo next nemo boys sun safe tuis sun safe boys nemo next

George at Asda: Girls 52 swimwear options, Boys 41

Boys: 6 “Sun safe” suit options

Girls: Only 2 “Sun safe” suit options – despite there being a bigger swimwear selection

Plus check out the leg length protection below… (Star Wars for boys and Frozen for girls, did you see that coming?)

star wars asda swim shorts boys asda frozen swimsuit

Alternatively, George at Asda sell a “Boy-leg” school swimsuit for girls – yes, BOY LEG! I am not making this up…

school asda boy leg

Boden: Girls 46 swimwear options, Boys 24

Boys: 7 rash tops/bottoms (very similar, if not identical to those offered girls)

Girls: 7 rash tops/bottoms (3/4 sleeves and longer shorts, best range yet)

Also, take a look and stare in wonder… Dinosaurs in a girls range, and flowers in a boys🙂 (so… now we can finally acknowledge children *can* like the same things, we can do away with the pesky gender marketing altogether? Yes?)

boden rash vest 3-4 sleeve boden boys shorts

Matalan: Girls 30 swimwear items, Boys 29 

Boys: 8 “Surf suits” – similar styles to girls options, but BLUE (ok if all boys like blue*)

Girls: 6 “Surf suits” …. and all PINK! (ok if all girls like pink*)

(*they don’t.)

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Below is some really important Sun Smart advice from the Teenage Cancer Trust, but retailers please:

Create a single swimwear destination within your children’s sections, with search options/placement by type and size. Consider many girls might want to wear swim-shorts with a rash vest, or a boy may love the Frozen tutu swimsuit pictured above. Its about choice, including sleeve/arm length. Make Sun Safety an important part of your Summer swimwear campaign – and mean it!

Please tweet your swimwear shopping antics and concerns to @letclothesbe

Please CC us, to any emails you send retailers, we’re happy to lend your feedback some support!


Advice from Teenage Cancer Trust:

  • Slap on SPF 30 sunscreen – Apply generous amounts of water resistant sunscreen of at least SPF30 and above, to clean, dry skin before going out in the sun. Make sure you re-apply regularly throughout the day.
  • Wear a hat – Whether it’s a stylish fedora, a trilby or a baseball cap, all can help to keep the heat off your head, face, neck and ears.
  • Stay in the shade between 11am-3pm –  When the sun’s rays are strongest between 11am-3pm, find a shady spot to avoid the burn.
  • Protect your eyes – Slip on those sunglasses to make sure your eyes are protected from the strong rays of the sun.
  • Cover up – Throw on a long sleeved shirt or top that ideally has a collar and a sarong or long shorts to protect your skin.

Five year old’s should be ladylike in their Summer dresses? Knickers to that.

This week we spoke to Author Poppy O’Neill about her reaction to advice from teachers at her daughter’s school that girls should behave ladylike while wearing their Summer Dress uniform. Yes, that means you can’t show your knickers at all, even while doing headstands against the PE equipment shed. When did parenting include the idea of raising girls to be ladies, at all?
At a time when many schools are talking about the modesty of school uniform, the length of skirts, the lack of choice – its time to ask why girls are being actively policed on their actions, bodies, and dress. Why have a girl or boy uniform at all, which surely only serves to reinforce gender stereotypes further.
Please read Poppy’s letter below.
Dear Teacher,
Don’t tell my daughter to be ladylike.
When the sun comes out, my five-year old daughter likes to wear her Summer dress to school. Its part of the uniform and its lovely to wear a cool cotton dress on a warm day.
When I heard the head teacher of her school was telling the girls to be ‘ladylike’ in their Summer dresses, lest someone catch a glimpse of knicker, I was shocked.
My daughter is five, she and her friends are little girls. They are not grown women, they are not ladies, so there’s no need to suggest to them that they should be like ladies.
When you tell little girls to be ‘ladylike’, what are you really telling them? When you tell them not to show their knickers in their Summer dresses, are are they hearing?
They hear: reign in your play. Don’t do that handstand, don’t climb that ladder. Appearance comes before freedom.
Why? Because someone might see your knickers. And what are knickers for, again? Oh yes, for covering your private parts. Knickers don’t also need to be covered, and them being seen is not a big deal. If it is a big deal for you, then that’s your problem.
If a Summer dress is, in the teachers eyes, not suitable to play freely in, why is it part of the school uniform? Why are we telling little girls to cover up, be modest, be ashamed of their bodies?
Please think about how you talk to little girls and boys. They are always listening, always hearing the subtext. You have the power to give them the self esteem so many are sorely lacking, a positive body image that brings with it the confidence to not care what others may think of them.
Poppy O’Neill

Do you have something to say? A blog, letter, poem – you name it – write for us, and help raise awareness about the issues affecting your children or the children in your life. Please email us!


Beb & Ooo Awarded!



We are delighted to award entrepreneur twins, Beth and Lucy, with our badge recognising their unisex brand as a leading light in childrenswear designed and manufactured here in the UK.

Beb & Ooo is a unisex clothing brand with a love of colour. All of our collections are designed, printed and made in the UK. Our prints feature quirky animal characters which bring a sense of playfulness and fun to our garments!

We believe that all children should be given the freedom to experiment, explore and express their creativity. We hope tat out clothes help to offer parents and children more choice.”



Tell us about Beb & Ooo!

We are twin sisters, Beth and Lucy and we have just (finally!) launched our own brand of UK made baby and toddler clothing.

We design all of our range: the prints, garment fit and fabric combinations to ensure we end up with fun, colourful, practical clothes that we want to dress  our own children in.

We are heavily influenced by Scandinavian brands and hope to provide a similar look whilst manufacturing it all here in the UK.

What did you do before?

Lucy: I trained in illustration and jewellery design. After a rather winding  path of employment, I have spent the last ten years designing children’s craft kits for  high street retailers.

Beth: I trained in textile design and later in education, teaching art, design  and textiles. Before having my son I had spent six years managing a scrap-store for an environmental charity, which I loved.

We are both full time mums which has made progressing Beb & Ooo somewhat slower! It has, however, meant that we are more informed about the practicalities of dressing small wriggly people.

Why did you feel unisex was so important?

We didn’t set out to develop a unisex brand! Once we had decided to design our own clothing range it became clear to us that we had actually designed a unisex range without really thinking about it in those terms!

This might imply that we don’t see it as important, but in reality is proves our Mum totally succeeded in making clothes just be clothes for us. It was only once we had out boys we realised how hard she must have worked to provide us with such a free, creative and individual childhood.

We didn’t realise this world of pink, blue (and beige) existed as we were taught how to make our own clothes and would spend out pocket money on fabrics, patterns, jumble sale finds and comics!

We are very passionate that all children have freedom to experiment, explore and  express their creativity. We hope that our clothes help to offer parents  and children more choice.

What clothes did you love wearing as a child?

Clothes were important to us growing up as it was the only way some people could tell us apart. Our favourite  clothes were Cloth-kits and our rabbit dresses made by our granny (they featured a pocket  containing a rabbit who was wearing the same dress as us).

Do you sell dresses and skirts for boys too?

We are currently working on a couple of dress designs to introduce to our  collection soon. These will be available to buy for anyone who wants them,  whether they’re a girl or a boy.

To find our more about Beb & Ooo, or to purchase from their range please check out their website, or for offers and events please check out the Beb & Ooo Facebook page!

To nominate a unisex business, or apply for our Let Clothes be Clothes approved badge, please click here.

“Customers search by gender” – Do you?


Do retailers really need gender categories, titles and descriptions in order to sell clothes online and connect with you the customer?

The big UK retailers are telling us that when it comes to shopping for children’s clothing, UK shoppers search NUMBER ONE by gender. For a Boy or for a Girl being the biggest factor in the clothes buying experience.

Our reply is simple: If you always sell that way, won’t your data just reflect the buying habits you’ve forced customers into? Gender marketing dominates, after all, all the big kidswear retailers. 


Why not give the option to find clothing without relying on the tired and ugly idea that we need to stereotype children. Would customers be so disorientated by using category searches like type, colour, theme or age that they would somehow end up browsing garden furniture with a pained and confused expression, like Alice down the rabbit hole?

When I search for clothing I don’t think “girl,” I think about my children. I think age/fit, suitable for the activities they love, their favourite colour and what they’re really into – so at the moment, that’s Star Wars and Paw Patrol.

What is your experience of buying children’s clothes? How do you shop for your little ones, god-children, grand children, nieces and nephews?

Is it as simple as the retailers are making out? “Ah, Mark has a penis and is a boy, I will buy him boy clothes from the boy sections.” Because that sounds like a really odd version of reality…

Please tell us your thoughts with our poll below, or feel free to leave a comment – we are listening! (even if some retailers, so far, are not)

Gecko Clothing Awarded!



We’ve had our eye on Colwyn Bay based Gecko Clothing for some time, with fun designs and a great eco-outlook, we are delighted to present Emma, and her family run business, with our award badge!

gecko clothing logo


Tell us about Gecko Clothing!

I am Emma, The Gecko, Co-founder of Gecko Clothing and Mum of 3 beautiful, amazing and tiring children.

Gecko Clothing is a family run, young clothing brand forging a  reputation for creating bright and fun, unique, unisex designs. I work alongside my husband and it’s very much a family business with our 3 kids taking a large interest and getting involved in all areas. We literally discuss all aspects with them from theme and colour  choices right through to marketing ideas!

Outside of being a Mum and The Gecko I like to run and climb, living in North Wales this gives me the perfect back drop for both! I am happiest outdoors.

emma gecko
Emma Davidson, Co-Founder of Gecko Clothing

What did you do before?

Before setting up Gecko Clothing I was a freelance event and project Manager specialising in social inclusion and community projects. Although I really enjoyed my time freelance and the work and projects it became quite stressful with a young family. Being Freelance meant I had no cover if I was  needed at home.

What are your biggest sellers?

Although we have been around since 2012 it was only last year that we were  in a position to manufacture our own clothes from pattern to final stitch in  our own print designs. It was amazing to watch them come together and see everyone’s excitement when they were  released.

Our most popular item were definitely our colourful dungarees.

Nutty for Nature Dungaree’s

Why did you feel unisex was so important?

The very idea of Gecko Clothing started because my husband would rant at the men’s offering in terms of designs and colours in comparison to women’s choice and was completely uninspired  by the dull, predictable offerings on  the High Street. When I had my son this only compounded the frustration.

Boys were so limited in terms of colours and designs, we had to spend hours shopping for things that weren’t blue and I hate shopping! Then we saw that it got even worse when they reached 3, that somehow the colours and patterns became even more muted! That’s when  Gecko was born. We very quickly  saw that beyond the frustration at how these outdated stereotypes limited the options for genders, that it went deeper. We felt uncomfortable dictating to  parents what their child liked based on their gender, the whole idea seemed absurd.

Gender stereotypes: harmful, or can you just ignore?

1tEbgSAISu3F2KPy-2WDBnd61EF_iJvMOfqBfWYeyeAIt’s definitely harmful! I genuinely believe that until we teach our children  that they are all equal we will never truly have equality. Right now this is the message that society is teaching based on gender segregation and marketing alone: “Of course you can be a Palaeontologist when you grow up, you can be anything you put your mind to… You can’t have  dinosaurs they’re for boys!  What about this pretty doll?

Not really dripping in equality is it?!

5 changes you’d like to see in society around children and clothes:

  1. Stop the boy/girl division – design to kids and let them choose based on their own beautiful personality and preferences
  2. Stop designing for boys and girls like they are 2 separate species and shapes – design to kids and let them choose based on their own beautiful personality and preferences
  3. More inclusion and diversity and beauty of all children including those  with physical disabilities, sensory impairments and the massive spectrum therein
  4. It’s nice that kids can get ‘Sunday best’ type outfits, but I would love to see more emphasis on what a child needs from their clothes in designs – freedom of movement and comfort mainly
  5. Tighter scrutiny on items of sexualisation and general inappropriateness  like high heels and bikinis to name but 2!

To find our more about Gecko Clothing, or to purchase from their range please check out their website, or for offers and events please check our the Gecko Facebook page!

To nominate a unisex business, or apply for our Let Clothes be Clothes approved badge, please click here.

Stereotypes to the core: Interview with a Childrenswear Designer


This week we spoke to a former designer for one of the UK’s biggest clothing retailers to find out how big gender stereotypes are in the design of children’s clothing (and how big a leap it is for retailers to change their ways…)


(This designer still works in the industry and has asked to remain anonymous, images have been added for examples from across the retail landscape and do not represent the work of this person or the store in question.)
Example of for boys, or for girls at George, Asda
 If I was in charge I’d want to see more choice for both genders. Boys want Elsa t-shirts too, girls want Darth Vader! The more common it becomes in our high street the less bullying there will be. Even if it just started off with breaking down the colour divide.”:
Can you tell us about your role at *Major UK Retailer*?
I was a designer for the Boyswear team. I’d illustrate characters and designs for boys clothing age 2- 15 years. I worked there for about a year.
Were you ever told not to put a certain designs on clothing?
You work to trends and “stories”. But I was told some designs couldn’t go on boyswear, just as some couldn’t go on girlswear. For example they didn’t want dinosaurs or cars on girls clothing. My boss said she saw dinosaurs on girlswear at another store and didn’t think it was right, and they wouldn’t sell.
Boyswear had to be bold and mostly shades of blues depending on the trend. If a design was soft it would have to go on baby boys wear. Older Boys would get skulls, skateboards and headphones for example, plus bold darker colours. Designers work was forced into boxes.
Example of girls vs boys, Marks and Spencer 2015 range
Was there ever an explanation as to why?
I don’t believe they thought it would sell. They were very adamant towards gendered clothing. We had set words that would go onto boys clothing e.g handsome, cheeky, chappy. My friend was constantly told her style was too girly for boyswear; for example, you couldn’t draw delicate designs or if it pushed on “girly” it went into the baby section.
How are girlswear and boyswear separated, is it different teams and department heads?
Girlswear and Boyswear were on different floors, we didn’t work together and rarely saw their designs until the finished products. We had completely separate teams and bosses.
What do those teams think about feedback from people who ask for more inclusive store layout and choice?
I never heard much talk about inclusive designs for both genders, and only negatives if anything. They know what they’re doing will sell, and I do believe they think it’s still what the market wants. They’re not ready to take a “risk”. I think there is a need for both types of design, but across both genders.
They knew people would still keep buying the “pink girly things” etc. Its been selling for years, so the idea of change scares them. There are still parents who treat clothing as very seperate sadly. I was in the Disney Store recently and saw a boy who wanted a Tinkerbell because she is friends with Peter Pan, and his Dad wasn’t having any of it. It was really sad!
In-store signage at Mothercare
What are the positives and negatives about clothing “for girls” or “for boys,” do you agree with the approach?
I think there will always be a need and a market for “girly” clothes and “boyish” clothes, some girls will always want pink! But it’s more accepting (socially) that boys do too! And some girls can want to be astronauts not princesses. I don’t think I’d want to see a shop of neutral colours to try to bridge the gap, more just integrating designs across both genders. I went into the job thinking I could do this, but was shut down.
Can you give us a glimpse of what its like to do your job?
It’s a fast pace environment, you work on designs far ahead so what we’ll see in summer 2017 is already being worked on or finished. Whole trends can be dropped and changed in a day so you’re always designing.
If you were in charge, how would you run things?
 If I was in charge I’d want to see more choice for both genders. Boys want Elsa t-shirts too, girls want Darth Vader! The more common it becomes in our high street the less bullying there will be. Even if it just started off with breaking down the colour divide.

To sign our petition and ask retailers to rethink how they design and sell childrenswear, please click here.