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.)
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.
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!
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.