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.

Mimi & Will Awarded!


Indie T-Shirt Business, Mimi & Will, awarded the Let Clothes Be Clothes Approved Badge!

Mimi & Will love ethically sourced T-Shirts, great design, beautiful illustration, colourful prints – and so do we!

“We wanted to provide childrenswear which would override gender segregation” says Katy Penman, one half of Mimi & Will.


On a personal level, as well as business partners, we are mums of a boy and a girl, and have extended families and friendship groups with boy/girl siblings,  where we often pass on and share outgrown clothing – it seems so wasteful to have to buy or be gifted twice as much of everything.   We know money is tight for a lot of people and we are firm believers in the ‘buy once, buy well’ mantra, which is why we focus on quality and the potential for re-use when developing our products.”

Tell us about what you do!
We are Katy and Jo, and we work together on Mimi & Will, bringing great design from emerging and established artists, on long-lasting, well-fitting, ethically-made t-shirts for children.
What are your biggest sellers? 347635-10e93c3e68e544c587ad3f0b2b65a9f8
Our biggest sellers are the Supersaurus t-shirt, designed for us by Neil Slorance.  Neil really helped inspire what we do (we wanted to buy his robot t-shirt for our kids but none were available in their sizes) and is a bit of a local hero in his own right – he draws for the excellent Dr Who comic, as well as for us!  We also do really well with our Read More Books t-shirt, designed for us by Louise Verity, of Bookishly UK.  You can’t go wrong with reading.
Why did you feel unisex was so important? 
A t-shirt is a t-shirt is a t-shirt.  None of your cap sleeve, frilly nonsense here.  And it’s important to us that kids can follow their own interests, from reading to dinosaurs to camping to sailing and beyond.  None of the above activities or interests are gendered, so why should our products be?
Gender stereotypes: harmful, or can you just ignore? 
As parents, we can’t ignore something that puts a limit on our children’s imagination, creativity or ability to express themselves.    Telling someone that a personal characteristic over which they have no control is the reason why they can’t have, do or be something?  It’s inaccurate and irresponsible.
What clothes did you love wearing as a child?
(Katy) All in one pyjamas for night-time, and jumpsuits for daywear.  It’s the trend that will never end.
4 changes you’d like to see in society around children and clothes:
1) end of child labour in clothing and footwear manufacture
2) no more swathes of pink and blue with a tiny beige no man’s land in the baby department
3) the return of the capsule wardrobe for children – a few well-chosen, high-quality pieces that will wash and wear
4) more awareness of #whomadeyourclothes and why this is important e) a focus on the use of natural fibres and clothes which are mindful of environmental considerations – how much resource do they take to produce, how well do they last, how long do they take to biodegrade (if at all)
Why do you support Let Clothes Be Clothes?
By its very nature, Let Clothes Be Clothes forces all of us to remember that there’s no such thing as ‘just clothes’ when there’s a potential for harm to those developing young minds (and feet, and bodies), and we are delighted to stand alongside and help share that message.
Find out more about Mimi & Will, including offers and events, by clicking here

To apply or recommend a business for our Best Practice Award, please use our contact form!

The Man on the Moon: This Girl Can at John Lewis

This years much anticipated Christmas advert from John Lewis is about two things – fighting the isolation felt by a million older people, and making amends to girls by saying ” yes, this girl can.”

The choice of Kim Gehrig to direct this annual £7 million tear jerker was an inspired move by John Lewis, who have up until now come under fire for stereotyping children, most notably with their John Lewis Boy and John Lewis Girl range. Gehrig is responsible for the popular “This Girl Can” advert for Sport England, part of a national campaign to celebrate active women up and down the country, no matter how they look, or how red their face gets.

“I was also aware that the majority of images representing women in sports advertising are very glossy and “perfect”. That was something I wanted to challenge. In particular, I had been fascinated about the portrayal of cellulite in the media for a while. I wanted to celebrate it and try to make it sexy. Why not, when most of us have it? I would love young girls to have a different perception of what is an ideal body image than I did as I grew up.” Kim Gehrig

The Man on the Moon features 6 year old Lily, who is seen throughout using her family telescope – she is the star of the show, and the mix of girl plus Astronomer is a welcome improvement to some of the stereotypes we have challenged John Lewis to tackle over the past year.


Dear old Monty and Mabel, this was a big hit for John Lewis, but the pink for girls (together) or blue for boys (standard) was indicative of the problem with many high street retailers, and yet on the back of our emails John Lewis did reply, did meet us and DID promise changes in the year ahead.


In June however we pulled John Lewis up on this as yet another example of cultural sexism, after all female Astronauts will probably just cry or fall in love with you, right?

“I welcome that “Space Man” has been changed to “Astronaut” on your website but there is no Science, History, Engineering or Technology themes offered in your girls section on line, or in store.”

So you can imagine our sheer joy, sheer elation that John Lewis has sent out such a powerful message to girls, and anyone who might think Space Science is not for girls, but they don’t stop there – oh no!

John Lewis Man on the Moon Unisex Pyjama Set glow in the dark pj john lewis man on th emoon glow blue

UNISEX, the Let Clothes Be Clothes holy grail, and theres a small part of me that sits back and thinks our work is done here. Its a small example within a childrenswear department that has a long long way to go before it fires gender stereotypes into space for good, but what a powerful celebration of girls, and Space Science.

This girl CAN  ride her scooter fast while wearing a Dinosaur helmet, play football, archery and dance, AND finally… wear her John Lewis Space clothes with pride. Well done John Lewis, and Happy Christmas!

To donate to Age UK please click here

Your donation could make a huge difference to an older person’s life – helping Age UK to offer companionship, advice and support, through services such as our national Advice Line. It’s free to everyone who needs it and open every day, including Christmas Day. Thank you.

Ban high heels and wedges for children, end of. #Healthnotheels

 “Most children’s shoes should come with a government health warning” says  Tracey Byre, a Podiatrist specialising in children’s shoes (Guardian, 2010), and goes on to say many parents are tricked by “Well, if its on the shelf, it must be ok.”


sassy pee wee pumpscrayola creations hot heels pretty girl play heels  disney cinderella shoes heel light up1

Normalising heels on girls is bad for girls, full stop. From crib baby heels to plastic toy sets, high fashion to school shoes, there’s a broad range of products promoting heels to girls, but whether you feel this is a matter of choice or another example of the sexualisation of young girls, we want retailers to be held accountable for ignoring warnings from the NHS and podiatry experts.

Samantha Gouldson takes us through the facts:

Women wearing high heeled shoes are a common sight in Western society. It’s also common for little girls to want to wear their mummy’s shoes, to dress up as mummy, and there’s nothing wrong with a little bit of pretend play. But what is harmful is the increasing prevalence of heeled shoes designed to be worn by children. You can find them on any British high street, in shops like Next, Monsoon, Shoe Zone, River Island, M&S and Clarks. But why are retailers selling shoes that could cause permanent damage?

“They’re totally inappropriate for an eight-year-old…Aside from the issues of young girls dressing to look like sexually available women, heels as high as this are all wrong for growing feet.”

Justine Roberts for Mumsnet

river island black gold wedges 6.5cm
River Island appear the worst offender on the UK high street for adult styles made smaller for children, yet we know children have very different feet and needs to that of adults. These examples of wedges currently on sale at River Island have a whopping 6.5cm wedge heel, sold online in their girls 3-14 years section, from sizes 9 to 4 (to give an idea of actual age range, my daughter is 2 and in a size 8 shoe.)girls black studded wedges river island

When a child is born, they have no bones in their feet at all. Instead the structure of the foot is formed by tough but pliable tissue called cartilage. Children’s feet are a different shape to adult feet; they’re rounder, plumper, softer and more pliable. They’re narrowest at the heel and wide across the toes. As the child grows, their feet grow too – often at an alarming rate, if you’re the one who’s constantly having to pay for new footwear! As time passes the cartilage gradually ossifies, turning into hard bones. This is a gradual and lengthy process, and the human foot doesn’t finish developing until around 18 years of age.

monsoon at next gold t-bar

Because of the difference between a child’s foot and an adult foot, the best kind of shoe for a child is one that has been formed to match the foot’s developmental anatomy. Experts say that it should have a thin and completely flexible sole to support and facilitate the foot’s full range of movement. The toe section should be both wide and deep, giving the toes room to spread and curl. The shoe should be closed at the back, to prevent the toes constantly having to grip onto the sole in order to keep the shoe on the foot. The closure at the top should be adjustable, with something like laces or velcro, and there should be no arch support.

brantano 10-2 Skittles Bella PARTY Sandals This little party number is sure to make the special little girl in your life feel even more like a princess!every budding fashionistas dream.
Brantano sell a range of girls heels throughout the year, and are one of the worst for displays that suggest heels are casual girls footwear, including practical school shoes with tall block heels. Skittles Bella Party Sandals from sizes 10 up, “This little party number is sure to make the special little girl in your life feel even more like a princess!” and “every budding fashionistas dream.” On their homepage Brantano also describe big brands like Skittles as a durable style that offers to “support your children’s feet as they grow.”

Heeled shoes do none of these things. Not only do they not support the soft, pliable and vulnerable structure of a growing foot, they actively damage them. Even adult feet are damaged by wearing heeled shoes, and so the harm inflicted on a child’s foot is that much greater. When the heel is held higher than the ball of the foot, the Achilles tendon shortens. Prolonged weight-bearing by the ball of the foot can crush the toes together, forcing them into a bent shape and in some cases causing nerve damage. It’s not just the foot that’s harmed by wearing heeled shoes. Calf muscles may become shorter and tighter. The pelvis and spine are pushed out of alignment, and increased pressure is placed upon the knees. The bones of the legs don’t finish growing and forming until the mid-teens, and the changes to posture inflicted by wearing heeled shoes could well lead to permanent deformation in the bones of the ankles, knees and hips.

little angels brantano 5cm heel low heel to make your little one feel even more special
Little Angels at Brantano, with a narrow 5cm “low heel to make your little one feel even more special.” 

Even if you ignore the physical harm caused by wearing such shoes, the sight of a child wearing heeled shoes or boots often makes the onlooker uncomfortable. In Western society we associate heeled footwear with sexual attractiveness, and for good reason. Walking in heels causes significant changes to a woman’s posture and gait; her buttocks are thrust out and her back arches, she must take smaller and more frequent steps, while her pelvic rotation and vertical hip motion become more pronounced. To put it simply, walking in heeled shoes both exaggerates the characteristics of a woman’s walk (women naturally take shorter strides than men, and have a slight sway of the hips/pelvis that isn’t present in the male gait) and mimics the posture of sexual receptiveness. Putting children in footwear that does this makes us uncomfortable because children are not sexual and should never be, yet we consciously and unconsciously associate heeled shoes with sex.

“There is a big distinction between children dressing up for fun and retailers producing items of clothing that target children and encourage premature sexualisation…We have to ask what effects some of these products have on children and young people’s ideas of body image and what is appropriate for their age. Retailers and adults have a responsibility to ensure children and young people grow up valuing the right things in themselves and other people.”

Penny Nicholls, The Children’s Society

marks and spencer 10-6 glitter wedge
Marks and Spencer Glitter Wedge, sizes from 10 up.

Although advice is to restrict children’s shoes to a heel height of 4cm or less, research has shown that the best thing for a child’s foot is to be barefoot as often as practically possible. This not only enables the foot to develop unimpeded but also helps the child’s gait (the way they walk) to develop naturally. Even flat shoes can affect the way a child’s legs and feet behave when they walk, particularly flat-soled trainers that mimic adult styles – children just don’t weigh enough to force the sole to flex.

“These shoes should carry a parental advisory label that says these are costume dress and not for everyday or all-day wear.”

Dr Joseph Kelly, Society of Chiropodists & Podiatrists of Ireland.

The impact of wearing heeled shoes is even worse. Not only do they affect the way that a child’s body develops and moves, they also alter the way they play. A child whose footwear forces them to take shorter strides is unlikely to be able to run, climb or jump. And even if they somehow manage to do these things, the impact on their soft and still-developing feet will be far more damaging than if they were doing these things barefoot or in flat shoes.

george 6cm wedge shoes
Example of a 6.5cm child’s wedge heel on sale at George, Asda (November 2015)

Let Clothes Be Clothes is calling on the UK government to:

  • Ban the sale of children’s shoes with a heel or wedge of, or over, 4cm. They sexualise children, prevent normal movement and activities, and can cause permanent damage to the growth and natural development of children’s feet and ligaments.
  • Encourage retailers to remove all heel and wedge styles under 4cm from casual footwear sections online and in store, and redisplay as party or occasion-wear only.
  • Require all children’s footwear retailers to add warning labels to heels, wedges and strapless ballet shoes encouraging occasional use only.
  • Urgently revisit the 2011 Bailey Review recommendation to set up a comprehensive retailing to children code of practice.
  • Support the BRC in actively ensuring retailers follow guidance on responsible retailing, in particular:“BRC retail members recognise their responsibilities in providing age appropriate clothing designs and marketing these to parents in ways which do not sexualise or unduly gender stereotype children.”
  • Provide guidance to schools on the risks of wedges, strapless ballet flats and heels.

Please click here to sign our petition!


Written and researched for Let Clothes Be Clothes by Samantha Gouldson

Images and high street research by Francesca Mallen

  1. Top image: “Sassy” Crib Shoes for Babies from Pee Wee Pumps, Crayola “Hot Heels”, “Pretty Girl” plastic play shoes and Cinderella play shoes from the Disney Store.
  2. Example from Monsoon, November 2015. Big on party styles, bridesmaid and special occasion shoes, Monsoon staff have told us it should be obvious to consumers these are for occasional use only, in fact Monsoon have described such shoes as “dress up” – but is that something consumers notice, or understand? Monsoon don’t include heel heights on their website, but have a large range of heels aimed at girls, starting from size 7 – the smallest size for heels on the high street. Monsoon describe the design as a “comfortable fit” but have told us heel heights include 3.5cm on sale in toddler sizes.

No Pink Please Awarded!



Indie Business and Childrenswear Boutique awarded new Let Clothes Be Clothes Approved Badge!

We caught up with Victoria of Brighton based No Pink Please to find out more about her forward thinking, unisex business that champions clothes which lets kids be kids!

no pink please square 300        RGB_300dpi 

No Pink Please is an online unisex childrenswear boutique, stocking independent British brands whose designs are also fun, age appropriate and responsibly produced. The initial idea began while pregnant with my son and I launched the business in the last few months of pregnancy. Preparing for his arrival made me much more aware of gendered marketing in kid’s clothing and toys and I felt strongly that my son should to have the opportunity to grow up without being immediately typecast. It’s not actually about banning pink, the name is meant to be tongue-in-cheek. I have nothing against the colour pink, or blue. It’s the commercial marketing of these colours that I find frustrating and unnecessary. Children should absolutely feel free to wear whatever colour they like and form their own preferences and personalities

What did you do before?

I began in textile design and then spent almost ten years as a fashion stylist, working in TV and music. Three years ago I became interested in the P.R. side of the industry and most recently I was press manager for an independent jewellery brand.

photo (8)


Preparing for his arrival made me much more aware of gendered marketing in kid’s clothing and toys and I felt strongly that my son should to have the opportunity to grow up without being immediately typecast.”

What are your biggest sellers?

The Bright Company pyjamas are a firm favourite with my customers and everyone seems to love Boys&Girls quirky, bright designs!

Do you sell dresses and skirts for boys too?

I never assume the gender of the child receiving the clothes, so unless the customer chooses to share this info with me, I don’t know!  If the customer is happy with their purchase and it makes their child happy, then I’m happy!

Why did you feel unisex was so important?

By specialising in unisex I hope to offer a little more choice to those who are conscious of gendered marketing and looking for alternatives, or searching for a unique, non gender specific gift.

I love bright colours, bold design, quirky prints…clothes that allow children the freedom to move and play as well as looking great!  My website does not use gender based catergories or assume an item is for a particular gender and I try to use images of both sexes in the clothes wherever I can.

Gender stereotypes: harmful, or can you just ignore them?

Gender stereotypes are lazy, boring and limiting. I know some consider it a trivial cause, but I really believe this is one way we can help grow our children’s confidence. Labelling toys or clothes to specific genders limits play, sending restrictive messages before they have even discovered the opportunities out there.

braveling tights titans purple
Braveling Tights on sale at No Pink Please

What clothes did you love wearing as a child?

I had a great collection of bright 80’s jumpers! My sister and I had a favourite tree in the garden, I remember it had quite low, sprawling branches that were perfect for climbing and swinging off. So jeans and trainers were preferred, but then again I never let a RaRa skirt stop me climbing!

Are things getting better, or worse?

I’m surprised that in this day and age the notion that a gender should be signified by one specific colour is still popular! Unfortunately ‘pink for girls and blue for boys’ does still dominate market – it’s a popular choice and regarded as the “norm” to many. Obviously the high street wants to please these consumers; they are a large portion of the market. However I think parents are becoming more and more vocal and demanding change, which is why campaign groups like Let Clothes Be Clothes and Let Toys Be Toys are so important. I know I am not alone in trying to teach my son that being biologically male or female does not assign him to a given ‘colour’

Do you support the Women’s Equality Party’s ideas about addressing playground sexism?

Absolutely. Children are so influenced by the peers, it is so important that these guidelines are supported and put into action, for all our children’s futures.

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

  • Much less emphasise on gendered clothing, particularly in newborn garments.
  • Acceptance that children are children, and to let them form their own preferences without judgement.
  • Children’s clothing to be age-appropriate.
  • An end to lazy slogans that imply young girls should think being pretty or attractive is the most important thing a woman can achieve.
  • And equally an end to limiting slogans that imply young boys are destined for trouble and can only be seen as tough or aggressive.

No Pink Please on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram


To nominate a business or apply for our award, please use our contact form here.

Up next – Little Bird at Mothercare!

Mothercare: Its 2015, we want choice! #Ditchthegenderlabels

It still amazes me how smart children are from such a young age.

My youngest just turned 2 but is already clued up to what she wants to watch, wear and play with. She expresses emotion, from frustrated “no mama!” to a simple “nup” when she doesn’t want something. This typical chatty 2 year old loves Trains, George Pig, her Pandora Lottie Doll, Cars, Tangled “I hav a dreeeaamm” – you name it. Like all children she’s soaking up everything, mimics our conversations and explores her surroundings (usually by running into or off something.) She is a child, and should not be boxed in by social ideas about gender, based on having been born a girl. So why does Mothercare insist on telling us which specific items of clothing are for her?

20150301_121804     20150301_121808

When we buy clothing for our children we look at all the ranges and make our choices based on what I suspect all other parents do: 1. quality 2. practical 3. comfort A thinner child may benefit from slimmer or fitted styles, but you’d need to check the girls section to get it, yet aren’t all childrenchildren sized until puberty? Mothercare use the same sizing information for both girls and boys up to 7-8 years, but styles vary greatly, the standard being loose and long for boys, short and tight for girls.

What else is affected? Colour’s, characters and themes.

I pull a face at the “Boys” sign over the George Pig PJ’s, but like a lot of parents I buy them anyway because those are the ones she wants – she loves Thomas the Tank Engine too so we pull a pair of socks off the “Boys” rack again, and illicit a grimace to “ah, your little boy will love these!” from shop staff.


I’m an adult, I’ve educated myself on gender marketing – but my daughter is still only 2 and thinks pouring juice over the sofa is hilarious. Fast forward to age 7 (and our oldest daughter) and she does know about gender marketing, and yet cannot escape it. Here’s a snippet:

“You’re weird, girls can’t play football. That’s why they don’t sell pink football kits”

“You want the monster sticker? Not the princess one? Ooookkkaaayyy”

“Why have you got a dinosaur lunch box? Scarlett is a boy!! Scarlett is a boy!! ”

“Ah, you need the F-R-I-E-N-D-S Lego, not Star Wars, come with me…”

Its a constant battle, and one as parents we’re already losing. “Mum, I don’t want to look like I’m wearing boys things at school…”

In a few years my 2 year old will not only be able to read the signs and labels that tell her this is for boys, but really feel – this isn’t meant for me. It’s a really strong message – quite literally spelled out – that interacts with every element of your life, the choices that you make, how others interact with you and the aspirations that you hold.

Take the fact that many of the clothing themes offered to boys (including those from Marks & Spencer below) are Science based, but at what age do we start promoting the Sciences to girls too? Why is it important to market “Genius” to boys only and on the other side of the store  decorative flowers, butterflies and kittens. Girl characters to girls and boy characters to boys. What, are they alien species?

Science Marks and Spencer collage 2015      girlswear marks and spencer 2015 collage

I actually don’t like the phrase gender neutral, because it not only suggests something beige or devoid of life, but also lends power to what is deemed gendered. Ie, Pink is gendered, white is gender neutral, according to a recent yougov pole. Unisex on the other hand means shared or open to both (all) sexes – and what a great way of looking at the world! The freedom to choose for yourself, rather than following what complete strangers have deemed your gender identity based on the sex you were born. Its really quite amazing how much power these companies have, with a spending power of billions per year to enter your home, mind and life. That is the power of marketing, and that marketing is creating a product for a specific market – the boy market or the girl market, simply to sell more, more, more.

20150301_122704  20150301_122708

According to Next unisex means predominantly white, but they don’t mean unisex – they mean gender-neutral based on their “Boy Blues” and “Perfect Pinks.” The opposite is actually true, because by unisex we mean open to all – minus the gender stereotypes.

Tell me, have you ever seen a boring selection of clothing from a true purveyor of unisex clothing? Check out Love it Love it Love it, Yellow Lolly, Tootsa Macginty, Ava & Luc and Donna Wilson (before John Lewis decided to pull her collection apart) Marvel at their colourful equality! I challenge you to find anything dull and lifeless. Remove the limitations of gender stereotypes and what do you have? Choice, the true partner of unisex.

little bird

A round of applause then for the Jools Oliver Little Bird range at Mothercare, included their stunningly forward thinking (and I genuinely applaud them) “unisex” category on their website. In this respect Mothercare are light years ahead of all the other big retailers, and we love it. Yet, you’ll still find the mix of gender neutral whites (regrettably signifying their broader belief in gender stereotypes) and their stand out actual unisex range, quite confusing. Well, more of the latter please. Get yourself some more Jools Oliver’s quick.

Choice doesn’t necessarily have to start with targeting design, but with how clothes are divided on the shop floor and online. Apart from a single standalone rail unit we could find no evidence that unisex is being offered in-store at Mothercare. In actual fact we found really large “Girls Clothing… and pink of course” wall signs, rail top gender signs, pink/blue gender labels with Girl and Boy text (to make absolutely certain you know what you’re buying) AND to top it off “boys” or “girls” on our receipts.

Mothercare, please – remove the gender signs and labels, and lets put an end to this artificial wall between girls and boys.

Retailers! Be creative with your displays and websites, help customers by presenting clothing by type, size, colour or theme. Create an “all items” link on your websites so parents don’t have to run two lots of searches. Train your staff to actually offer parents what they want, not based on studying their child for gender clues and heading over to find the pink or blue options.

It may take generations for the unisex effect to take place, for social constructs on children’s clothing and gender stereotypes to reset, but lets make a start! We ask #letchildrenbechildren and #ditchthegenderlabels.





If you’d like to get involved with our #ditchthegenderlabels campaign, please email or feel free to contact Mothercare direct by using the information below.

Mothercare website 

Mothercare Facebook

Mothercare Twitter

Jools Oliver Twitter

The Dinosaur on the High Street: An open letter to M&S Kidswear

Dear Marks and Spencer,

Thank you for your open and prompt dialogue regarding the Natural History Museum range marketed to boys only, the reply below is by far our favourite (a genuinely refreshing reply from any customer service team)

As a Science enthusiast myself, I’m also a little unhappy to see that the range only caters for boys. Please be aware therefore that I have passed your comments onto our Kidswear Team.”

Since your Kidswear team isn’t customer facing, we would really appreciate more information on how you intend this range to ‘evolve’ (your choice of word) in light of our supporters’ “fair and valid comments”.  Evolve is in fact the perfect word, because that is what is needed across your Kidswear range.

Could you simply include NHM Dinosaur T-Shirts in your Girl’s category online and place a few lines under the large cardboard GIRLS sign in store? Why would that not work? Why would it look like it didn’t belong there?  The problem is visible across your whole Kidswear range, but this is a great place to start turning things around.

Last Spring Marks and Spencer agreed to drop its Boys Stuff and Little Miss Arty ranges, no longer packaging dinosaurs, cars and planes under the former. In a statement, M&S said:

“We offer a wide range of fun and educational toys, which are designed to appeal to children regardless of gender. We have listened carefully to feedback from our customers and by spring next year all of our toys will be gender neutral.”

Is clothing any different? The issue becomes more complicated when you notice that a lot of girls clothes are modelled on women’s fashion, they are in many ways not made for play in terms of movement, durability and theme. Take your current range of t-shirts aimed at girls – slim fitted, with stylised model characters and mobile phone motifs with  LOL and C U Later in “twinkling sequins for a glamorous finishing touch.”  You’ll spot nothing similar in the boys range, where T-Shirts look like, well, T-Shirts. T-Shirt: a short-sleeved casual top, generally made of cotton, having the shape of a T when spread out flat. The T-Shirts on sale in your girls’ section are nearly all slim fit and cropped, barely casual and more like a “T” holding its breathe. This sequinned lip top is designed to be so snug it wouldn’t have fitted my toddler (bored on yet another research trip) but is in fact labelled age 7 years. Note the t-shirts placed together in both photos are all the same age size, one from GIRLS and one from BOYS.

tops girls and boys

The 2011 Bailey Review, endorsed by the UK government, looked at the commercialisation and sexualisation of childhood, with recommendations made for a voluntary code of practice to be led by the British Retail Consortium (or BRC) which you, Marks and Spencer, signed up to. It’s easy to follow and simple enough to put into practice, but unfortunately has no teeth, so it’s widely ignored. Here are the key bits:

Collections should enable children to be confident about their developing bodies and enjoy play and physical activity whilst maintaining modesty.

Why are M&S girl’s shorts SO short? Compare to the boys (bottom) which also have deeper pockets. Remove the issue of modesty, and ask WHY are all your girl’s shorts so much shorter than what you offer boys. Why the need to expose more of girls legs to the elements? (Where is the choice?)

girls knees 5-14 shorts knees shorts pic

BRC retail members recognise their responsibilities in providing clothing… in ways which do not unduly stereotype children

Boys are expert “fans of the Natural History Museum,” girls are offered “pretty” kitten t-shirts.

kitten pretty t-shirt2-8 bug expert

Online you state boys will be won over by cool graphics, whereas girls will never want to take off suchpretty prints. Or compare the blurb in your coats sections; notice how to the point the last one is. (Are boys less discerning than girls?)


Keep her cosy and dry with our selection of pretty and practical jackets and coats. Including printed parkas, lightweight raincoats and denim jackets, there’s something for even the most discerning girls.


These smart and stylish coats are made with a host of clever fabric technologies to ensure maximum durability and long wear.

Consideration should be given to providing a choice of colours, including gender neutral choices.


padded non-underwire 28aa ms

First bras should be constructed to provide comfort, modesty and support but not enhancement

The padded Angel range of bras, available from 28AA (first size); is it moulded for support or enhancement? Due to concerns raised by parents during the Bailey Review, one of the recommendations states that every effort should be made to provide information on the first bra range’s that use moulded cups to avoid confusion. Last week I spotted this on your Facebook page:

Cara Howard to Marks and Spencer:

“Just returned from a bra shopping trip for my 13 year old, disgusted to note that in your ‘Angel’ range, supposedly ‘first bras’ that every single one is padded and/or underwired. This is completely unacceptable. Young girls with developing bodies need to feel confident with what they have, not sexualised or made to feel inadequate. Not one single age appropriate, non padded or underwired bra for a 13 year old in the entire store. You should be ashamed.”

bikini 2

Swimwear should provide modesty… and be designed with children’s needs specifically in mind. Bikinis for youngsters are fairly common, and M&S has a few varieties of style, but this one – for ages 5 years and up – baffles me.  The top is designed around something filling it, surely? (again, an example of adult fashion for children) Could you see a boy being presented with something so flimsy?

3cmsize 1-4 6cmIn designing footwear for everyday use, the standard approach should be to provide a stable supporting shoe with a heel pitch (angle of foot) in general not more than 2.5cm… and avoid excessive heel height.

M&S sells some of the biggest heels for girls on the high street (though fewer styles than some), with current Faux Suede Boots (1-4) at a whopping 6cm heel, and these “comfy and stylish” Jewel Embellished Wedges (10Jnr-6) at 3cm heel height. Children’s feet are completely different to adults and don’t actually stop growing and developing until around age 14 – this means any damage to the foot, ligaments or posture caused by wearing heels, can be permanent. Again, could you see heels like this on boys shoes? Any why not… (is it because it makes running and playing difficult perhaps?)

Successful retailers seek and act on feedback from customers

Marks and Spencer isn’t alone in its dubious interpretation of tedious gender norms in kidswear, far from it, but it is a great example of a department that has backed itself into a corner. We can only hope that the evolved range won’t feature pink dinosaurs blushing and batting their eyelashes, on tops that are fitted or cropped, because that is the reality of your girls section. Please, M&S, go back to the drawing board and start treating children as children, rather than merely pretty girls and cool boys, or you will continue to discriminate. Girls deserve the right to play, learn and explore, just as boys should have the choice to wear kittens and butterfly tops. Children should choose their own interests.

So here’s a starting point. Why not look at girls and boys as part of the same species, with the same needs. Focus on play, on being active and comfortable, and engaged in fun and learning – after all, you have an entire National Museum collection to be inspired by! Start there, and design for all children. That means more colours beyond the dull blue and grey spectrum for boys too. Consider the most simple and exciting of ideas that boys may want to wear Hello Kitty, butterflies, rainbows and flowers too! Then, marketing NHM Dinosaur t-shirts and pyjamas to boys and girls will be like child’s play. Allow your Kidswear to evolve for all children.


Update: First published January 2015, LCBC has found Marks and Spencer one of the worst offenders for stereotyping children through their Kidswear range, but also a really hard nut to crack – despite widespread condemnation on the National Press following over 80’000 hits on this blog over one weekend. Marks and Spencer have since released a statement to the press stating a new Natural History Museums “Girls range” was on the way for Autumn 2015. Although this is not the action we sought (what is wrong with making the current range unisex?) we are pleased M&S are taking this matter seriously.