Today I visited the Betty Smithers Design Collection in Staffordshire University’s library. The collection is made up of everything from telephones to textiles. Students are allowed to not only view the collection, but also handle the items to really get a feel for the product. You are even allowed to take items out on loan if you wanted to use it for a fashion shoot or a film.
Here is Betty’s daughter being interviewed about the collection. I have also found this interview by Betty herself in The Guardian from 2006. Betty taught fashion at Canterbury college and Stoke-on-Trent college for 20 years and collected vintage clothes that were donated to Staffordshire University.
As I am in the process of launching a childrenswear business I was very interested to see the children’s clothing in the collection, and I wasn’t disappointed. Below are a few of the images I took of some the wonderful items:
Cream Layered Dress (Silk, Edwardian).
Green Dungarees, utilitywear from WWII. Label “British Healthwear”.
Gold Pyjama Top, age 8 (fabric and date unknown).
Nylon Christening Dress (date unknown).
To identify the need for gender-neutral prints for children’s clothing, it would first be necessary for me to describe the shift in attitude towards gender-neutral clothing for children.
The Bailey Review, Letting Children Be Children, was launched in 2011, the main area of concern was the sexualisation of children’s clothing. “Collections should enable children to be confident about their developing bodies and enjoy play and physical activity whilst maintaining modesty…..sexualised and gender-stereotyped clothing, products and services for children are the biggest areas of concern for parents” (Bailey 2011).
Another area of concern was about the use of gender stereotypes. As demonstrated in the two images below, which show words used in marketing aimed children in the USA. Boys are marketed with strong, aggressive words “battle”, “power”, and “hero”. While the words used in girl’s adverts are “love”, “style”, and “fun”. They are sending a clear message to young children that they should behave different and that there are different expectations.
The boys list:
The girls list:
With the on-going debate about gender-based marketing aimed at children, with high profile campaigns, “Let Toys Be Toys” and their ally “Let Clothes Be Clothes”, it seems that gender-specific marketing is becoming outdated.
As far back as 160 years ago, the stark difference in boy’s and girl’s clothing was discussed in ‘Some Thought’s on Children’s Dress’, with girls being exposed to the elements in their dress, while boys were covered up. And in comparison with the images as shown below from Marks & Spencer, it is difficult to see how far we have come. Do girls shorts really need to be so short, while a boy will get a knee-length short?
The adult-world is also embracing gender-neutrality with luxury department store Selfridges having their “Agenda Project” in 2015. This celebrated clothing that could be worn by a man or a woman, with a focus on casual and easy to wear pieces.
Secondly, there seems to be a backlash against parents dressing their children as a “mini-me”, as seen in the success of Little Bird at Mothercare, with garments rooted in nostalgia, reminiscent of an innocent carefree childhood.
Parents are looking for a more relaxed aesthetic. Stepping away from the celebrity styles and the “over-dressed” style of celebrity children, for example, North West (see image below), and retuning to a more “nostalgic” style, reminiscent of innocent childhood memories.
Parents are willing to pay more for carefully curated and high quality pieces, as seen on parenting and lifestyle website Babyccino Kids, where a keep sake box will cost £120 and a girl’s dress will set you back £85. Babyccino Kids sees “100,000 unique visitors a month” (Craik 2016). Founder, Courtney Adamo, says “While Babyccino Kids is style focused, we also believe in letting your kids climb trees and play freely. Most of the brands we work with are created by other mothers who pour so much love into their products, often making them by hand from natural and organic materials. I’d rather invest in products like this than shell out a bunch of money on a status symbol.” It seems Adamo’s 201,000 Instagram followers would agree (Jan 2017).
Finally, the fashion sector is on the whole struggling, yet childrenswear is one sector that has seen a steady growth. Although it slowed during 2016, due to the continued fall in birth rates since 2012. The average age of first time mothers has raised from 28.5 in 2000 to 30.3 in 2015. First time mothers over the age of 35 has increased significantly. (Mintel Childrenswear 2016).
Supermarkets remain popular, with 28 percent of consumers having purchased in store from a supermarket (Mintel Childrenswear 2016). Yet luxury and premium childrenswear brands continue to thrive. The middle market is struggling and it seems in the childrenswear market there are the two extremes of super value prices against luxury prices.
The childrenswear market continues to grow, be it at a slow pace, under a challenging economic climate. There is a shift in attitudes towards gender-neutral clothing for children and clothes that are age appropriate. Parents are seeking clothes that have a nostalgic aesthetic, reminding them of their childhood and of being a child. Parents are willing to pay more for clothing that has been created with love and not mass produced.
Bailey, R. (2011) Baliey Review 2011. Available from <https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/175418/Bailey_Review.pdf>
Craik, L. (2015) Children’s fashion; small people, big business. Available from <https://www.theguardian.com/fashion/2015/feb/15/childrenswear-childrens-fashion-prince-george-suri-cruise-harper-beckham>
Merrifield. (1853). SOME THOUGHTS ON CHILDREN’S DRESS.
Sender, T (2016). Childrenswear UK November 2016, Mintel.
I came across this article on twitter tonight http://www.achilleseffect.com/201103word-cloud-how-toy-ad-vocabulary-reinforces-gender-stereotypes/. It is a blog post about gender stereotyping in the marketing of children’s toys.
Below is a tag cloud created by the website of words used in toys TV adverts in America. Words that are bigger are words that are used more often. Below is words used for boys toys, what strikes me is the words “battle”, “hero”, “stealth”, and “power”. I find it slightly bizarre that “battle” is the most used word – what are we trying to tell you boys?
Below is the tag cloud for girls and as you can see the some of the most used words are “love”, “magic”, “fun”, and “babies”. According to the advertising all girls obviously just want to fall in love and have babies while painting their nails, right?
Surely this puts such pressure on young children. What if you are a boy, but actually you really want to become a Dad one day and you would like to play with a doll? Or what if you are a girl and you want to become an engineer and want to build train sets? Or actually what if you are a kid and you just want to play with a toy?
This then got me looking at the rest of the website. The website discusses the effect of gender stereotyping on boys. It makes me a little sad, as I have a 4-year old boy myself, and although I myself avoid stereotyping (as much as possible), he is still getting subliminal messages from somewhere. Only the other day he told me he couldn’t play with a particular toy because “it was for girls”.
There are other great posts about stereotyping in boys clothing http://www.achilleseffect.com/boys-clothing-the-brat/ showing t-shirts that depict boys as lazy, rebellious, and other negative stereotypes.
What initially got me planning my unisex childrenswear brand was so that girls do not have to wear pretty pink clothes, with butterflies and glitter. But actually I owe it to boys (and my son too) that not all boys are strong, naughty, aggressive, and tough. This has all reinforced my idea that creating unisex clothes for kids with no messages (subliminal or otherwise) on them is the right path.
Reference: The Achilles Effect http://www.achilleseffect.com/blog/ [6th Jan 3017]