August 5, 2015
For the past five years or so, Rachel has been waiting for ‘someone’ to start up a clothing line offering an alternative to the highly-gendered, slogan-laden clothes that currently dominate children’s fashion. She recently figured that that ‘someone’ may as well be herself…
Thea Hughes enjoyed a ‘Skype-r-view’ recently with Rachel who spoke about her work, her inspiration and Freedom Kids – the new gender-free kids clothing company she is soon to launch.
TH: So tell me about your new venture, Freedom Kids?
RH: It was my work in schools that really prompted me to start up Freedom Kids. I run sexuality education workshops with parents. You can’t talk about sexuality without talking about gender constructs. When I talk about the messages kids are given about who they should be, how they should behave and share with parents the insight that some of that stuff comes from the ‘choices’ offered to them or is printed on the clothing that they wear, I see many parents sit in the workshops nodding their heads saying ‘I’ve never thought of it that way before’…
My son’s seven now, but when he was a toddler I spent a lot of time wishing someone would start-up a clothing business offering less gendered clothing. I would go to buy him a t-shirt or something and it was all greys, browns and trucks.
Eventually I got tired of waiting for someone else to do it, so I’ve started Freedom Kids with the aim of supporting parents who want to help their children have a childhood free from gender expectations and limitations by offering a range of ethically produced gender-free clothes for kids. Leif and I are determined to clothe our kids in things that don’t limit them physically and socially and it sort of sprang from that!
So now I write a blog about my experiences. I recently took photos at ‘the Warehouse’ (a New Zealand company like K-mart) of every t-shirt that was on sale for six year olds and under, printed with words on it. I made a visual of the divide between ‘the girls on one side and the boys on the other’. The boys shirts were all messages like ‘ladies’ man’ and ‘girls dig my style’ along with all these sporty messages; while the girls were things like ‘mummy’s little shopper’, ‘so cute and so sweet’ which made me feel suitably outraged.
I try and avoid taking my kids shopping for toys or clothes because I don’t like them seeing these messages or having them told what they can like and not like.
I remember taking my son clothes shopping once – he was four. Everything was altogether in the sale rack and I told him ‘choose what you want’. He chose these hot pink velour tight tracksuit pants (they were hideous) and a hot pink top and he just totally fell in love with them. He then went to get some jandals and the shop assistant was already freaking out that this boy wanted to buy these pink velour trousers, and she told him “you can’t buy those jandals, they are girl’s jandals”.
Now, my son is quite stubborn, so if someone tells him he can’t do something – that’s all the more reason to do it. It was so cool seeing this four year old confidently arguing with the shop assistant about it. Needless to say he walked happily out of the shop with the jandals and the track pants.
TH: Sounds like parenting has been a great inspiration!
TH: So what will Freedom Kids look like?
RH: Well, we’re starting with an online clothing store, but we also have dreams of it becoming a ‘real store’. I would love parents to have somewhere they could take their kids shopping and not be faced with a pink side and a blue side. To just have all the clothes together and kids could choose from there.
We’re getting a really positive response from people about the concept and we’re busy talking to suppliers of ethically produced clothing.
I feel it would be hypocritical to call our store ‘Freedom Kids’ and to be promoting the idea that kids should have the freedom to be who they are, if we were stocking clothes made by child slave labour overseas. So it’s a little bit more challenging to get up and running, because at the same time I don’t want it to be a boutique fashion label, out of reach for people on an average income.
One of the other things I’ve noticed is that the more expensive and boutique the (clothing and toy) labels, the less gendered they are. So for me, from a social justice point of view, that’s really concerning because it serves as not only a gender divide but it’s becoming a class divide as well.
TH: You’re not the first person who has expressed that to me in recent times, Rachel. It seems to be a very alarming trend in both toys and fashion.
So when can we expect to see some ethically sourced, gender free clothing on sale?
RH: We’re aiming to launch for the spring… My husband is a photographer and art teacher so it’s kind of a family business. He will take all the photos and our kids are modelling.
TH: Fantastic! So what will be your point of difference compared with other stores?
RH: Every kids clothing store I’ve ever walked into has been clearly divided into ‘boys’ and ‘girls’. It’s the first thing you notice. Our vision is to do things differently. We will group the clothes into sections like ‘t-shirts’- and yes, there will be boys modelling pink t-shirts and girls wearing dinosaur sweat shirts! We’re definitely not anti-pink or anti-dress and lots of my friends have sons who quite like to wear dresses and tunics too – they are actually quite comfortable and practical…
The clothing will allow the child to play! I’ve seen girls at kids’ birthday parties (and it’s usually girls) all dressed up in these little pointy slip on shoes that they can’t run in, wearing dresses they have been instructed not to ruin – they certainly can’t climb trees…
That’s not what we are about. We’ll have clothes for everyone – so kids can just play unrestricted. We are not a fashion label. Kids have got to wear clothes to keep warm, so we will provide functional, fun, colourful, quality clothes that just allow them to be who they are!
We are all about breaking down gender stereotypes.
TH: Well, I can’t wait to see what you come up with, Rachel. I love the idea – especially that you’ve given so much thought to the importance of sourcing ethically produced clothing. Thanks for talking with me today, and best of luck with the store!
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