Following Shona Campbell's viral letter which has been shared across social media and news sites this week responding to her three year old son's shaming for having hearts on his socks, it seems gender stereotypes are as alive as ever. As Director and founder of Gender Free World, I want to discuss the issues surrounding preconceptions of gender for children, how the situation with children's clothes has worsened over the years and why we set up a new gender neutral clothing online store based in Brighton.
I'd like to say I was shocked by the abusive treatment Shona Campbell's son Harry received at the hand of another mother and son simply for being a three-year old who chose something he liked to wear and wore it. I'd love to be able to say it's a common occurrence in 2016 for parents to want to raise their children to be whoever they want to be without the fear that they will be ridiculed for making their own choices. I'd be so happy to pronounce that we live in a society in which children, parents and everyone else in the world was able to enjoy their style choices - without the restriction of gender assumption and outdated preconceptions. I wish I could say these things but poor Harry's bullying this week proves that unfortunately I can't, but I refuse to just put up and shut up, so I'm doing something about it.
I am a woman with her own opinions and fashion sense but on a typical shopping trip I used to wander through the aisle of clothes increasingly disappointed. Where are the shirts that appeal to my sense of style? What if you are a women but your eyes are drawn to the clothing in the men's section? What if you like bold colours and amusing patterns on a fantastic short sleeve range? What if you're a three-year old boy who likes socks which appeal to him but even at his tender age you'll struggle to find them in the 'boys' section of most high street chains?
Restrictive clothing is particularly obvious for children, where not only are they forced into blue things for boys and pink things for girls but the slogans on the T shirt are very different - active and naughty for boys, pretty and cute for girls. And if you are a girl who is really into dragons or dinosaurs you have to accept that these will be found in an aisle marked 'Boys'. "Why mummy? I don't want to be a boy, but I do want a duvet cover with rockets on". Why are our poor children forced to have their tastes and choices so rigidly restricted from birth? It's not a new phenomenon but if anything it seems this problem has got even worse over the last 20 years and this is where Gender Free World comes in.
We started our company Gender Free World, because we wanted to make clothes designed, manufactured and marketed in a world where gender is irrelevant. We know that one size will not fit all - male and female shapes are different so we have designed around body shape rather than around the outdated notion of man or woman and girl or boy. Our shirts are about a style, a fabric, a cut that you like - not what you are being told to wear because of your gender. Mainly this is about increasing choice, if the high street caters for your shape and your style, that's great. If you find that what you are looking for is not there then perhaps our website is what you need. The shirt range is only the start, we will source and stock children's clothes and toys (not segregated into boys and girls sections), manual workwear for smaller people, and other gender neutral products as and when, for all those currently overlooked and pigeon holed by the high street.
Gender Free World will be working tirelessly with high street brands, fashion shows and education establishments in the coming year to help change the preconceptions around gender and fashion and you can see our first range of gender neutral shirts at www.genderfreeworld.com