Earlier this month, writer Beth Jacob and her 5-year-old daughter were online shopping in the girls’ section of Gap, and they couldn’t seem to find anything that fit the young girl’s tomboy-ish personal style. They found princesses and flowers, but no dinosaurs or superheroes. As any parent with a young child knows, getting kids to wear something they dislike is a serious challenge. We want our kids to feel comfortable in what they’re wearing (and, for Pete’s sake, just get dressed for school, already).
Rather than continuing the search on a different site or simply buying from the boys’ section, the young girl decided to take matters into her own hands.
She wrote her complaints directly to the CEO in this letter:
"My name is Alice Jacob and I am almost 5-1/2 years old. I like cool shirts like Superman and Batman shirts and race car shirts, too. All your girl shirts are pink and princesses and stuff like that. The boys’ shirts are really cool. They have Superman, Batman, rock-and-roll and sports. What about girls who like those things like me, and my friend Olivia?
"Can you make some cool girls’ shirts please? Or, can you make a ‘no boys or girls’ section — only a kids’ section?
Alice’s polite yet firm requests were swiftly sent off to Gap Inc. — but the family didn’t expect what happened next. Before they knew it, Alice’s letter was gaining national attention, even being published in The Washington Post. A few days later, an email arrived from Jeff Kirwan, the CEO of Gap.
"I got hold of the letters you sent in and wanted to be the one to reply to you. I’m Jeff and I’m the head of Gap.
"You sound like a really cool kid with a great sense of style.
"At GapKids, we try to always offer a wide range of styles and choices for girls and boys. This includes a selection of girls’ tees with dinosaurs, firetrucks, sharks, footballs and some of our superheroes. Our latest Disney Collection, Beauty and the Beast, is also all about the strength and bravery of girls, and that’s something that’s really important to us.
"But, you are right, I think we can do a better job offering even more choices that appeal to everyone. I’ve talked with our designers and we’re going to work on even more fun stuff that I think you’ll like.
"In the meantime, I’m going to send you a few of my favorite tees from our latest collection. Please check them out and let us know what you think. Our customers’ comments are very important to us, and they help us create even better products with each season.
"Thank you again,
"Gap Brand President & CEO”
Whoa. Did this company just listen to a 5-year-old’s fashion advice? You bet they did.
But this goes beyond just fashion, of course. Through its agreement to make more gender-neutral apparel, Gap is being extraordinarily open-minded to a child's expressions of individuality and a parent's encouragement of choices. As new generations of children become more aware and accepting of differences found among the people around them, this support is something that all leaders of the fashion and corporate world need to value over profit margins.
In her own response to Kirwan, Beth Jacob said, “We both have an opportunity on our hands: to help kids learn why being different is an act of bravery; why asking for something unfair to change is worthwhile.”
And she’s right. Will every CEO respond to every child’s letters? Probably not. But what you as a parent can do is encourage your kids to develop and embrace their own unique opinions and show them that their voices are heard.