Many Parents & Their Kids Don’t Want to Shop by Gender: Why Retailers Must Evolve Now

Rae Witte

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Like every entrepreneur, Allie Friday has spent the last four months navigating the dramatic impact of the coronavirus. The owner of Atlanta’s first genderless children’s fashion store, Mini Friday, shut down her physical location after only a year, but she is finding success operating online only.

“First, you had people at home who had nothing else to do, so they were shopping. I was running little sales and things like that. Then you had the Black Lives Matter movement happen. It was great to see a lot of the people who knew me recognize my store as ‘the Black-owned children’s store.’ So sales picked up again. Then, June came, and it was Pride Month. Obviously, we are all about supporting Pride and loving equally and everything in between.”

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Early on, the lack of diversity in children’s product — and the staid way it was presented — inspired Friday to open the streetwear-focused Mini Friday last year. The mother of three recalled her now-9-year-old middle child having a strong sense of self at age 5. “She just was very adamant about not wearing dresses. She didn’t like dolls. She liked trucks. It was hard because my other daughter, who is two years older than her, preferred princess everything.”

Educating consumers about Mini Friday’s mission has been critical, though it’s not always an easy sell. “I’ve had comments like, ‘She’s making children gay or ‘she’s pushing homosexuality on children.’ It shows the ignorance around gender and sexuality,” said Friday. The retailer added she is proud that transgender children have shopped at the store.

“I’ve also had transgender adults who have come in or emailed me to say they wish the store had been around when they were children,” she noted. While gender-neutral dressing isn’t a new concept, it has been a growing part of the fashion conversation for the past few years. Major brands from Gucci to Zara introduced gender-fluid collections, and millennials and Gen Z consumers saw their spending power increase as interest rose in non-binary clothing. Adidas recently o’ffered Beyonce’s Ivy Park debut collection as gender neutral. Target and Primark also feature genderless children’s options.

Still, the majority of kids’ retail sections haven’t evolved, with girls and boys shopping in two distinct and separate areas — and parents said retailers haven’t moved quickly enough. But major players said they are keeping the genderless movement top of mind.

“We have this conversation every day as the gender lines have been blurred over the last four to five years in youth and sneaker culture. Our job is to choose the best, most on-trend items in the best color, and to give consumers the opportunity to pick what they want and style it how they want,” said Randi Sikander, Foot Locker’s senior director of kids’ product strategy for North America. For many brands and retailers, it’s imperative that they change their thinking — and fast.

Millennials and Gen Z prioritize spending money with brands that align with their values more than older generations — and Pew Research Center found that 35% of Gen Zers and 25% of millennials know at least one person who prefers being referred to with gender-neutral pronouns personally.

As these groups become parents, they’re more likely to spend money with brands that prioritize inclusivity. Septembre Anderson, 37, and her 12-year-old son notice the di’fference in variety within boys’ and girls’ sections at many stores. “My son often shows interest in the girls’ department, especially for colorful, more creative, flashier clothes,” said Anderson, who shops at H&M, Uniqlo, Foot Locker, Champs and Adidas, where kids’ sections are all merchandised by gender.

She has purchased tracksuits (including a gold velour one), pajamas and cardigans from girls’ sections or stores specializing in girls’ clothing. “[They have] fun headbands, accessories, sparkles, frills and other things that are appealing to children, while the boys’ section is full of clothes that are mostly just smaller versions of men’s clothes.” On the flip side, Michelle Kivisto’s older daughter has been shopping in the boys’ section since preschool. The 8-year-old, a longtime lover of Thomas the Tank Engine, recently chose her sneakers, snow pants and boots from the boys’ section.

“She hated the pink and purple colors that they offered for girls. I also bought athletic pants and shirts from the boys’ section for her last year and this year for school clothes,” Kivisto said. The mom pointed to Totes’ rain boot display in Target as something she’d like to see more of. “[They offered] yellow, navy, pink and black — my oldest picked the yellow ones. The tags were not gendered boy boots or girl boots, just kids’ boots.”

Target confirmed to FN that all of its kids’ shoes will be merchandised by style, not gender, going forward — reflecting the shift in how families shop. Kivisto thinks genderless children’s sections are long overdue, and most other parents interviewed for this story shared the same feelings.

Jacqueline Ahlers — a mother of two sons and one daughter — lamented how even graphic superhero T-shirts are gendered. “You go over to girls’ sections and instead of Batman, Superman, you only have Wonder Woman. But what if there’s a little girl who wants to wear a Batman shirt?”

Conversely, Friday considered the power of a little boy having the option of a Wonder Woman T-shirt. “If he saw the movie and thought, ‘Wow, what a strong woman,’ allowing him to wear a Wonder Woman shirt could change the future of his relationship with women.”

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