Michele Yulo with her daughter, Gabriela, whose anti-princess aesthetic has inspired a fundraising effort to create a line of suits for girls. (Photo: Michele Yulo/Kickstarter)
Michele Yulo’s 10-year-old daughter, Gabriela, is what some people might call a tomboy (though Yulo herself does not like the term): She has dressed as Spiderman, Batman, and Indiana Jones for Halloween; counted a tool belt among her favorite toys; insisted on having a buzz cut at age 6; and is currently the only girl on her school’s baseball team.
She’s also the inspiration behind her mom’s inspirational website and online T-shirt shop, Princess Free Zone, and behind Yulo’s latest entrepreneurial effort: to create a line of suits for girls, Suit Her, by crowdsourcing for funds on a Kickstarter page launched Tuesday.
“Gabi goes to her violin recitals, dances, weddings — but trying to find something for her to wear, even a fun pantsuit, is not easy. The girls who don’t want to wear dresses [when they have to dress up] have no options,” Yulo, an Atlanta resident, tells Yahoo Parenting. “There’s definitely a market for this.”
That’s why Yulo, who works full-time in an administrative job while also running her website and blogging about girls’ equality, has teamed up with designer Karen Patwa and manufacturer Julie Hutton, both based in New York City, to create three suit styles — each available with pants, skirts, or shorts.
“Back in 2005, when she was five, she wanted to wear a tuxedo to her violin recital,” Yulo recounts on her Kickstarter page, where she’s aiming to raise $90,000 toward the completion of designs, materials, and prototypes. “From a very young age she wanted a tuxedo. … We searched and searched and couldn’t find one for girls, so we bought her a boy’s tux. She wore it proudly with her black-and-white Jordan high-top sneaks and her (then) long hair pulled back in a ponytail. Since then, she has opted to wear suits for many occasions.”
Photo: Michele Yulo
But they’ve had to be boys’ suits, says Yulo, and, as a result, they never fit quite right — “broader shoulders, longer arms, boxy pants, extra material in the crotch” — and the colors and material options have always been “very blah.” The Suit Her options, on the other hand, come in both formal and casual styles, in a range of solid colors (from black and cream to purple and olive), and with optional, brightly hued silkscreened ties. The retail price point for the suits has yet to be determined, though Yulo predicts they’ll run about $125 to $150 each.
The entrepreneurial mom began blogging several years ago after being laid off from a job (her supportive husband, now a home remodeler, had lost his job, too), covering topics from the color pink to gender stereotyping — even writing a kids’ book, “Super Tool Lula” — all the while battling internally about her daughter’s gender-atypical choices. “I’m progressive and I consider myself a feminist,” she recalls, “but the idea of her walking around in a buzz cut. …” Yulo had to learn to find a balance between straight talk (such as warning her she might get teased or mistaken for being a boy, both of which happened) and allowing her to be self-expressive. “You want to keep them safe, but you also want them to be able to forge their own identities,” she says.
Eventually, though, she saw that Gabi was a leader, who attracted many friends and was “strong-willed” no matter who criticized her. And that’s when Yulo really started expanding her vision, both with her extensive T-shirt line and by strategizing for Suit Her. “It used to be just about Gabi,” she says. “But then I thought, she cannot be the only one. The gender-fluid trend is fortunately picking up steam, but it can be so hard for kids [to assert their desires].”
Evidence of girls wanting to dress up in suits might not be overwhelming, but it certainly exists — with red-carpet shots of Shiloh Jolie-Pitt, stories about teens opting for tuxes over prom gowns, and a 7-year-old ring bearer named Scarlet, whose suit-and-bowtie photo went viral in July.
And while Target recently announced it would be removing gender-specific signs in its home and toys sections but not from the kids’ clothing aisles, Yulo sees the move as hopeful. “It’s very positive,” she says. “I think kids are aware of [the gender direction], then they get stuck and the parents reinforce it.” If her efforts, particularly with the Suit Her line, can play any part in this ever-evolving discussion, she says, it would be this: “That it can help eliminate the gender stereotypes for kids.”