Pink shark pants helping get rid of the gender divide in kids clothes

Article by Cara Waters /
Brisbane Times  /
September 12, 2017  /
Click here to view original  /

Matthew and Ashleigh Churchill children’s clothing range Minimnt has raised a few eyebrows.

“People ask for verification,” Mr Churchill says. “They come up to me and say ‘Is this for boys or girls?’. We just don’t label it.”

Churchill and his wife Ashleigh started their unisex kids clothing label just under two years ago.

Minimnt features designs including bright pink sharks on pants and cricket bats on dresses.

The small business owners were bemused to see British store John Lewis make global headlines last week after ditching “boys” and “girls” labels from its children’s clothing range.

The department store also removed “boys” and “girls” signs from its children’s wear departments and introduced unisex clothing featuring dinosaur prints.

British Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen labelled the move “political correctness” and said removing labels “could be very confusing for the customer”.

But the Churchills say running Minimnt has convinced them kids don’t care about arbitrary divisions between boys clothes and girls clothes.

“I get people all the time saying ‘Do you have sharks for boys?'” says Mr Churchill. “But boys will come up and say ‘Look, sharks, awesome’. They don’t care, it’s the parents. Kids don’t see the colour, they see animals. That’s the first thing they learn, they don’t learn about gender neutrality. These days everyone is so relaxed about it.”

Ms Churchill worked for several years designing kids’ wear for Bonds but felt frustrated by the design limitations imposed by stockists so she decided to start her own business with her husband.

“We had huge retailers who were basically dictating what we did,” she says. “It was so backwards, pink on one side and blue on the other. Leaves are for boys and flowers for girls.”

The Churchills used $30,000 in savings to start Minimnt hoping there was a market beyond the stereotypes.

“I had the belief that wasn’t what people wanted to buy,” Ms Churchill said. “I thought, ‘what if I did it a bit differently?’ I came up with designs like blue sharks on a pink background.”

Minimnt’s clothing is ethically made, manufactured in Australia and designed to encourage hand-me-downs with clothing passed on between brothers and sisters.

It is mainly sold online and at markets in Sydney and the business turned over around $150,000 last year.

“We are trying to keep it small for as long as possible,” says Ms Churchill. “We don’t want to grow too quickly.”

Doctor Lauren Rosewarne, a senior lecturer in the school of social and political sciences at the University of Melbourne, says gender is a “hot-button” issue at the moment.

“Stores evaluating whether there is any point to gendering kids clothing is in line with conversations being had about gender-neutral school uniforms and gender fluidity more broadly,” she says. “Gendered clothing makes limiting assumptions about the things boys like compared to girls: girls liking pink and flowers, boys liking blue and trucks. Such clothing means that from the youngest age children are having gender – and the limitations of it – imposed on them, dictating and normalising the kinds of things that are right or wrong for their sex to enjoy.”

Since starting their business the Churchills have had their first child and Ms Churchill says Skye’s birth has “solidified” their approach to children’s clothing.

“Our little girl is only one, she doesn’t have much hair and people constantly think she’s a boy,” she says. “She wears a lot of blue but that’s because she has blue eyes and it suits her.”