5 Reasons Why High-Street Brands Promote Gender Stereotypes in Kids' Clothing

In today's world, where the push for gender equality is stronger than ever, it's surprising to see high-street brands persist with outdated practices, such as the pink-blue divide in kids’ clothing. There are so many benefits to avoiding this, from saving money and reducing waste to avoiding harmful stereotypes. And yet, the divide remains strong. In our latest article we explore 5 reasons why brands hold onto the pink, blue tradition - from market-pressures and profit margins to a lack of diversity in leadership.

5 reasons why high-street brands uphold the pink-blue divide

1. Tradition and Market Expectations of Kids Clothing

Often high-street brands cling to traditional gender norms because these styles have sold well in the past. Parents, grandparents and gift-givers have long been conditioned to associate pink with girls and blue with boys, leading to a self-perpetuating cycle where:

  • Brands feel compelled to cater to these expectations to maintain their market share and 
  • Customers continue to buy these colours because that's what brands are offering 

If brands use historic sales data to inform product development, it’s hardly surprising the traditional colours of pink and blue persist.  

“Unfortunately, shoppers have been conditioned to default to boy/girl as a way to shop, replicating how they would shop in the adult sections. The girl/boy sections of the shop have become increasingly gendered with different messaging, clothing sizes, material, and illustrations. Ironically this is not how it has always been, historically boys and girls wore very similar clothes until they were 6 or 7 years old, which could be handed down and reused.” Clare Willetts, not only pink and blue

2. Gendered Clothing Boosts Profit Margins

For many high-street brands the bottom line is their most important driver. Gendered clothing can help the bottom line, giving very little incentive for brands to change. After all, why sell one item, when you can sell two? Take a simple product, such as a pair of white socks. We often find additional frills, bowes or textured patterns on white socks for girls, encouraging parents and carers to buy according to their child’s gender, rather than their need. By incorporating gender stereotypes into the designs, brands are able to increase their product range and sales. Plus, some brands place a mark-up on items for girls (referred to as the ‘pink tax’) which can further boost their profit margins.

3. Fear of Change

Change can be daunting, especially for large companies with established brand images. High-street brands may fear that deviating from the pink-blue paradigm could alienate their core customer base, or even result in a backlash from their more conservative customers. In the past John Lewis removed gender labels from their kids’ clothing, but if you shop on their website or in-store, you’ll still find a traditional layout with traditional styles. This is a great example of a brand who has made apparent progress, without making significant change. 

4. Lack of Awareness and Diversity

Fashion courses at most UK universities prioritise adult fashion over childrenswear.  It’s possible therefore, that designers and/or buyers from high-street brands aren’t aware of the negative impact of gender stereotypes on children. With an education in adult fashion, it’s likely that designers will either follow the status quo or draw on the inspiration of adult wear when creating clothes for children, both approaches are likely to result in gendered designs. 

Plus, many high-street brands still lack diversity at the decision-making table, which can add to this lack of awareness. Without a range of perspectives, brands may struggle to recognise the harm perpetuated by gender stereotypes or the benefits of challenging them. 

5. Limited Supplier Options For Children’s Clothes

High-street brands often source their clothing from third-party suppliers. It has been an eye opening experience exhibiting at childrenswear trade shows (where retailers connect with suppliers). From our experience, the pink, blue divide - and all of the other stereotyped messaging that goes hand in hand with this - is even more pronounced at trade shows. If suppliers continue to offer stereotyped clothing, and brands continue to buy them, then the pink, blue divide will remain dominant on the high-street. 

Does it matter? Should high-street brands break the pink, blue mould? 

Yes! Gender stereotypes can limit a child’s opportunities and future. Research shows that stereotypes in early years can go on to influence decisions and choices later in life, including subject choices, career paths, mental health and behaviour. And so while a cute, pretty t-shirt might seem harmless, the stereotype it reinforces can go on to have a big impact. 

Further, heavily gendered-clothing isn’t as easy to share with younger siblings of friends, resulting in more clothes ending up in landfill. By removing stereotypes high-street brands can open up more opportunities for children, while reducing their environmental impact. Take a look at our article on the benefits of unisex kids’ clothing for more information. 

How can you help brands break the pink, blue divide?  

Brands will continue to create and sell gendered clothes if you continue to buy them. Here are three ways you can help brands to break the pink, blue divide:

  1. Support Inclusive Brands: Support companies that prioritise inclusivity and diversity in their designs and company ethos (like us at Ducky Zebra!). 
  2. Provide Feedback: Share your feedback with brands directly, either through their website, social media channels, or customer service. Encourage them to expand their range of inclusive clothing designs.
  3. Educate Others: Raise awareness among your friends and family about the importance of breaking the pink-blue divide in childrenswear. Encourage others to support inclusive brands and challenge gender stereotypes when shopping for children's clothing.

With the pressure of profit margins and market expectations, high-street bands might find it hard to break the pink, blue divide, but as Clare Willetts from not only pink and blue says: “Although the pink/blue divide is currently entrenched, as customers you can help drive change.” 

We'd love to hear what you think. Have you noticed the pink/blue divide on the high-street, and if so, does it bother you? Pop your comments below.

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