Children’s clothing is embracing gender inclusivity

Fashion brands are increasingly offering gender neutral apparel in recent year, and children’s clothing companies have started to follow suit.

Toca Boca is the latest to launch a line of products created without the constraints of gender norms in mind. The Stockholm-based company was founded in 2011 as a mobile gaming app for children under age nine, with activities centered on topics like cars, cooking and hairstyling that aim to eschew gendered thinking around play. Its ethos is reflective of progressive shifts within Toca Boca’s home country of Sweden, where gender neutral kindergartens have been on the rise, with accompanying reports of increased tolerance and sociability among students. Now, the company is rolling out a line of apparel and toys that mirrors the inclusivity of its games. It will be sold at Target stores starting next week.

According to data from Edited, there has been an uptick in gender neutral apparel for children in the past year, particularly for kids under two years old, with new arrivals in this category outpacing others. For instance, unisex onesies have increased 38 percent over the past years.

The selection of Target as the retailer of choice was strategic for Toca Boca, said Caroline Ingeborn, the brand’s COO. Target has made concerted efforts to reduce gendered marketing at its stores: In 2015, it announced it would remove the terms “boys’” and “girls’” from parts of its toys and home goods sections. “In the toys aisles, we’ll also remove reference to gender, including the use of pink, blue, yellow or green paper on the back walls of our shelves,” Target shared in a blog post.

Toca Boca describes itself as “gender inclusive,” meaning that while some items are genderless, others are labeled as girls’ or boys’. Across children’s brands that tout inclusive products, there remains a divide between those that label and those that don’t. For example, the e-commerce site Clothes Without Limits features several brands that fall into the gender-neutral category, and users can browse by age, theme, company or new releases, but not gender. Likewise, the Canadian unisex line Muttonhead offers kids clothing in neutral colors, without reference to gender on its website.

Toca Boca hopes to move the dial on gender inclusivity by increasing visibility through a major national retailer. When developing the products, the team consulted an external diversity board comprised of five professionals hailing from the academic and non-profit realms, focusing on gender, ethnicity, race and sexuality.

“The internal diversity board we work with uses a checklist to determine that all the products really are inclusive, that kids don’t feel excluded and that there really is something for everyone,” Ingeborn said.

Mathilda Engman, head of consumer products at Toca Boca, said she was focused on incorporating both the app’s visual elements and its ethos into the clothing and toys.

“We don’t want to impose gender norms and we want to have something for everyone,” she said. “It’s important that everyone, regardless of gender, can find something. It’s been something we’ve worked on from the very start.”

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