Yellow Lolly is the latest retailer to be awarded the Let Toys Be Toys Toymark, recognising shops doing a great job of offering toys to girls and boys alike. Ellie Horry explains why they choose not to categorise the toys and clothes on their site by gender.
Yellow Lolly is an online shop stocking a selection of clothes and toys for children aged 0-7. Established seven years ago, our emphasis has always been on items that are fun, playful, and an interesting alternative to what is available ‘on the high street’.
We love labels who favour bold colour, ethical production methods, and unisex pieces. We have always stocked a range of Scandinavian brands as, with many areas of life including education and gender equality, the Scandinavians seem to be ahead of the curve with clothing and toys, and less prone to the dreaded pink/blue divisions that have dominated a lot of childrenswear and toy retail in this country.
A maze of choices
One of the curses of online retail is being endlessly obsessed with ‘search’ – the process by which customers find products – and how to help those customers find us and our products.
As consumers we are presented with almost limitless choice; when faced with hundreds of brands, thousands of products, it can be overwhelming. Finding ways to reduce that volume can be very helpful.
One way to reduce the mountain of choice is to find ways to edit it down, to remove all the things that are not ‘suitable’. A simplistic way of doing that is to reduce by gender. Gender related search is very common, with many other retailers’ sites featuring separate sections for girls and boys as a result of how they claim their customers shop and search.
Our way – why edit by gender?
For us, however, this is a bit of a nonsense. Most of the products we sell are perfectly suitable for boys or girls, depending who that boy or girl IS. Many of the brands we choose to stock are proud of the fact that most of their items are perfectly unisex. When we make our edit from a brand’s new collection we will make lots of choices along the lines of colour, fabrics and prints, deliberately avoiding the cliches of dinosaurs, tractors, fairies and princesses, and trying to find unique, distinctive clothing that allows kids to express themselves.
If we say: “These clothes are for girls” we are also categorically stating that they are NOT for boys, and vice versa. What message does that send to the girl that loves checked shirts, the boy that gets excited about silver leggings? That their choices are somehow wrong….?
Finding and defining ourselves through clothing
Some people don’t give a damn what they wear, how they wear it. That’s fine. That is their choice, and I salute them for it. Some of us, however, use our clothes to send messages about ourselves to the outside world. A shorthand, if you like, an introduction: This is me, this is who I chose to be today.
By reducing the options available we reduce our children’s chance to express themselves, to explore their potential selves. What is childhood for, if not for exploring and discovering who we are, who we want to be? And if you’ve ever had a fight with a toddler about what they do or don’t want to wear, you’ve been a part of that journey, too.
The more divisions we add to the mix, the harder we make it for the child, and their parent, that does not fit into the narrow boxes of conventional gender definition.
When a customer asks us “Are these (neon orange, skinny fit) jeans suitable for a boy?” or “Are these (plain green) shorts OK for a girl to wear” we always respond with a cheery “I can’t see why not!”. If that child is comfortable in their choices, then why not? We like to describe our clothes as being ‘For Mini Individuals’ and we hope that their wearers will grow up to be BIG individuals too, able to have fun making their own choices.
Many of our customers tell us that they like our site specifically because it does not offer ‘Search By Gender’ options. Instead, searching by the age of your child, or the type of clothing you need is just as effective a way to reduce the number of items to chose from, and applies none of the rigid definitions we find so unhelpful.
Our philosophy concerning how we select which toys to stock is very similar and very simple: Is it fun to play with, is it good quality, does it look cool, is it suitable for the age of our customers’ children?
In our experience, all children play differently. As mums of, between us, 3 girls and 1 boy we know that every child will approach the same toy in their own way, will find their own way to play with it.
As the mother of a lego-obsessed son who has knitted his own Dennis The Menace scarf, and a daughter who loves playing ‘Vets’ and already has her own real tool kit (including a saw and a glue gun), I passionately believe we have to offer as many options to our children as possible. By saying one toy is for boys, one for girls, we limit how they can play, what they can play, how they can explore the world.
Why on earth would that be a good idea?