It’s part of a growing trend in kids’ clothes.
In Céline Dion’s new ad for Célinununu, her gender-neutral clothing line with the children’s retailer Nununu, the songstress sneaks into a hospital nursery and finds the baby girls predictably wearing pink and the baby boys wearing blue. Determined to upend these gendered stereotypes, Dion blows fairy dust and, voilà, the newborns appear in stylish black-and-white ensembles. One infant’s onesie features the words “New World Order” to underscore that the time has come to shift how society imposes rigid gender standards on children.
The time is ripe for the type of products Célinununu offers. Parents are skirting norms by raising children without a gender designation or allowing kids to determine their own gender. The fight for transgender rights has never had more visibility. And brands are taking notice by launching gender-neutral clothing lines for adults and kids alike.
In recent years, major retailers like Target and Abercrombie & Fitch Kids have offered such collections, as have indie retailers Izzy & Ash and Wild Ivy. Last year, the marketing firm Mintel found that 20 percent of parents of children under age 12 who had bought kids’ clothing in the past year supported gender-neutral clothing options.
For Nununu founders Iris Adler and Tali Milchberg of Tel Aviv, Israel, the effort to change conventions in children’s fashion started a decade ago, making their company one of the first to take part in this burgeoning trend. They formed the brand, they told Vox, because they couldn’t find clothes for their kids outside the pink-blue binary and found the underlying messages clothes sent to their children about gender unsettling.
“It was very boyish and girly, very blue and pink, football and flowers,” Milchberg said. “The clothes were divided into two sections, and we were concerned about the emotional aspect.”
To counter this, they founded Nununu in 2009; it offers gender-neutral clothes in a neutral color palette that sets it apart from more traditional children’s clothing. And many of the items would look just fine on adults. That’s by design, Adler explained; she and Milchberg believe children’s fashion doesn’t have to be silly, fussy, or frilly.
Clothes from the brand are available at Nordstrom, Bloomingdales, Saks Fifth Avenue, and other retailers, as well as from the Nununu website. (“Nununu,” by the way, is what Israeli parents say to naughty children, Adler and Milchberg explained.) Nununu has earned a celebrity following, including Gwen Stefani, Steph Curry, and Kourtney Kardashian, all of whom have dressed their kids in Nununu apparel. Dion, who has become a fashion influencer and last year launched the Céline Dion Collection at Nordstrom, is, of course, a Nununu fan too.
“I’ve always loved Nununu and what they represent,” she tweeted. “Partnering with them to encourage a dialogue of equality and possibility makes so much sense.”
I’ve always loved nununu and what they represent. Partnering with them to encourage a dialogue of equality and possibility makes so much sense. – Céline xx…https://t.co/wYoqnDhIIE#celinununu @celinununu pic.twitter.com/HWeO54h4NT
— Celine Dion (@celinedion) November 13, 2018
But not everyone gets or agrees with the concept. While thousands of Dion’s fans retweeted her Nununu ad campaign, others declared that they’d lost respect for her. Critics have dogged Nununu from the outset, according to Adler and Milchberg, because the brand focuses on changing clothing concepts as well as attitudes about children and gender.
Gender-neutral clothing isn’t a new concept for children
The idea that baby girls and boys should wear pink and blue, respectively, is relatively new. For centuries, it was standard practice for children in the West to wear white dresses until age 6. In the United States, the baby boomers (born between 1946 and 1964) were the first generation to wear gender-specific clothing, according to Smithsonian.com. In the mid-1800s, pastel colors, including pink and blue, were linked to baby clothes but not directly to gender.
In fact, a century ago, some retailers promoted the idea that boys should wear pink, as they regarded it as a “stronger color,” and blue as more “delicate and dainty” and “prettier for the girl.” Others suggested that hair color or eye color should determine what shade of clothing babies wore. It took until the 1940s before the “pink for girls, blue for boys” dress custom began to cement itself.
“What was once a matter of practicality — you dress your baby in white dresses and diapers; white cotton can be bleached — became a matter of ‘Oh my God, if I dress my baby in the wrong thing, they’ll grow up perverted,’” Jo B. Paoletti, author of Pink and Blue: Telling the Girls From the Boys in America, told Smithsonian in 2011.
In the 1970s, gender-neutral baby wear took hold once again, thanks to the women’s movement; feminists didn’t want boys and girls to be raised or treated differently, and women themselves began to dress in ways considered to be more “masculine” as they entered the workforce in larger numbers.
The next decade, that trend reversed itself as ultrasound technology allowed parents to learn the sex of their babies in utero and businesses pounced on the marketing possibilities of this medical advancement, offering everything from diapers to strollers to crib sheets in blue and pink, as well as clothing. And the messages these products sent about gender narrowed.
“All of a sudden it wasn’t just a blue overall; it was a blue overall with a teddy bear holding a football,” Paoletti recalled to Smithsonian.
Avoiding clothing that promotes gender stereotypes
For Adler and Milchberg, the implied gender norms of these kids’ clothes were concerning; Milchberg said she didn’t want children growing up to think that they had to either play football or play with Barbie dolls.
So she and Adler, who have backgrounds in advertising, decided to launch their own children’s line. But when they told friends about their plans for unisex kids clothes, they faced ridicule.
“When we started, friends and people we know said, ‘What? Are you guys out of your minds — unisex clothes for kids?’” Milchberg said. “‘You will lose your money and your career.’ But we felt strongly about it.”
“The whole concept form Nununu from the beginning, the monochromatic colors — that’s how we dressed,” she said. “Some said we dressed ‘more manly.’ We dressed as ourselves. Why should the kids be different?”
Dion, according to Adler and Milchberg, felt the same way. The duo said she became a Nununu fan five years ago after buying some of their products for her children.
A year ago, she reached out about collaborating on a clothing line with Nununu, the founders said. They decided to use an unconventional ad campaign to market Célinununu, to match the company’s unconventional ethos. The ad was uploaded to YouTube Tuesday and as of Friday has garnered more than 412,000 views.
“We decided this is the one where we’re going all the way out,” Milchberg said of the commercial. “We love it. We believe in it, and it has really put our message out in such an effortless way.”
Because Célinununu has opened up a discussion about the role of gender in children’s clothing, Adler said partnering with Dion has given their cause greater visibility.
“We knew it has to do with more than just clothes,” Adler said. “It was such a great opportunity to join Céline and get out this message for equality.”
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