By: Nikki Yeager
Hey readers! Say hello to The Community’s first guest blogger, Nikki Yeager. Nikki is an entrepreneur, writer, and mother. She’s a Cleveland native and now splits her time between New York City and Ohio City. Check out her store Every Bean, which sells non-gendered infant and toddler clothing! – Eric Hayes, Communications and Development Coordinator
I remember reading an article years ago about a boy who liked to wear tutus. He was somewhere between 5 and 8 years old, identified as a boy (as much as a typical 5-8 year old gender-identifies), and was photographed playing with trucks in a field while wearing his princess tutu. I read the anecdote and thought he was awesome. I should have stopped there, but I didn’t; I opened the comments section.
Like every time I read the comments, I immediately regretted the decision. The amount of vitriol being hurled at the writer/mother was heartbreaking. The fact that so many people cared if a kid wore a bunch of tulle around his waist was appalling.
That story stuck with me when I had my own child; a boy of my own. When he was born, we got hand-me-downs in both traditional boy and girl patterns — the donors too lazy to sort through them. We were thrilled by the supply of clothing and I favored the most practical items regardless of appearance: a pair of footie pajamas in leopard print, neon pink leggings, and every single onesie we could get our hands on. It wasn’t unusual to see my kid rolling around in a NYC onesie under pink pants and thigh-high football patterned socks. People would come up to us confused, not sure how to refer to him. It was as if when I took away the overt gendering of his clothing, the world no longer knew how to interact with him. At the time he couldn’t even talk, he couldn’t even walk. But still, people felt the need to gender identify before cooing at him or touching his pudgy little hands.
It was odd, but not particularly bothersome at first. Until one day he was wearing those same pink leggings and a relative told him he needed to pick up a tool belt and hang out with more boys. He wasn’t even 18 months at the time! He didn’t even know what a boy was. It was the first time I felt the blinding, protective anger that only a parent can feel. The kind that reaches to your very core.
So I decided to do something about it right then and there.
I decided to change the world of children’s clothing. Lofty goal? Yes. Was I still going to try? Of course. So I tested my design chops and made a line including several onesie designs out of the softest material I could find, and set to work making tutus that were adjustable for extended sizing. The onesies included sayings like “I wear every color in the rainbow” and “Anything I want to be” and had product descriptions that avoided the use of gendered pronouns. I styled the photos exactly how I style my kid — in whatever clothing combination was most fun for the little one.
Throughout the course of product development, I started to do my research and found that the idea of pink for girls and blue for boys didn’t even exist until the ‘50s. Pockets disappear from “girl” pants as early as 12 months. I spoke at TransOhio on gender neutral childhood. I created PDFs for boutiques on how to remove gendered language and merchandising from their store.
Did I change the world? Not yet. But I have gotten my message out to a wider audience and was recently accepted into a consortium of likeminded businesses called Clothes Without Limits. I’ve provided a safe place to shop for families who feel like me and my family and I plan to continue doing so as we expand. We’re starting to sell partner company’s brandsduring a Black Friday Sale this year and we’re working on some dynamite leggings for next winter.
Our goal is to remove gender stereotypes from clothing because clothing is not gendered. Clothing is simply fabric sewn into various patterns. It should be seen as such — free for anyone to wear. And when it comes to children we believe that clothing should be chosen based on practicality and enjoyment. If a little bean likes it, that child should be able to wear it. We hope to see more stores, and more brands taking notice. Between us all, maybe we can make a future that’s accepting to everyone.
If you’re interested in being a guest blogger on The Community, contact Eric Hayes at EHayes@LGBTCleveland.org.