Up­roar over John Lewis chil­dren’s range

The Malta Business Weekly - - FRONT PAGE -

It's a tabloid story sta­ple - the cloth­ing store that puts out a new range with a theme so strongly aimed at one or other gen­der, it at­tracts the la­bel "sex­ist".

A few weeks ago, it was Mother­care, with its lat­est ranges in which girls were of­fered glit­ter and slo­gans like "sparkle" and boys sci­ence themes and words like "ge­nius".

In July, it was Mor­risons, with its slo­gan T-shirts: the boys' ones had "lit­tle man, big ideas" on the front, while the girls' ones had "lit­tle girl, big smile".

But news that John Lewis had de­cided to em­pha­sise the sim­i­lar­i­ties of chil­dren and moved to­wards har­mon­is­ing its chil­dren's clothes un­der one la­bel, "Girls and Boys" (or "Boys and Girls", as half of the goods are tagged) caused an equal level of con­cern.

Was it po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness gone mad? One wag asked if we should now all call John Lewis "Joan" Lewis.

It turns out the store chain in­tro­duced the changes last year and no-one ap­pears to have no­ticed.

Caroline Bet­tis, head of chil­drenswear at John Lewis, said in a state­ment on Mon­day: "We in­tro­duced new non-gen­der spe­cific John Lewis stitched la­bels and com­bined 'Girls & Boys' swing tags to cloth­ing for John Lewis own la­bel collections in 2016.

"We do not want to re­in­force gen­der stereo­types within our John Lewis collections and in­stead want to pro­vide greater choice and va­ri­ety to our cus­tomers, so that the par­ent or child can choose what they would like to wear."

The store chain worked with the cam­paign group Let Clothes be Clothes.

Ch­eryl Rick­man, founder of the group, de­fended John Lewis' strat­egy. She told the BBC: "It's not po­lit­i­cally cor­rect to want the best for your child, all they're do­ing is re­mov­ing the la­bel.

"My child will buy things from the boys' aisle but some chil­dren have stopped buy­ing clothes from the boys aisle. Re­mov­ing the 'this is for boys this is for girls' from the la­bels. It's say­ing you choose let kids be kids."

And, ac­cord­ing to the Bri­tish Re­tail Con­sor­tium, the trade body to which the vast ma­jor­ity of retailers be­long, it was sim­ply some­thing that was hap­pen­ing across the board: "Cus­tomers to­day are more aware of the en­vi­ron­ment they are shopping in, and con­se­quently retailers are tak­ing fur­ther steps to en­sure they con­tinue to pro­mote prod­ucts in a re­spon­si­ble and pro­gres­sive man­ner.

"We have al­ready seen a num­ber of retailers make sim­i­lar moves on chil­dren's toys; and it's likely fur­ther brands will look to move away from tra­di­tional gen­der-bi­nary la­belling in chil­dren's lines in the fu­ture."

Those who think it is es­sen­tial to be able to tell at a glance whether a child is a girl or a boy may be re­lieved to hear not ev­ery­thing has changed.

John Lewis is still sell­ing dresses - al­though they are tagged with the same "Girls and Boys" la­bel as the chil­dren's trousers.

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