Frustrated parents are launching apparel startups to upend gender norms
|Svaha clothing line|
Ever since Jaya Iyer's daughter was a toddler, she had been fascinated by Saturn and its icy rings. When Swaha turned three, she had a space-themed birthday party. But when her mom went to find clothes with space images for Swaha, she couldn't find any. They were all in the boys section.
So the 41-year-old mother of two, who has a doctorate in fashion merchandising, started her own business called Svaha (which is how her daughter's name is pronounced) to sell clothes that upend gender stereotypes. One shirt features a grinning green stegosaurus, the plates on its back adorned with polka dots. A second comes in a blazing pink hue, with an astronaut planting an American flag on the moon. That one should satisfy her daughter. "She was very upset with me for not ever buying her anything with astronauts on it," Iyer says. "Then she started telling me: 'I want a ninja on my shirt.'"
Svaha is one of several startups that have emerged in recent years with the goal of changing the standards that govern what kids wear. These upstarts aren't looking to replace current kid's apparel entirely. Instead, their founders say they want to provide children with more options. Handsome in Pink says it's all right for boys to wear pink and purple. BuddingSTEM offers science-themed garb for girls. Perhaps the buzziest label is Princess Awesome, which raised more than $200,000 in a successful Kickstarter campaign, showing demand for pirate-themed dresses and girl's apparel covered in the symbol for pi. Most of the ventures remain in early stages as online-only entities using crowdfunded or bootstrapped cash to sell small numbers of shirts or dresses.
Several of the startups share a common origin: They were borne out of parental frustration with major retailers. Simply shopping in the opposite gender's section isn't the answer, these parents say. Cultural norms mean that as kids get older, designating certain items as male or female can confuse and frustrate them. A girl may not want to wear something designated for boys, and vice-versa.