This brand is breaking gender-stereotypes with cool merchandise for boys and girls

EqualiTee is a new collection of gender-cool merchandise that challenges flawed gender stereotypes and lets our little boys and girls be whoever they wish to be.
Amita Malhotra of Candidly
Amita Malhotra of Candidly

“Boys don’t cry!” and “Girls don’t play football!”

These established stereotypes tell us behaviour expected of girls and boys. Our children’s TV shows, clothes, bags and toys all feed gender stereotypes that tell girls to focus on their beauty and boys to be aggressive for social success. Images enacted in popular culture repeatedly dictate conformity to these labels, limiting their creativity, ambition and individual expression. Having experienced the effects of such social conditioning first hand Amita Malhotra, of Candidly felt strongly that we need to question and change this.

Last year, she joined hands with her old college friend Reema to create Candidly, a platform to drive candid conversations on issues of gender, media & culture and their influence on children and young adults. They have so far conducted on-ground workshops on abuse awareness, comprehensive sexuality education, body safety, produced digital content and built candid discussions on these subjects.  

1. Tell us about Equalitee by Candidly
EqualiTee is our new collection of gender-cool merchandise that challenges flawed gender stereotypes and lets our little boys and girls be whoever they wish to be. Designed in five themes – Activity, Opportunity, Creativity, Sensitivity and Equality, the collection is aimed at children to show them an expansive world, of imagination, creativity and free expression, with no access denied for being a girl or a boy.

We started Candidly last year to build awareness and change on issues of gender, sexuality and media among children and young adults. Our initiative is aimed at bringing attention of parents, teachers and other caregivers so they recognise gender stereotypes and can help their children challenge these ideas
2. What is it about the brand that it is so unique
We, and especially our children, make sense of the world around through images. If all images of sport, adventure, outdoor or heroism are synonymous with boys and images of being kind, caring, nurturing and surface beauty with girls, we end up reinforcing stereotypical ideas for our children. EqualiTee is our attempt to challenge this highly gendered world of children’s play and expression by creatively representing a world that’s shared by boys and girl equally. Our first collection, for children aged 2-8, focuses on five themes - Creativity, showcasing a world where boys and girls script their dreams not basis social expectations but their own imagination; Opportunity, for girls and boys who don’t play for the gallery (Instead, they play their full potential); Sensitivity, which celebrates that boys are as capable of being caring and kind as girls; Activity theme promotes the wholesome idea that together boys and girls, win; lastly our classic Equality theme brings alive all the common qualities that bind our entire collection – boys and girls coming together, as friends, and collaborators; as playmates and problem solvers – it calls upon all of us to help make our world equal.
 3. What kind of stereotypes are you hoping to break
From a young age our children are exposed to limited, and limiting, ideas about what it means to be a boy or a girl. Think superhero culture that idealises aggression, dominance and emotional denial for boys; or, think a princess culture tells girls that their true value is in their beauty and physical appearance.
It is some of these stereotypes that we are looking at breaking. Boys also have feelings and should be encouraged to fully express their emotions. Being caring, kind and compassionate are all human values and are as valuable in a man, as in a woman. By constantly telling our boys to ‘be tough’ or that ‘boys don’t cry’, we isolate them emotionally. When those boys grow up and often engage in aggression, violence or in risk-taking behaviour (such as risky driving, substance abuse or binge drinking), we should know that as parents, teachers, society, media at large, we were responsible for pushing our boys to that choice.
Similarly, girls can be great leaders, scientists, doctors or engineers if we remove the gender barriers associated with these careers. Girls’ value does not lie only in their beauty and external appearance. Images of women in films, magazines as sexual objects are proven to impact their confidence and lead to low self-esteem and body image issues. They end up engaging in self-objectification (seeing self as an object of use for others and constantly criticizing their own bodies) which is linked with lower academic performance and also makes them vulnerable to sexual violence. We are trying to challenge all of this
4. How do you hope an apparel brand will help with that?
Our children build their sense of identity through images that they see around - on their clothes, toys and in their world around. Images represent ideas. The dominant imagery on children’s landscape is gendered and communicates outdated pre-set ideas based on gender. With EqualiTee, we are introducing alternate imagery that celebrates a world of creativity, ambition, emotional expression, teamwork equally available to both boys and girls.
Apparel is just a beginning; we are looking at using not just apparel but other means to communicate the same message.

5. How has the response been so far?
The initial response has been fabulous. We have been receiving so many messages from parents who share their own stories of being fed up with pink and blue conventions and are even more encouraged to take EqualiTee forward.
6. Tell us a little bit about the apparel industry so far and how stereotypes are set
I have a 3-year old daughter and every time we went to a clothes or a toy store, I am amazed to see how deeply gendered marketing for kids is. ‘For Boys’ would feature basketball, cars, dinosaurs, action figures or messages about being a troublemaker or a future scientist all in blue hues. ‘For Girls’ would feature dolls, flowers, butterflies, tiny stilettos or bags and messages about being sweet, sassy or a beauty queen.
From store signage, designs, marketing to even fit of clothes, stereotypes pervade every aspect of the industry. There are small signs of change, John Lewis, a leading retailer in UK recently removed ‘boys’ and ‘girls’ labels from their children’s clothing and it’s a very welcome move. But we have a long way to go. We do hope that EqualiTee will also act as a catalyst for major apparel brands in India.
7. Do you feel the children will also understand this? Or is this for the parents to make a difference
Children are very perceptive about the ideas they see around them and we have designed our collection in a way that appeals to them. I was excited to hear from one of our customers who shared how her daughter chose the ‘Activity’ t-shirt to wear to her summer camp because she wanted to share with her friends the idea of teamwork and equal play among boys and girls. Our collection enables parents to proactively have a conversation about gender equality and gives an appealing representation to children to understand the idea and share with their friends.

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