Here are some of our recent press mentions and features.
[Hartman] thinks we should actively combat that toxic masculinity. Free to Be Kids shirts turn those messages on their heads: Boys won’t be boys — “Boys Will Be Good Humans.” One shirt proclaims “Feminist Like Daddy” and another “Love Is My Superpower.” They encourage boys to be kind like daddy and tough like mommy. There are butterflies and my 3-year-old son’s beloved bunny shirt. It’s a relief to put my kids in clothing with messages I agree with. And it’s amazing to see them get so excited about wearing animals that are traditionally gendered female.
Not only does Hartman's clothing line kick gender cliches to the curb, but her t-shirts are also refreshingly free of negativity and snark. "We offer children the messages that big retailers don't," Hartman explains on her company's website. "We believe passionately that both boys and girls deserve to see, hear, and wear better messages." She's so right. Because while we tend to hear a lot about addressing gender cliches in girls' clothing, we don't necessarily hear the same thing when it comes to empowering boys.
Rather than feature negative, snarky gender cliches, her line of graphic tees, rompers and onesies display positive messages that turn gender stereotypes in mainstream children's clothing on their heads. "We offer children the messages that big retailers don't. For every 'I'm Too Cute To Do Homework' shirt that tells our girls to focus on beauty over brains, we hit back with 'Smart Girls Club.' For every 'Troublemaker' or 'Eat My Dust' shirt that portrays our sons as rowdy and insensitive, we design a 'Mr. Nice Guy' or 'Love Is My Superpower,'" the Free to Be Kids website reads.
We've all seen the t-shirts with divisive statements on them, supposedly tongue-in-cheek nods to the age-old stereotypes about boys and girls. Boys will be boys, et al. They don't help matters. And one kids' clothing brand is taking a stand against gender stereotyping (oh so cleverly masked by the "take a joke!" marketing style) in absolutely the best way. Because boys will be boys just doesn't cut it in the 21st century, guys.
Gender stereotypes have a negative impact on children, and ignoring it isn’t the solution. Thankfully, someone is doing something to combat this. That someone is Courtney Hartman, creator of Free To Be Kids — the new brand revolutionizing the children’s clothing industry. With shirts with slogans like, “Feminist Like Daddy” and “Tough Like Mommy,” Free To Be Kids is turning gender stereotypes upside down.
Courtney Hartman, the mom behind Free to Be Kids, decided to design a line of gender-neutral and stereotype-busting tees — ones that say "Tough Like Mommy" or "Kind Like Daddy" and don't prescribe pink or blue to either gender.
"I think it's a message to girls that they should dress however they feel comfortable and that doesn't make them less feminine," said Hartman. "If they don't want to wear a fitted shirt, it shouldn't mean that they can't get something feminine designed on them. They should have an option to wear things ... in the way they want to express their girliness."
Starting in infancy, there are stark differences in the clothes designed for girls and boys. Seattle's Courtney Hartman, mother of Declan, 4, and Lois, 2, realized it when she saw her kids' clothes side by side. "I noticed that the animals on boys' clothes always seemed to be wearing sunglasses and sports gear, while the animals on girls' clothing had hair bows and eyelashes," she says. In 2014 she started the clothing line Jessy & Jack (www.jessyandjack.com) as a gender-neutral alternative, with items designed to be equally cute on boys or girls. A year later, she took it further, launching the Free To Be Kids line (www.freetobekids.com) to combat negative messages found on clothes sold in big retail outlets. "In mainstream kids' fashion, boys get shirts with slogans like 'Eat My Dust' or 'Troublemaker,'" she says. "I didn't see my son's kind heart reflected in those tees." Instead, Free To Be Kids' tees have upbeat mottoes like "Love Is My Superpower." And they really can be worn by all -- Free To Be Kids' sizing goes up to adult.
“'When kids don’t see things on their clothes, it sends the message that those things are not for them, and I think that can limit who they feel they can become,' says Hartman."
"Courtney Hartman, owner and designer of the Jessy & Jack and Free To Be Kids brands, believes that brick-and-mortar retailers are running behind. 'In a typical retail store you seldom see butterflies, cats, the word love, or the colors pink or purple in the boys’ section. You don’t often see empowering messages, math themes or ferocious animals in the girls’ section,' observes Hartman. Instead, she continues, the gender-bending apparel movement is 'almost completely driven' by small, independent clothing brands like her own that sell online, directly to consumers who find the brands via social media. 'The success of small direct-to-consumer brands like mine is largely a backlash against the limits that larger retailers and brands are placing on our children,' she affirms."
"There is really a sharp divide between what is considered girls' stuff and what's considered boys' stuff," said Courtney Hartman. She started Seattle-based Jessy & Jack, a collection of unisex T-shirts for kids that have robots and dinosaurs, and Free to Be Kids, where a shirt with the slogan, "I'm a Cat Guy" comes in blue, gray and yellow.
Parents who want to dress their kids in clothes that upend gender stereotypes have a small but growing number of options. Some of the clothes are unisex basics. Others are for either boys or girls, but invert conventions by offering pink shirts for boys or dresses that sport rockets and trains. Unisex shirts under the Jessy & Jack label come in various colors and have themes such as chimps, robots or elephants. Free to be Kids offers shirts with slogans like, “Mr. Nice Guy,” to show that boys can wear clothes promoting love and kindness.
Hartman points out that girls need to know that their worth is based on more than just their appearance, and boys need to know that it’s just as important to be kind as it is to be good at sports. “All kids deserve to have their interests nurtured, whatever those may be,” she says. “There’s no reason boys shouldn’t love butterflies. There’s no reason girls shouldn’t love dinosaurs. Separating the world of childhood into ‘boy stuff’ and ‘girl stuff’ is just silly.”
"Boys get dinosaurs, airplanes, wild animals, skateboards, and all things science. Girls are left with hearts, flowers, tiaras, ballerinas, shopping bags, and domesticated animals wearing bows... Retailers increasingly set out to give our kids more flexibility in their clothing and self-concept. These labels—many launched by parents—hope to create a world where every child has access to clothes that stretch and launder with ease, to adventurous and intellectual sartorial themes, and to every color on the wheel."
"Free To Be Kids’ 'Love Is My Superpower' and 'Mr. Nice Guy' shirts send the message that love and kindness are 'powerful and masculine.' ... 'Tough Like Mommy' and 'Kind Like Daddy' onesies from Free To Be Kids put a fabulous twist on the parental self-aggrandisement genre."
"Until recently, finding alternatives to gender cliches in kids’ wardrobes was surprisingly difficult. But in the past decade, several small companies—mostly led by mothers, like Hartman, fed up with gender-assigned constraints—have cropped up to challenge cultural norms.
“ 'The way adults perceive children, and the way they interact with them, can totally change based on what kids are wearing,' Hartman said. 'And that’s what tells kids what they’re supposed to be and what they can become.' ”
"Who decided that kittens are for girls and tigers are for boys?" says Courtney Hartman of Free to Be Kids and Jessy & Jack. "I designed a shirt for dudes who love cats, and it's been a huge seller, because it's nearly impossible to find a cat shirt without glitter or cap sleeves. Fighting gender stereotypes head-on is what we are all about. I deliberately design clothes that are the exact opposite of some of the stereotypes perpetuated by more commercial designs." The line also features designs with ferocious lions for girls, as well as clothes that say "tough like Mommy" or "kind like Daddy."
"The clothes you see in the stores would make you think that boys are nothing more than sporty little aggressive troublemakers, and I've never seen my son reflected in those clothing options," said Hartman, whose Free to Be Kids clothing line includes graphic shirts with sayings such as "Love is My Superpower" and "Mr. Nice Guy."Clothes may look like a small problem in the world, she said, but they are just one of many sources of consistent messages that boys are receiving about who they are and are not supposed to be."They're not supposed to be kind. They're not supposed to be loving and sweet," said Hartman. "They're supposed to be athletic ... and aggressive."
"Boys should be able to like kittens and be proud to be kind and loving, and they should also be able to like pink," Hartman told me. "They're just exploring being kids, and all the things there are to like. There's an overarching message of aggression in boys' clothes. The words are always 'troublemaker' and 'eat my dust' — competitive — but they are not kind and not soft in any way. It's sad that we're expecting boys to have this hard facade."
"People seem to fear that if we let our sons wear pink, like kittens or bunnies, or be proud to be kind or loving, it will turn them gay or make them confused about their gender," said Hartman. "I hope that sparking a discussion of boys and gender stereotypes will help people get more comfortable with the idea that boys should also have the freedom to enjoy and explore all animals, characters, colors, and interests, and it won’t turn them into anything but well-rounded, well-adjusted little humans."
"Free To Be Kids strives to 'flip the script' on gender cliches by selling t-shirts that "balance out what is in boys and girls clothing sections.
"Some of these shirts include sayings like 'Mr. Nice Guy' (Hartman couldn't find any products that classified boys as sweet and gentle) and 'Smart Girls Club' (Hartman had seen shirts stating that girls were too cute to do homework or that emphasized appearance)...
"'Kids should be able to like whatever they want," Hartman said. 'They should be empowered to express themselves in whatever way feels right to them.' "
"Hartman's approach might be the future of kids' fashion."
"While girls should certainly be empowered, there's also more work to be done on the boy's front. 'You can't do it in a vacuum,' Hartman said. 'You can't say that girls should be able to be tough and smart and outgoing, while boys are still within a constrictive box of being only aggressive, and never sensitive and sweet.' "
"The 'Smart Girls Club' shirt is a nice (and totally opposite) option for girls who aren't so keen on acting like they're only good at shopping, dancing, and music — but not math. 'Cause here's the thing: Messaging is important. And when our girls are indirectly being told from every angle, including their clothing, that they're incapable of certain things, it starts to wear on them."
Free To Be Kids tackles gender cliches head-on with empowering shirts for girls and boys, such as "Smart Girls Club."
Vibrant colors and fun images abound in the designs by Jessy & Jack. Seattle mom Courtney Hartman launched the brand last summer, and now she sells gender-neutral shirts, onesies, and bibs. She says, “We think that dividing animals, objects and hobbies into ‘girl stuff’ and ‘boy stuff’ is silly, so we design things that both girls and boys can love.”