Walk into the children's department of just about any store, and you'll find the same old gender-stereotyped colors and designs that have been around for decades. But three Austin designers are shaking up kids fashions by creating fun and empowering apparel that defies those standard ideas of how girls and boys should dress. Let's meet them.
Becka Spellman, BabyBolt
When BabyBolt founder Becka Spellman was a child, her mother allowed her to choose her own clothes and modify her wardrobe. She also had an aunt — a fashion designer specializing in boys' clothing — who took Spellman to Manhattan several times while she was growing up.
"I strive to make everything with great purpose and usability," says BabyBolt founder Becka Spellman.
"I had planned to follow in her footsteps and go to FIT [Fashion Institute of Technology] in New York, but eventually I decided to go the liberal arts route, where I majored in psychology and sociology," Spellman says. She became a social services counselor, but she started to burn out just about the time she had her first baby.
"After my son was born almost eight years ago, I started modifying/upcycling infant clothing," she says. "Then I progressed into designing my own line."
The company, which just celebrated its fifth anniversary, sells retro fun and functional clothing in sizes ranging from newborn to 8 years. The clothing is also designed to last, which is important to Spellman.
The designer says that her inspiration comes from unexpected sources. "Sometimes it's from my kid, who requests sporadic sewing sessions with me; other times it's falling in love with a color palette or a print.
"My personal style and what I bring to my work tends to be unaffected by trends; I like what I like. I strive to make everything with great purpose and usability."
Spellman recalls that a customer once asked her if polka dots were okay for boys, or if they were only for girls. Her response was that polka dots are for everyone.
"You don't have to accept what's being offered if it doesn't suit your tastes, and you don't have to be limited or defined by your gender. It's okay to be a square peg in a culture of round holes. I think a lot of commercial kids' clothing is trite and doesn't reflect the child who wears it."
"I want to make my art functional, so I put it on clothes and accessories," says designer Kayci Wheatley.
Spellman is currently at work on several new product designs with her husband, a visual artist who works with her to create new graphics. One new addition will be a selection of baby bibs that look less like bibs and more like sweet accessories.
For Kayci Wheatley, who sells fun children's fashions on Etsy, it started with bibs for drooling babies.
"My daughter, Paullee, drooled a lot. We called it 'flooby' for some reason, and I came up with the flooby bib. When I started making baby clothes for her, friends said I should sell them. So I did. I've been making stuff ever since."
Wheatley's creations — which include T-shirts and bow ties with icons such as David Bowie, Tupac Shakur and Pee-wee Herman — once were sold at every major department store in the United States. Now she just focuses on her Etsy shop, because the large-scale model was too much work.
The graphic creations come from drawings that Wheatley does herself on the computer. "That's the truly fun part," she says. "I want to make my art functional, so I put it on clothes and accessories." Besides children's items, her line also includes posters, pillows, purses and jewelry.
"There's always something new in the works; I just never know what it's going to be until the lightning hits me," Wheatley says.
Sharon Choksi, Girls Will Be
Not all girls want to wear pink and sparkles and ruffles and bows, states the Girls Will Be website — and correctly, we might add. But where to find those girl clothes that aren't too, well, girly?
"Our ultimate goal is to help empower young girls to be whatever they want," says Girls Will Be founder Sharon Choksi.
This was the question Sharon Choksi kept asking herself, regarding her daughter, Maya. "She is an amazing girl whose interests have never aligned with gender stereotypes," Choksi says. "She has always preferred climbing trees over playing princess, and her favorite toys are things like Legos, cars and trucks, and science kits."
By the time Maya was 3, she was refusing to wear the girly clothes in her wardrobe. This began years of struggling for Choksi, who had a difficult time finding clothes that fit her daughter's emerging personality and interests.
"We often ended up in the boys department with Maya asking 'Why do boys get all the cool stuff?' Over the years, I have met so many other girls who don't want to dress all that girly — at least not all the time — yet there are so few clothing options for them."
It didn't take long for Choksi to convince her sister, Laura Burns, and brother, David Michael Burns, to jump on board. The three siblings launched Girls Will Be in July 2013.
The name is a twist on the phrases "girls will be girls" and "boys will be boys." The name grew out of the partners' discussions of all the things that girls can be, from smart and tough to scientists and explorers. The main goal is to make it easier for girls like Maya, now 8, to shop.
"Our ultimate goal is to help empower young girls to be whatever they want, instead of ever feeling like they need to conform to the narrow definition of 'girl' reflected in far too many of the products marketed to them. There is more than one way to be a girl."