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This Local Kids Clothing Line is Pushing Back Against Gender Stereotypes

"I wanted to design a line of graphic tees that encompassed ALL of kids' many interests and favorite colors and wonderful personal qualities, including the ones not typically considered typical "girl things" or "boy things," and push back on the negativity and snark I so often see in mainstream kids' clothes"



Photo: Free to Be Kids

Pink is for girls and blue is for boys. Boys are little troublemakers and girls are little princesses. That’s how it goes right? WRONG. At least according to Seattle-based kids clothing line, Free to Be Kids. The gender-neutral clothing line is blowing up, and for good reason. Instead of graphic tees that read “ladies man” for boys or “princess in training” for girls – this line embraces positive, gender-defying statements like “love is my super power” and “tough like mommy.” We sat down with CEO and Founder of Free to Be Kids, Courtney Hartman to learn more about this powerhouse of a clothing line.

Seattle’s Child: Tell us your inspiration behind Free to Be Kids?

Courtney Hartman: I was disheartened with the messages kids' graphic tees were sending to, and about, boys and girls. When you walk into a mainstream big-box kids' retailer you see lots of pink, kittens, unicorns, and slogans about beauty and cuteness on one side, and on the other side you find dinosaurs, tigers, and trucks, along with slogans about sports, winning, toughness, and even being a hunk, a ladies' man, or a troublemaker. Dividing animals, hobbies and colors into "girl things" and "boy things" is just silly. My five-year-old son is a sensitive soul who loves butterflies and dancing, and his favorite color is purple. My three-year-old daughter is adorable and sweet and really into pink, but she's also as tough and fearless as they come, and obsessed with monster trucks. So, I wanted to design a line of graphic tees that encompassed ALL of kids' many interests and favorite colors and wonderful personal qualities, including the ones not typically considered typical "girl things" or "boy things," and push back on the negativity and snark I so often see in mainstream kids' clothes.

 

What’s your connection to Seattle?

Free to Be Kids is a Seattle-based company, and everyone here is proud of that! The labels inside our shirts say "hand printed in Seattle." As for me, I'm a native Pacific Northwesterner (grew up in Portland), and I've lived in Seattle for ten years. My husband and I got engaged and married and had two kids here, so our roots in Seattle are deep. 

 

What are your top sellers in Seattle?

We released a design called Boys Will Be Good Humans in October, about a week before the Donald Trump bus video broke. Some people tried to dismiss those words as "locker room talk" and more or less brush the whole thing off as "boys will be boys," and that shirt rocketed to popularity pretty fast here in Seattle and elsewhere.

 

Do kids get excited about wearing these clothes?

Totally! One of our most frequently-gifted shirts has a picture of a kitten and the words "I'm A Cat Guy" on it. It's a popular birthday present for little dudes who love cats and haven't been able to find a graphic tee to express that. We also have bunnies and butterflies that were inspired by gaps in the boys' clothing selection, and tigers, lions, and T. Rexes that girls can rock. Kids really get into the slogan tees too. Some people think slogan tees are silly for kids who can't read yet, but you only need to tell them once what those shirts say, and they form strong opinions about them very quickly! "Love Is My Superpower" has been my son's favorite for a really long time. He's gone through many sizes and colors of it. He doesn't need to be able to read to understand that Love + Superhero = Awesome. And my daughter fully grasps the meaning of "Tough Like Mommy" and wears that shirt with a lot of heart.

 

You also sell clothes for adults?

We do! By popular demand. After so many "I wish you made this in MY size" comments, we decided to go for it, and we added a Teens and Grownups section. And about a month ago we added tote bags too. Not everyone is a t-shirt person, so I'm glad we can offer a way for people to get in on spreading the positive messages even if they're not into wearing graphic tees.

 

How do you come up with all the positive statements?

Usually I'm trying to fill a space that has been left empty by mainstream retailers. Mr. Nice Guy was our first shirt for boys because there were so many troublemaker and ladies' man shirts, and the ever-awful "Lock up your daughters." I thought it was a sweet, simple way to express that boys are decent, kind-hearted humans and we should give them more credit. "Smart Girls Club" was our first girls' shirt because I wanted to celebrate girls for their minds, and not just their cuteness. 

 

Looks like we just made back to school shopping easy.  Head to Freetobekids.com for all your shopping needs!

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