A mother has accused Clarks, one of the UK's biggest shoe companies, of sexism in the way it differentiates boys and girls school shoes. The company has rejected accusations of gender bias.
Jemma Moonie-Dalton's Facebook update about trying to buy school shoes for her seven-year-old daughter and five-year-old son, at a Clarks store in east London, has been shared more than seven thousand times in the past 24 hours.
"In the boys' section the shoes are sturdy, comfortable and weatherproof with soles clearly designed with running and climbing in mind," she wrote. "In contrast, the girls' shoes have inferior soles, are not fully covered and are not well padded at the ankle. They are not comfortable and are not suited to outdoor activities in British weather."
Moonie-Dalton's post then turns to wider questions of gender. "What messages are you giving to my daughter? That she doesn't deserve shoes that put her on equal 'footing' with her male peers? That she should be satisfied with looking stylish whilst the boys are free to play and achieve in comfort? That she shouldn't try and compete with boys when they play chase - girls' shoes aren't made for speed, so perhaps girls aren't either? These messages may not be explicit, but they are there, and are insidious."
Moonie-Dalton told BBC Trending that when she went into the store the only options available in her daughter's size had no cover over the top of her foot.
"They were Mary Jane style shoes, with an open top and a strap across. The style didn't fit her properly and as she is now in Year 3, she doesn't want me to buy her boys shoes, like I used to do.
"I don't have a problem with them providing trainers or other kinds of shoes, but it seemed to me that all the school shoes were not suitable for when she starts back to school in September."
Did she simply happen to go to the shop on a day when girls trainers were out of stock? Of the 78 styles of girl's shoe listed on the Clarks 'Girls School Shoe' website, 52 are open topped shoes, 20 of them are trainer-style, while the final eight are boots. The company does stock a significantly wider range of shoes for girls, only providing 61 styles in their boys' school shoes range but the boys' shoes don't appear to include open tops.
Online, Moonie-Dalton's post struck a nerve, with thousands of parents sharing their experiences of trying to buy shoes for their children on the Clarks Facebook page. Some agreed with the critics, while others defended Clarks girls shoes as sturdy and hard wearing.
Clarks have rejected the criticism. In a statement, they told BBC Trending: "Clarks has a gender neutral ethos that anyone can choose any style they would like. Over the past few seasons, following customer feedback and market research, we have focused on creating more unisex shoes and we are looking at a number of elements of our business to promote this gender neutral ethos, both on our website and within our stores. As a large global company, it is not always possible to implement all the changes we want to make as quickly as we would like. However, we are looking to move as fast as we can to ensure this ethos is reflected throughout our brand.
"Today we have more unisex styles in our range than ever before. This means we now have a wider range of closed-in styles, school boots and Gore-Tex styles and these changes will continue in our Spring Summer 2018 range, which has been designed with an entirely unisex approach. In addition, in September we will roll out a new format in some of our stores, where the whole kids department will be unisex with shoes displayed by 'story', rather than gender."
Clarks are not the only retailer who has recently faced an online backlash in how it advertises shoes to children".
Tesco has said it is reviewing the language on its website after receiving complaints that their girl's school shoes were marketed as having "sensitive" soles while boy's school shoes with allegedly identical soles, are branded with the technical term "Airtred".
Mothercare was also criticised for the way it marketed products intended for girls. It has since changed the way it promotes clothing on some of its children's clothes, after an online campaign group 'Let clothes be clothes' threatened to organise a boycott of the company.