Uproar over John Lewis children's range

By Rebecca Marston
Business reporter, BBC News

image copyrightJohn Lewis
image captionJohn Lewis new children's range of clothing - under the label "Boys and Girls" (and "Girls and Boys")

It's a tabloid story staple - the clothing store that puts out a new range with a theme so strongly aimed at one or other gender, it attracts the label "sexist".

A few weeks ago, it was Mothercare, with its latest ranges in which girls were offered glitter and slogans like "sparkle" and boys science themes and words like "genius".

In July, it was Morrisons, with its slogan T-shirts: the boys' ones had "little man, big ideas" on the front, while the girls' ones had "little girl, big smile".

But news that John Lewis had decided to emphasise the similarities of children and moved towards harmonising its children's clothes under one label, "Girls and Boys" (or "Boys and Girls", as half of the goods are tagged) caused an equal level of concern.

Was it political correctness gone mad? One wag asked if we should now all call John Lewis "Joan" Lewis.

'Politically correct'

It turns out the store chain introduced the changes last year and no-one appears to have noticed.

Caroline Bettis, head of childrenswear at John Lewis, said in a statement on Monday: "We introduced new non-gender specific John Lewis stitched labels and combined 'Girls & Boys' swing tags to clothing for John Lewis own label collections in 2016.

"We do not want to reinforce gender stereotypes within our John Lewis collections and instead want to provide greater choice and variety to our customers, so that the parent or child can choose what they would like to wear."

The store chain worked with the campaign group Let Clothes be Clothes.

Cheryl Rickman, founder of the group, defended John Lewis' strategy. She told the BBC: "It's not politically correct to want the best for your child, all they're doing is removing the label.

"My child will buy things from the boys' aisle but some children have stopped buying clothes from the boys aisle. Removing the 'this is for boys this is for girls' from the labels. It's saying you choose let kids be kids."

Dresses and trousers

And, according to the British Retail Consortium (BRC), the trade body to which the vast majority of retailers belong, it was simply something that was happening across the board: "Customers today are more aware of the environment they are shopping in, and consequently retailers are taking further steps to ensure they continue to promote products in a responsible and progressive manner.

"We have already seen a number of retailers make similar moves on children's toys; and it's likely further brands will look to move away from traditional gender-binary labelling in children's lines in the future."

Those who think it is essential to be able to tell at a glance whether a child is a girl or a boy may be relieved to hear not everything has changed.

John Lewis is still selling dresses - although they are tagged with the same "Girls and Boys" label as the children's trousers.

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