Since my daughter Alice learned to talk she’s had opinions, especially when it comes to clothes. Sign her up if the shirt’s got bugs or Batman. Rainbows, unicorns or princesses? Not on her life.
But recently, Alice and I were online shopping and decided to check the girls’ section at the Gap. We saw lots of pink and flowery; no robots or the color red. So Alice dictated a letter asking the company what it could do for kids like her. Maybe they could ditch the “boys” versus “girls” sections, or add a neutral option in between?
Three days later, Alice’s letter was published in The Washington Post. Next came articles about it in outlets from Huffington Post Parents to Today online. DC Comics sent a letter of thanks to her for speaking up (along with an amazing box of goodies that she and her brother were very excited about).
And then an email arrived. We read it to Alice, explaining that the person writing to her is Jeff Kirwan, Gap’s chief executive, who runs the whole company. When we finished, she breathed a single word: “Whoa.”
I got hold of the letters you sent in and wanted to be the one to reply to you. I’m Jeff and I’m the head of Gap.
You sound like a really cool kid with a great sense of style.
At GapKids, we try to always offer a wide range of styles and choices for girls and boys. This includes a selection of girls’ tees with dinosaurs, firetrucks, sharks, footballs and some of our superheroes. Our latest Disney Collection, Beauty and the Beast, is also all about the strength and bravery of girls, and that’s something that’s really important to us.
But, you are right, I think we can do a better job offering even more choices that appeal to everyone. I’ve talked with our designers and we’re going to work on even more fun stuff that I think you’ll like.
In the meantime, I’m going to send you a few of my favorite tees from our latest collection. Please check them out and let us know what you think. Our customers’ comments are very important to us, and they help us create even better products with each season.
Thank you again,
Gap Brand President & CEO”
Alice’s dad and I reminded her she’d told Kirwan his company had to change its options for girls. And they answered.
“What did he say?” we asked.
“He says I’m right,” she said.
Here’s how we replied:
“Dear Mr. Kirwan,
This is Beth, Alice’s mom. We were really glad to see your message, so we’re responding to say thanks, plus a couple other things.
This is from Alice:
‘Thank you for those clothes and the letter. It made me feel good. The Rey shirt is pretty cool. I’m going to wear it to school tomorrow.
P.S. Could you make some shirts with the Beast? I like him because he’s big and furry and looks like Chewbacca.’
And this is from me:
Since Alice wrote you, we’ve seen word travel from Tucson to Beirut; more than I could count say they agree. We’re thrilled you, too, said she’s right and you want to do better. For kids like Alice everywhere, that means a lot.
So what next? Honestly, we’ve all got our work cut out for us. Because I haven’t told Alice the two other reactions to her letter. First, people ask what’s the big deal; why don’t we just buy ‘boys’ clothes? Or why don’t I learn to sew — and better yet teach Alice — so we can make whatever we want?
We grown-ups know what happens whenever someone small challenges the status quo. Even well-intentioned people at the top feel the pressure: Why take a risk if the majority isn’t speaking out?
Better not to rock the boat, right? Better to let the outliers change themselves to fit in. In 2017 girls can wear ‘boys’ clothes; you can even buy your son a polo shirt in pink. Why the fuss?
Why indeed? Because the fact is kids don’t have long before they learn the world’s limits — or their own. In the meantime, Mr. Kirwan, you and I have a chance to teach them a different lesson. Mine might come during a carpool conversation. Yours could come from clothes that say girls don’t have to be just one thing.
But we both have an opportunity on our hands: to help kids learn why being different is an act of bravery; why asking for something unfair to change is worthwhile.
Because sometimes people — even powerful ones — listen. Meanwhile everyone sees they, too, have a fair shot at being heard.
It is not just about T-shirts, is it? You and I, we’ve got a chance to show kids everywhere that all big changes start small.
It only took a day for Jeff to answer. He told Alice to look out for a Chewy shirt in April. To me, he said, “I admire and thank you for standing up for individuality. … We can and will continue to evolve and do better. I remain deeply committed to upholding these values … thank you for your voice in doing the same.”
So today my 5-year-old has an impressively open-minded CEO as a pen-pal. People all over the world are talking about girls and clothing, because it’s not really about clothing at all.
And me? I’m pretty lucky. Because I’m a mom who was able to show her daughter that if it seems like no one is listening, speak up.
Beth Jacob is a policy wonk, writer, and mom — not necessarily in that order — in D.C.
You might also be interested in: