By Lori Day
There are lots of startups these days offering alternative clothing for children, but none that seek to bring to mainstream consumers the cool suit designs worn by female celebrities who are pushing the envelope. They push it because they can— SUIT HER, a brand-new unique line of fun and diverse suits for girls aged 5 to 12, will kick open the door on gendered fashions and let in some fresh air. Now, girls who need bold options for expressing themselves can have them without paying celebrity prices or shopping in the boy’s department.
“It’s time to change gender-limiting choices and offer more diverse options for girls!”
Michele Yulo is an entrepreneur and the founder of SUIT HER, a line of suits for girls, inspired by her daughter Gabi. Gabi is ten, plays baseball and definitely throws like a girl - and that’s a good thing. Like many girls, she doesn’t like today’s ultra-girly clothes. Like many moms, Michele has noticed how much clothing has changed since she was a girl. Gone are designs that emphasized comfort, play, ruggedness and practicality. Extremely feminine designs for both play and formal wear have become the norm in the girl’s department.
When an occasion requires something fancier than jeans and a t-shirt, Gabi faces a problem. There are few if any dressy clothing options in the girls’ department that do not involve skirts, frills, and sparkles, or pink and purple color palettes.
Michele created SUIT HER to fill that gap, and has just launched a Kickstarter campaign to bring her vision to life. Michele wants to produce fun, affordable fashion designs for girls who wish to express their own unique way of being a girl, and for moms (and dads) who have run out of options in mainstream clothing stores and online.
As a supporter of anything that releases girls from the stereotyped and limiting designs assigned to their gender, I was thrilled to interview Michele to learn more about how she plans to disrupt the fashion industry as we know it!
SUIT HER: Disrupting gendered fashions…
Alternative clothing lines for girls, and boys seem to finally be getting both media attention and customers. Why do you think there is a demand for these options, which are often more expensive than what can be found in the big box stores?
MY: The reason for the attention, in my opinion, is because some of us have been chipping away for years at those stereotypes through activism, entrepreneurship and a passionate desire to provide greater opportunities for kids. Do you remember the JC Penny tee that said, “I’m too pretty to do homework so my brother does it for me?” That was in August of 2011 and seemed to be the t-shirt that launched thousands of protestors and the realization that words and messages matter. I started discussing how gendered marketing affects kids back in 2009 and have learned that change happens slowly, but it does happen. As a result, there now seems to be a demand for a greater variety of clothing for kids.
Sometimes that does mean these options are more expensive, mostly because big companies seem to be in the dark when it comes to offering non-stereotypical clothing for kids. Many of us who are trying to fill that vast hole created by those companies are moms without the resources to produce large quantities of product that would lower cost. Having said that, I have made many sacrifices to do what I am doing and am adamant about creating alternatives for children who have been pigeonholed by corporations that exploit the “pink is for girls” and “blue is for boys” mindset. I believe consumers are willing to pay a little more in the short term to give kids more ways to express themselves, but also so they, too, can be a part of the change they want to see. Consumers have massive power. If successful, my long-term goal is to get beyond being a small startup and have the capability to lower cost.
How did you get the idea for SUIT HER, and what do you predict its viability will be as a brand among so many new start-ups in this space?
MY: Over the past several years through my company Princess Free Zone I’ve created really fun and cool t-shirts, but I wanted to introduce something completely new and exciting that would make a statement about the brand while offering something that is missing from the girls’ clothing market. My daughter has been wearing suits and tuxes since she was five, but we’ve always had to make do with suits for boys. They never fit her right and the styles were very limited. Since then I’ve had many parents share photos and stories of their girls wearing suits or tuxes. I wholeheartedly believe the brand is viable simply because I know that girls do wear suits and because they simply don’t exist as an option.
Why suits–as opposed to other apparel–and what does your collection offer?
MY: To me, suits say it all, unlike a t-shirt or a pair of pants. It’s an entire outfit that brings self-expression to the next level for girls who wear them. I am excited to be offering three different styles for casual, classic, and formal looks. Girls will be able to choose the bottom they prefer with each jacket—either pants, shorts, or a skirt.
When I look to popular culture, I see many celebrities and celebrities’ children who seem to represent the marketing niche that SUIT HER would aim to fill. Have people like Ellen Degeneres, Janelle Monáe, and especially Shiloh/John Jolie-Pitt and Willow Smith—daughters of well-known movie stars—influenced you in any way?
MY: Absolutely! They have all influenced me because their presence, style, and individuality all support what I am doing. Like my own daughter, they are able to proudly say to the world, “This is who I am!” without fear. I want that for every little girl (and boy) who thinks that their choices won’t be accepted by others. And all of these girls/women rock suits! By the way, Ellen just introduced a product line reflective of her unique style. I think she’d really go for SUIT HER!
The bottom line is that the more we allow children to express themselves authentically, the less it will be a concern to others, and the less bullying will be an issue. Embracing differences stems from actually seeing and accepting others who are brave enough to be who they are. But we need to get to the point where it doesn’t take courage to walk out into the world with a buzz cut if you are a girl or wearing a “My Little Pony” tee if you are a boy.
In addition to whatever your personal goals are for making SUIT HER successful, what do you hope to do for children like your daughter with this new brand?
MY: The ultimate goal is to effect change by continuing to push those gender boundaries. SUIT HER will hopefully be a part of that and eventually a full line of clothing. I want kids like Gabi to be recognized for who they are and not labeled as “tomboys” or girls who like boy things. But I also want for all children to see that they are not stuck in a world of pink and blue, and that they can be everything and anything in between without fear of being judged. That has always been my primary goal—from day one.
Perhaps there’s a little girl in your life who can’t seem to find herself in rack after rack of popular girl fashions, and you know Michele’s designs will suit her. There are many ways of dressing like a girl, and it’s time to stop letting greedy mainstream retailers limit and define what those are. SUIT HER is unapologetically challenging the paradigm, and it’s going to be a game changer.
About the author
Lori Day is an educational psychologist, consultant, and parenting coach with Lori Day Consulting in Newburyport, MA. Her book, Her Next Chapter: How Mother-Daughter Book Clubs Can Help Girls Navigate Malicious Media, Risky Relationships, Girl Gossip, and So Much More, shows mothers how to form mother-daughter book clubs that provide a vehicle for teaching media literacy to girls.
Lori is also a co-founder and Board member of the Brave Girls Alliance, a global think tank and consulting group of girl empowerment experts who advocate for healthier media and products for girls.