“MUMMY, how come boys get all the cool stuff?”
These words, uttered by Cheryl Rickman’s daughter, Brooke, when she was just four, have led to a clothing company with customers across the globe.
Cheryl, who lives in Chandlers Ford, with Brooke, now seven, and her partner James Suddaby, explains how the idea grew out of Brooke’s frustration when out clothes shopping.
“From when she was three I let Brooke choose her clothes,” she says. “We’d go down the girls’ aisle and she didn’t like much. It was all lacy, pink and princesses.
“Then we’d go down the boys’ aisle and she’d love everything there – pirates, dinosaurs, Marvel characters – all the stuff that’s traditionally reserved for boys.
“I bought it anyway, so she had a combination of clothes labelled for boys and for girls, which didn’t really matter, but once she could read, she’d ask, ‘why does it say boys'?.”
Cheryl and Brooke decided to write to supermarkets and say that they were limiting children’s choice by putting unnecessary gender labels on clothing. This grew into the idea of launching their own clothing line.
Cheryl is a successful author of business books, has ghost-written for Peter Jones and Anabel Karmel, run a music magazine and women’s business networking website WiBBLE, and recently written The Flourish Handbook, so understandably it took a while to get the idea of a clothing company off the ground.
One of the advantages of taking their time about setting up the business, Climbing Trees (climbingtreeskids.com), which launched in June, has been that it has given Brooke chance to have greater input, as she is older.
“They didn’t have dinosaur tops for girls, so we created some,” explains Cheryl simply.
The business launched with six T-shirts, with designs including a female pirate, a ‘she rex’ dinosaur and a colourful rocket.
The aim is to provide all children with a wider range of clothing, to match their tastes, without having to wear clothes labelled as being for the opposite sex.
“It’s about more than just clothes,” says Cheryl.
“It’s about how children represent themselves. It’s about identity and exploring who they are as they grow, and it’s really important that that has no limits.
“When you’re very young, you create belief systems from what people say to you and what you notice, and it starts when you’re tiny.
“If you’re told enough times ‘you can’t do that, it’s for boys/girls’ it can deter you from following what you really want in life.
“There are children who won’t pursue their passions, wear what they want to wear, play with what they want to play with, because they’ve been told that something is for a boy or a girl, so their freedom, creativity, even their vital spark in life is being squashed.”
Brooke’s interests have meant she has got used to being told that the things she likes are for boys, from the children’s face painter who suggested she had a butterfly rather than Spiderman on her face to the friend’s parent who said she should have been born a boy because she plays football and schoolmates asking why she likes ‘boy things’.
“Luckily she is super-resistant and she didn’t care,” says Cheryl. “It hasn’t stopped her from being who she wants to be, wearing what she wants to wear and liking what she wants to like.
“But unfortunately there are a lot of children who say ‘I can’t like dinosaurs or wear pink because it’s for the opposite sex’ and I think that’s a big shame.”
Cheryl adds that children’s clothing can also reinforce stereotypes about girls and boys and how they should behave.
“In some shops, the slogans on girls’ tops are all about looks, like ‘happy girls are the prettiest’ and things about being cute, while the boys ones are things like ‘little mischief maker’ – basically about being naughty.
“When you look at the statistics for girls on self-harm, depression, eating disorders, these things are happening earlier on and one of the reasons is the focus on looks and worrying about what others will think about you. If you can instil a positive message about being proud to be yourself, I think that’s really valuable.
With this in mind, Cheryl and Brooke are working towards Climbing Trees, which they run from their Chandlers Ford home, being more than just a clothing company.
“Our mission is to empower children to be all they can be, without limitations.”
This includes publishing a range of books with the Climbing Trees Girls role models, who include a sporty character, an outdoorsy one and a creative one.
“We want to show that girls are active, not just passive, which is a really important message, and to be proud to be all you are, so that what others think of you doesn’t impact your choices too much and have a negative impact.”
Cheryl says that one of her goals at the outset was to be able to walk down the girls’ clothes aisle of a supermarket and for her to be able to find things she likes.
• Visit Cheryl’s website at climbingtreeskids.com
She’s delighted to have met with retail giants Tesco to discuss their clothing range on behalf of children’s clothing campaigners Let Clothes be Clothes, and hopes to see changes to their, and other supermarkets’ ranges.
“If the supermarkets see what we ‘re doing and say ‘that’s a good idea, we’ll do it,’ I’d love that.
“It was great to meet with the Florence and Fred buyers at Tesco because a supermarket was where the idea of Climbing Trees was born, so to be able to influence some of their decisions is great,” says Cheryl.
“People say ‘wouldn’t you mind, because you’d make fewer sales,’ but I’d just focus on the books and I’d be quite happy because that was the goal – for my daughter to be able to find clothes she wants in the girls’ aisle.”