Clothes make up a big part of gender identity. We have seen gender division in the way clothes are arranged in a store or the uniforms in schools. Gender performance has been pivotal in claiming gender, fight for equality and rights, and acceptance of the LGBTQ+ community. Therefore analysing the contribution of the clothing, and fashion can help add to the conversation of gender perception.
Amita Malhotra is the founder of candidly, a platform that facilitates candid conversations on topics of gender, sexuality, and media, and the owner of equali.tee which is a gender-cool clothing line for kids. We asked her about the kids-fashion industry and her thoughts about the LGBTQ+ inclusivity.
As a gender-neutral clothing line, what are the challenges that you face while showcasing your products?
One of the key challenges is that gendered representation is so insidious; most people don’t actually notice it or even if they do, they don’t consider it to be a big issue. Gendered representation is seen as the norm. It needs a fair amount of effort on our part to point out that these stereotypes and unconscious bias. And these are responsible for the inequality and gender-based issues we see at work, at home, and in society.
What inspired you to take on this project?
I was in college when I first learned to think about gender and how it influences identity. When I became a mother, I found myself thinking deeply about what it means to raise our children as individuals. This included exploring who they are and what they wish to be unshackled by rigid gender roles. The two came together for me when I joined hands with my college friend, a sexuality educator and a mother, Reema Ahmad. She co-founded Candidly with me, a platform to facilitate candid conversations on topics of gender, sexuality, and media among children and young adults. Last year, I launched EqualiTee a gender-cool brand for kids to challenge gender stereotypes in early childhood through gender-cool products and popular culture.
How do you educate people about what you do and why gender-neutral clothing is important? Especially to those who don’t know about the LGBTQ+?
We have done some amount of educating through digital content and storytelling on one hand and sharing our work at on-ground events and festivals. And we cannot claim to be fluid and non-binary in a way that obviates gender completely. We consciously chose to say gender-cool, challenging dominant stereotypes associated with each gender and expanding opportunities of who the children can be, and what they can do. We would love to expand the fluidity dimension, at this point we have chosen to tackle rigidities within binaries of the two dominant genders.
The challenges you faced when you were creating the line
The key challenge in my mind was to balance what may be ‘ideal’ and what is accepted as ‘real’. We wanted to shift the narrative, especially because we were taking the route of commerce, the vision had to be within the realm of possibilities. This was linked with the challenge of speaking about equality and not limit ourselves to girls’ empowerment. The story of girls inspiring to making a mark outside the domestic sphere, becoming astronauts, leaders finds mainstream acceptance today. But to speak about the need to encourage emotional expression among boys, that boys can cry as they can laugh, they can be caring and sensitive is far harder.
Have you explained to kids about the LGBTQ+? How did you do it? What are the tips other parents can use to do the same?
We haven’t done sufficient work within this space to share our experience. My own view as a parent is to expose ourselves and our children to as many diverse people and experiences as possible. There are fantastic books and films available across different ages that can be a great start point. Staying alert about our own biases and showcasing examples that break the normative paradigm can be very helpful.
How long did it take you to build your company from scratch?
We started Candidly in January 2017 and July onwards started the groundwork for building our gender-cool brand EqualiTEE. We launched the first collection in June 2018, so it took us about a year to get the brand up and running.
How was the support from friends, family, and acquaintances?
Our friends and family have been very supportive. I am lucky to know some of the best hearts and minds in my life. And they all contributed generously with their advice, ground efforts, emotional support and in connecting us with our key stakeholders.
Why did you choose something that is not so easy to sell in the Indian market?
That’s a very valid question, it’s a pretty crazy thing to do, isn’t it? I think when I started, I saw this purely as a creative route to the problem of gender stereotypes. They are all-pervasive, all around us in clothes, books, films, in every manifestation of popular culture. I thought it was a good way to bring people’s attention to the issue which would go beyond art or education. By creating an alternative for those who are fed up with lack of choices, and bringing to our fold those who haven’t noticed the gendered representation. But once they are made aware, they can embrace it and share it with their loved ones.
Parenting is not an easy task. Nurturing children into individuals who can accept themselves, their differences and treat others with equal respect and care is important. Stepping away from gendered clothing could allow people to personalise their outfits based on their likes and dislikes. Rather than gender-based ideas of aesthetics.