Step into a typical kids’ clothing store and you’re guaranteed to see a girls’ section full of flowers, hearts, butterflies, and pretty pastels, and a boys’ section that’s wall-to-wall dinosaurs, sharks, sports equipment, and trucks. Amandine Liepmann wanted to do something different.
Liepmann and her business partner Austin Jenkins recently completed a highly successful Kickstarter campaign for their company Mitz Accessories, which previously sold what Liepmann calls “a hodgepodge of stuff,” including mitten clips (the inspiration for the company’s name) and lunch bags. Its newest offering is a line of “gender equal” clothing with fun prints that feature cats, dinosaurs, superheroes, and more—all of it designed for girls and boys alike. The Kickstarter raised a quarter of its $35,000 goal in the first 24 hours and eventually exceeded it by almost $3,000.
32/7 recently spoke to Liepmann, who lives just outside Philadelphia with her husband and their 2-year-old daughter, about her company and her life as creative director and co-owner of Mitz Accessories.
1. Can you talk a little bit about what you see as the difference between “gender neutral” and “gender equal”?
Amandine Liepmann: So, gender neutral, I think people see it in an old traditional sense as the baby clothes that you buy for a baby shower when someone doesn’t know what they’re having. You know, the greens, the yellows. But we really wanted to go a step further because we kept noticing that a lot of times people were calling things "gender neutral" but were only making more masculine-themed things for girls; they weren’t making any feminine-themed clothes for boys. That really irritated me because I felt like you can’t call it gender neutral if it’s only geared to one sex. Also, the underlying message tends to be—the way I was interpreting it—as if they’re only making clothes so that girls can be more like boys. Then the gender assumption is kind of [saying] the best thing you can be is a boy, and that really bothered me. So we really wanted to differentiate and say “gender equal” because we were really addressing it from both sides.
2. I love that you mention cats in the Kickstarter video because my son loves cats, and it’s so hard to find boys’ clothes with cats on them. It’s so silly that “cats are for girls and dogs are for boys.”
AL: It’s so silly, and I researched this to the ends of the earth—first I was like, I feel like this is just so crazy that it’s real. Right? Because the characteristics of a dog are very masculine and strong, and a cat is supposed to be more feminine—and I just thought, oh my gosh, are you serious? These are kids and cats and dogs! And this is the line that you want to draw.
"At the end of the day, it’s about creating an environment where kids are encouraged to be who they are."
3. Why do you think your Kickstarter was so successful?
AL: Oh my gosh, we worked so hard, it was like a hazing that I put myself through. We really did not get a lot of media breaks—when we were tracking where all of our pledges were coming from, they were coming from Facebook, from social media, from word of mouth, and I think people just really resonated with it because it applies directly to what their kids are interested in. We took very careful consideration into really building it around kids’ needs and kids’ wants, and not things that we thought would be great.
I talked to three-year-olds, I talked to parents, I talked to everybody! I probably talked to 500 people, and it’s so interesting because the two things that came up all the time, especially for boys, was the color purple, and cats. … To me, to separate colors and themes by gender for children—I just don’t think it’s necessary. I think there are naturally kids who are definitely more girly, and there are kids who are definitely more masculine, and I think the important part of the clothing line is that we’re not trying to take those markets away—we’re trying to take away the negative gender stereotypes that go with those.
We’re also creating this new kind of clothing that’s fitting [into] this place where kids’ interests and what’s available to them are not matching up. I think kids’ interests naturally reach across gender stereotypes; I have the most masculine nephew in the world and his favorite color is pink. It isn’t necessarily these broad, sweeping generalizations; it’s that when kids go to stores they’re really just getting these repetitive messages about who they should grow up to be. We created the cupcake pattern because the third most frequent thing that came up was that parents of boys really wanted baking patterns, kitchen patterns, cooking patterns. And I thought, of course, there are more men chefs than women chefs. As a society, how is that feminine?
4. You had very strong feelings about this issue, but why did you find it so important to actually create this new clothing line—that you were going to be the ones to do it?
AL: I just noticed that there were a lot of gender-neutral companies that were making more masculine things for girls, which I think is great and I don’t want to discredit that at all, but I wanted to take it one step further and really just say that we have to consider boys and girls. At the end of the day it’s really just about creating an environment where kids are encouraged to be who they are without these gender-stereotype limitations and are able to explore and have their own interests that aren’t limited. For me it was a natural progression to include boys in that, and I wanted to do that in a very specific way that addressed the issue head on.
5. Can you tell me about some of the reactions from parents to the Kickstarter?
AL: Most of them were incredibly positive. We really didn’t get a lot of negative feedback. The [negative] feedback that we did get was, in my mind, ridiculous. I think a lot of times when girls dress more like boys, people accept it, but when boys dress more like girls, people automatically start using words like, “You’re dressing gay kids” or “transgender kids” and I kept having to go back and say, no, this is about kids’ interests, and because they don’t fit into a more masculine box, that doesn’t mean that a child is gay or transgender. They could be, that’s fine—but that’s not the focus that we wanted to take. We wanted to really just keep the focus on the kids and what they wanted that wasn’t available for them.
6. Do customers seem to have a favorite design?
AL: Yes! It’s the dinosaur. We just got done doing all our intake surveys for the campaign, and over 50% [of orders] are dinosaurs. People love the dinosaurs. We designed it to have these really cool black scales down the back—they’re actually made out of recycled soda bottles. It’s such a simple design aspect that just looks so cool. I think that is the big draw.
7. Who made these designs, and how did they come about?
AL: I did! It took almost a year to fully come up with them because it was so hard to make clothing that hit that middle ground of both feminine and masculine. We did kind of testers where we would show people patterns and we would ask, “Is this feminine or masculine?” And we weren’t happy until we had kind of a middle ground, where half said girl, half said boy—and I said great, that’s perfect, that’s what we want."