Céline Dion launches gender-neutral clothing line for children

TEL AVIV, ISRAEL — Five-time Grammy winning singer Céline Dion wants children to have comfortable clothes that fit in neutral colors with simple prints. She said she aims to change the dialogue on clothes with her new collection CELINUNUNU. The fashion-line name kind of looks like a jumble of letters — the name comes from Céline + the fashion company Nununu.

The new clothes feature 70 stereotype-free styles for kids aged 0 to 14. Nununu specializes in unisex designs and is based in Israel.

“I’ve always loved Nununu and what they represent,” Dion wrote on Twitter Tuesday. “Partnering with [founders Iris Adler and Tali Milchberg] to encourage a dialogue of equality and possibility makes so much sense.”

Dion said she has tried to stay away from gender stereotypes while raising her 8-year-old twins, Eddy and Nelson, and 17-year-old son, René-Charles.

As for the CELINUNUNU line itself, Dion said, “The message I’m trying to get across is you raise your children the way you want to raise your children. You have to decide what’s right for them. We’re just proposing another way to take away the stereotype.”

Below we will cover how people feel about the new fashion line from all angles, those in support and critics included.

Benefits of new clothing line

Not everyone loves the idea of clothing without a gender designation, but it can actually help some kids be safer, particularly girls. Some of the fashion for girls today can be really over the top, and parents have complained that shorts for girls are often too short or other items are too mature. It can be unsettling to compare shorts length for girls and boys and wonder why less material is given to girls. Pulling back on gender stereotypes might actually let girls be girls — instead of pressuring them into items more appropriate for adults.

The intent of several non-gender clothing lines is in part to stop sexualizing kids. Simple t-shirts and jeans can be a life saver, and can take pressure off kids who feel like they have to be fashionistas. Céline Dion wants children to feel comfortable in their own clothes without feeling that pressure, and kids can decide for themselves whether they love pink, want flowery prints, or bows and pearls. Nununu does have some more frilly items, but none of its clothes are remotely suggestive.

Marketing firm Mintel found that 20 percent of parents with children under age 12 who had bought kids’ clothing in the past year support gender-neutral clothing options.

Prices can vary widely in gender marketing

Some of the gendered marketing can spike prices — compare men’s shampoo and women’s shampoo, or men’s razors and women’s razors. Some hygiene products have nothing to do with gender, and often the items marketed toward women cost more, so it’s smart to shop around and see how marketing companies could be stereotyping you in an effort to get money off you. It might make more sense to buy the men’s razor and get your money’s worth.

Kids toys can have the same problem: LEGOs, action figures, playing cards, board games, and other items have over the past 20 years been marketed more toward gender. Do LEGOs need to have certain colors to appeal more to boys or girls, or do kids just like playing with blocks? It’s an important question that marketing experts believe they have solved, but perhaps kids just like to play with toys.

History behind colors and marketing

Fun fact: pink hasn’t always been the color of choice for girls. A Ladies’ Home Journal article in June 1918 said, “The generally accepted rule is pink for boys, and blue for the girls. The reason is that pink, being a more decided and stronger color, is more suitable for the boy, while blue, which is more delicate and dainty, is prettier for the girl.” The article with this quote has been saved at the Smithsonian.

At the end of the day, neither pink nor blue are seen universally to denote a boy or a girl. Across the world different cultures use colors in different ways: in South Korea pink is common in male fashion, blue is the number one favorite color for people across the globe, but in some cultures blue is a barely recognized color. For a long time, the Egyptians were the only culture that could produce blue dyes. In some parts of the world today, blue isn’t considered common. A research team worked with the Himba tribe from Namibia and found there is no word for blue nor real distinction between blue and green.

If we go back just a hundred years, children’s clothing has largely changed — mostly for the better. For centuries, it was standard practice for children in the West to wear white dresses until age six, which sounds more like trying to project an unappealing ghost-gender, but the clothing choice was out of practicality.

The baby boomers were the first generation to wear gender-specific clothing according to the Smithsonian. In the mid-1800s, pastel colors, including pink and blue, were linked to baby clothes but not directly to gender. Several guides before the 1940s suggested clothing color should be based on hair color or eye color.

“What was once a matter of practicality — you dress your baby in white dresses and diapers; white cotton can be bleached — became a matter of ‘Oh my God, if I dress my baby in the wrong thing, they’ll grow up perverted,’” Jo B. Paoletti, author of Pink and Blue: Telling the Girls From the Boys in America, told Smithsonian in 2011.

For Nununu founders Iris Adler and Tali Milchberg of Tel Aviv, Israel, the effort to change conventions in children’s fashion started a decade ago. The company offers clothes in neutral color palettes. The designers said children’s fashion doesn’t have to be silly, fussy, or frilly. If you look on the company website, a pale almost-beige-pink is used in some items.

The styles from the company may be better described as down to earth and comfort-as-a-priority.

The clothes can be found at Nordstrom, Bloomingdales, Saks Fifth Avenue, and other retailers, as well as from the Nununu website. According to the designers, the word “Nununu” is what Israeli parents say to naughty children.

Critics unhappy with non-gender specific kids clothes

Not everyone agrees with Dion’s decision to partner with Nununu. Thousands of fans tweeted they lost respect for her. Critics have dogged Nununu for focusing on changing clothing concepts. There is concern that the clothes cause kids to lose their identity or make them feel confused.

For Adler and Milchberg, implying gender norms with kids clothing didn’t sit well with them. Mitchberg said she didn’t want children growing up thinking they had to either play football or play with Barbie dolls. She said these are things kids should play with only if they want to play with them.

When Adler and Milchberg told their friends they wanted to start a unisex kids clothesline, they faced ridicule.

“When we started, friends and people we know said, ‘What? Are you guys out of your minds — unisex clothes for kids?’” Milchberg said in an interview with Vox. “‘You will lose your money and your career.’ But we felt strongly about it,” said Milchberg.

Dion first bought clothes from Nununu fives years ago for her children. She reached out to the company to start a clothing line last year. The ad for the campaign was uploaded to YouTube in November and has garnered more than 412,000 views. The commercial features police confronting Dion when she goes into a baby ward. The advertisement could be a little misleading (or dramatic) for viewers — so to really get an idea of what is in the fashion line, here are some pictures.

Courtesy CELINUNUNU

Courtesy CELINUNUNU

Courtesy CELINUNUNU

Courtesy CELINUNUNU

Courtesy CELINUNUNU

Courtesy CELINUNUNU

So is the fashion line for everyone? Probably not. It does have a limited amount of items and some of them are pricey. Some of the coats are more than $100, and something similar could probably be found at Walmart or Target. The designs are also limited and might not really fit with every child. A whole wardrobe based off the one line or company would be impractical, but some items from it might help expand a kid’s wardrobe and give them more options. Some of it looks great for pajamas.

Most of the clothes are for comfort, not for formal outings. If you head to the main Nununu website, it has far more options — including tutus. You might be able to get a better idea of their company through their Instagram page.

If your kids are into Tim Burton movies, if they like skulls, or if they like things that are simple-not-complicated — then these clothes probably fit their style. It can be a little edgy.

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