WHEN you don’t have enough choices and can’t find what you are looking for as a consumer, you become the creator,” says entrepreneur Amita Malhotra. The Delhi-based mother of one took this maxim to heart and created EqualiTee. She says the line of gender-neutral T-shirts for children came in response to the blatant gender discrimination and social conditioning she witnessed when out shopping for her three-year-old daughter. Pink clothes and pretty dolls were just the tip of the iceberg.
“Our children’s TV shows, clothes, bags and toys — all feed gender stereotypes that tell girls to focus on their beauty and boys to be aggressive for social success. Images enacted in popular culture repeatedly dictate conformity to these labels,” says Malhotra. Her counterpunch to this rigidity is the line of “gender-cool” T-shirts, aimed at two to eight-year-olds, that come in red, blue and grey, aren’t form specific and showcase graphics that portray gender neutrality.
In March last year, along with college friend and Agra-based sexuality educator Reema Ahmad, Malhotra had launched Candidly, “an initiative to talk about issues of gender, sexuality and media among children and young adults”. The duo conduct workshops in Delhi for parents, teachers and children addressing issues such as child abuse awareness, comprehensive sexuality education and body safety. “While we were talking about these things, we realised that a lot of bias exists all around us, from the toys our children play with, to the colour coding in their clothes. We needed to take a more creative route to this conversation; that’s where the thought of EqualiTee first came from,” says Malhotra. She was further inspired by UK-based organisations like Let Clothes Be Clothes and Let Toys Be Toys, that put pressure on retailers to not unduly stereotype.
“I also learned about other international boutique brands that mothers had created and each one had a story similar to mine: ‘I have a child and can’t find enough options for her or him in toy shops or clothes stores that are not dictated by gender markers.’ That deeply excited and inspired me,” she says. In the spirit of equality, the T-shirt line talks as much of girl empowerment as it does of biases that are stacked against boys. “Through statements like ‘boys don’t cry’ and ‘be a man’, boys are told to deny and hide their emotions. They grow up thinking emotions are a weakness,” says Malhotra.
The message against “hyper-masculinity” is conveyed through the Sensitivity T-shirt where a boy and girl attend to a sick teddy bear. The Activity T-shirt focusses on encouraging cross-gender friendships and how segregation creates long-term issues. The Creativity one shows a girl flying a paper airplane and a boy playing chef, aiming to tackle stereotypes. Opportunity depicts a girl kicking a football, stressing on the importance of sports for girls, while
the Equality tee portrays boys and girls as collaborators and problem solvers.
And what the EqualiTee line lacks in terms of the design aesthetic and style quotient, it makes up for in messaging. Malhotra admits that the cool factor needs to be dialled up for mass appeal and is attempting to do just that with the next edition of EqualiTee. “We hope to influence parents, teachers, caregivers and children, and also the polarised world of marketing and branding. It’s to inform them that change is coming and soon, these outdated stereotypes are not going to make good business sense,” says Malhotra, about the line which is available at shop.candidly.in