It’s unlikely that you will see designer Gary Bigeni’s new children’s clothing collection at the next over-the-top gender-reveal party going viral on social media. The inclusive, gender-neutral collection for children 18 months to 5 years old is free of dinosaur and princess prints but does feature generous daubs of pink and blue.
“They’re just colours, and they’re just clothes,” Bigeni said. “They should be for everyone.”
Designer Gary Bigeni styles Elinor, 2, in a piece from his new gender-neutral children’s collection. Elinor’s mother, Jess Scully, also in Gary Bigeni welcomes more choice when shopping for her daughter.Credit:Kate Geraghty
One of few established Australian designers to risk venturing into childrenswear, Bigeni sees the product extension as an expansion of his focus on inclusivity, which has developed since he entered remission from stage four non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma two years ago.
“I wanted to create something that I was passionate about. We need to recognise that fashion can be more diverse with gender and size. This is the conversation we should be having in fashion.”
Before creating his over-sized, hand-painted children’s styles, with no fastenings for quick changes, Bigeni consulted friends with budding families on their preferences.
Bigeni has been focusing on inclusivity since shifting his business model to made-to-order pieces two years ago.Credit:Kate Geraghty.
“I find many items designed for girls are a bit too fussy or impractical for active play,” said friend Jess Scully, deputy lord mayor of Sydney and mother of Elinor, 2. “I try shopping in the boys sections and then find the graphics and designs box boys in too. It’s all monster trucks and dinosaurs and not much else. And don’t get me started on the colours.”
“I try to buy from gender-neutral ranges but so far, they’re quite limited if you want to shop locally, though it’s much more common in Scandinavian collections. I’m really excited to have a beautiful, bold and colourful collection from Gary that’s made sustainably and locally to choose from.”
With many children beginning to demonstrate a preference for clothing from as young as two years old, having more choices is important for development according to Associate Professor Michelle Telfer, director of The Royal Children’s Hospital’s Gender Service in Melbourne.
“Gender-neutral clothing provides an expansion of options for young children,” Telfer said. “Choosing gender-neutral clothing allows them to express who they are outside society’s binary norms for girls and boys. While some children may prefer stereotypically gendered clothing designs that align with their gender, others may not. Having this option will be great for these young children.”
“Clothing can differentiate and connect us, it can make us feel comfortable and confident. It does this for people of any age and, without restricting these choices to align with gender expectations, everyone can find clothing that brings them joy.”
With items priced from $60-$80, Bigeni’s children’s collection is made-to-order, like his adults’ range, in the interests of sustainability. The over-sized approach is a way of tapping into current trends as well as extending the lifespan of a T-shirt dress.
The sustainability and economic benefits of gender-neutral clothing were enough to encourage Alana Tiller to launch her retro-inspired clothing range Goldie + Ace in Melbourne four years ago.
“The original concept was beautiful clothing that can be passed down to siblings,” Tiller said. “It came from a sustainability angle but has evolved into so much more now.”
Melbourne children’s clothing brand Goldie + Ace does not categorise pieces by gender.Credit:Lina Arvidsson
Tiller has also reclaimed the much-maligned dinosaur print for everyone by placing it on a dress, with unexpected and satisfying results.
“We saw a photo of a little boy wearing it, and he looked so happy. We do have dresses but everything else is gender-neutral, and it’s wonderful that he wanted to wear this piece. These conversations weren’t happening when I started, but it’s great that we are having them now.”
Dinosaurs are unlikely to stomp into Bigeni’s aesthetic, who emerged on the Australian design scene in 2003, creating exquisite silk dresses in minimalist silhouettes that stood out on the Australian Fashion Week runway season after season. In recent years his approach has shifted to reflect his own colourful personal style which started when he was young.
“When I was little I went to Supré with my mum and saw a fluorescent coloured singlet and shorts that she bought me. I loved it so much that I kept it in her wardrobe so that my brother, who I shared a room with, wouldn’t ruin it. I didn’t know if it was for boys or girls and I didn’t care.”
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