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Marketing to parents of 'theybies' is now a thing

By Published on .

Jessy & Jack is a gender-neutral brand.
Jessy & Jack is a gender-neutral brand. Credit: Jessy & Jack

The new buzzword in parenting is a mashup that will alarm even the most liberal of grammarians. A "theyby" is a baby born and raised free of the constraints of gender designation, according to an article published earlier this week by New York Magazine's The Cut. Some new parents are adopting the childrearing practice, which includes keeping the baby's anatomy a secret from others and referring to the child only by plural pronoun, in an effort to raise a more creative and uninhibited human.

It's a new word, but it's not an entirely new movement. Retailers and brands have been wise to the idea of gender-neutral for a few years now. Yet as the trend gains ground, particularly with millennial parents, experts expect retail efforts aimed at these consumers to increase.

"As parents are changing, what kids are playing with is changing, too," explains Jim Silver, editor-in-chief of TTPM, Toys, Tots, Pets & More. He notes that the packaging from brands such as Mattel's Hot Wheels, Hasbro's My Little Pony and Star Wars products from Lego now include both boys and girls as a result of such new parenting behavior. "Manufacturers are not categorizing toys the way they used to—they're not gender-stereotyping the toy," he adds, noting that ultimately it can only be beneficial for the toy industry as more children are attracted to products that are marketed toward them rather than exclusively targeting one gender.

Three years ago, some larger brands began dipping a toe in gender-neutral waters. Under former creative director Marissa Webb, Gap-owned Banana Republic debuted a capsule collection of gender-less baby clothes. However, a Gap spokeswoman says the company has nothing to share at this time for Gap, and that childrenswear is not a focus for Banana Republic. Also in 2015, Target dispensed with all gender-based signage and references from its toys and children's bedding aisles in stores. Online, consumers can sort toys by age, type and brand, a spokesman says. He notes that it's an approach Target is continuing to take.

Courtney Hartman, who four years ago founded Seattle-based Jessy & Jack, a gender-neutral baby clothes brand, says she is seeing less of a focus on boy and girl labels, but that there is a lot of distance to still be covered before most boys clothes aren't associated with aggressive behavior and sports, for example.

"What we are seeing more of is an awareness and mindfulness of gender stereotypes—of offering certain colors to certain children—and how that can be harmful," says Hartman, who also owns Handsome in Pink, and Free to Be Kids, two apparel brands that challenge gender norms with color, slogans and design. She expects that more stores will start to pick up on the trend. To market her own products, which sell online, as well as through Etsy and Amazon, Hartman advertises primarily on Facebook, along with other social channels such as Instagram and Pinterest.

"We do a lot of Facebook advertising because we have a social message and a mission that really strikes a nerve with people—our ads get shared a lot," she says.

Indeed, one of the parents in the Cut's "theyby" article said he discovered the gender-neutral idea through an article in his Facebook feed.

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