Playful Fashions Elevate Childhood

By Pamela Smythe Woods

If Travis Barkley can wear sequins to the Super Bowl, then all bets are off when it comes to what kids can choose to wear at school or at play. Take StereoType whose founder and designer Elizabeth Brunner empowers kids to own their style, free from labels and boundaries, with her gender-inclusive collection for boys and girls.

Fashion has been a lifelong pursuit for Brunner, now the designer and founder of StereoType, a gender-inclusive fashion line for kids. Her fascination with fashion began as she watched her mom sew outfits for her Barbie dolls. Studying fashion design at California College of the Arts was her entry to a career in fashion design.

An internship at the prestigious design firm Pentagram followed, as did time in London and exploring Europe, an experience that gave her a world view of fashion. Utilizing discarded sample fabrics to create one-of-a-kind, hand-crafted garments, soon after graduation in 2007, Elizabeth launched her first clothing line, Piece x Piece, to respond to material waste in the fashion industry.

However, it was not until she became a mom of twins that she realized the true power of self-expression through fashion. Her daughter loved playing outdoors in her favorite sports jersey and dinosaur shorts while her son happily twirled around climbing trees in sparkling dresses. Watching her children made her question societal “rules” about gender-specific fashion assignments. She became committed to exploring wardrobe choices to support children fluidly.

“Examining our collective perceptions of fashion and going through the process of learning and unlearning the ‘rules’ associated with it has become a deeply personal journey for me,” Brunner shares. She shares, her ultimate style muses are her own boy-girl twins. Watching them dress themselves was profoundly inspiring: “I was in awe of how they joyfully broke all the ‘rules’ of gendered clothing, blending their wardrobes with a sense of style that could only be described as ‘free-for-all.’ It was the ultimate unlearning of the rules that we’ve all been taught about gendered fashion at a youthful age. And so, StereoType was born.”

Coining the term “blended fashion,” Brunner began designing kids’ clothes that combine traditional feminine and masculine elements into a cohesive collection. Watching her children choose outfits when shopping with her; she realized they constantly blended pieces from the boys’ and girls’ sections. This approach informed every piece in the collection. “It became apparent as I watched my kids that gender-specific clothing was not their agenda. They liked what they liked, regardless of gender. It was also obvious that I needed to prioritize making the garments eco-friendly, so I used recycled fibers whenever possible and made all the products locally in San Francisco, creating a smaller footprint.

Her kids, Chloe and Jacob (11-year-old twins) are her co-founders. Together, they travel with her down the far-from-linear path of building and growing a business. Elizabeth remembers her mission when challenges seem overwhelming: “I will not waver from this opportunity to use fashion to create a more inclusive and accepting community for all children. Certainly, I strive to be a role model for my children, teaching them the importance of hard work, self-acceptance, freedom of expression, and kindness to all. I see StereoType and their involvement as planting a seed; as it grows, I want them to see it as a way of following their dreams and communicating the positive value of self-expression to young people.  

Though she is indeed a pioneer, several other kids brands have already described themselves as “gender-neutral,” offering muted pieces with minimal patterns and bland colors. She shares, “I noticed many of these companies targeted girls looking to stray from pink and purple in favor of black or browns. What wasn’t available were options for boys who wanted to wear clothing traditionally gendered for females, like skirts and tutus. I created StereoType to provide options for both boys and girls, to allow them to express themselves fully, whether that’s a skort for a boy who loves skirts or a tie for a girl to pair with her camo shirt.  

Sold exclusively online StereoType offers gender-inclusive items for adults, such as a (coming-soon) hoodie dress and a complete collection for kids. Brunner may be breaking new ground in the “gender-inclusive” fashion space for kids. Yet, she emphasizes that her pieces are not eliminating pink or blue as so many other gender-neutral brands do. “My goal is to innovate the traditional, to incorporate those colors into options that boys and girls can wear, or however young people identify. I intend to truly blend traditional boy and girl wear as a way of providing options for authentic self-expression.”  

For more information on StereoType, visit stereotypekids.com