Clare Willetts, Mum, Founder, Not Only Pink and Blue In Conversation with Edx Education

Clare Willetts, Mum, Founder, Not Only Pink and Blue In Conversation with Edx Education

Episode – 27-  Heather Welch, Edx Education, today we will be in conversation with Clare Willetts.

Clare, Mum, Founder of Not Only Pink and Blue is passionate about making the world more neutral for colours, boys and girls.

Today we are chatting to Clare about trends in children’s toys, books and clothing, how it benefits a child’s development and your inspiration for starting the company…

Here are the highlights from this episode:

{1:09} Clare’s passion for creating a more colourful and gender-neutral  world
{3:43} What makes Clare wake up and smile each day
{6:00} What makes a toy gender-biased
{12:22} How society’s views on girls and boys toys, books, and clothes have changed over the last few years
{20:11} How boys and girls are split in most schools for sport
{24:06} Clare’s most memorable parenting moment of  the last year

Episode – 27-  Heather Welch, Edx Education, today we will be in conversation with Clare Willetts.

Heather Welch (00:01)

You’re listening to education experts with Edx education. Education is evolving. Join Heather Welch for edX education, chatting with teachers, psychologists, parents, authors, creators, and other tons of experts to keep up with the trends and what’s happening from around the globe. This podcast series, mediates education discusses, home learning, school readiness, being creatives changes in education, discussing what’s next hands-on learning. Or as we like to say, learning through play

Heather Welch (00:31)

Welcome everyone. I’m Heather Welch from edx education. And today we’ll be in conversation with Clare Willetts. Clare is a mom and also the founder of not only pink and blue, making the world more colorful for boys and girls and gender neutral. Today, we’re chatting to Clare about trends in children’s toys and books, clothing, and how it benefits a child’s development. Also her inspiration for starting the company. Welcome Clare. It’s wonderful. You could join us today. Can I ask you to introduce yourself to our listeners and tell them about your passion for making the world more colorful and gender neutral for everyone?

Clare Willetts (01:06)

Thanks, Heather. Hi everyone. Yes. So it’s one of those things, isn’t it that you kind of know is that, and then you, but you’re not until you’re in the wealth that you suddenly realized just how stark this kind of pink blue wealth is. And I guess I walked into that world when I started to look for presents for my friends who are having children.

And of course I knew it was there as we all do. You know, we experienced every day, actually, when I go into the baby clothes area, I suddenly went, Oh, well, I don’t want to buy pink or blue, and I don’t want to buy gray, yellow or bunnies either. And that spirit started, where’s the colorful, fun clothes for kids and certainly babies at that point, that’s kind of how it started. And then I started having my own children and I, I did more research because I thought, am I worrying about a color divide?

Clare Willetts  (01:58)

That’s just irrelevant. Or is that actually something here that we need to worry about? And when I started to do that research, that’s when I started to realize this is bigger than just pink and Blake. And I think the key things here is to be clear, we love pink and blue, that brilliant colors. But the problem is that that divide becomes a shortcut that pink versus blue becomes a shortcut for boys and girls. And actually those colors used to be the other way around in the 18 hundreds. So the reality is it’s not about the colors, it’s about what will you be doing them and the language that we use. And so therefore we can change them and we need to change it.

Heather Welch (02:37)

Absolutely you’re right about that babies. I think it was isn’t it even the early 19 hundreds, that pink was still a color. That little boys were dressed in quite a lot. So yeah, what happened was, and yeah, it was, it was in, yeah, all the way up to properly

Clare Willetts  (02:53)

The early 19 hundreds, as he said, pink was a color for boys because the, now the language is the same, right. It was strong and vibrant. You was the color for girls because it was passive. Right? And so what we see there is the reason the colors aren’t the problem is because the colors have moved around. It’s the language we use that hasn’t actually changed. And so it’s what we give it’s the meaning we give to those colors.

Heather Welch (03:18)

Isn’t that interesting because when you look at boy, if you look at the classification of boys toys, they usually say things like, it’s like, you know, wrestlers, soldiers, gums, you know, if you look at the masculine type thing and they’re sort of the strong, whereas we wouldn’t have gone to pink, it would be under the blue section. It would be totally different these days, how would be? But listen, before we start, I want to know what makes you wake up and smile each day?

Clare Willetts  (03:43)

Oh God. So many things, everything from you know, obviously my kids, depending on how early it is, a cup of tea, I love being outside. So anytime I can get outside into whether it’s sunshine or raining, doesn’t really matter for me being outside in the fresh air is one of the key things and being able to get near the sea. Oh my goodness. Me. Then I am a very happy person.

Heather Welch (04:05)

I agree with the, see, I very much miss the ocean. I miss the sea in the ocean. So we’re hoping this summer, it will be quite nice. It sounds amazing. Look, I’d love to hear about your previous career before not only pink and blue. So what brought you here?

Clare Willetts (04:20)

So my career has been in advertising brand and marketing. So I’ve worked client side and also agencies, but mainly agencies pretty much. Most of my career for 20 years was in advertising agencies. I worked in Canada. I worked in London at several different agencies, essentially managing big clients, big accounts with multi multi-level multi-channel campaigns. So my kind of last agency job, I was managing partner at MNC Saatchi, which speak advertising agency globally, but I was in the London office managing yes, some big clients.

And then after that, I moved actually to Virgin group and I always had a brand and customer experience there, which was fascinating actually, you know, looking after the Virgin companies and looking at how do we make this experience? Something that is Virgin, regardless of the fact that we are, we have so many different companies are so many different stages of their life. Some are older companies, some are very new and also very different places. You know, everything from banks to fitness, to holidays, to wine. So how does that work? Some of them are physical products obviously, and some of them have physical locations, but others are all digital.  yes, so fascinating job there as well before I then obviously decided to, to come away and start my own company.

Heather Welch (05:44)

So it was very entrepreneurial, I suppose, because you’ve got the marketing, the advertising background. Actually my question to you is what makes a toy gender biased? Is it the toy or is it the marketing behind the toy? It’s

Clare Willetts (05:58)

A really good question. And I think certainly really toys are toys and that’s how they should be. Toys should just be toys. And actually everyone should have the choice of all the different toys and try all the different things. Cause we know that the different toys that you play with develop different skill sets. So it’s not really the toy, but what has created that divide is certainly marketing as he say. And then also just some of the ways that we do things.

So these colorways, those shortcuts are very good for this, you know, decision along the way has been made that this is a girls or boys toys. In fact toys are often need in that way. So they start off with, is it for a girl? Is it for a boy, which is kind of one of the issues in itself. And then they are created into and locked it into for boys or girls.

Clare Willetts  (06:48)

And then when we go into say a toy store, we can all imagine you walk in and there are essentially two sides to that store. There is a one side which is boys, sometimes label that as a one side, which is for girls. And if they’re not labeled, even if they’re not labeled, they are often done with colorways. And we can tell that because the colors have become the shortcut.

So there’s kind of darker colors. We’ll be on the boys side, you’ll see the pink and the pastor’s on the girl’s side. And so everyone knows right where they’re supposed to go. And kids know that from a very early, they start to understand this absorbing these rules really that, you know, we all do it. We absorbed the rules around where we are, whether we’re driving, whether we’ve gone to another country, what do we have to do?

Clare Willetts (07:31)

How do we do it? Actually babies and kids are doing that all the time. Once they understand that they are a boy or a girl, suddenly all those kinds of rules that they’ve seen, especially those colorways, that language, they hear, they start to understand it. So when they walk into a shop, they know where they’re supposed to go and therefore they know what is quote unquote for them. And so that divide starts very early and equally when we shopping as parents or as adults for any children, we are automatically in that divide as well.

Even online, you know, we’re almost always, there are some that don’t including not only pink or blue, we don’t have girl boy sections, but you know, you go and you’re asked to filter girl or boy. So that choice that you’re given is already decided for you, whether that is for a girl or for a boy, but godless of what you were looking for. Absolutely in the kind of marketing, but it’s also in the developing because that’s where the toy starts. That’s how that tool manufacturers think often is for boy or for girl, but really toys are simply toys and that’s how they should be. And all children should be, have to play with all of them.

Heather Welch (08:41)

Absolutely. I agree. But also close. I mean, you know, it depends if you want to put boys in a dress and things of that, but their children’s, their body shapes are very similar up until, you know, quite a young, quiet, you know, probably even four or five body shapes are still quite similar. They can wear each other’s clothes. There’s not really a divide yet. It’s just colors. Or maybe, I don’t know if you want to do the divine of the unicorns, but my three-year-old boy does love unicorns. I hate to, I love to say actually I shouldn’t say, I hate to say he does love unicorns.

It’s something that we, and he loves frozen. They’re the two things he does and Tinkerbell, Tinkerbell is a favorite in our household. And also he likes because he’s the youngest, he likes dolls. He likes putting them into little doll’s houses and things like that. Whereas my oldest child always actually gravitated towards cars. So whether that was, if I think about now, whether that was because I was at the time, given those toys and then that’s where it went to. But with my second there’s so many years apart, he doesn’t seem to gravitate as much as well.

Clare Willetts (09:44)

Yeah. I mean, it’s interesting, especially on dolls because actually most children like those and they’re very young and you know, they’re mini versions of themselves, right. But equally, those are very, very good for lots of reasons. And one of the reasons that Dole play is very good is because children use it to develop some of that kind of emotional thinking. It’s it’s creative play. It’s where they do, you know, that kind of make believe play.

And when they do that, they quite often play through some of the situations they’ve been in. So it’s developing that kind of social understanding and working that through. You’ll often hear them, they’re playing back, either things you’ve said to them or maybe a conversation they had with a friend, you know, even when they’re just kind of starting to talk and understand.

So it’s a very good way of playing the other good thing about those, which lots of other toys do as well. But it’s very good for deck strategy because you actually you’re changing the clues of them. Things like that. It’s actually those fine motor skills is good for that too. So, you know, doll play is very, very good. It is predominantly aimed at girls. So you don’t find many dolls in the, in the boys section of two shots that’s for sure.

Heather Welch (11:01)

No. Or the didn’t do a neutral section of the boy. So it’s funny just before we spoke this morning, I actually thought I’d Google just to try gender neutral toys and see what the first thing that came up. And that’s the first thing that came up is a male mermaid with a pink tail. Not that was the first toy that came up in my particular algorithm on my computer.

And I thought that was quite interesting because I suppose when I think of gender neutral toys, I think of like, what we do is educational toys. Things that don’t have a boy or girl it’s like a block or a construction set. I mean, we don’t have pink or blue. We have pink and blue together, but we don’t have them as separate sets or, you know, the math sets and things like that. They’re quite neutral coloring as well. So it’s really interesting. How many years have you had not only pink and blue, is it three years? Three years.

Clare Willetts (11:54)

Only last year. So summer last year, just before summer. So in the first lockdown. Great timing. I know, I know all my launch plans had to go on hold, but yes, yes.

Heather Welch (12:08)

It’s changed since you’ve been starting and planning this. Do you think the attitudes has changed in society towards girls and boys toys, clothes, books over the last few years?

Clare Willetts (12:21)

Tough on the kids in some ways? Yes. I think there’s a lot more awareness. I think around it, there have been some moves obviously by some retailers. In fact, quite a few years ago, they were moved by people like John Lewis saying we’re removing boys and girls labels from clothes, albeit the sections haven’t been removed the label has, but it’s very clear. So which section is for who? So I think in some ways, yes, certainly around books.

There’s a lot of focus on books, which is great, cause that was a very worrying area and a lot, you know, some good books coming through that have much more, you know, more female leads, more diversity and they more representation, which is great, please. I don’t know. I feel like it’s not really moving. There’s talk on it. But if you go into any section, you’ll still find that the girl’s section is predominantly, you know, hearts, unicorns, be happy, sparkly, you know, all the kind of slogans about love and happiness and smile and all these things. And then in the boys section, you’ll see no dinosaurs superheroes.

Clare Willetts (13:30)

Yeah, exactly. Yeah. Well, there’s been some studies done recently, which show that girls clothes predominantly show prey essentially, or domestic pets. So bunnies and cats, whereas boys show predators. So, you know, dinosaurs and tigers and lions and, and say, so even on that subtle level, you’re going, the messages are still there. Right. But actually, yeah. And so I think it’s, it is, I think there’s awareness. Just not sure it’s really moving massively and actually in some ways, some of it feels a bit like it’s going backwards, given the awareness is there now. So see, yeah, we’re not there yet. Let’s put it that way. There’s still a journey to go on.

Heather Welch (14:17)

Interesting research that I read by NAIC, which is an American [inaudible] Reagan research, but it’s, it’s by Judith, Elaine black Blackmore. And she was a professor of psychology and Jeffrey Traurig. I think I’m saying it’s Charles Smith and what they did, what the research says about gender type toys. So what they do is they took a hundred toys and classified them into six categories, which was interesting.

And they had strongly feminine, moderately feminine, neutral, and then they had moderately masculine, strongly masculine and it went through and they went through all the, and the ways that they said the carrot sticks, sticks, where were they meant to be a mini 30 exciting educational, aggressive or musical. And what they came out with is that the girls’ toys were associated with physical attractiveness nurturing and domestic skills, which is really interesting. Whereas the boys, as you’re saying before, rated as violent, competitive, exciting, and somewhat dangerous.

Heather Welch (15:14)

And so what their message was because it’s an early years child, it’s an early childhood that early childhood teachers, they were saying from the messages, if you want to develop children’s physical, cognitive, academic, musical, and artistic skills toys that are strongly gender tight and not likely to do this. So they’re saying exactly what you’re saying here is go for these neutral gender types, toys and neutrals the wrong word for it. Isn’t it like, I mean, as we was saying before, it’s a hard one. Do you say non binary? Do you say gender neutral? Where does it sit?

Clare Willetts  (15:45)

Yeah, it’s really hard because they should just be called toys. Right? I mean, that’s, that’s one of the issues, but you’re, you’re completely right. And alongside that study, there are so many studies that have been done and they’re called gender disguised studies and they take, children and babies, certainly babies that they, and they put them into quote, unquote boy clothes or girl clothes. And regardless of whether they are a boy or a girl themselves, and then they ask adults to come in and give some toys and even adults who say, Oh, you know, I don’t believe in stereotypes. I would never give a boy or girl a different toy. That’s not who I am.

They do. They go in and they choose different toys depending on the sex of that baby or the sex they believe that baby is. And what they found was obviously, as we would imagine in doing that, you’re getting footballs and hammers and things like that for children, they think are boys and doles and hairbrushes and things like that for babies, I think of girls and not only that, what they also found was that they engage with them in a different way.

Clare Willetts (16:53)

So they’re much more physical with the boys. So kind of almost like, you know, that kind of rough and tumble type play and much more valuable with the girls. And so, so there is a difference in the way that not only is it toys that we give them, but the way that we then engage with those toys and the children. And again, we’re back to learning skillsets here.

Aren’t we, and, and exactly to your point from the study, you’re talking about if we want children to learn all these different skills, that’s because we know all these things, haven’t have an impact on aspirations and confidence on mental wellbeing. Actually, if we really want to kind of close some of these gaps in adult herd, we need to give children the opportunity to learn these skills, to make a decision about whether it’s something they want to go on and do.

Clare Willetts  (17:38)

And if we’re not giving them the toys or the opportunity to do that, how do we know? So we’re back to that. And then people say, Oh, well, girls just don’t like playing football. Is that you? But girls aren’t footballs to play with. Actually the reason boys are better at football is not because physically they’re stronger in the early years. Just like you said, actually, physically strengths and things like that. They’re very similar all the way up to really about kind of nine, 10 as you start to hit puberty. Basically, of course, that starts to make a difference, but actually there’s no reason girls wouldn’t be just as good as boys as football in those early years.

But the reality is they don’t get to play it. So it becomes a boy thing. Then it takes up the space in the playground, which is football with boys.  Girls can’t get through and into that because it’s already seen as not for them. So, you know, there’s lots of play here when we think, you know, is it just a color thing? Is it just, Oh, don’t worry about it. They don’t get to play with that toy. It doesn’t matter. Actually it does start to have, an impact and an effect on those skillsets going forward.

Heather Welch (18:39)

No, Clare even say I’ve got a 10 year old boy. And even if a boy, if for one of the girls joined the rugby team or joins the football team, you hear the comment tomboy. So it’s seen as I suppose, it’s gender biased still that they’re a boy rather than what it should be is that they enjoy sport.

Clare Willetts (19:00)

Yes. Yeah. That’s so true. Yeah.

Heather Welch (19:05)

What’s interesting is I’m actually a twin. So I’m a twin with, I’ve got a twin brother and we obviously have, you know, there’s a few of us, but we had, obviously I played with a lot of blocks and wooden toys and my brother would play with a lot of dolls and would share his, be killing me when he hears this. But he would literally, maybe quite interesting. So even at a young age, and I remember when I was the lice to love AFL, which is an Australian football league. And that would be the comment that we would get is tomboy.

She’s a bit of a tomboy because I love sport. I love being physical. So it’s really interesting. That was more acceptable there. But nowadays parents still don’t, as you say, they still don’t put them into football or there’s not a place for them in football. And it comes down to, you know, sport in general, but even in education, on my sons, the boys and girls get taken separately for sport and the boys do rugby and the girls do hockey or the boys do football and the girls do lacrosse. Yeah.

Clare Willetts (20:05)

And that’s presently common. Yeah.

Heather Welch (20:09)

Which is interesting. Yeah.

Clare Willetts (20:11)

I always thought Australia is quite interesting because of your netball because you have so much mixed netball, which I think is great because over in the UK, netball is essentially seen as for girls. Certainly when I was growing up, you know, just like you said, I mean, we’d be separated off and girls would go and play netball and boys would go and play rugby. But I always thought that that kind of mixed netball was, was really good as well. I don’t know if you had a

Heather Welch (20:37)

No, no, no, absolutely. It is good. But we used to have as when you get paid and make mixed netball actually up until when we play lived in Dubai and we were only allowed to have boys on the court at the time or two men boys on the court at a time, because otherwise it w you know, as you’re older, they are much stronger players or they could be taller or they could be. Yeah. So there is actually rules behind it as well.

But yeah, no, it’s really good. It was a really nice way for everyone to be able to play together, but then you have to have some sort of, to even up the field, even up the court, I should say that you still had to have some sort of rules in place in order to make the teams like that. Look as a parent, what’s the most important skills that have you believed in for the return of your children this week? The last week, I should say.

Clare Willetts (21:25)

I think the most important thing right now is resilience. I had an amazing chat last year with an education psychologist and she was talking about, and actually it was during lockdown one and she was talking about how important it is for children right now to feel safe because so much is going on. And there’s been so much, obviously in the media that actually in that kind of going back to school, that children are great.

We know that children are really resilient, as long as they have, they feel safe and they are essentially loved and they know that they can express whatever they need to express. And she was saying one of the biggest things was to make sure that they felt that because as they’re going to walk back into a school, they might be scared. They might not be scared. It depends on the child.

Clare Willetts (22:10)

Of course, some might be really excited, some might know, but actually as long as they feel that someone’s got their back, right, that someone’s there, that they can rely on them, that actually that’s going to make the biggest amount of difference. And she also said that one of the things that’s really important because it’s where children actually express a lot of or work through. A lot of their kind of emotion is the art side of things.

So actually drawing, painting, you know, doing a bit more kind of with your hands or whether that be music, if they’re, you know, if they’re really into music or ultimately instruments, she was saying it really important that those parts of their, because actually those are some of the things that just help kids work through all of those emotions and some of the worry. And actually they often talk more when they’re doing those things as well than they would have if you’re just sat down with them having a chat.

Clare Willetts  (22:58)

So I definitely think that, and therefore, obviously what comes from that is resilience and being able to do that. I think for me, the biggest thing is, I mean, I’ve got younger children, right? So I’m not so worried about the academic side personally, it’s much more about the social side.

I want them to be back in those friendship groups and learning all the skills you learn in those social settings, you know, which includes the falling out and, you know, falling over and all of those things and you know, the bad stuff and the good stuff, like we all need to learn that right. Part of it’s for resilience, part of it’s just for life. I mean, that’s how, that’s where we’re going to have to deal with that for the rest of our lives. So for me, it’s definitely the social thing. I mean, it’s the big,

Heather Welch(23:36)

I absolutely agree with that. So especially the younger years, there’s not necessarily academic losses, that social and emotional. Yeah. And, you know, some are finding it very hard to go back. They have got a very, as you’re saying, they don’t feel safe. So they’re having the attachment to parents and quite good to get back, to get back. Yeah. Now we’ve had locked down one, two and three let’s hope that’s as fix with that, to be honest, but a memorable parenting moment in the last 12 months,

Clare Willetts  (24:06)

I think it’s got to be. So, I mean, it was one of those days. I mean, we didn’t have many hair, but the day that we had quite a lot of snow and we don’t, we didn’t have any pledges or anything, but we, we decided right. Let’s get kind of suited and booted up. And we went up to just down the road. It’s kind of like an old Roman Fort, I guess. And so it’s got lots of, kind of big undulating Hills. So we went up there, the snow was starting to mouths and lots of people had already been up there. But, we decided actually we may not have centers, but there is still enough snow.

We didn’t know if there would be. So literally we’re just siding down on our bombs, down the Hills, just having an absolute whale of a time. Kids absolutely loved it. You know, literally like snow, everywhere, everyone completely covered in mud. And just, it was just so much fun. And it was one of those moments you go, we wouldn’t have had that. I mean, there were lots of those types of events. We’ve generally, they’re going to be outdoors for me, for kids. That’s where I would like to be. But you know, jumping in puddles and playing by the river and it’s all those things that they’re just, they are lovely memories

Heather Welch (25:15)

Is the, is the rule in your house? There’s not, not rule. I should say it’s a philosophy in your house that there’s not bad weather. There’s just bad clothes. The old saying, yeah,

Clare Willetts  (25:25)

Totally. Yeah, exactly. We got to get outside wherever the weather is. It doesn’t really matter.

Heather Welch (25:33)

Totally. I completely agree with that. But I think I have struggled actually a little bit with the colder weather. It seems to have gone for a lot longer this year. I don’t know whether it was cause we’re in lockdown, but it has helped a little bit colder for longer. I think the snow was kind of like when the sun shines, you sort of get this new lease of life, don’t you? Yes. All of a sudden you’re like, wow, I’ve just come out of hibernation for the last three months.

Clare Willetts  (25:56)

Totally tasty. And the just, it adds some light, doesn’t it? Cause when the sun’s out in the snows though, it’s reflecting as well as the suddenly it was so much brighter, which was lovely as well. So yeah,

Heather Welch(26:08)

I haven’t really peaceful. It’s very peaceful in the snakes. We actually got quite a lot of snow. So we had quite a few inches where we are, and it stayed for about four or five days, which was really lovely to be lovely. This many people are going to be interested in. And maybe I haven’t even thought about what not only pink and blue represents. So gender neutral or toys should just be toys. Clothes should just be closed up and to, you know, the body shapes do change. So if you’ve got two tips on, if parents want to think about it or even learn more, where can they head, can they head over? Do you have information, your website? Is there somewhere I can send them?

Clare Willetts  (26:46)

Yeah. So, not only pink and, see where a marketplace, children’s clothes, books and toys, no filters by gender that’s for sure. But you we’ve got a blog on there as well. So you can have a look at some of the blog pieces. And we’re also on our socials. So on socials where not only pink, blue, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, and certainly Instagram and Facebook, we put out lots of, kind of hints and tips and thoughts and stats and things like that as well. So obviously, yeah. Feel free to head over there and also get in touch. Love to hear from people either through DMS on socials or, We love to talk about all this stuff. So absolutely get in touch and have a look at the site.

Heather Welch (27:29)

Thank you so much. It’s such an important topic for parents to understand, because as a new parent, or even as a seasoned parent, you sort of get stuck in a rut where you get given all these toys or, you know, you just sort of, sometimes you’re so tired. You don’t think about the process behind it or what even you’re buying it for. If it’s just, if you’ve totally given up and just buying it for a tantrum or, or negative behavior, trying to get them toilet trained or anything like that. But as the research shows, if you want to develop children’s physical, cognitive, academic, musical, artistic toys that are not strongly, gender types are more likely to do this. That’s the research. So we do appreciate coming to chat with us today. Thank you so much.

Clare Willetts  (28:12)

You’re most welcome. It’s been really enjoyable. Thank you so much.

Heather Welch (28:17)

There are so many exciting developments happening right now in education. Edx education would love to hear from you. So do you get in touch with subscribe to our podcast, which is available on Apple beans, Spotify tune-in and so many more, this podcast series is brought to you by Heather Welch for media edxeducation. As she’d like to say, that’s create lifelong learners.