When Rebecca Melsky, a Jewish Day School teacher in Washington, D.C., found out she was having a girl five years ago, she and her husband were determined not to put her in pink. But when her daughter became a pink-loving, dress-wearing toddler who also enjoyed space ships and dinosaurs, Rebecca was surprised that she couldn’t find a dress featuring a science theme. She teamed up with her friend Eva St. Clair to start Princess Awesome, a small clothing company offering hand-sewn dresses with patterns from pirates to pi, trucks to trains, and of course, dinosaurs. After their first run of dresses nearly sold out, they launched a Kickstarter to fund factory production of their designs and quickly became the highest funded children’s clothing project on Kickstarter to date. Rebecca was kind enough to talk with me about how Princess Awesome got started and the overwhelming response they’ve received so far.
Why use clothes as a way of combating gender stereotypes?
It started with just thinking about clothes, and then the combating gender stereotypes thing came after that. My daughter is very traditionally girly and starting around age 2, would only wear dresses. There was just an article in the New York Times about the way that elementary school teachers’ implicit biases affect girls in math and science. Teachers make assumptions about what kids are interested in based on their gender, so if a girl comes in with a dress featuring math or science-related images on it, how would that effect the assumptions that teacher makes? I thought maybe their implicit biases could be tweaked a bit.
How did you choose the themes for your fabrics?
One of the first places we got our fabric from was Spoonflower, where people can upload their designs and you can buy other people’s designs. We knew that we needed to make our own fabric because all the fabrics we found were for quilting and weren’t ideal for a girls’ play dress. One of the designers we worked with on Spoonflower, Elishka Jepsen, had the pi design and the periodic table design and we just loved her stuff. She’s an actual aeronautic engineer and a mom and we feel like she fits in with the company. The pi and atomic shells you can buy from her Spoonflower account; the dinosaurs and pirates she designed just for us.
What impact do you see Princess Awesome and other non-gender conforming clothing and toys having on your kids, including your son?
I hope that both my son and daughter know that math and dinosaurs and pirates are for everybody. They don’t have genders. And that wearing girl clothes is just as cool as wearing boy clothes. My daughter wore the pi dress and she came home with a piece of paper with scribbles on it. She told me she was drawing the patterns on her dress. She asked me what the atomic shells were. I think it would be great to have clothes that get them thinking about different things, and keep them interested in different topics.
Why do you think your Kickstarter was so popular, and that Princess Awesome has garnered so much attention?
I think that many parents have experienced what my husband and I did, where you have a daughter who loves girly things. You want to honor what they like and communicate to them that they’re making good choices and not say that being girl is bad, but you also want to keep them exposed to all the other stuff that all little kids are naturally interested in.
A lot of our friends have daughters who are super into dinosaurs and want dinosaur clothes and are mad that they can’t find them in the girls’ section. I think this is a pretty significant gap in the market place. We’ve become friendly with a lot of amazing mom-run companies that are creating all these kind of fabulous breaking-the-gender-stereotype clothes for girls and boys. If you want a dress, you come to us, but there are a lot of people doing really great work.
What makes you kvell?
The response that we’ve been getting from parents saying, “I saw this and couldn’t click through fast enough,” or, “This has me in tears, this is exactly what my daughter needs,” or, “I’m a scientist and I can’t wait to share this with my daughter.” Parents and grandparents are connecting with us through the clothing and it’s just overwhelmingly amazing. There’s a lot more we want to do. We have lots of ideas and we hope to one day have a catalog full of all sorts of things. I’m really excited to bring things to older girls and different styles and keep things going hopefully in the next few years.