Dresses with trucks, boys shirts with unicorns and rainbows—the owners of a pair of local clothing brands break down gender assumptions to make clothes for kids that match their interests
SIX YEARS AGO, Rebecca Melsky was shopping for clothes for her preschool-age daughter, hoping to find items that would reflect the little girl’s obsession with dresses and her love of things that were typically relegated to the boys department. But all she found were rainbows and unicorns, kittens and cupcakes.
“It struck me that it wasn’t fair that only the boys got dinosaurs and robots and space themes,” Melsky says. “I thought, why can’t I buy some of these cute, twirly dresses that my daughter likes to wear with themes on them that are interesting to her?”
Melsky approached Eva St. Clair, a friend she’d met in California while their husbands attended graduate school at the University of California, Berkeley. Both moms, who are now 38 years old, had since moved to the East Coast—Melsky to D.C. and St. Clair to Silver Spring. “Eva is a computer programmer, but she’s also an excellent seamstress and is super creative,” Melsky says. She asked St. Clair what she thought about making dresses with themes usually reserved for boys. “I didn’t hesitate for a second,” St. Clair says. “It was an idea whose time had come. Even though I had no business experience, I knew we could make it happen. I had been sewing since I was 9 years old, and I knew I’d be able to do much of the technical work on our website myself.”
Using St. Clair’s Singer sewing machine, the pair produced a test batch of dresses that sold out quickly. To keep up with demand, they outsourced production (they still design all the items themselves) and funded their vision through a Kickstarter campaign. The duo’s Princess Awesome clothing line includes skirts emblazoned with dragons, feminine frocks hemmed with a car-filled racetrack, chemistry-themed leggings, and headbands with a mathematical motif. They’ve expanded their line of dresses, separates and accessories to include sizes that fit infants through adults. The products are sold online at princess-awesome.com.
Somewhat inevitably, Princess Awesome’s fans started asking its founders—who have a total of seven boys and girls ranging in age from 2 to 13 years old—to apply the same philosophy to boys clothes. The business partners launched a crowdfunding campaign on their website last winter to finance their second brand, Boy Wonder (boy-wonder.com), a line of clothing that features things boys love beyond gender stereotypes. “Our goal was to hit $20,000 to fund four out of our seven proposed products,” Melsky says. They hit that goal within eight hours, funded all seven products within 48 hours and added two items to their initial lineup, ending up with funding of more than $83,000.
“Boy Wonder was an even more personal project for me than Princess Awesome,” St. Clair says. “When we began working on Princess Awesome, I had three sons but no daughters [her daughter was born in 2014]. But by the time we were working on Boy Wonder, my third son was asking for the kinds of products we wanted to make. …He wanted to wear sparkles, rainbows and science—all at the same time. He likes volcanoes, dinosaurs, heavy construction equipment, sharks—but also top hats, butterflies, seashells and cats. He’s not an either/or kid.” St. Clair’s son provided an insight into what was missing in the boys clothing market. “At one point we were really stuck for coming up with a science design and had nearly given up when my son colored his chemistry valentines with rainbows and sparkles. We used his design as the inspiration for our rainbow chemistry shirt.”
This fall, Boy Wonder officially launches a line of boys clothing in sizes 2T-16 that includes a raglan shirt printed with unicorns and rainbows, a pink henley that sports a truck scooping ice cream, and flamingo-themed sweats that are as stylish as they are colorful.