If someone were to have rifled through Nikki Yeager’s son’s dresser when he was a baby, there would have been no traditional clues as to his gender. From cheetah-print jumpers to onesies with trucks on them, her son’s wardrobe spanned the spectrum.
“We didn’t want to spend a lot on clothes, so all we had were hand-me-downs for both boys and girls,” says Yeager, adding that they didn’t need to buy any clothes for the first 18 months. “A lot of family members would comment, ‘I wish you would dress him like a little boy.’”
The comments mounted over time, until Yeager finally snapped at a family gathering when a well-meaning relative discouraged her son from holding a broom.
“He said, ‘Boys don’t sweep floors, we need to get you a tool set,’” recalls Yeager. “Up until that point, people had always made comments to me, but had never addressed him directly [about gender stereotypes]. I felt a lot of rage—someone limiting what my child could do before he could even walk was a boiling point for me.”
Yeager decided to do something about it, and within a week, she’d hatched an idea and created a few designs for a “non-gendered children’s clothing line”—building on her past experience as a marketing representative for a denim company. Roughly two months later, Yeager was up and running with Every Bean Boutique.
Since the launch in December 2016, Yeager has been handling design, sales, and content creation, while outsourcing the actual manufacturing of the clothing. “I had an understanding of the fashion industry from a top-down perspective. I knew about sourcing, terminology, and materials, but I was by no means a designer or seamstress,” says Yeager. “A lot of what I’ve learned has been figuring things out as I go.”
The online store’s offerings include bodysuits with slogans like “So Many Colors in the Rainbow” and “Anything I Want to Be,” tutus in colors like black and camouflage, and headbands with owls or birds on them. Yeager also recently launched a new “Every Brand” section of the site that carries gender-neutral brands from overseas not available anywhere else stateside. “It’s a way to expand our line without having to do all of the work ourselves,” she explains.
Surprisingly, Yeager’s line includes pale pink and blue options, but she says that’s a conscious choice. “When you really break it down, pink is not a girl color, and blue is not a boy color,” says Yeager, a Cleveland native who now splits her time between Ohio City and New York City. “It’s completely a social construct that those colors are associated with genders, and I think it’s important to have items that are considered feminine or masculine but not label them in that fashion.”
Yeager says she is far from the only small retailer to have a gender-neutral focus for children, but that it’s still rare in big-box stores (with the exception of Target). She estimates that about “90 percent” of children’s clothing stores still label their sections specifically for boys and girls.
In November, Every Bean Boutique announced its partnership with Clothes Without Limits, a professional consortium of 13 independent companies that challenge gender clichés in children’s clothing. (Other members include Jill and Jack, Handsome in Pink, and Quirkie Kids.) “The idea is that together we’re stronger and will have more of a platform to get our mission across,” explains Yeager.
Looking forward, Yeager plans to introduce new “storybook leggings” later this year and continue to grow the business. “I’m really excited to see the world of children’s clothing continue to change and evolve and loosen up a little bit,” says Yeager, whose son is now two-and-a-half years old. “I felt like I was doing a disservice to my family if I didn’t try to make a difference.”