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California passes law requiring retailers to offer gender-neutral departments for kids’ items

October 11, 2021, 4:30 PM UTC

A new California law will require big retailers to create gender-neutral departments for some toys and childcare items, signaling an increasing shift away from gender labels by younger consumers.

The legislation, signed by Governor Gavin Newsom over the weekend, is the first of its kind in the U.S. By the start of 2024, retailers with 500 or more employees in the state have to maintain gender-neutral sections for a “reasonable” amount of kids items. Clothing isn’t included. Retailers that fail to comply may face fines of as much as $500 per store.

Even before California took this step, companies had been tweaking how they merchandise products for kids. In 2015, Target stopped displaying gender-based signs on its children’s departments. 

Nordstrom, Abercrombie & Fitch and Old Navy all offer gender-neutral clothes. The Phluid Project, a gender-neutral clothing brand, has had partnerships with Sephora and others and is planning to create a line for children. 

As of last year, 56% of Gen Z, whose oldest members are in their early 20s, shopped outside of their gender, according to the marketing agency Wunderman Thompson. Google searches for unisex names, such as Avery and Morgan, have surged since 2019, with searches for “non-binary names” increasing by 550% in the past year.

The California law came into existence after Britten Sires, then 9, tried to shop for a dinosaur shirt when studying the topic at school and could only find one in the boys section, said her mother, Danielle Sires. They then pushed for legislation after other parents and students shared similar frustration.

“This shouldn’t be a stressful situation,” Danielle Sires said. “Kids shouldn’t have a problem or feel stressed when they go shopping for a toy or clothing.” 

It will take a while for gender-neutral clothes and toys to become mainstream, according to Emily Kane, a sociologist at Bates College. But “especially among relatively affluent urban consumers, there is movement in that direction, and it will continue.”

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