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Why some retailers are shelving boys’ and girls’ sections

November 24, 2021, 12:00 AM UTC

The holiday shopping season has arrived. While out in stores or, of course, shopping online, parents, aunts, uncles, and anybody else who has littles on their list are sure to see that some companies are going all-in on gender-inclusive clothing and toys. But what’s the motivation behind this shift?

The topic caught Fortune senior editor Beth Kowitt’s attention in October, when California passed a law that would require large retailers to have gender-neutral toy sections. “So essentially,” says Kowitt, cohost of Fortune‘s Reinvent podcast, “you will no longer just find trucks in the boys’ section and dolls in the girls’ section.”

Kowitt adds that the topic is also a personal one for her: “I have an almost two-year-old daughter,” she says. “We’ve tried to be really conscious of gender stereotypes and to be agnostic when it comes to the type of toys she plays with. She loves her trucks and cars just as much as she loves her baby doll. But it’s amazing to me how often, when I put her in a blue coat or a blue hat, that people think she’s a boy. You really do feel like you’re fighting against these societal norms that are just so hard to shake.”

Pink has long been the color most attached to Mattel’s iconic Barbie brand. But that’s changing. A new line of the dolls, Creatable World, features gender-neutral clothing and colors, as well as more skin tones and hairstyles.

As for the business logic behind these changes? “Retailers and manufacturers of consumer goods are in the business of sensing what the society is doing and where it’s moving,” says Geoff Colvin, Fortune senior editor and cohost of Reinvent. “I’m interested to learn what they’re doing and how well it’s working.”

Rob Garrett Smith spent 30 years as a retail executive at brands including Nike, Macy’s, and Levi Strauss. In 2018, he founded The Phluid Project, a gender-free store and community.

“The more I speak to big businesses, they realize that being inclusive is being part of the future and is the way that their business will be sustainable in the long run,” Smith says.

Smith joins Kowitt and Colvin on this episode of Fortune‘s Reinvent, a podcast about fighting to thrive in a world turned upside-down, to discuss gender-neutral products and the future of retail. Also on the show are Kim Culmone, SVP and global head of design for Barbie and fashion dolls at Mattel; Juli Lennett, VP and industry advisor for The NPD Group’s U.S. toys division; and Kimberly Dolder, SVP and general manager of Gilly Hicks at Abercrombie & Fitch. Listen to the full episode below.

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