From dinosaur dresses to Pi necklaces: Princess Awesome changes the conversation around kid clothes
By Lisa Granshaw
Do you know a little girl who loves dinosaurs and dresses? A little girl who wants everything to be pink and purple, but also to feature rockets and robots? Walking down the aisles at many stores, you might have a hard time finding these and similar combinations on clothing for girls. It’s a problem that Rebecca Melsky first noticed a few years ago when her then two-year-old daughter developed a fashion preference of wearing only dresses all the time.
“For her pajamas, I would always get her stuff from both the girl section and the boy section. One day I was out buying her a new set of pajamas and I walked past the girl section of the clothing store I was at [and thought] why can’t I buy her one of those twirly dresses she loves that also has a rocket ship or dinosaur or something on it, because she likes all of those things and I want to make sure she knows that all of those things are just as much for girls as they are for boys. I just couldn’t get the idea out of my head and I turned to Eva [St. Clair] and said do you want to try and do this with me? And she said yes,” Melsky told GeekFold.
The two didn’t know what they were doing, according to St. Clair. Melsky was a teacher and St. Clair was home with her kids doing web development on the side. Their first meeting consisted of buying a bunch of stuff from the girl and boy sections of a store.
“We spent the day cutting things up and pasting trucks on dresses and seeing what it looked like,” St. Clair said. “It was a haphazard kind of start.”
The result was Princess Awesome, a clothing company that grew with the help of a hugely successful Kickstarter. Princess Awesome offers shirts, leggings, dresses, and accessories featuring colorful prints in categories like science, math, dinosaurs, vehicles, ninjas, bugs, and more.
St. Clair said they learned everything as they went when developing the company, which was “both fun, exhausting, and exhilarating at times, and incredibly frustrating other times.” Finding suppliers and manufacturers was also difficult.
“It’s not quite as easy as just a Google search. When we were first starting the biggest road block that we had was finding someone that would print our designs on cotton jersey fabric that’s good for kids’ play clothes that had minimums that we could manage,” Melsky explained. “That was the biggest challenge when we were first starting out and then as we’ve grown finding different fabrics, finding fabrics that will work with the designs, all of that product design process is much more difficult than we always think it’s going to be.”
Princess Awesome is regularly expanding what they offer with new styles of clothing or new prints. For designs, St. Clair told GeekFold they keep a running list of things they want to see and keep track of requests from customers. Customers write in about what their daughters are interested in that they would like to see on a dress. Customer feedback was how they ultimately chose one of their newer designs, sharks.
“People wrote in that they wanted sharks, but most of the time we basically go by what kids are into and our own kids especially. Also, what we see around us and things that all children play with,” St. Clair said. “Dinosaurs are a perennial favorite so now we have two different dinosaur designs. For a long time my three-year-old was into pirates so we did that. There’s always more things to make.”
They try to find a balance of designs to appeal to a wide range of ages. For example, Melsky explained that STEM designs usually do better with older girls while trucks and dinosaurs do better with younger girls. They try to make sure they’re offering some of both for all ages. For types of items they offer, Melsky said in this initial phase of the company they want to offer clothes girls can wear every day, which is why you won’t see bathing suits or underwear offered quite yet. With that in mind, they try to make sure there is variety in their products. Pockets are also essential. While their initial dress design with the Kickstarter did not lend itself to pockets, now everything they make for the lower body has them.
Princess Awesome also has a few accessories for adults and they are working on some T-shirts for adults as well. Overall though, they plan to stay focused on girls and keep an increase in adult items on the backburner for now. You’ll also find jewelry for adults and kids on the website. St. Clair said they were looking at doing jewelry for a long time and then the founder of Sci Chic, Erin Winick, reached out to them about a Pi necklace she had that she thought would look cute with Princess Awesome’s Pi dress. They decided to try selling that as well as atom and moon phase necklaces, and they all did well.
“Especially the older girls just love having the matching jewelry. We just kind of kept working with her and she’s done a number of custom pieces for us. She originally printed all of the dinosaurs on one of our dresses as necklaces,” St. Clair said. “We just chose the triceratops. She also did the shark which just came out again. We love working with Erin. She’s very open to designing for us.”
Melsky said they are open to working with other companies down the road as they try to diversify the products they have so they can stay focused on their own specific products.
What’s important to Melsky and St. Clair is that they offer items right now that can not only change the conversations girls have with adults, but change how adults view them.
“One of our customers wrote in that the first day her daughter wore her atomic flurry dress, which is a blue dress that has beakers and atomic symbols and is science themed, to school six different people asked her if she liked science or if she was going to do a science experiment and that had never happened to her before with what she was wearing,” Melsky said. “When I was with my daughter at the art institute a few weeks ago in Chicago, she was wearing her science shirt and a man stopped us within 5 minutes of walking in and had a five-minute-long conversation with her about what the word hypothesis means and can you have a hypothesis about something that can never be tested? That’s never happened to us before. Those kinds of conversations really do change the way kids think about themselves. They change what they think they can do in the world. It’s such a crucial time in childhood when you’re forming your sense of identity and what you’re interested in and what you’re good at and how the world views you and to be able to wear things that express your interest and encourage adults to say more than just ‘don’t you look pretty?’ We think is really important.”
Since they started their company there have been changes to what you can find for girls in stores, though not everywhere and not nearly enough. According to Melsky, when they started there was nothing in mainstream stores for girls with dinosaurs on it and now there are options. Space has also been an area that has seen an increase in appearing on clothes for girls. There are themes that are still ignored though, like trains, trucks, airplanes, and sharks. Around the time they were going to release their shark dress last year, Melsky said she went to the Baltimore Aquarium with her family which was wonderful but the only item inspired by sharks for girls was a shark tooth necklace. It was dolphins and mermaids for girls and sharks for boys.
“Maybe the boys would like to have the dolphins and mermaids,” St. Clair added. “One of the number one requests we get is please make stuff for boys and we have a couple plans to make things for boys, but it would be nice if the mainstream stores started changing some of their messaging so that it wasn’t pushing this aggressive mentality on the boys like a lot of the shirts say things like ‘tough like dad’ or ‘super guy,’ ‘super strong.’”
The founders also see colors in stores separated by the gender divide, with boys stuck with ranges of red, blue, grey and green. Having the above themes appear in sections for girls is important for everyone. To Melsky, for all kids to see these themes in that section sends a message to them as well as to adults.
There’s no denying that clothing has an important impact on people’s lives.
“The way that you express yourself on your clothing sends a message to the people around you. They give you feedback based on that message and so the constant feedback loop that girls who are interested in STEM get right now is ‘be pretty, be pretty, you can’t be pretty and be interested in math and adventure and science and STEM subjects.’ If the clothes you’re wearing can change that conversation, that actually could have a major impact on whether or not people decide to stay interested in STEM and not just girls, but also boys,” St. Clair told GeekFold. “There’s like a move now where geek is becoming mainstream especially among boys. I remember when it was still not cool and not a good thing to be a geek and a nerd. That’s how I grew up and a lot of boys didn’t want to be known as the smart kid because that’s not a cool thing to be, but if that same kind of change can happen for girls that would be amazing. It’s one of the things we’re trying to contribute to. We know we can’t solve the problem just with dresses, but it is part of the solution.”
With its range of products, Princess Awesome is certainly making a difference. They are one of a group of companies offering products mainstream stores are not and hopefully helping those stores realize what they’re offering kids matters. No child should ever feel they shouldn’t like something because they see it only on clothing in one section or another. Whether it’s pink or red, dinosaurs or princesses, and any combinations in between, every kid should be able to wear what they love.
Luckily it looks like Princess Awesome will continue to be a vital part of this conversation moving forward as they offer girls amazing options and make it clear being a girl and liking STEM and so many other interests is not mutually exclusive.
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