Nominees: Plant and Pot, Creative Hush, Well Made Clothes, Freedom Kids, DropIt, Container Door, Thieve.co, Give Plants, Designer Wardrobe, Not Socks.
In an age where gender-neutral and ethically-made clothing is just catching on, Freedom Kids is ahead of the curve. Offering a completely genderless site, the online retailer offers childrenswear sorted by age, rather than gender.
Freedom Kids, a family run business, works only with other small businesses: many of the labels it stocks are owned and operated by a single individual. All clothing it stocks is ethically made, gender neutral and allows children to play freely. With a strong ethos centred around social and environmental responsibility, the site also lets consumers shop by values; organic, fair trade, and made in New Zealand.
Freedom Kids intends to disrupt the status quo in the world of children’s clothing. This is something that founder and director Rachel Hansen wants to reflect in all avenues of the business, including its ecommerce offering.
Hansen has three children herself, and knows what a precious commodity time becomes to parents. With so many stores offering children’s clothing having unknown or dubious ethics, Hansen wanted to take the strain off parents searching for good-quality, planet-and-worker-friendly clothing. She also didn’t appreciate the mainstream market’s emphasis on gender.
“I was perplexed by the fact all shops were gendering kids clothing. I grew up in the 1980s and my young brother wore my clothing, and then passed it down to our younger sister. It’s a money spinner - the marketing convinces parents they need to buy a whole new wardrobe for different gendered kids.”
A seasoned online shopper, it also bothered Hansen how much plastic packaging would often accompany her deliveries. Freedom Kids has no plastic packaging and all parcels are wrapped in recycled brown paper.
Categorising what makes clothing ethical is no easy task. Hansen recognises a large number of her customers have consciously chosen Freedom Kids as an ethical alternative, and everybody has different opinions of what ethical means. She caters to their needs by offering customers the opportunity to shop by ‘values’ in the online store.
“I quickly realised that deciding on the levels of "ethicalness" is fraught. Is organic and Fairtrade and made in India better than non-organic and made in New Zealand? Is it significantly better for us to support small-scale suppliers rather than bigger businesses? I want to allow customers to make these decisions themselves.”
All brands sold through Freedom Kids are researched to ensure they reach the company’s ethical standards. Special care is taken to choose styles that are functional and durable for play, as well as being colourful and appealing to children.
When Hansen started Freedom Kids her focus came for a feminist perspective, and she was primarily looking for ‘gender neutral’ clothing. It’s a trend she has noticed in other people too.
“I think as kids’ clothing has become increasingly gendered over the past 20 years, people are starting to question why and search for an alternative. Our best selling items are things that disrupt gender norms - such as our orange dinosaur tights and our outer space dresses.”
Launched just over two years ago, the company has grown remarkably quickly. Hansen is currently constrained by the amount of time she has, with the business and three children, but is looking for opportunities to expand the business in the coming years. At the moment her focus is giving back to the community, through partnerships with charities.
Judges’ comments from Sarah Dunn: A genuinely original idea for a retail business can be hard to come by these days. However, Freedom Kids is the real deal. Not only does it fill an actual gap in the market, it does so in a maximally socially and environmentally responsible way, and is run by a lovely family in the Wairarapa.
An honourable mention goes to Thieve.co. While its model of curating product, referring shoppers to AliExpress and clipping the ticket on each referral isn’t helpful for New Zealand’s domestic retail industry as a whole, the concept is genius. I wish I’d thought of it.
This story originally appeared in NZ Retail magazine issue 756 June/July 2018