Social worker Cristean Noone, a father of 20-month-old twins, had been shopping in the Ballarat store in October last year when he noticed a sign (pictured) that read “Designed by mums for mums”.
“It just doesn’t sit well with me,” he told My Business, explaining that fathers, as well as grandparents and other family members, shouldn’t be made to feel uncomfortable or unwelcome when simply shopping for their children.
Mr Noone contacted Cotton On Kids directly through social media to lodge a complaint, telling the retailer that “not only are you suggesting women are the only primary caregivers, but you’re also kind of suggesting it’s a woman’s role and only a woman’s role to shop for kids clothes. And for me as primary caregiver of my children, you’re excluding me from this brand”.
In the message, which Mr Noone shared with My Business, he outlined how the messaging was excluding certain customers by playing up to gender bias and stereotyping.
“As my partner and I are in a same-sex relationship, this message excludes us from your brand, not only us but anyone who either doesn’t have a mother (funnily enough, I was with a friend who lost her mum at 3, [and] she also felt this excluded her) or anyone whereby dad is the primary caregiver,” he wrote.
“The message goes far beyond sexuality; it is about gender stereotypes. You are, in fact, suggesting that mums should really be the only people shopping… in your store, you’re labelling mum and her role, in essence you are putting her back to work in the kitchen because you are suggesting that parenting or caregiving is her primary role.”
Mr Noone concluded his message by stating: “I would love for you to examine these signs and messages with a more critical inclusive eye and take steps to become a more modern progressive brand.”
In its response, the retailer — part of the Cotton On Group which owns the Cotton On brand as well as Typo, Factorie, Rubi and Supre — thanked Mr Noone and said that it would use the feedback “during the development of future customer messaging”.
The full statement, supplied by Mr Noone, reads:
Hi Cristean, thanks for getting in touch.
We’re really sorry to hear that you feel that our signage in store is gender stereotyping as this was certainly never our intention! At Cotton On Kids, we understand we have a responsibility to communicate in a way that does not stereotype.
We are committed to being diverse and inclusive of all parents, grandparents and gift givers who shop in our stores and we will take this into consideration to ensure we evolve and progress as a brand.
We have passed the feedback on to our broader team for their reference during the development of future customer messaging.
Thank you again for getting in touch as we truly appreciate this feedback.
Thanks, Cotton On Kids
According to Mr Noone, nothing was done about the signage in question following their exchange, as the sign remained in the store when he returned “in late November or early December”. He again reached out to Cotton On Kids to express his “disappointment” at the sign’s presence, but this time said he received no reply.
Cotton On Kids did not agree to an interview request, but a spokesperson issued a brief statement stating that the retailer would not change the current signage.
“This complaint was originally raised with us in October and we have been in direct conversation with this customer. We value customer feedback and assured him that while we weren’t looking to change the sign, we offered assurance that it would be passed onto the relevant team for consideration during the development of future customer messaging,” the statement said.
“We would never intentionally gender stereotype and we understand we have a responsibility to communicate in a way that does not do this. We are committed to being diverse and inclusive of all parents, grandparents and gift givers who shop in our stores.”
Regardless, Mr Noone said that he will no longer be a customer of Cotton On Kids as a result of the situation.
“That message has kind of informed me that I’m not really their target audience, so it’s not somewhere I’m willing to spend my money at anymore,” he said.
“Especially having twins… we’re in the market for double the volume of normal baby clothes, and whenever we go shopping for the seasonal stuff, we definitely would have gone there in the past. But not currently.”
Mr Noone added that he hoped that Cotton On Kids, and other retailers, would be more inclusive in future:
“I would love to see Cotton On broaden their branding… I don’t see why it can’t be a little bit more generalised like ‘made by parents for parents’ or ‘made with love’ or something.”