Victoria Khairy wants you to know that the letters were her idea.

The eldest of the 7-year-old Khairy triplets by a minute, Victoria, along with her sisters, Madeleine and Sofia, will sometimes accompany their parents to Costco, the membership-only big-box retailer that sells everything from rotisserie chicken and smart TVs to wine and jewelry. The three also enjoy flipping through the company’s catalogue, poring over the children’s offerings.

But one day, the sisters noticed that the clothing options assigned to girls were limited. An Adidas tracksuit in two of Sofia’s favorite colors — red and black — was labeled for “boys,” while a pink and gray one was designated for girls. Towel robes with whimsical shark and dinosaur hoods weren’t assigned to a gender, but the matching swimsuits were only available for boys.

It didn’t make sense to the girls. While Victoria doesn’t mind flowery or pink clothing, Madeleine loves black and neon green (“I think I look great in it,” she said) and Sofia favors black, white and red. They say the separation of “boys” and “girls” colors is silly — the kind of thing you might hear from a classmate in preschool but not from adults.

“Girls have the right to wear this stuff, too, just like boys have the right to wear that stuff. Why do people treat each other like that?” said Sofia.

So Victoria suggested they write letters to Costco. She didn’t have time to finish hers, she said, but Sofia and Madeleine did.

“I just want to make sure you know that girls have the right to wear whatever they want,” wrote Sofia in her letter.

“Please can you stop labeling those clothes for boys,” wrote Madeleine. “Please label it saying something else like, ‘for kids.’”

Their mother, Niamh Higgins, was at work when they wrote the letters but was impressed with her daughters’ efforts. So she took pictures of the letters and sent them to Costco Connection, the retailer’s monthly magazine (as of last year, it was the fourth most circulated magazine in the country). Higgins also sent a photo of Madeleine and Sofia in the Adidas jackets they had gotten from Costco, which they wore with soccer shorts, shin guards and cleats.

In the photo the Khairy sisters submitted to Costco, Sofia and Madeleine are seen outside their house in San Diego. (Family photo)
In the photo the Khairy sisters submitted to Costco, Sofia and Madeleine are seen outside their house in San Diego. (Family photo)

Higgins got quick responses from the company: one from Tim Talevich, the editorial director of Costco Connection, and another from Stacey Lazowski, the company’s children’s apparel buyer.

“We agree with you and are continuously working with supplier to remove gender from the item labels on all children’s apparel items,” said Lazowski, in an email shared with The Lily. “I too love to wear black and red, so I know where you are coming from.”

Talevich complimented the “thoughtfully written” letters and said the company would remember the girls’ concerns in the magazine’s stories.

Costco did not respond to a request for comment for this story.

Higgins was impressed by the quick attention to her girls’ letters.

“I really loved the fact that they did get back to us,” Higgins said. “And for my kids, it was this opportunity to speak, to be able to write and see that their words have action.”

Children’s fashion and toys have long been a cultural flash point, but today’s “hyper-gendered” market is a fairly recent phenomenon, as Vox noted last year. At the turn of the 20th century, infants and children under the age of 7 would wear “frock coats” regardless of gender, making boys and girls clothing virtually indistinguishable.

Recent studies show that Gen Z is rejecting binaries in terms of clothing and gender. Citing a 2016 report from a trend forecasting agency, Vox reported that 56 percent of Americans ages 13 to 20 shopped for products labeled outside of their gender identity. A 2020 Pew Research report found 35 percent of Gen Zers say they personally know someone who uses gender-neutral pronouns. This cultural shift appears to be shaping fashion: Spring 2021 runways were filled with greater “gender fluid” styles, noted the fashion blog Fashion United.

While Higgins noted that her daughters have been raised in a household that is “all about equal rights,” she’s still surprised by her kids’ “heightened awareness” of gender and representation. They sometimes make her notice things she wouldn’t have seen otherwise, or has come to take for granted.

The second-graders love the Star Wars franchise, for example, but much prefer the more recent films, in large part because there’s more racial and gender diversity.

“When we watch the old [movies], they’re like, ‘Why is there only one girl?’” said Higgins.

“I feel like when I was growing up, it was very different,” she continued. “I just love the fact that they question; that they challenge.”

That inclination to challenge even shows up in the kids’ response to the Costco feedback. While the family was both surprised and heartened by the company’s response, the girls also wanted more.

When asked how the company’s response made her feel, Madeleine responded with another question.

“When Costco read my letter, they agreed. But if they agreed already, why didn’t they do it earlier?”

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