Social Media Drives Growth for Gender-Neutral Children’s Clothing Brand

PHOTO: WHISTLE & FLUTE

PHOTO: WHISTLE & FLUTE

By Megan Harman

Victoria, B.C.-based clothing company Whistle & Flute, which specializes in gender-neutral street wear for kids and their parents, is looking to expand its distribution network as it continues to grow its sales both in Canada and abroad.

The company, started by husband and wife duo Ryan and Miranda McCullagh in 2012, offers clothes boasting bold designs like pandas, smiling ice cream cones, hot dogs, rainbows and catch-phrases like ‘be kind’ and ‘je t’aime’.

The concept for the company was born shortly after the couple’s first of three sons, Aki, when they struggled to find children’s clothes they liked.

“We were not really finding that many kids’ clothes that we really wanted to put Aki in,” Ryan says. “A lot of the stuff was really gendered, the colours we didn’t really like, and it just wasn’t current style-wise. So, we decided to come up with some of our own designs.”

Since both Ryan and Miranda have a background in design—graphic design for Ryan and fashion design for Miranda—the creative process came naturally. Although the clothing was initially made just for Aki—along with some matching adult-sized items for themselves—the designs quickly attracted attention on Instagram, and orders started rolling in.

The couple opened an Etsy shop and eventually transitioned to Shopify as sales continued to grow. They have also partnered with retailers such as West Coast Kids and various independent boutiques to distribute their merchandise. Whistle & Flute’s annual revenue has now surged to $1.8 million from just $42,000 in 2013.

Ryan says Whistle & Flute clothing appeals to those looking for trendy kids’ clothing.

“We design what we like—what we want to wear,” he says. “We’re influenced a lot by street fashion and street wear, but we want to make that for kids. We don’t see why kids’ clothing shouldn’t be something that they look cool in.”

By offering adult-sized versions of many of the t-shirts, tank tops and hoodies, parents can embrace the designs for themselves, as well.

The McCullaghs felt it was important to focus on gender-neutral designs since there was a lack of options in the children’s clothing market when they launched the business. Kids clothing stores contained mostly blue items for boys and pink and purple items for girls, with very little in between.

PHOTO: WHISTLE & FLUTE

PHOTO: WHISTLE & FLUTE

RYAN AND MIRANDA CCALLAGH WITH THEIR SONS PHOTO: WHISTLE & FLUTE

RYAN AND MIRANDA CCALLAGH WITH THEIR SONS PHOTO: WHISTLE & FLUTE

PHOTO: WHISTLE & FLUTE

PHOTO: WHISTLE & FLUTE

“It was such a clear line, suggesting that you have to fit into one of these two boxes,” Ryan says. “It sort of pigeon-holes kids and makes them conform to gender roles, in subtle ways and overt ways. We didn’t like that. We didn’t want to put that on our kids.”

Ryan and Miranda also strive to ensure the clothing they produce is comfortable and liveable, opting for soft, organic fabrics. In addition, their merchandise is produced using ethical and environmentally friendly practices. For example, many items contain recycled polyester from water bottles.

Social media—particularly Instagram—has been instrumental in growing Whistle & Flute’s profile and generating sales for the brand around the world, according to Ryan. In addition to continuing to focus on growing its e-commerce sales, the company is looking to expand its wholesale distribution channel by adding new retail partners.

Megan Harman.jpg

Megan Harman is a business reporter based in Toronto. She writes about topics including retail, financial services and technology. Megan covers Toronto’s retail industry through her blog Retail Realm (torontoretail.wordpress.com). Follow her on Twitter at @meganmharman.

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