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Siblings make clothes for girls 'to just be kids'

Photo from CNNMoney
Monday, September 9, 2013 - 10:00am

Cousins Maya Choksi and Grace Gericke decided early on they didn't like girls clothing on store shelves.

When she was 3 years old, Maya, now 8, rejected the "rainbow in her closet" and decided she didn't like wearing dresses, her mother says. A few years ago, Grace, 10, was so turned off by the tiny shorts in the girls department that she would only wear clothes from the boys section.

When the families got together, the girls' mothers, sisters Sharon Burns Choksi and Laura Burns, lamented the difficulty of finding clothes their daughters would wear. They didn't like what they found in girls departments, but wearing baggy clothes made for boys could lead to peer pressure in school that might alter the girls' sense of self.

Why, the sisters wondered, couldn't there be something in the middle? They decided to offer their own solution, collaborating with their brother, David Burns, to launch the clothing line, Girls Will Be.

It launched July 4, with T-shirts that show a baseball, an airplane and phrases like "I am me" and "Be awesome." Burns Choksi says they chose to start with graphic tees because they are a staple of kids wardrobes, whether they're boys or girls. They focused on fit, colors and graphics; the shirts sell for $24, and range from sizes 4 to 12.

"We wanted something in the middle," she says. "The only thing that IDs it for a girl is the tag inside."

Laura Burns says they decided to use bright colors instead of pastels and a fit that's less figure-hugging than most girls clothing but not as loose as most boys apparel.

"We went to great pains to design a shirt between tight and boxy," Laura Burns says. "We were trying to capture an age-appropriate shirt that would allow girls to just be kids."

They're seeing some success, too. The company is already out of stock of some designs. Burns Choksi, a stay-at-home mom for seven years before starting Girls Will Be, says the business quickly grew from part-time work to more than full-time.

"It has blown away even our most optimistic expectations," she says. "Because of that we are working hard to get the next round of production under way and push forward as fast as we can."

Veronica Arreola, assistant director at the Center for Research on Women and Gender at the University of Illinois at Chicago, says Girls Will Be is advancing ideas introduced a few years ago by brands such as Pigtail Pals and Ballcap Buddies and Princess Free Zone.

"Clearly girls and their parents want more than what is available at the mall," Arreola says.

Arreola says big clothing manufacturers minimize or don't recognize the impact their designs have on shaping a child's outlook.

"Boys and girls need more options so that they can be themselves," she says. "Then we are not faced with these overwhelming stereotypes that keep girls and boys in these well-defined boxes."

Laura Burns says the company name, Girls Will Be, reflects the range of possibilities available to young girls.

"We love our brand name," she says. "It's an empowering message in and of itself. We like playing on that in our messaging."

The Burns siblings live in different cities -- Austin, St. Louis and Chicago -- and conduct business meetings via conference calls. The shirts are manufactured in Los Angeles, they say, and printed in Austin, where the company is based.

Sharon Burns Choksi has a background in business and an MBA from the University of Chicago. She handles Girls Will Be's promotion, marketing and sales. Laura Burns runs a graphic design firm that she founded in the 1990s and works on brand development for Girls Will Be, and designed the company's website. David Burns, an architect who designs performing arts theaters, created the T-shirt graphics and company blog in his spare time.

"As we became adults, we became great friends," Laura Burns says. "It's really a wonderful side benefit of this whole business."

As for the girls whose wardrobes inspired the business, their mothers say Maya and Grace are like best friends the couple of times they get together each year. They love playing outdoors, getting dirty, being silly and especially when Uncle Dave visits, too.

"I've been close with my nieces and nephews for a long time," David Burns says. "It's about giving them all the opportunities they can have. We're incredibly excited about what's happening and what we're doing."

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