“We want to provide greater choice and variety to our customers so that parents or children can choose what they would like to wear,” says John Lewis

“We want to provide greater choice and variety to our customers so that parents or children can choose what they would like to wear,” says John Lewis

UK department store group John Lewis says it is surprised by the reaction it received earlier this week regarding its decision to go "gender neutral" with its boys' and girls' clothing.

Numerous reports this week have covered the retailer's actions to remove gender labels from its children's clothing lines, with some claiming it is the first to do so in the UK.

However, a spokesperson for John Lewis told just-style the company was "surprised" by the reaction to these changes as they were introduced over a year ago, and adds it has not claimed it is the first retailer to take such steps.

"At the beginning of 2016 we introduced non-gender specific labels in our own brand children's clothing, and this was followed by the removal of 'girls' and 'boys' signage in our shops, which was replaced with photos of children modelling our clothes," explains the company. "In our shops, girls and boys clothing are still positioned in the same way as they have always been and online customers can search by 'girl' or 'boy' if they choose to."

John Lewis adds as its customers would expect, it is still selling a wide variety of children's clothing, including traditional clothing for girls and boys, and says it has not made any changes to its website but noted it does continually review how it displays products online to make searching as easy as possible.

"We want to provide greater choice and variety to our customers so that parents or children can choose what they would like to wear," it adds.

On Monday (4 September), an article published in The Independent said an "army of angry Twitter users" have found fault with the actions, quoting Tweets in which parents "expressed their horror at the thought of dressing their children in gender neutral clothing".

Meanwhile, Ewan MacDonald-Russell, head of policy and external affairs at the Scottish Retail Consortium (SRC) said the move is likely to help John Lewis's sales as well as brand perception. 

"Customers today are more aware of the environment they are shopping in, and consequently retailers are taking further steps to ensure they continue to promote products in a responsible and progressive manner," he adds. "We have already seen a number of retailers make similar moves on children's toys; and it's likely further brands will look to move away from traditional gender-binary labelling in children's lines in the future. With customers more and more focused on the values a retailer holds as well as price and range, it's likely to help with sales as well as brand perception."