Children at work…or is it play?

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If you want to get a feeling for the 21st Century child,” read an article entitled “The Kiddie Couturiers.”  Published by the New York Times and written by Eric Wilson, it talks about a strange phenomenon taking place in which children, one as young as ten, are creating their own fashion lines

Take Cecilia Cassini (pictured above) as an example:

One of the most successful, Cecilia Cassini, an 11-year-old from Encino, Calif., is marketed on her e-commerce site as the “world’s youngest fashion designer” and a “kiddie couturier.” Her trademark is a large silk bow she often wears in her hair or attaches to the front of a party frock. She has appeared on the “Today” show, making a custom dress for Jenna Bush Hager, and, according to her father, has sold close to 500 designs since she started her business, back when she was 10.

And then there is Madison Waldrop:

Last week, as hundreds of established fashion designers were presenting their fall collections in New York, Madison Waldrop, 13, was just getting started on hers. She … is developing a dress collection called Designs by Malyse, specializing in evening and bridal gowns. She hopes to introduce a full line to buyers in October, at the WeddingChannel Couture Show. The fact that she is still in the eighth grade is not likely to stop her.

The challenge for the toy industry is to constantly be updating its notion of how and why children play.  The fact that modern technology makes it possible for children to fully develop, express and monetize what at one time would have been considered play means that the notion of what constitutes a toy needs to be rethought. 

What is a toy; what is work; where is the line?  Whoever figures that out will be ahead of the game. 


4 thoughts

  1. Gina, Barbara Follett’s story is sad. Her parents parented similar to the parents of some celebrity kid actresses/actors having trouble coping with their fame that we seemingly hear about daily. Kids need to play out being kids. As you say, it is a fascinating subject.

  2. Richard, what a great article. As the mother of a 5-year-old who is totally into fashion, I can say that she could care less about making money at this point in her life. I do think when kids realize the power of money either through school or outside activity fundraisers, they start to put pressure on themselves thanks to the adults in charge who create a competitive environment. The fundraisers that our kids have been exposed to reward the highest performers with toys and other awards. A trophy is given to every kid on a soccer team today and not just the best. This all affects the way a child behaves as they do start to feel like they deserve something for every thing they do. And I think we (the adults in their lives) are the culprit as we tend to judge everything against everyone else’s performance. We are a comparative and competitive society and we tend to pass that along to our kids. If we could just allow our kids to develop at their own pace and make their own choices, money would become less important to them and being an individual would become more important. I think the article Gina posted, totally hits the nail on the head.

  3. This is interesting, Richard. I wonder how the potential to “monetize” their ideas will influence how they play, develop and grow over time. Will it be empowering or will it present too narrow a context for imagination? It’s definitely an idea and phenomena to grapple with.
    I recently read this article about Barbara Follett, a child prodigy who wrote and published her first novel to acclaim at the ripe old age of 12. It had me thinking about the creative potential of kids and how that potential, when one is truly gifted and determined gets manifested. It’s a fascinating subject.
    Thanks for the post.

  4. Richard, one of the things I think your article emphasizes is that children have the natural ability to create without pre-judging their work and shooting it down before it has a chance to exist, which is something most adults do. Maybe we should all aim to nurture this creative tendency wether through new toy concepts – or simply encouraging a child to create without worrying about criticism or being successful. (Even a failed attempt can be a life-long learning experience.)

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