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One Step Back, Two Steps Forward PART 2 — or — Four Steps Forward!

Well wouldn’t you know it, we have a very happy ending to this story. Now to recap, when you last heard from us a couple days ago in my original post, “One Step Back, Two Steps Forward,” Helena’s 5-year-old son Charlie was refusing to be the Handsome in Pink model for our hang tags. With his masculinity on the line, he was actually in tears at the prospect of wearing the purple and pink dirt bike tee for the photo shoot with his twin sister, Anna. Helena gave up on recruiting Charlie and thought her 3-year-old neighbor boy was in, but that didn’t work out after all.


Now all along, Helena and I didn’t really consider having Asa, (my 7-year-old son), the original inspiration for Handsome in Pink, on the hang tag. The reason was simple.  Asa has become such a goofball lately in front of the camera; it’s actually hard to get him to make a sweet face. Here are some shots Helena and I took just a couple weeks ago of us with our children. We thought it would be nice to include in our first HiP newsletter. Can you pick out Asa? :)



Asa hamming it up

C'mon Ace, just smile nicely!


Please, Asa?


All righty then, I give up.


But when I read Asa the blog about Charlie, Asa looked at me very seriously and said, “Mama, I’d love to be on the hang tag.” So yesterday, just before the sun went down, three hours before Helena was hopping on a red eye to New York,  I grabbed Asa and headed down to Helena’s house where we had a very lively and successful photo shoot on her front lawn with him and Anna. Asa was unbelievable. No fooling around this time. He understood it was a race against the sun going down. He gave every winning smile he had. He looked deep in Anna’s eyes when directed to do so. And he rocked that Organic Dirtbike Pink and Purple tee.

Gazing deeply...


This is so fun!


Charlie watched the entire event. Charlie couldn’t take all of this fun another moment. Suddenly he had to be a part of that photo shoot. Charlie ran into the house lickety split and popped that purple and pink dirtbike tee on and ran back outside. Charlie begged to be in the photos!

What are you tawkin’ about? I love my purple and pink dirtbike tee!


Wow! After two days of crying and refusing to even put that tee on, all it took was seeing his big friend Asa feeling so comfortable being a boy in pink. Charlie moves three squares forward! (That’s because we have to make up for his one step back.)
P.S. Guess who called his mommy in New York this morning to ask where his purple shirt was cause he wanted to wear it to school! And when his mommy told him it was in the laundry, he asked if he could wear it anyway!






One Step Back, Two Steps Forward

After 5 years of being an online store, Handsome in Pink has started dreaming of having our tees out in the world in “real” stores as well. But there’s a barrier in the road— and it’s name is “hang tags”. You know them. They are the thick card stock that hangs from clothes that says the name of the company and a little ditty about them that you cut off the clothing item when you get home with your purchase. We have never invested in hang tags, but in the interest of expanding into the universe, we must invest. So Helena and I have been meeting and planning our hang tags. They are expensive and you have to buy them in bulk: a thousand at a time. Gulp. In typical Helena and Jo perfectionist fashion, we keep going around and around with the design, coming up with bigger and better ideas each time we meet, and generally dragging out the process.




Last week, we concluded our meeting at my house with the decision that the best hang tag ever would have a photo of some really cute kids in their HiP clothing. Luckily, we didn’t have to look too far to find these models. Helena offered up her 5-year-old girl and boy twins, Anna and Charlie. Those kids are super photogenic and are just the same age as so many of our customers. And they don’t even charge by the hour! Perfect, right? So we picked out “Organic Dirtbike Pink and Purple Tee” for her son, and the “White I Love Math tee (with PINK heart)” for her daughter. Helena walked home full of excitement about the imminent after school photo shoot. (We live in the same neighborhood.)




Two days passed and I didn’t hear from Helena. I kept waiting for these adorable photos of the twins to arrive in my inbox. Nothing. Finally, I got an exasperated voicemail from Helena saying that she was having a big problem. For two days, she had been trying to get the photo shoot on, and Charlie was refusing to wear the dirtbike tee! He felt so strongly about not wearing the shirt that he cried about it! Now mind you, when he was 3 years old, he happily sported that very tee all around town. No problem! I asked Helena if she could possibly bribe Charlie into wearing the shirt. Ice cream? She said that he passionately explained to her that pink was for girls and he would have none of that shirt! No ice cream! Fortunately for us (and Charlie), Helena quickly found her 3 year-old neighbor boy who would happily model the shirt for the photo shoot.




So there I was a few days ago, walking down to Helena’s house to collect Charlie’s larger tee and exchange it with a smaller Dirtbike tee for the neighbor. I was far off in my thoughts, feeling disillusioned about the fact that in the last two years Charlie  (the son of a Handsome in Pink owner for heaven’s sake) had absorbed our society’s message that pink is only for girls and not for boys, even if it’s a tough looking pink dirtbike that looks like a motorcycle!

The Fabulous Kim!


In the middle of my thoughts, I was interrupted by a car alarm going off. I hate those things! I looked up to see what was going on and saw that a frustrated looking man was sitting in his car having a lot of trouble getting the engine started while simultaneously trying to figure out how to get his alarm to stop sirening. Facing his car was a bright yellow AAA tow truck. The driver was just getting out of the truck to help out this man. It was a woman! Wow! Way to break down gender stereotypes. If I could only pull Charlie out of kindergarten to see this!




I continued walking down to Helena’s house to make the t-shirt exchange. Somehow, my mood had lifted a bit. I felt a sense of renewal, that the world IS actually changing and there are women out there repairing cars even if there are simultaneously little boys who won’t wear pink. 15 minutes later on my walk back home, I saw the man with the broken down car driving merrily down the street, no more car alarm. The AAA driver was just getting ready to pull away from the curb. I ran up to her and without even knowing what I was going to say, called out, “Excuse me! Hi. Can I just say hello for a minute? Or actually, can I take a photo of you?” The driver was very friendly and wanted to know why the photo. I introduced myself and explained about Handsome in Pink to my new friend Kim. She suggested, “How about a photo in exchange for one of those purple and pink dirtbike tees?!?” It was a deal!
Kim explained to me that growing up, she was an only child. Her father was an architect who, like many architects, didn’t like to get his hands dirty. But he was more than willing to get his daughter’s hands dirty! He taught her how to work on their ‘67 VW bug. As a girl, Kim loved working on the engine of that car. She said that all her other troubles and thoughts would melt away when she was working on cars. Interestingly, Kim added that her formal educational is in Childhood Development and it has been extremely relevant for her current work at AAA. When I drew a blank face, she explained that often when she arrives on the scene, the driver is extremely stressed and has regressed back to the state of a tantrum prone child. Kim uses that child development understanding to connect first with the child— er, frustrated adult, before dealing with the car repair. Kim told me it’s like magic; her customers always calm down within 5 minutes of her arrival.
Well, in wrapping up this story, I would say, when everything Handsome in Pink stands for was on the line with Charlie’s refusal to wear pink, the universe responded with Kim! Perhaps we should even consider putting Kim, in her new dirt bike tee on our hang tag! What do you think?






Messing Up Neat Little Boxes

Today, in the late afternoon, I went grocery shopping with Asa, my 7-year-old son. It’s spring break so all schedules have been thrown out the window (i.e., it was 4:15 and he still hadn’t eaten lunch). No sooner had we started down the first aisle when he declared, “I am so hungry.” He grabbed for a big bag of potato chips and was eyeballing me for approval before he ripped apart the bag. I realized he hadn’t eaten in a while and should have a meal, not chips. Luckily, we weren’t shopping at just any grocery store, we were at the Berkeley Bowl.



Berkeley Bowl is an emporium. They have something for everyone. So we headed over to the hot foods counter to get Asa a corn quesadilla with some beans and rice. We asked the man behind the counter for just that, a quesadilla with beans and rice. The man said he couldn’t do that. I asked him if he had corn tortillas. He pulled one out and said, ”I have soft corn tacos.” I could clearly see behind the counter in the metal trays the black beans, rice, and cheese. I asked him to please melt the cheese in the soft corn taco and then add beans and rice on top. He said that wasn’t possible unless we had meat with it which would make it the “super taco.” I explained that Asa was vegetarian (he isn’t really but I don’t like him eating meat from unknown origins). He then insisted on putting in cooked vegetables. I explained Asa wouldn’t eat the vegetables (such a picky eater I have — literally picky: He won’t eat the veggies unless he picks them himself!). The man then said we had to have the beans and rice and cheese in a burrito. I explained that Asa was gluten-free and didn’t eat wheat tortillas which are the only burrito option. The man assumed I was going to give up and walked away from the counter.
But he didn’t know me very well. I followed him down the counter. “Excuse me”, I said, “Can you please take that soft corn taco and put the black beans, rice, and cheese on it?” The man was still very confused. He hadn’t seemed to have taken another order before from a gluten-free, vegetarian-who-doesn’t-eat-vegetables customer. He sighed deeply, looked both ways to make sure he wasn’t being watched, and then went ahead and did it. He printed out a label for the box which said, “super taco” — and he charged us accordingly. (I didn’t fight this one.)
After we sat down, I said to Asa, “boy, that was a lot of work, wasn’t it?” Asa agreed. I followed that up with, “You were lucky to get what you wanted. That was an example of a time when you didn’t fit into a neat little box.” Asa looked up at me quizzically, “a neat little box? What do you mean? This meal is in a box.” “No, that’s not what I mean” I laughed. “What I mean is there was no option on the menu for what you wanted to eat. And the food provider behind the counter was inflexible. They have neat little boxes (I held up my italics fingers for him) around the choices you can order: a super taco, a chicken burrito, a veggie burrito, etc. They get confused with how to charge us if we order something not on the menu.” I let that sink in for a minute before I continued.
“It’s not such a big deal. But… what would happen if, for example, someone in a wheelchair wanted to take part in a race? And when they went to sign up, they had to check a box whether they would be a walker or runner?” Asa replied, “Well then they wouldn’t check anything.” “But if they didn’t check either,” I answered, “maybe they wouldn’t be able to get the computer to go to the next screen until they made a choice and then they wouldn’t be able to sign up to race at all.” ”Or how about this,” I asked. “What if a person who felt partly like a boy and partly like a girl had to fill out a form about them self and the second question after their name was, ‘Check if you are a girl or a boy’.” Asa thought about it for a minute and said, “they could sign both boy and girl… or neither.” Yep, these are examples, my son, of neat little boxes that some people don’t fit into.
It was the beginning of an interesting conversation that had many directions to take, but I was happy to leave it at that and let the boy eat in peace. I just like to inject my perspective when I am with my kids.  But to my delight, Asa was not entirely done thinking about the topic at hand. His eyes suddenly lit up and he said, “Hey! Handsome in Pink is another example of the opposite of a neat little box!” “That’s right!! I said proudly. “I created Handsome in Pink because when you were a little guy, you were not a neat box kid, you were a messy box! And rockets, firetrucks, and dirt bikes only existed on boring brown and dark blue t-shirts. And you loved pink and wanted all of those things in pink!” “I know, Mama,” Asa smiled. “And you know what? I’m happy you kept asking until I got the meal I wanted, even though I felt nervous. Then maybe at Berkeley Bowl, they can make more boxes on their menu!”
I think the lesson sunk in and my boy is right. More boxes is better than less boxes (although in an ideal world, there would be no boxes at all!) And unless establishments aren’t told that they don’t have a proper box for you, they don’t know. And of course there is nothing wrong with taking matters into your own hands and making a box of your own! I hope someday Asa will be able to shake things up a little bit on his own and get his needs met. He is such a polite kid who is fearful of authority.
I am reminded of the bumper sticker I see from time to time, “Well behaved women rarely make history.” I always read that one out loud when my kids are with me, although clarify what well behaved actually means. Slowly but surely we will make the changes we want to see in the world, little and big.






THE Authority on Fashion interviews HiP

Helena and I were recently interviewed by Robin Wilding who is putting together a website which she anticipates will be “THE authority for aspiring fashion designers.” Her Web site is here. We thought you might enjoy reading the interview!


Handsome in Pink Creators Jo Hadley and Helena Simon Share How They Took Matters Into Their Own Hands


Written by Robin Wilding • December 28, 2011


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The amount of accidental designers that we have encountered during our Interview Series is incredible. Equally as incredible is the amount of people called to the fashion industry by an innate desire to improve on what is currently being designed.


Jo Hadley and Helena Simon both felt that calling, to design fashion that they felt the industry was missing. Friends since kindergarten the two are now mothers and feel that children’s fashion is too limiting. Their venture, Handsome in Pink (HiP), blends the gender lines by believing that “pink can be masculine, blue can be feminine, and exciting rough and tumble imagery belongs to boys and girls alike!”


This gender image blending philosophy isn’t willy nilly though, its solid science as Helena holds a Masters degree in Child Development and Jo has a Masters in Social Work. These are two smart cookies. And their children’s clothing line is now almost 5 years old—and going strong.


We recently got a chance to sit down with the Masters graduates-turned moms-turned fashion designers, and we got to know what their experiences in the industry have been like, including their successes and failures:


What inspired you to get into the fashion industry?
Jo: I did it for my son! Four years ago, when he was 2½ years old, he fell in love with the colors pink and purple and wanted to wear nothing but those colors. Adorned in his pinks and purples, he was assumed to be a girl wherever he went. After a short while, he started getting confused, and I started getting tired of the clothes options out there. I searched high and low for pink and purple clothes with a masculine feel, but found nothing!

So I decided to take matters into my own hands and create clothes for him (and pink boys we knew like him) in pinks and purples with his favorite activities and images at the time: electric guitars, rocket ships, and motorcycles! I thought up the perfect name for the clothes line: “Handsome in Pink” and quickly recruited my artistic/fashion oriented best friend, Helena Marsala, to join me in this business venture.


What is your focus within the industry?
Jo: Our focus in the past 4 years has been on spreading our Handsome in Pink “gospel” which is “wear what you like — like who you are.” We want kids and adults to feel empowered by our clothes! We have also been focused on making more designs and messages on our shirts.


What type of education did it take to get you where you are today?
Jo: I would have to start with growing up in the 70’s era of Marlo Thomas’ record album “Free to Be You and Me.” I listened to that record over and over again as a kid. I adored the message that boys and girls are free to be exactly who they are!

I have a Masters degree in Social Work. Helena has a Masters degree in Early Child Education. So we definitely have the degrees to back up our ideas around advocating for children and meeting them where they are at. But more important than our formal education is the passion we feel for the cause; I think that is what keeps our business going! I lay awake in bed at night thinking up new ideas and messages for our clothing. Helena probably lays awake at night thinking of what brooch she should pin on her coat or what color she should paint her room. She has always been extremely artistic and I think that runs in her genes– and thank goodness for that or we wouldn’t have the cute, fashionable clothes we have.


How has your career path progressed over the years?
Jo: When I conceived of the idea of Handsome in Pink, I very much had in mind this niche group of people I wanted to reach: boys (and men) who like pink. But very quickly I realized there was someone I was forgetting: girls and women! My daughter, who is a year and a half older than my son, absolutely loved the Handsome in Pink apparel. She, too, wanted to wear it every day! I quickly realized girls in our society have been pushed into pink frills and flowers on their clothes and a lot of them wanted more interesting and active imagery. In the past year, we have really moved into the “Girl Power” movement and have created
more shirts with messages such as “Forget Princess, call me President.”


But another way my career path has progressed is I’ve realized that in our two person business where one of us is the fashionista queen, the other one of us (that’s me) needs to be on top of marketing, accounting, filling orders, tracking supplies, research, maintaining the website, etc. It has been a huge education for me learning how to run a business. I’ve made too many mistakes to count on one hand… okay, or even two hands.


What is your favorite part of working in the fashion/design business?
Jo: I have a couple favorite parts. First, I love when inspiration hits. I remember last year thinking about the expression “Girly Girl” and how that described an ultra-feminine weak character. I wanted to reinvent the expression. I wanted to have a tough blue shirt that had Girly Girl written on there with a different story about Girly Girls. This Girly Girl was going to love being outside climbing trees and fishing. She was going to be strong, artistic, musical, intellectual, and athletic! And that’s exactly what Helena and I created!


My other favorite part of the business is receiving emails from happy customers telling their story and why the particular clothes items they bought from us fit the bill so well for them or their children. And I adore when they include a photo of our shirts or onesies or dresses in action!


What advice would you give to aspiring fashionistas?
Jo: Get out there, listen to your instincts, and don’t be afraid to put your heart and soul into the clothes you make. Also, know you’ll make lots of mistakes and that’s okay!


What school(s) does your company generally recruit new hires from?
Jo: We are still a small business. We are hoping to attract a high school intern from our high school alma mater to help us out with marketing this spring.


Do you think there is an overall increasing or decreasing need for people in the fashion industry?
Jo: In my experience, the economy dictates the increasing or decreasing need for people in the fashion industry. Helena and I started our business at the end of 2007, right as the “Great Recession” really took hold. It’s hard for folks to justify spending money on a non-Target t-shirt when they are financially stressed. I remember going to trade shows where we spent $200 to have a table there and then made 3 sales the whole day! Talk about discouraging! But when you hit a nerve and are able to have your clothes reflect the fashion wave of the times (or the political wave or the wave of what people are talking about), then sales go up even despite hard times.


Which roles in the fashion industry do you think will offer the best career opportunities moving forward? eg. designer, PR, entrepreneur, etc.?
Jo: You know, recently, I was listening to an interview with Walter Isaacson, who is the author of Steve Jobs’ recent biography. He is also the author of biographies on Albert Einstein, Henry Kissinger, and Benjamin Franklin. Isaacson was asked what these four men had in common. He replied that they were all very bright. But being intelligent isn’t enough in this world. They were all also deeply creative thinkers. They were all able to get out of the mainstream ways of thinking about things and solving problems. I think Isaacson’s answer applies to all arenas, including fashion. The best career opportunities are for the people who see a space for themselves and create an opportunity. It sure helps if you have a good head for business!


What designer(s) or brand(s) influenced you the most as a creative professional?
Jo: I’m always a fan of clothes that are new and different. I was recently at the Ashland farmer’s market with my husband and we couldn’t get over all of the gorgeous clothes booths. There was a woman turning blue jeans into blue jean skirts with magnificent nature patterns. But hey, I’m no fashionista. Better ask Helena…

Helena: Personally, I am inspired by clothes and costumes designed for period movies, the theater and the ballet. I also have a great appreciation for a wide range of designers such as Gabrielle Chanel, Paul Poiret, Cristobal Balenciaga and Sarah Burton. Each has influenced me in a different way – I could talk to you for days about it, but I’ll hold my tongue since there are three more questions I still have to answer!


Do you think today’s jobs in the fashion industry require more of an artist’s touch or business-like ruthlessness?
Jo: I want to say artist’s touch just because I’m an optimist. I don’t know how ruthless one has to be, but like I said, having a strong business sense is extremely important as well.

Helena: I think one needs to be both creative and business-savvy in order to succeed in the fashion industry. The old adage, “Nothing ventured, nothing gained” comes to my mind. You can create the most original, well-made, fabulous garment ever, but it you don’t pluck up the courage to step outside and knock on every door until you get a buyer, that dress will remain in the studio on its hanger forever.


Which skills do you consider to be most critical for a career in fashion?
Jo: Having confidence and being bold enough to get out there and create clothes and start selling them. You really have to just put yourself out there and be mentally prepared to not take off flying right away. It’s okay to sell at farmer’s markets or trade shows in the beginning— maybe always. You might be discovered which would be very exciting, but you might not.

Helena: I feel strongly that you need to believe in your product. It’s important to surround yourself by designers and wares that inspire and energize you, but you should always follow your own instincts when it comes to forging your own career in fashion. Make what YOU love and success will come.


What do you think the future of fashion and design holds?
Jo: I imagine flying dresses and pants. Just put them on, press the fly button, and off you go, into the sky! I’m just kidding. I have no idea. Who knows? Maybe body art will take off and people will just go Burning Man style and paint their nude bodies with interesting designs. Then we’d all be out of work!

Helena: I anticipate the use of new fabrics and natural dyes that are earth-friendly with minimal harm to the environment. I’d also love to see the return of the chapeau. I live to see which hat Margaret Schroeder is wearing each week on HBO’s Boardwalk Empire. The craftsmanship alone!


Check out more interviews at The Fashion-Schools.org Interview Series.


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