Nicola Thorp’s “high heels case” shined a bigger light on the strange correlation between shoes and gender stereotypes – and Clarks is prepared to exploit that link to the fullest. There are a few things about shoes that irk females. They are often classed “his” or “hers,” and the colour pink, not to mention glitter, sticks like glue. This may soon change, however, with new guidelines on gender stereotyping from the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). Its tougher stance follows its own published research, which stated: “There is significant evidence that gender inequality leads to real-world harms for adults and children. These unequal outcomes might affect different people in a variety of practical, social, emotional and economic ways.” And if there was ever a company needing to “turn a new leaf” before the ASA starts dishing out penalities, then it’s Clarks. Because women of all ages have long been writing to the company to make changes. Back in 2015, eight-year-old Sophie Tow wrote to management about labelling shoes “just for boys” and “just for girls”. She said: “I don’t like how girls have flowery shoes. I like dinosaurs and fossils, so I think that other girls might as well.” Later, parent Jemma Moonie-Dalton penned a note on how Clarks was sending children “the wrong message”. This time, it was about the difference in overall shoe quality found in each section. “In the boys’ section the shoes are sturdy, comfortable and weatherproof, with soles clearly designed with running and climbing in mind,” she wrote. “In contrast, the girls’ shoes have inferior soles, are not fully covered, and are not well padded at the ankle. They are not comfortable and are not suited to outdoor activities in British weather. “To the best of my knowledge, all small children like to run, jump and play. If I thought she was sat quietly in the corner looking pretty and dainty all day, avoiding puddles or running games that might scuff her shoes, I’d be heartbroken.” What these two tales have in common is Clarks’ promise for a more unisex range. But despite the ASA looming on the horizon, the business shares a lesson in not listening to customers. Indeed, its most recent shoe series has caused quite the outrage. One was nickamed “the leader” and covered with footballs, while the other, “the dolly babe,” had pink insoles bespeckled with hearts. Guess which was marketed towards which gender? Even Nicola Sturgeon took to complaining. Saying: “It is almost beyond belief that in 2017 a major company could think this is in any way acceptable. Shows what we are still up against.” It follows on from mother Laura Greenwood’s accusation of girls shoes at Clarks being “fussy, impractical and prone to scuffing – quite unlike the sensible, practical, durable ranges designed for boys”. The response? Clarks is working on unisex shoes. But wasn’t that what management told Tow in 2015? If the company wants to keep its customer base, not to mention slip under the ASA’s radar, it just might need to comply to the populations wishes.
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