“…bottoms cut way too high for toddlers.”
“…my daughter has a permanent wedge.”
“…think back to the Baywatch 80s era.”
These are just some of the complaints from parents upset over this year’s cut of several Cotton On swimwear designs for young girls that are sized for toddlers through to tweens.
The fast-fashion Australian retailer with 600 stores worldwide, including dozens in New Zealand, admitted to receiving so many complaints about the togs it promised to revert to the more tasteful cuts of previous seasons.
“[Cotton On] is almost making these girls grow up too soon,” said Phillipa Porter, an Auckland mum who bought one of the questionable togs for her five-year-old daughter. “It is almost predatory in a way, or creating that environment for little girls.”
Porter’s daughter had worn some Cotton On togs from previous seasons without any complaints. When her daughter outgrew them, Porter bought a larger size without much thought – until her daughter tried them on at home.
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“You take one look. You take a second look, and then you take a third look, and it’s ‘No there is something not right about this’,” said Porter.
The crutch area was skimpy, barely providing any coverage, especially for an active five-year-old intent on running, swimming and building sandcastles, Porter said. The cut was also high on the hip so there was even less coverage behind with the added issue of the fabric continuously riding up her daughter’s backside.
“We know younger people are exposed to so much more these days – technology, information – but it felt like giving adult female sensual directions to an age group that is totally inappropriate,” said Porter’s husband Rob, who was there when his daughter put on the Cotton On swimmers.
When Porter told the shop a**istant why she was returning the togs, the shop a**istant said many parents had done the same with similar complaints. Porter’s words about the inappropriate togs are also echoed in over a dozen reviews on Cotton On’s website.
“…sadly, these are kids bathers cut up the back seat like a 20something would wear,” one parent named “Carlotta” wrote on the Cotton On website. “It might be fine for them but no one wants to see their daughter running around in a cheeky cut pant!”
“These bathers are too high cut,” wrote another parent called Sav G. “It’s as though they missed the ‘fit model’ stage altogether!”
Porter emailed Cotton On to formally complain. The company responded a few days later apologising and promised, “based on the feedback we have received throughout the season,” that Cotton On swimmers for girls would go back to the cut of previous seasons. They are still currently available to buy on the company’s website.
The representative wrote that Cotton On’s design team had tested the new cut on mannequins as well as real kids and were disappointed to receive “multiple complaints” about the cut of the togs.
However, the email also raised new questions about how fashion companies decide what the public wears. The Cotton On representatives wrote that the new cut was in line with “Australian Standards,” without explaining what that is.
“Who are these people making these decisions for three and four-year-olds to wear things that are revealing and inappropriate,” said Rob, Porter’s husband, before later adding, “Are they young people making decisions for girls because it is cool, hip and trendy?”
Ultra high-rise bottoms that hark back to women’s swimwear of the 1980s and 90s has been a trend in recent years, according to numerous fashion websites.
A spokesperson for Cotton On KIDS, an arm of Cotton On, reiterated the company’s apology to parents in an email to Stuff as well as the promise that the cut of girls swimwear would change for the next Summer season.
“Our product is made by parents, for families, with functionality being a key consideration…” wrote the spokesperson. She did not explain what “Australian standards” swimwear cuts were or the standards’ origin.
The brief cut swimmers at Cotton On is just one example of how children are groomed to think and behave in a certain way by corporations through the products they sell and how they market these products to young minds, Porter said.
This is especially true for girls who face an ever-increasing barrage of s**ualisation, according to researchers. This can result in severe psychological consequences such as depression, body shame and eating disorders.
For Porter, it was also telling that it took so many complaints from parents for Cotton On to wake up to its own swimwear designs.
“Other companies will copy Cotton On because they are seen as the trend setters for children’s clothing,” she said, “and then it becomes the norm.”