Gabi Yulo was just a toddler when she announced that she wanted a "tornado," said her mom. That was three-year-old speak for a tuxedo. Gabi also had a love of ties and bow ties and often wore them around her neck paired with a t-shirt.
Michele Yulo, 51 of Tucker, searched all over for a suit that would fit her daughter, but came up empty-handed. She eventually hit the boy's department to purchase a tuxedo.
Gabi wore it to her violin recital with a pair of Michael Jordan high-tops and her hair pulled back in a ponytail.
Yulo realized her daughter, now an 11-year-old middle schooler, just wasn't a princess and pink loving type of girl.
"She is gender non-conforming," said Yulo. "She has never ascribed to princess culture or girly, ultra feminine things. But I tell her, it doesn't make her less of a girl."
When Gabi was younger, she was confused about her choices. "She didn’t see a lot of options and didn’t see a lot of girls like her at the time," said Michele Yulo.
In pre-K, Gabi preferred playing with the firetrucks rather than in the play kitchen. When she was six, she got a buzz cut. "I had to say to her, 'I’m okay with it but you are going to walk out the door and people are going to say things,'" said Yulo.
Yulo decided she needed to do something to help her daughter and all the other girls who wanted something other than what society was offering.
In 2008, Yulo sold her wedding ring and created Princess Free Zone -- a website, blog and brand that makes gender neutral t-shirts with designs such as a dinosaur on a scooter or an octopus with a mustache.
But what Yulo really wanted was to create a line of suits with separates that girls could mix and match to get the look they want. The clothing would be sized for girls' bodies and would prevent girls from ever again having to shop for ill-fitting suits in the boys' department.
Her first effort at fundraising came up short, but Yulo thinks the time is right to try again.
There has been a lot of attention devoted to creating gender-neutrality among children from the gender-free toy aisles at Target to ED by Ellen, a line of gender-neutral clothing that Ellen DeGeneres created for the Gap.
Yulo noted one moment in particular that seemed to change the landscape -- a 2011 image featuring J.Crew president and creative director Jenna Lyons’ holding her son, Beckett's, toes, which were painted with his favorite hot pink Essie nail polish.
"I don’t want to give up,” said Yulo. "The idea is to open up those options to reflect that not all girls like dresses."
Yulo is working with a designer and manufacturer in New York who have helped her create plans for three different suit styles -- a casual suit, a dressier style and a tuxedo -- for girls ages 5 through 12.
For each suit style, there will be skirt, short and pant options to pair with the jackets. Yulo has also planned a collection of ties.
Long-term, she hopes to add cargo pants and button-down shirts to the mix.
Though it is early to have an exact retail price, Yulo said she would like the suits to be in the range of $125 total for the top and bottom.
"I want this to be very high quality," she said. "I want to be sure they are how I want them to look and feel. I don’t want them to be cheap or to fall apart after a couple of wears."
It is a big endeavor for a working mom who has not had previous experience in manufacturing, but Yulo is hopeful that the project will resonate with other moms who have had a similar experience.
"It is adorable when you are five or six, but when you are 12, it is no longer cute for girls to be in boys clothes," she said. "I have seen my daughter struggle with this and I know there are plenty of kids out there who would love to try something different. I feel like kids shouldn’t be pigeonholed by what they wear."