One Woman is Helping Kids Embrace Diversity
When Vanessa Hodgerson, associate general counsel for Adecco, attended her first Generation W in 2016, she didn’t know what to expect. “It was an entirely new environment for me, so I went in with the goal of taking three things away from the experience,” Vanessa said. “At the end of the day, I had a list of twenty-five things that resonated with me.”
A few years earlier, Vanessa and her husband had adopted a full sibling group of three bi-racial children. By their third year of parenting, Vanessa was actively searching for “racial mirrors,” especially for her daughter. “As a white mom raising a daughter who presents black, I suddenly had this awareness of what life looked like through her eyes,” said Vanessa. “I realized that although kids do not necessarily understand the prejudices associated with color, they do understand their skin is different. To feel a sense of connection, they need to see themselves reflected in the books they are reading, the shows they are watching and even the clothes they are wearing.”
In search of “racial mirrors,” Vanessa discovered something shocking: there isn’t a lot of diversity when it comes to kid items, especially clothing. “Everywhere we looked, there were shirts with white kids on them,” said Vanessa. “It wasn’t just that I wanted my daughter to see herself reflected in her clothing, I wanted all kids to see different races and cultures on their clothing as well. For me, this lack of diversity in clothing wasn’t just about giving my children a deeper sense of connection with their world; it was about teaching children everywhere to embrace diversity and inclusion.”
Little did Vanessa know that her search for racial mirrors was about to take a very unexpected turn when she walked through the doors of Generation W. Inspired by speakers and conversations, less than four months after she attended, Vanessa launched her very own children’s clothing company, Change of Color. The mission of Change of Color is to increase representation of kids of color and to encourage children to make a statement through fashion about embracing diversity and inclusion. “It’s more of a grassroots social movement,” adds Vanessa. “We want to increase the awareness of the lack of representation in hopes of changing how retailers buy and display products. Whether it’s my product or not, I want to convince retailers to join this movement with me.” In addition to creating great t-shirts, every quarter Change of Color also donates 10% of each purchase to a different non-profit whose mission encompasses the betterment of all children’s lives. “It is about creating a positive impact on children,” says Vanessa.
Although she did walk away from her first Generation W experience with twenty-five new ideas and pieces of inspiration, here are the three takeaways that moved Vanessa from “searching” to “creating change”:
Mom guilt can either destroy you or motivate you.
“I felt like I had this passion for making a difference because of my daughter. I wanted to create a positive energy around embracing diversity to help my daughter feel included and connected.”
Wouldn’t it be great if we lived in a world where insecurity and desperation made us more attractive?
“I was always complaining to my girlfriends about the struggle with finding clothing that represented kids of color. Even though I had no idea what I was doing, I saw no other option than for me to do something about it myself.”
What would you do if you knew you could not fail?
“My husband took my daughter to swim lessons one morning, and while he was gone, I bought the domain and started the business. I have spent late nights researching and learning, I’ve gotten my kids involved, and although I’ve probably made a thousand mistakes along the way, I have never stopped thinking that failure is an option.”