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Shopping with Lulu

Back-to-school styles through the eyes of a six-year-old

Lulu Gzowski, 6, is wearing her favourite skirt -- a leopard-print kerchief number that brushes the ground and flares when she spins. She also has on a whimsical black, white and gold print T-shirt her mom picked out. Around her neck are three faded wooden beads on a piece of string.

"They're green," she says, tucking her chin to grab the beads with her tongue for a nibble. "They used to be green," she giggles.

Lulu is about to embark on a ritual many girls grow to obsess about by their tween years: Back-to-school shopping.

"It's not something we've really done before. I usually just buy her stuff and she wears it," says Lulu's mom, Mary Henricksen, 49, at their Fairfield apartment. "But it's time. The one thing about buying kids clothes, especially when they're this age and growing like weeds, is they grow out of stuff, and they become fussy like the rest of us."

For Lulu, fashion is still what she likes or doesn't like, what fits and what's comfortable. Dressing up is still part of an imagination game, getting ready in the morning an act of independence and self-awareness a new experience.

Her mother is well aware the children's clothing industry generates billions of dollars each year -- about $44.1 billion last year in the U.S. alone. One of the fastest growing markets is the tween industry, targeting kids between eight and 12 with new lines by their celebrity idols like Miley Cyrus, Madonna's 13-year-old daughter Lourdes Leon and the Jonas brothers.

"My prediction is the fashion icons of her generation will be the Jolie-Pitt kids," she tells me as we walk up Fort Street to Oak Bay Village. "I just hate how so much of the clothing for girls is either pink or purple and has silly slogans on it."

If I were in Grade 1 at École Margaret Jenkins School, Lulu and I would definitely be friends. We'd read every book in the How to Train Your Dragon series, run really fast around the building and play our mothers' clapping games at recess, and I'd be strangely jealous when she won an 'Oscar' for being the most stylish kid in class.

"I think it's 'cause maybe I like patterns together," she says when I ask her why she was presented with the gold spray-painted wooden clothespin statuette. "Other kids got awards, too."

My first fashion nightmare occurred when I was six years old. It was 1984. High-collared shirts, sweater vests and rollerskates were in style. My

28-year-old mother found a fabulous new hairdresser at the Prince George Woodward's department store salon and wanted to treat me to a new back-to-school 'do.

My long golden ringlets were hacked to the floor, sheared into a feathered mullet -- perhaps the first in town. I went from Annie adorable to Pat Benatar spooky and cried for days. Fashion maverick be damned, I wanted to be myself again. I'd never let anyone pick out a hair style or outfit for me again.

Our first stop is Abra-Kid-Abra clothing store at 2024 Oak Bay Ave. Mary has to open the child-proof gate at the front door for me. Lulu bolts in, picking out a mom-approved electric blue hoodie made of some fuzzy, soft material.

"We'll just add it to the collection," Mary says. She's on the hunt for a few key items: Pyjamas, winter boots, long enough pants and a nice dress to go see Cirque du Soleil.

"You can get some great deals here," she tells me. Abra-Kid-Abra sells both new and consignment kids' clothing. A woman heaves a garbage bag of clothes onto the front counter. Babies crawl around at will.

As Mary sifts through racks of used clothing for Lulu to consider, something interesting happens.

"What about this?" Mary says holding up a sage green T-shirt.

Shoulder shrug.

"Or this one?" she says holding a bold, olive-coloured one that would match Lulu's blue-green eyes, tanned skin and flaxen hair perfectly.

Enthusiastic head nod.

"Oh, this is cute," Mary gushes over a simple cotton blouse with embroidered flowers.

Lulu's eyes widen in a terrified grimace.

"I knew it," Mary says. "She's not a fan of ...."

"The minimalist peasant look?" I finish.

Yes, Lulu is too young to adhere to, or even notice, pressures of the fashion industry. But she's got her own style.

We cool off with iced coffees and juice at Starbucks on our way to the neighbourhood's upscale kid's boutique, Finn and Izzy at 2259 Oak Bay Ave. Lulu diligently slips on a pair of Bogs boots. They're rubber to the ankle with stretchy, waterproof handles. She gets the larger size so they might fit next year, too.

On the walk home, grown-up conversation has taken a backseat to two green straws, which become walrus teeth, drumsticks and a clarinet. Lulu perks up when we talk about things she's into, like that zombie game on the iPad at London Drugs, the BBC kids website and Wipeout -- a reality TV show about adults trying not to wipe out on an obstacle course. She tells me her favourite song is K'Naan's Waving Flag, the World Cup soccer anthem the Canadian hip-hop artist.

We pass a furniture store about to close and Lulu insists I try out a Fat Boy -- a gigantic stuffed pillow that doubles as a chair or bed. Lulu sleeps on one at her mom's place since her parents separated a few months ago.

"We can have a nap on it when we get home," she says. "Shopping is so tiring."

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Next Week: Meet the Island mompreneurs behind unique kids clothing lines, stores and the Vancouver Island Baby Fair.

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