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How Cynthia Rowley Changed my Daughter's Life

Sabrina James and vendors

It's that time of year again folks... the time we secretly (or not so secretly, depending on the honesty of your facebook posts) wish for: back to school! After a summer of fun, we spend weeks analyzing school supply lists, braving crowded malls and discount stores, and––if you're anything like me––arguing with our kids about what they should wear to school. I chatted with iconic fashion designer Cynthia Rowley a few weeks ago about her new kids' line with JCPenney (blog post coming soon!) and she dropped some wisdom on me that changed the way I prepped for the school year. 

During our conversation, I asked Cynthia if she ever struggled with her daughters' sense of style, especially considering she is a bonafide style icon! She laughed. It's a problem I have with my own 6-year-old daughter, Kaia. We have very different ideas of what looks good. When it comes to clothes, Kaia questions me more than anyone ever has. She constantly asks me if what I pick out really matches. She also likes to tell me that I like "cool" things and she likes "pretty" things. "Pretty" to her usually means sparkles, rainbows and stripes-on-stripes (or pink-on-pink, depending on her mood). I think if given the chance, Kaia would dress like one of the girls from "Toddlers and Tiaras" on pageant day. To say this frustrates me is an understatement. If there's one thing I'm passionate about it's kid fashion! It's what I do! 

Enter Cynthia Rowley, my voice of reason. She said, "I let my girls wear what they want." What? I wanted to scream! YOU'RE CYNTHIA ROWLEY! You are the tastemaker for millions of women! She went on, "Who would you be today without those childhood pictures of yourself wearing crazy outfits that embarrass you now?" I immediately thought back to a pair of purple printed Z Cavariccis that I proudly wore with a HyperColor shirt. Yup, embarassing. My parents really had no opinion on what I wore. I chastise them for this to this very day. "You let me go out looking crazy!" They laugh and tell me that I never cared much about what I wore and neither did they. It wasn't important and isn't important now for Kaia. Psh... do they know who they are talking to? 

Cynthia continued, "Fashion is one of the few ways kids can express themselves. It's how they learn who they are and who they want to be. With so little control over other aspects of their lives, kids turn to fashion as a means of self expression. I hope that I have given my daughters the tools and advice they need to make wise fashion choices, but what they wear is up to them." 

Wow. That made sense. I started to see myself as some deranged fashion dictator, stifling my child's self expression. I was... embarrassed. Kaia is a silly, rainbow and unicorn loving girl who likes sparkles. My favorite color is gray. I like designer styles and skinny jeans for kids. Kaia likes dresses, tulle and t-shirts with kitten faces on them. It's like we're living in an episode of "Rainbow Brite" (ironically one of Kaia's favorite shows) and I'm the evil villain looking to take the color out of her world. No more. This villain has turned over a new leaf. After all, I once rocked MC Hammer pants and neon overalls and I turned out ok. The more I think of it, I have my own parents to thank for my career in fashion. They let me express myself without their preconceived notions of who they wanted me to be. They gave me the confidence to be myself and ultimately that's what I want most for Kaia. 

So thank you, Cynthia. You made a difference in my life and in the life of a little girl who today, on her first day of first grade, wore a sequined backpack, magenta tulle skirt and rainbow star knee-highs that she picked out on her own. She thought she looked fab, and you know what, she absolutely did. She looked like Kaia, and to me, there's nothing cooler than that. 

Kaia's back to school goods: Sequin backpack, Reebok hi-tops, Corduroy tulle skirt, Sequin shirt, Minnie Mouse lunch box, Thermos FUNtainer, Star knee socks

What about you? Do you ever struggle with your kids' fashion choices? What does your kid like to wear that makes you cringe? Leave a comment and be sure to tag me on Instagram (@sabrinajames) or email me at with your kid's best back to school looks!