Although Hollister’s girls’ clothing is for “Bettys,” Elizabeth Hair-Estrella, 31, doesn’t exactly fit Hollister’s teen demographic. And neither does her 2-year-old daughter, Savannah.
Yet there they were Saturday afternoon, sitting beside the entrance to the California-inspired chain’s store in the Northwoods Mall in North Charleston.
But they weren’t there to shop; they came, along with several other mother-child pairs, to protest — by breast-feeding. Their strollers bore posters with messages like “Breastfeeding Is A Public Health Issue.”
The 3 p.m.“nurse-in” was prompted by a report last week that a Hollister manager in Houston told a shopper that she could not breast-feed her 7-month-old daughter in or near the store entrance.
Word spread, and thanks in part to social media, nursing mothers were galvanized. A couple of fathers showed up, too.
Hair-Estrella, who works as an analyst for a major food distributor from her home in Hanahan, said the idea was to raise awareness about breast-feeding, its necessity and its health benefits. It was Savannah’s “first protest,” she said.
“We would like to peacefully create change,” Hair-Estrella said.
Although nursing is natural, the practice has been controversial. The debate has ranged from the merits of breast milk versus formula to how long to nurse children, a question memorably raised by last year’s Time magazine cover photo of a mother breast-feeding her almost 4-year-old son.
On Saturday, some passers-by smiled and spoke softly to each other, while others seemed confused or quickened their pace. But everyone who agreed to speak with The Post and Courier seemed to side with the protesters.
Becky Garcia, on her way into Hollister with 4-month-old Cruz, said she didn’t feel the need to participate in the demonstration but supports her fellow breast-feeding mothers.
“A woman should have the right to do what she wants,” the North Charleston resident said.
Told of the controversy on his way out of Hollister, Al Nelson, 24, agreed women should be able to nurse wherever they please. Asked if this made him think differently about Hollister, the North Charleston resident said, “Now that you say it, it kind of does.”
Inside the teen clothing store, young sales clerks folded clothing as fast-paced music pounded in the dim. Assistant manager Whitney Clark seemed unfazed by the action outside.
“No big deal,” she said. “We just have to go about business, so that’s our priority.”
Clark referred questions about the substance of the debate to Hollister’s corporate public relations, which did not return a request for comment.
Leigh Burnett, who was on hand Saturday representing mall owner CBL & Associates Properties Inc., said Northwoods has a nursing lounge near the food court restrooms, but no one is required to use them.
“We follow the law,” Burnett said. “We instruct our employees not to disturb nursing mothers wherever they are.”
According to South Carolina law (and that of several other states), “A woman may breast-feed her child in any location where the mother and her child are authorized to be.” It is not considered indecent exposure.
Burnett suggested the Hollister manager in Houston was “just one person who made a bad judgment call.”
“This is just a normal part of everyday life for a lot of folks,” she said. “There’s no issue for us.”
Tony Saini looked on sympathetically from his jewelry stand a few paces away from the Hollister entrance.
“Some people maybe mind, but I don’t mind,” he said.
The father of a 9- and 5-year-old, Saini said babies get hungry just like adults but can’t pick when or where they satisfy that hunger.
It’s a woman’s right to feed the child, he said. “We just need to pay respect.”
Reach BrendanKearney at 937-5906 and follow him on Twitter at @kearney_brendan.