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Growing demand in the booming kidswear market

From “mini-me” collections to new launches and a growing emphasis on quality, Drapers takes a closer look at the childrenswear market’s current baby boom

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As the fashion industry battles through a particularly challenging period, one sector of the market appears to be having something of a moment. The launch of Harrods’ Mini Fashion Lab in August and the expansion of activewear business Zakti into the category this month are just two examples of how the UK’s childrenswear sector, valued at £5.8bn by Euromonitor in 2015, is on the rise.

The growth is fuelled by an explosion of fashion-focused “mini-me” dressing and a desire for quality product, and that demand is set to continue.

Finger in the nose 1 at harrods

Finger in the Nose at Harrods

“There was a baby boom in 2011 [more babies were born in the UK in 2011/12 than any year since 1972, reports the Office for National Statistics]. Now those children are at primary school age, so the next few years will be crucial for the UK kidswear market,” explains Anusha Couttigane, senior analyst at Kantar Retail. “Volumes will continue to increase because kids grow so fast so there’s a lot of opportunity there for UK retailers.”

One business taking advantage of this growth is Sainsbury’s Tu, the UK’s fifth biggest kidswear retailer in terms of volume.

“Rather than focusing on basics we’re really going after the fashion market,” says John Carolan, head of menswear and childrenswear buying at the supermarket. “We have invested in our design to make the prints better and the clothing more inspirational.”

Tu, which had a 9% increase in annual sales of childrenswear in 2015, has also brought some of its production closer to home – from China and India to Turkey – to shorten lead times and increase the fashionability of product.

“We can now have a third of our girlswear turned around in eight weeks and we are refreshing the offer every four weeks. It has made a big difference,” Carolan adds.

Fashion-forward product has also been top of the agenda for maternity and kidswear specialist Mothercare, which is implementing a turnaround plan to boost profits.

“One of the biggest things for us was creating more stylish products,” says Karl Doyle, executive group product director at the retailer.

“We’ve been injecting more style and modernity into our product. We were too cheap a few years ago and now we are focused on design and quality. We stretched our price point upwards while keeping entry levels low, and it has been successful. Little Bird is our most expensive product but our most popular. We are using new fabrics, prints and suppliers – it has a more premium feel,” he adds.

Mothercare aw16 three

Mothercare autumn 16

Michele Harriman-Smith, chief executive of Drapers award-winning independent Childrensalon, agrees that more and more shoppers are looking for well-made products: “We have noticed growth across the board in kidswear over the last couple of years. It is all about quality and detail. Soft fabric and comfort is key. Occasionwear is also on the rise as parents are looking to dress their children beautifully for Christmas or Eid.”

Mini me

Another trend Harriman-Smith notes is the rise of “mini-me” collections: “A lot of parents just love that complete look, whether it’s having matching outfits or designers. It’s a phenomenon,” she adds.

Bunty Stokes, managing director of children’s UVA-protective swimwear brand Sunuva agrees: “You can also see there is much more demand for fashion, fuelled by children’s awareness of fashion and their influence on purchases driven by celebrity culture and the ‘mini-me’ trend.”

Perhaps the biggest recent expression of the popularity of children dressing to match their parents can be seen in Harrods’ Mini Fashion Lab, which launched last month. The area mirrors the department store’s womenswear Fashion Lab concept and features contemporary brands such as Gardner & the Gang, Mini Rodini, Little Remix, Sweet Pants and Finger in the Nose.

Mini rodini at harrods mini fashion lab 1

Mini Rodini at Harrods (Mini Fashion Lab)

Helen David, chief merchant at Harrods, says the decision was taken to launch the concept following the success of the womenswear lab, which opened in 2013. “Over the last few seasons, we have really focused on building our contemporary kidswear category. Following the success of Fashion Lab in womenswear, we have taken the opportunity to emulate the concept and launch Mini Fashion Lab. The new department follows in the footsteps of Mini Superbrands [launched in May] and features contemporary clothes, shoes and accessories as part of its very own shopping destination.”

She adds: “I am confident that both of our ‘mini’ concepts will further reinforce Harrods’ position as the ultimate destination for the most diverse, luxury and trend-led kid’s designerwear offering in the world.”

Couttigane says celebrity influence has helped the trend develop. “The power of celebrity has always been important in the fashion world and now, with a whole generation of celebrity parents on social media, the mini-me trend has really taken off. Retailers are having to think about how the product is developed, how it will be merchandised and how it will be marketed.”

Celebrity helped spur the expansion of Mountain Warehouse-owned Zakti into the childrenswear market. Sales of children’s clothing jumped 53% in the first 10 weeks of the new financial year at Mountain Warehouse following the successful launch of a new range created with TV presenter Steve Backshall.

“Parents are buying into more technical garments for their children and we felt there was a gap for affordable activewear for this audience and have decided to introduce this in Zakti,” adds the firm’s head of buying Avril Moran.

The demand for kids’ fashion continues to grow in the UK and it seems success lies in fashion-led product and high-quality collections that are both comfortable and Instagramable. And with the power of celebrity and social media ever more prevalent in children’s fashion, the market shows no signs of growing pains.

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