Drapers explores the seemingly contradictory traditional and streetwear trends shaping the growing kidswear market.
More from: The kidswear market grows up
Throughout the summer of 2013, the world’s media were camped outside a hospital in London’s Paddington, impatiently awaiting the arrival of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge’s first baby. More than four years on, Prince George and his sister, Princess Charlotte, born in 2015, are two of the most powerful influences on the global kidswear market. And with a third royal baby on the way, that looks set to continue.
“For us, one of the key trends is that a more traditional look is coming back, which can absolutely be traced back to the George and Charlotte effect,” explains Mel Brown, design and buying director at children’s and maternity wear retailer Jojo Maman Bébé. “Nautical designs, classic blue gingham, dainty embroidery and smocking are all very popular.”
The royal siblings are not the only high-profile youngsters shaping how parents around the world dress their children. Kim Kardashian and Kanye West’s offspring, North and Saint West (plus new baby, Chicago), Beyoncé’s daughter Blue Ivy, and Harper Beckham are among the famous tots defining kidswear trends before their 10th birthdays.
A more traditional look is coming back, which can absolutely be traced back to the Prince George and Princess Charlotte effect
Mel Brown, Jojo Maman Bébé
“There are three movements,” explains Erin Rechner, senior kidswear editor at trend forecaster WGSN. “The growth in millennial parents; families having more disposable income because parents are having kids later; and the age of the ‘Instatot’ – these are crossing over to create the perfect recipe for major growth in the kidswear market.
For John Carolan, head of buying at Sainsbury’s clothing line Tu, kidswear is quite literally a growing market.
“The interesting thing we’re seeing in kidswear is that there has been a big drive in trends filtering down from menswear and womenswear. It is a competitive market, not just on price but on trends, colours and quality. It is a growing market because the customer growing. It’s an ever-evolving market because households are always going to put children first when they need new shoes or clothes.
“Athleisure has been really big for us, and dance ranges have been brilliant, but a more classic look has also been really strong. Whether it’s a mini me look, an athleisure look or a character design, such as Peppa Pig, it is about offering customers a huge variety of choice and newness.”
The no-gender agenda
As heritage styles thrive, a seemingly contradictory trend is also emerging: that of unisex and gender-neutral collections. Customers can be quick to vent their ire online if they spot retailers stereotyping children with pink girls’ T-shirts emblazoned with slogans about how they look and boys’ ranges bearing messages about being brave. This taps into a growing frustration surrounding heavily gendered toys.
The high street has started to take notice. Last September, John Lewis was the first retailer to remove gender labels from its boys’ and girls’ clothing ranges. The following month, River Island debuted its 15-piece collection of urban-inspired gender-neutral kidswear.
Heritage outerwear brand Belstaff launched its first unisex kid’s collection in September. It includes a mini-me version of Belstaff’s hero Roadmaster jacket, as well as hoodies, T-shirts and sweatshirts.
“The idea of doing something unisex was quite natural for us,” explains creative director Delephine Ninous. “Our iconic jackets already come in the same styles for men and women, although with different fits. It is a timeless, classic piece that fits with both boys and girls.”
Contemporary kidswear brand Scamp & Dude has been stocked in London department store Liberty since it launched in 2016. Vibrant leopard prints, lightning bolt motifs and bright corals feature throughout the gender-neutral range.
There’s no reason that pink and rabbits are for girls, and dinosaurs are for boys
Jo Tutchener-Sharp, Scamp & Dude
“I wanted to prove that kidswear doesn’t need to be cheesy – that it can be stylish and cool, and something that the parents love as much as the kids,” explains founder Jo Tutchener-Sharp. Products include features such as a “super-power button” and a slogan reading “A superhero has my back”, to encourage children to feel secure and confident when apart from their parents or carers. Tutchener-Sharp started the brand after being separated from her own children during a stay in hospital to undergo brain surgery.
“The range was unisex from the start, because there don’t need to be outdated rules about what children wear,” she explains. “There’s no reason that pink and rabbits are for girls, and dinosaurs are for boys.”
Jamie Bruski Tetsill, founder of gender-neutral kidswear brand Shapes of Things, agrees: “I’ve never understood why you would need to specify [the gender of clothing] at such a young age. We’re not a very girly brand anyway, and we don’t do frilly dresses, but even if we did, there’s no reason a wee boy couldn’t wear them.
“We like to be more playful and introduce interactive, sensory elements, like different textures, geometric shapes and sweatshirts you can colour in with washable markers.”
For WGSN’s Rechner, gender-neutral collections also tap into a more contemporary, athleisure-driven look filtering down from men’s and women’s wear: “Streetwear has had a huge impact on the menswear market because of designers such as Demna Gvasalia [artistic director of Balenciaga] and Virgil Abloh [founder of label Off-White]. This is trickling into kidswear.
Streetwear has had a huge impact on the menswear market. This is trickling into kidswear
Erin Rechner, WGSN
“The creation of Balenciaga’s first kids’ line in December 2017, Adidas Yeezy mini-sneakers and [Kardashian and West’s] The Kids Supply brand are all paving the way for an even stronger presence of street unisex apparel.”
Brown argues that for Jojo Maman Bébé, it is increasingly important to include the same themes and patterns across boys and girl’s collections, rather than overtly unisex or gender-neutral styles.
“We’ve always made clothes that can be worn by both girls and boys without necessarily being labelled as unisex, like yellow coats and navy sailor tops. Demand for those products is consistent. Now, it is about having a choice of prints across both genders. We did dinosaurs for girls a few years ago but they didn’t sell very well – now customers can’t get enough of them, although it still tends to be the prettier, floral styles [of dinosaur prints].”
The enduring popularity of Prince George and Princess Charlotte, combined with the imminent arrival of the third royal baby, means that for some parents a more traditional look is here to stay. However, the kidswear market is also growing up towards contemporary, streetwear-influenced designs to be worn by both boys and girls. As athleisure-influenced designs continue to thrive in the men’s and women’s wear markets, it looks like kidswear will be a tale of two trends for some time.
What is moving the kidswear market?
Sam Lees, UK general manager, Petit Bateau
“What parents are really looking for is good quality, good designs and functional clothing with details that make it easier for them to dress their kids or for their kids to dress themselves with details like easy accessible poppers. Parents are fostering independence on their children and anything the children can do themselves makes it easier. The kidswear market is growing because there’s a higher birth rate, leading to increased demand in the general market. People are choosing to have families later in life, often meaning they have a more established career and higher salaries. We’re also seeing baby-boomer grandparents with more to spend; gifting is something that is very important for us in the UK market.”
Julian Woolley, sales director, Brand Machine Group
”We’ve certainly seen a shift towards more premium styles within our existing brands. Parents are prepared to invest in key pieces such as outerwear, and we have seen less pushback on products priced around the £130-£150 mark because they are durable and they last.
”Newness continues to be key at both bricks-and-mortar and ecommerce retailers. The flow of product is key – it is very much ‘buy now, wear now’. We have ensured we achieve this consumer goal by moving to three drops per season. We have also seen some categories have become less seasonal – T-shirts, polo shirts, shorts and swimwear continue to sell all year round.”
Daniele Sismondi, owner and CEO, Brand Stable
“The main trends we’re seeing in the kidswear market are still ‘mini-me’ looks and outerwear with a point of difference. Another big trend is activewear for kids, such as designer neoprene or Lycra tracksuits and sweatshirts with logo-heavy tape sides.
”We’ve seen the unisex trend is slowly fading away as customers still prefer gender-specific collections (boys will be boys)!
”Big fashion designer names are launching kidswear collections or partnering with specialised companies for their kid’s collections.
”Generally, the UK market is definitely looking for value for money through wide commercial collections driven by price. But in big cities such as London, Manchester, Liverpool, Glasgow and Leeds, parents are spending less on themselves and more on kidswear, making their children an extension of themselves. That’s probably a reason while the market is flourishing.
”The current value of sterling is also helping transactions from foreign shoppers either travelling throughout UK or shopping online.”