Mini-me dressing and big-name branding are helping kidswear brands and retailers thrive against a challenging high street backdrop.
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There has been some big-name noise in the kidswear space in recent months. As interest in the market remains strong, brands including Superdry, Henri Lloyd, Mint Velvet and Calvin Klein Jeans have all launched children’s collections. Just last month, Net-a-Porter ventured into the kidswear space for the first time, launching a “collective” of six brands including Chinti & Parka Kids, Yeah Right NYC Kids and Golden Goose Deluxe.
Their interest is justified: the UK kidswear market is poised for continued, healthy expansion. Research company GlobalData estimates that it was worth £5.4bn in 2017, and is set to grow by 12.4% by 2022, marginally outpacing the booming menswear market, which it predicts will grow by 12.3%.
Trends fuelling this growth include the rise in gender-neutral styles, ”mini-me” dressing and logo-heavy collections from big-name brands, which cater to an ever more socially engaged junior audience.
However, kidswear is not immune to the “squeezed middle” effect – whereby mid-market brands struggle, while budget and premium labels thrive – that has been plaguing the UK high street, which culminated in a difficult end to 2018 for many.
“Christmas trading conditions were tough,” explains Hugo Adams, CEO of sustainable kidswear brand Frugi. “The children’s clothing market is polarised and defined by either expensive high-end product or cheap throwaway options. The space in the middle is being squeezed.
“Traditionally childrenswear will stand up to tough economic conditions, but to thrive we need to maintain a point of difference.”
Frances Bishop, founder of east Midlands-based kidswear independent mini-chain The Pud Store, agrees, and notes that despite positivity in the sector, retailers cannot rest on their laurels: “Retailers that don’t push the boundaries and care for their customers will struggle.
“Childrenswear retailers need to learn to control their own footfall and what goes on within their four walls. Far too many are complacent and expect customers to simply hand over their money.”
As in any part of the fashion retail industry, strong product, impeccable service and a point of difference are key ingredients of success.
“Customers are more discerning than ever,” explains Hayley Champion, girlswear buyer at Joules. “Those who succeed will have a strong brand and connect with their customers to offer products that truly resonate with their lifestyles and demands.”
Neither is kidswear immune to the political and economic turmoil caused by Brexit.
“Currency pressure on suppliers’ margin is filtering down to the shop floor for many,” explains Boo Jalil, CEO of Brand Machine Group. “Suppliers need to hold their nerve, avoid price hikes and continue to invest in great product – keeping the customer happy at all costs.”
Jalil says the spring 19 buying season was “difficult”, thanks to currency pressures, but adds that Brand Machine Group’s portfolio of strong and recognisable brands including holding the childrenswear licences for Ben Sherman, Juicy Couture, Lyle & Scott and Farah helped it to sustain a healthy order book overall, up 13% year on year. European sales grew particularly well.
Mirroring the wider market, logo-mania and recognisable brands are currently a strong sales driver in kidswear.
Marc Granditer, director of London-based childrenswear independent Base, reports that well-known, premium names with recognisable logos remain popular. Base stocks Boss Kids, Stone Island Junior and CP Company childrenswear.
“Growth [in kidswear] is coming from strong brand development, and global brands continue to develop and improve their offer,” he says. “Smaller brands have now woken up to this opportunity [for fully developed collections], and the selection now available in premium kidswear is larger and more commercial than ever before.”
Both Superdry and Gant, known for their logo-heavy adult styles, are seeking to capitalise on the demand for branded clothing. Gant launched its debut teen collection in July 2018, after seeing young shoppers buying into adult ranges.
“We saw an increased demand from younger people who, until now, had been buying the smallest sizes of the men’s and women’s lines,” says Matthew Mounsey-Wood, the brand’s creative director. “The category in general is performing well, and we see a massive growth opportunity for teens.”
Similarly, Superdry’s kidswear collection, launching for autumn 19, was developed in response to demand from customers.
“We believe there is a huge opportunity for us in entering the kidswear market,” says Paula Kerrigan, Superdry’s director of strategy. “We know our existing customers want to see us offering Superdry Kids and we believe this also offers a real opportunity to bring new consumers to our brand.”
A related and enduring trend that dominates kidswear is so-called mini-me dressing.
“Mini-me continues to be a growing fashion trend for kidswear, driven by celebrities sharing their ‘twinning’ pictures, and global brands such as Dolce & Gabbana creating mother-daughter collections,” explains Heidi Mansour, key account manager at trade show Pure London. “We can see the ripple effect of this in mainstream fashion with brands such as Sugarhill Brighton launching mini-me collections [for spring 19] with huge success.”
Champion notes this trend at Joules: “We bring our bestselling men’s and women’s styles and prints into our childrenswear range. We hope to build on this further in future seasons by taking some of our children’s content up to men’s and women’s wear, for a fun take on the trend.”
Arianna Vaccas, communications director at luxury kidswear etailer Childrensalon, echoes this: “Trends for us frequently reflect the effect of the mini-me look, as well as seasonally trending adult brands that our customers would like for their children.”
Gender-neutral styles, which became popular last year, are also enduring. Frugi’s website, for example, can be sorted according to print and style as well as gender, while Joules “dual places” products in the girls’ and boys’ sections.
“We leave the option open for the customer,” explains Champion.
Not all retailers agree, however. Bishop notes that The Pud Store’s customers tend to “play it very safe”, particularly when buying clothing for young children.
“Across the stores, parents-to-be come in the second they find out what gender they are expecting and rejoice in the ‘pink and blue’ experience,” she says. “The sizing charts are always going to be an issue, too – boys and girls don’t grow at the same rate.”
Gender-neutral clothing may not be every parent’s cup of tea, but one thing is for certain: kidswear has cemented its status as an important and fast-growing part of the fashion industry, prompting a raft of new launches from established men’s and women’s wear brands.
Wider industry challenges – particularly relating to Brexit uncertainties – will certainly affect market, but those with a carefully honed niche, strong brand and focus on service will continue to outperform.